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The true number of coronavirus deaths in the US ‘is well over’ 250,000, former CDC director says

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The true number of coronavirus deaths in the United States is well over 250,000, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said Saturday during CNN’s town hall.

Frieden, who served as CDC director under President Barack Obama, said a lot of the confusion about Covid-19 mortality rates is the result of the way fatalities are listed on death certificates.

“If you die from cancer, and you also have diabetes, you still died from cancer,” Frieden explained. “If you died from Covid, and you also had diabetes, you died from Covid.”

“Covid does affect older people much, much more than younger people, and many older people have lots of other health problems, so that ends up on the death certificate,” Frieden said.

“The best way to look at this is actually a statistic called ‘excess mortality’ — deaths above baseline — and that’s actually quite a bit higher,” he said. “The true total of this, which includes Covid and Covid-associated (deaths), is well over a quarter of a million deaths in the US so far.”

Frieden said there are typically three types of deaths that result from coronavirus.

“People who died from Covid, and were diagnosed with it; people who died from Covid, but weren’t diagnosed with it because there wasn’t testing, it wasn’t suspected, they died at home; and people who’ve died because of the disruption that Covid causes,” Frieden said.

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‘Amnesia: Rebirth’ Has the Scares, But Buckles Under the Weight of History

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Every night for the past week or so, I’ve given my wife a kiss, grabbed a beer, and headed into my dark office. I’ll close the blinds, turn off the trippy colored lighting on my keyboard, and put on a pair of headphones while the loading screen for Amnesia: Rebirth does its thing. My relationship to horror has been defined by my wife at my side, but my wife doesn’t like to watch me play games, even horror ones, which means I’m left to experience this nightmare on my own.

And so, as I watch the oil in my virtual lantern run out, I consider what’s waiting in the darkness. All I can do is hope my children can’t hear the screams from downstairs.

Rebirth, an unexpected sequel to one of the most influential horror games of all time, is ultimately more tense than horrifying. That assessment comes from someone numbed from decades of watching Friday the 13th and its ilk, however, so your mileage may vary. But when Rebirth wants to punch you in the face, it lands hard. When it wants to dare you to turn the screen off and walk away, it can.

But Rebirth is also a perplexing alchemical mix of game design ideas trapped in the framework of a heavy legacy, struggling to transmute into something new. Based on the six or so hours that I’ve played in the past week, it mostly works, but not without struggling through an uneven first act that doesn’t fully communicate how some key mechanics work.

Few games can claim they helped define a genre, but you can’t understand the modern horror game without 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Its influence is everywhere. One of its many innovations, Amnesia stripped the player of their primary interaction with a game: violence. You could not fight the monsters hiding in the dark. All you could do was run, hide, and pray for salvation. For better and worse, Amnesia also contributed to launching the careers of folks like PewDiePie, who helped popularize the Let’s Play style on the Internet.

Even developer Frictional Games seemed to realize how much Amnesia felt like lighting in a bottle, which is why the studio spent the next five years leaving behind its cthulhu-inspired world for an existential crisis set in the depths of the ocean, Soma. It is, and remains, an underappreciated masterpiece, featuring one of the medium’s best and bleakest endings.

Rebirth, though connected to the story of The Dark Descent, does not require you to have played it to hit the ground running. The story here centers on Tasi Trianon, who is part of an expedition into the Algerian Desert that hits a nasty speed bump when their plane crashes in the middle of nowhere. Tasi awakes alone, and sets out to find out what happened to everyone, including her husband. While experiencing frequent blackouts and suspecting she is very much not alone in the desert, Tasi has another reason for survival: she’s pregnant.

One of the reasons Soma remains underappreciated is because a lot of people struggled to get through it. Navigating the game’s lumbering monstrosities was not, in fact, the best part of Soma. It was the story, and its monster sequences became tiring endeavours of trial-and-error. It was worth it, of course, but there’s a reason Frictional later patched in a story mode of sorts. In that mode, the monsters were there, but they could no longer kill you.

Rebirth is going to be way more—the enemies make sense there,” said Frictional creative director Thomas Grip to me earlier this year. “You can’t just remove enemies that are deadly because that wouldn’t make story-wise sense. So it’s much more connected to the narrative. I think that the best version of Soma is one with the enemies because that gives a certain amount of dread. But I still understand that some people didn’t like that, from the frustration or whatnot. They were too scared and just wanted to enjoy the story.”

Rebirth tries to split the difference, while still feeling very much like an Amnesia game. There are cumbersome physics puzzles that grind the game to a halt. You read lots of notebooks that fill in parts of the story because there aren’t really cutscenes or character interactions. A main source of tension is a desire to explore butting into the extremely limited resources allotted to light the darkness, knowing that walking around in the pitch black will eventually result in losing a grip on reality. (In a nod to how our discussions around mental illness have shifted in the last decade, Rebirth swaps losing “sanity” for being overwhelmed by “fear.”)

I’m an easy mark for these games, but truth be told, I found the opening hours frustrating and hard to settle into. It takes some time before players get access to a lantern, which means for a while, your main source of light is using matches to ignite nearby candles, torches, whatever you can find. The faster you walk, the faster the matches go out. You do not get access to many matches early on, which means choosing to light one up is a huge gamble, because there’s also no guarantee you’ll find anything useful to light along the way.

You end up spending a lot of time in Rebirth bumbling forward, a dwindling match in hand, hoping to find something to light along the way. This meant I was less encouraged to poke around the world, because it meant burning a precious resource. I would fumble through desk drawers without igniting a match to help me see better, hoping the game’s interface would switch to the icon that represents an item I could pick up. Hopefully, it was a match.

This was especially maddening during the game’s first encounter with a creature of some sort, which is also tied into the first real puzzle. To engage with that puzzle requires a lot of exploring, requiring matches I didn’t think I could afford to give up. So I didn’t. The result was me circling in the dark, mad instead of scared, and disengaging from the atmosphere it was trying hard to cook up. Weird goblin-looking thing around the corner? Whatever, I’m trying to figure out how to attach a wheel to this cannon from the other room. Find someone else, K?

My mind started to drift towards a world after Rebirth was released, when someone inevitably releases a mod that gave players unlimited access to matches.

Much of my annoyance, however, came from historical assumptions about how this game is supposed to work. In most video games, Amnesia or otherwise, when you die, you load an older save or start at a recent checkpoint, which forces players to worry about dying not just because it means failure, but having to annoyingly repeat a section all over again. Addressing how Rebirth deals with this question would be a spoiler, but it does. It’s a clever solution to a hard problem. Rebirth centers its story, and always pushes the player forward. It accomplishes what Frictional promised, all without removing enemies or even downplaying their danger.

But woof, the game doesn’t communicate this change in approach, and I really wish I’d known earlier, because it allowed me to approach Rebirth on its own terms, and give myself over to the world and its weirdness. Once you do, Rebirth becomes a hell of a ride.

It’s got some really fascinating ideas, too. The main character, Tasi, is pregnant, but this isn’t merely a throwaway part of her biography. The baby, though silent and physically unseen, is an active participant in the story, a source of comfort for Tasi during her more trying moments. Rebirth dedicates an entire button for prompting Tasi to look at her growing belly and communicate with the unborn child, which functions as a way for Tasi to open up and talk about herself in a game without other characters around. It also, functionally, calms her down. If Tasi has seen something gruesome, or just rounded the corner from an enemy, she can take a moment to clasp her hands around a sense of hope and find a peaceful feeling.

I have watched my wife experience two pregnancies and the remarkable toll it takes on the human body. It’s not only emotionally tumultuous but physically brutal, making your body harder to operate. Rebirth doesn’t shy away from this, either, with Tasi having to exert great effort to run or move objects. Even when you are not actively cradling the child she’s carrying, Rebirth reminds you of its impact (The only thing Rebirth is missing, really, is an explanation for why Tasi doesn’t have to pee every 15 minutes). This is just not something a lot of games grapple with, and there are a lot of ways Rebirth’s approach could have gone wrong, but it’s a real standout part of the game.

The main reason I was apprehensive about Frictional returning to Amnesia was the weight of expectations, the idea that it would feel the need to reinvent the genre. Change for change’s sake, so to speak. Frictional seems to have rejected this notion, because while Rebirth is certainly an evolution of a space the studio played in for the past decade, it does not try to be anything more than a new Amnesia game, warts and all. The result is something decidedly old school, embracing its clunkiness and quirks, rather than running from them.

Rebirth is strange, scary, and unexpected. All told, that’s not all bad for a new Amnesia.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).

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Cruise ship rescues 24 people from sinking boat

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(CNN) — Cruise ships are mostly standing idle due to the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped one “ghost’ vessel jumping into action to rescue 24 people from a sinking boat.

Carnival Sensation, an 855-foot-long vessel that usually accommodates over 2,000 passengers, spotted the boat struggling in international waters 37 miles off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida on Saturday, according to Carnival Cruise Line.

Carnival Sensation is one of hundreds of cruise ships currently operating with no passengers and a skeletal crew, in the wake of the Covid-19 shutdown of the cruise industry

In a statement, Carnival Cruise Line said its ship went to the aid of the sinking boat, providing supplies including blankets, life jackets, food and water to the passengers on board.

Carnival Cruise Line Carnival Sensation Rescue (3)

The passengers were brought on board Carnival Sensation when the smaller boat started to take in water.

Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line

When the smaller boat started to take in water, the 24 passengers were rescued and brought on board the cruise ship.

Once on board, Carnival Sensation’s medical team looked over the rescued passengers, said the cruise line, and ensured they were quarantined away from crew members.

The passengers — reportedly of various nationalities and including two children — were later taken to shore by the US Coast Guard.

Carnival Cruise Line Carnival Sensation Rescue (2)

Passengers on the smaller boat were provided with life jackets, blankets and water.

Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line

Most of the world’s cruise ships are currently out of action, sailing outside ports like Fort Lauderdale in Florida and Southampton in the UK, with limited crew keeping them on standby.

But many major cruise lines have canceled all sailings through 2020.

The CDC says there were 102 Covid-19 outbreaks on 124 different cruise ships through March 1 to September 28, 2020.

While cruising remains on pause, people living in some coastal regions are getting an unprecedented view in local waters.

Paul Derham started the initiative back in the summer but plans to continue to take cruise fans out through the fall — weather permitting.

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It’s always the most important election in our lifetime, and it always will be

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“There’s just one month left before the most important election of our lifetime,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted in early October.

Two days later, Sen. Bernie Sanders backed him up. “This is the most important election, not only in our lifetime but in the modern history of our country,” he said in Michigan.

In 2016, it was Donald Trump deploying the cliché. “This is by far the most important vote you’ve ever cast for anyone at any time,” he said.

I won’t be coy with my view: I think the most important election of my lifetime was 2000, and I’ll defend that view in this piece. But more interesting than the parlor game is the framework of this debate. What makes something the most important election of a lifetime? How would we know?

Newspapers give the results of the Supreme Court’s decision to halt the Florida ballot recount in 2000, claiming George W. Bush as the election victor on December 13 of that year.
Chris Hondros/Newsmakers/Getty Images

Before 2016, the campaign in which I heard the “most important election of our lifetime” talk most often was 2004, when George W. Bush ran for reelection against John Kerry. It certainly felt pivotal. It was a referendum on the Iraq War, which was built on lies, carried out by fools, and left Iraq soaked in blood. It was also a referendum on the hard right turn Bush had taken in office, away from “compassionate conservatism” and toward neoconservatism abroad, and a politics of patriotic paranoia at home.

Kerry lost that election. And yet, in retrospect, it clearly wasn’t the most important election of my lifetime, and it may even have been better that Kerry lost it. The ensuing four years forced Bush, and the Republican Party he led, to take responsibility for the disasters they’d created. The catastrophe of the Iraq War became clearer to the country, leading to a Democratic sweep in 2006. The financial crisis, which had been building for years, exploded, leading to Barack Obama’s election, and the massive congressional majorities that passed the Affordable Care Act.

Perhaps a Kerry administration would’ve averted one or both catastrophes, but more likely, it would’ve simply been overwhelmed by them, leading to John McCain’s presidency in 2008, and a resuscitation of the neoconservative brand.

All that is speculative, of course. But this is an inherently speculative endeavor. “The reason to do counterfactuals,” says Catherine Gallagher, author of Telling It Like It Wasn’t: The Counterfactual Imagination in History and Literature, “is to give yourself a sense of reality about what was possible in the past.”

Here’s my theory: The elections that feel like the most important of our lifetime usually aren’t, specifically because that feeling, and the political mobilization it drives, limits their consequence. One reason reelection campaigns often feel like “the most important election” to the party out of power is that the stakes, and the costs, of losing the presidency last time, have been revealed. But most presidencies wane in their second term, as their agenda is exhausted, their supporters are less inspired, and their opponents are better organized.

It’s when the opposition party doesn’t understand the kind of politician it’s dealing with, or misjudges the situation they will face, that presidents can slip loose of the normal checks and balances and govern most consequentially. Which brings me to the elections of 2000, and 2014.

The case for 2000 as the most important election of my lifetime

The 2000 election ended in chaos, but it was carried out in confusion. Ralph Nader’s campaign gained so much traction in part because Bush and Al Gore worked so hard to blur their distinctions. Gore didn’t run as a climate hawk determined to save the world from warming; he ran as a centrist New Democrat, determined to sock away the surplus in a Social Security lockbox. Bush, for his part, promised to cut taxes, close the educational achievement gap, and eschew nation-building abroad. “Tweedledee and Tweedledum,” Nader called them.

Soon after securing the presidency, George W. Bush waves as he is greeted by Vice President Al Gore at Gore’s residence in Washington, DC.
Tannen Maury/AFP/Getty Images
Police officers in black uniforms and helmets stand between crowds of protesters, one side holding pro-Bush signs, and the other holding pro-Gore signs, in front of the Supreme Court building.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Supreme Court on December 1, 2000, as the justices prepared to hear arguments from lawyers for Bush and Gore on the contested election.
Shawn Thew/AFP/Getty Images
Theodore Olson, lead attorney for Bush, speaks to reporters after arguments in front of the Court.
Alex Wong/Newsmakers/Getty Images

“There was a chasmic difference between the kind George W. Bush promised and the presidency we got,” says Robert Draper, author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. “That’s not entirely Bush’s fault, given 9/11. But people voted for Bush believing they’d be getting more peace and prosperity with perhaps deeper tax cuts and a more values-driven man in the Oval Office. They certainly didn’t count on the next president going to war against a country that didn’t attack us.”

It’s not just that 9/11 changed the questions facing the president. It’s that they changed the powers of the president. Congressional Democrats rallied around Bush — or, in other cases, feared opposing him — giving him latitude on foreign policy they’d never have permitted on domestic policy. The focus of the presidency turned from domestic legislation, where the executive has limited sway, to war powers, where the president’s authority is vast, and grew more vast under the legal theories the Bush administration pushed.

What ensued was a catastrophe that left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, wasted trillions of American dollars and thousands of American lives, and reshaped global politics for a generation — up to and including paving the way for Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party.

Imagining the alternative forces us into the tricky waters of counterfactuals. It’s easy enough to imagine Gore winning in 2000 — he won the popular vote, and many think that, absent the Supreme Court’s cynical intervention, he would’ve won a fair recount, as well. Perhaps Gore would’ve taken early intelligence warnings more seriously, and 9/11 would’ve been stopped, but I think that’s unlikely. From there, Gore wouldn’t have optionally chosen to invade Iraq, I’m confident in that.

The key question then becomes how Gore would’ve used the post-9/11 political moment. Just as many of Bush’s advisers had spent a decade obsessing over how to topple Saddam Hussein, and used 9/11 as the rationale for that project, Gore had spent decades obsessing over climate change. It seems possible, perhaps even probable, that Gore would’ve harnessed the moment to end our dependence on oil, disentangling us from the Middle East, and so-called allies like Saudi Arabia, where most of the hijackers came from. And if Gore had been able to push America down the path of serious action on climate change, back when such action was easier and more effective to take, the pain and suffering that could’ve been avoided is incalculable.

The seduction of counterfactuals is that it’s easy to only imagine the ones you prefer. Perhaps, as president during 9/11, Gore is blamed for the Clinton administration’s inability to disrupt Osama bin Laden, and so he’s simply routed in 2004 by Sen, John McCain, who embarks on a course of foreign policy adventurism that leaves the Bush legacy looking modest.

Why it always might be the most important election of our lifetime

My confidence in any particular alternative history is low, but my confidence in the underlying principle is high: It is moments of disruption and crisis that drive presidencies, and that’s why it’s so difficult to predict the importance of a political moment in advance. The reason the post-9/11 possibilities were so vast is the attacks dissolved the normal constraints of politics, and the personal preferences of the US president became unusually consequential.

We are still living in the catastrophic aftermath of Bush’s choices, choices that not only betrayed the promises of his 2000 campaign, but wouldn’t have been possible in the context in which the 2000 campaign took place. Pre-9/11, there would’ve been no support for Bush invading Iraq, even if he’d wanted to.

Nor is it just presidential elections that have this feature. The 2014 midterm election, for instance, struck many as a deadened, dull affair. President Obama and congressional Republicans were trapped in conflict, and voter turnout was lower than it had been in 72 years. Mitch McConnell won back the gavel for Senate Republicans, but few suspected much would happen as a consequence — with Republicans in control of the House, gridlock was already the norm.

But then Justice Antonin Scalia’s heart stopped, and McConnell used his power to block Merrick Garland from so much as a hearing. There’s a good case to be made that it was the lure of that Supreme Court seat that united Republicans behind Trump’s candidacy, leading to his razor-thin victory.

Now Republicans stand on the precipice of a 6-3 majority on the Court, which would reshape constitutional law — and the possibilities of politics — for a generation. In reprisal, Democrats are considering abolishing the filibuster and reshaping the Court. Though the 2014 election felt, and was treated as, low-stakes when it happened, it proved to be one of the most consequential elections of my lifetime.

The lesson of all this: By definition, we don’t know which elections are unusually important when they occur, because it’s unexpected events — events that break the normal rules of politics, that create moments when individual leaders can reshape the course of history — that turn elections into the hinge points of history.

For that reason, I wouldn’t dare predict that 2020 will be the most important election of my lifetime, but it should be treated that way. They should all be treated that way, particularly when they feel otherwise. It’s always the most important election in our lifetime, and it always will be.


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