Researchers Identify Health Factors Associated with Long COVID!

5-20% of patients have symptoms that last for weeks.

Dear Commons Community,

A new study, published last week in the journal Cell, points to several factors that researchers found were associated with long COVID.

Long COVID has been one of the mysteries of COVID-19 since it emerged two years ago, with some people dealing with symptoms like brain fog, fatigue and loss of taste or smell that linger well beyond their initial illness.

The central focus of the Cell study was: Why some patients are stuck with long COVID while others fully recover has been a complicated question.

The researchers followed more than 200 COVID-19 patients for two to three months after their diagnosis and found that regardless of if they had mild or severe cases, they were more likely to have four commonalities. One was a high level of coronavirus RNA in their blood early on in their illness, indicating a high viral load. Another was a history of Epstein-Barr virus, which many people can have at a younger age (typically as mononucleosis) and then lives on in the body.

A third factor was having autoantibodies — those found in autoimmune disorders — which mistakenly attack the immune system. And the last factor was type 2 diabetes, though the researchers said that in further studies with more patients it may just be that diabetes is one of many conditions that can lead to long COVID.   

“I think this research stresses the importance of doing measurements early in the disease course to figure out how to treat patients, even if we don’t really know how we’re going to use all that information yet,” Jim Heath, the lead investigator of the study and president of the Institute for Systems Biology, told The New York Times. “Once you can measure something, then you may be able to start doing something about it.”

The researchers surveyed the patients on their symptoms, and found that 37% of patients had three or more symptoms of long COVID in the two or three months after their initial infection. Another 24% had one or two long COVID symptoms, and 39% had no lingering symptoms.

Of the group with three or more long COVID symptoms, 95% had one of the four factors that are associated with the illness, with most — two-thirds of patients — having autoantibodies. The other three factors appeared in the other third of patients, and some patients had more than one of the factors.

There were also findings from the study that the researchers want to dig into, one being that people who continued to have trouble breathing had lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that regulates stress. Health said that some doctors are already trying cortisol replacement therapy with their patients.

“We did this analysis because we know patients will go to physicians and they’ll say that they’re tired all the time or whatever, and the physician just tells them to get more sleep. That’s not very helpful. So, we wanted to actually have a way to quantify and say that there’s actually something wrong with these patients,” Heath said.

We keep learning more and more about this disease everyday!



New COVID ‘stealth’ subvariant BA.2!

Omicron - BA.2 Variant Becoming Dominant? (An Update) - YouTube


Dear Commons Community,

Just as we are seeing significant decreases in the number of people contracting COVID as a result of the Omicron variant, scientists have identified a subvariant – BA.2. that has begun to spread in parts of Europe and Asia

Globally, Omicron BA.1 accounted for 98.8% of sequenced cases submitted to the public virus tracking database as of 25 January. But several countries are reporting recent increases in BA.2, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In addition to BA.1 and BA.2, the WHO lists two other subvariants under the Omicron umbrella: BA.1.1.529 and BA.3. All are closely related genetically, but each features mutations that could alter how they behave.  As reported by The Guardian.

Trevor Bedford, a computational virologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in the US, has been tracking the evolution of Sars-CoV-2. On Friday he wrote on Twitter that BA.2 represents roughly 82% of cases in Denmark, 9% in the UK and 8% in the US. He based his analysis on sequencing data from the GISAID database and case counts from the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford in the UK.

The BA.1 version of Omicron has been somewhat easier to track than prior variants. That is because BA.1 is missing one of three target genes used in a common PCR test. Cases showing this pattern were assumed by default to be caused by BA.1.

BA.2, sometimes known as a “stealth” subvariant, does not have the same missing target gene. Instead, scientists are monitoring it the same way they have prior variants, including Delta, by tracking the number of virus genomes submitted to public databases such as GISAID.

As with other variants, an infection with BA.2 can be detected by coronavirus home tests kits, though they cannot indicate which variant is responsible, experts say.

Some early reports indicate that BA.2 may be even more infectious than the already extremely contagious BA.1, but there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to evade vaccine protection.

Danish health officials estimate that BA.2 may be 1.5 times more transmissible than BA.1, based on preliminary data, though it likely does not cause more severe disease.

In England, a preliminary analysis of contact tracing from 27 December through to 11 January by the UK Health Security Agency suggests that household transmission is higher among contacts of people infected with BA.2 (13.4%) compared with other Omicron cases (10.3%). The agency found no evidence of a difference in vaccine effectiveness.

A critical question was whether people who were infected in the BA.1 wave would be protected from BA.2, said Dr Egon Ozer, an infectious disease expert at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. That had been a concern in Denmark, where some places that saw high case counts of BA.1 infections were reporting rising cases of BA.2, he said.

If prior BA.1 infection did not protect against BA.2, “this could be sort of a two-humped camel kind of wave”, Ozer said. “It’s too early to know if that will happen.”

The good news, he said, was that vaccines and boosters still “keep people out of the hospital and keep people from dying”.

Prof Seshadri Vasan, a Covid-19 vaccine researcher from Australia’s Science Agency, the CSIRO, said analysis of GISAID showed that as of 27 January, 10,811 BA.2 sequences had been reported from around the world including Australia (22 sequences), but 90% of the sequences were from three countries: Denmark (8,357), India (711) and the UK (607).

“So far, evidence from our colleagues in Denmark show that while it could spread faster, there is no evidence of increased severity,” he said. “Therefore it is important to keep calm and continue existing measures such as getting ourselves the vaccinated, including the booster dose, and following social distancing, masks and local guidelines.”

We will have to face the fact that COVID in all its forms and variants will be with us for a long time.  Vaccinations or boosters will a yearly event.


Books on race, gender pulled from schools amid conservative push against ‘radical’ literature!

Pages from the graphic novel

Pages from the graphic novel “Maus” by the American cartoonist Art Spiegelman are pictured in this illustration in Pasadena, Calif. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Dear Commons Community,

Attempts by conservative activists to regulate how schools discuss race, sexuality and gender have contributed to an ongoing effort to remove books seen as controversial from school curricula and libraries.

The most recent high-profile example was Art Spiegelman’s award-winning “Maus,” a graphic novel that depicts the horrors of the Holocaust, being removed from a Tennessee eighth-grade language arts curriculum. The McMinn County School Board voted 10-0 to remove Spiegelman’s book on Jan. 10, but the story began to circulate last Wednesday after a report from the Tennessee Holler. According to the minutes from the meeting, the use of curse words and “nakedness” were the impetus for the change.  As reported by Reuters and other media.

“I understand that on TV and maybe at home these kids hear worse, but we are talking about things that if a student went down the hallway and said this, our disciplinary policy says they can be disciplined, and rightfully so,” a board member, Tony Allman, says. “And we are teaching this and going against policy.”

The school board issued a statement  saying that the decision was not about ignoring the Holocaust but about finding options that were more “age-appropriate” in their content, concluding, “We simply do not believe this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.”

Spiegelman said he felt the board’s action was “daftly myopic” but, having read the transcript, didn’t believe the decision was rooted in anti-Semitism.

“I’ve met so many young people who … have learned things from my book,” Spiegelman told CNBC, adding that he understood that something “very, very haywire” was going on in Tennessee.

The Tennessee decision followed news of a Missouri school board voting 4-3 to ban “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by the Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, which depicts the struggles of a young Black girl dealing with racism. Due to its passages referencing incest and child rape, the book is a regular on the American Library Association’s annual lists of most challenged books.

It was almost removed from circulation in Kansas in November, along with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and “Fences,” the Pulitzer-winning play by August Wilson. Both Morrison and Wilson were Black.

“By all means, go buy the book for your child,” said school board member Sandy Garber of Wentzville, Missouri. “I would not want this book in the school for anyone else to see.”

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told Yahoo News that in her two decades with the organization she has not seen this many “challenges,” the ALA’s term for requests to remove books.

According to the ALA’s raw preliminary data, Caldwell-Stone said the office typically receives about 350 challenges reported to their office per year, including 373 in 2019, the last full pre-pandemic school year. As a comparison, the group had 330 challenges reported in the three months from Sept. 1 and Dec. 1, 2021.

“You have these — they call themselves parents’ rights organizations — pursuing this censorship agenda and arguing that censorship is the proper solution, but once you start using book banning as a tool, where does it end?” Caldwell-Stone said. “So you end up with work like ‘Maus’ being on the chopping block, so what comes next?”

“We’re seeing a number of organizations encouraging local chapters and members to bring challenges, to raise them at school board meetings and library meetings, so some of this phenomenon is tied to that,” she continued. “Social media has also made it very easy to amplify a complaint about a particular book and have it go viral, and have an individual parent or even a local chapter of a parents’ rights group show up at the next board meeting and complain about that book.”

Conservative activists and donors began a coordinated effort to win seats on school boards last summer, stoking the furor over Critical Race Theory (CRT), an academic study of racism’s systemic impact. Teachers groups and schools tend to argue that CRT is not taught below the university level.

With Republican-controlled states passing laws aimed at preventing the teaching of Critical Race Theory, it is sometimes now easier for groups of parents to target specific texts. According to tracking by PEN America, 71 “gag order” bills have been introduced this month that would limit topics that can be taught in schools.

Education was a key issue in Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin’s successful campaign for governor of Virginia last year. Youngkin ran an ad in late October in which a mother stated that Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, who had previously served as governor, didn’t think parents should have a say in whether or not their children were exposed to “explicit material.”

The ad does not mention that the book in question is another Morrison title, “Beloved,” and that the son of the mother quoted was in an Advanced Placement English class at the time. With the issue at the forefront in the state, in the following month, two school board members in a Virginia county said they wanted books with sexually explicit language in them to be burned.

The movement to remove books from libraries and schools is organized by groups like Moms for Liberty, which has pushed to remove works about Martin Luther King, Jr., from curricula and has ties to prominent Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Another organization involved is No Left Turn in Education, which has dozens of books listed on its website that it claims “spread radical and racist ideologies to students. They demean our nation and its heroes, revise our history, and divide us as a people for the purpose of indoctrinating kids to a dangerous ideology.”

The books listed are predominantly written by nonwhite authors, and on the same page, the group includes books that discuss LGBTQ themes and feature LGBTQ characters. Titles on the list include Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist,” Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give” and Sarah Hoffman’s “Jacob’s New Dress.”

“Some of this has been organized around, frankly, a very cynical campaign to vilify materials dealing with racism in the United States and the experiences of Black Americans, particularly their experiences with police violence and systemic racism, under this rubric of critical race theory,” Caldwell-Stone said. “We’re also seeing organizations who believe that young people should not have access to information about gender or sexual identity.”

In at least one instance, expansive book lists have become state policy. Last month, a school district in the San Antonio, Texas, area pulled more than 400 books from its shelves to review them, “out of an abundance” of caution after a Republican state legislator published a list of 850 books he wanted reviewed. State Rep. Matt Krause, who chairs the House Committee on General Investigating and is running for state attorney general, told the Texas Education Agency in October that he was “initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content” and provided the 16-page list of books.

In the October letter, Krause cited concerns over any books that contained “material that might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex or convey that a student, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Supporters gather for a rally, promoted by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and in opposition to President Biden, in the Brandon Township village of Ortonville, Mich., in November. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

In December, a new Texas law went into effect intended to combat Critical Race Theory. It stipulates that a “teacher may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs” and that if it is discussed, the educator must “explore that topic objectively and in a manner free from political bias.” One school administrator told staff members that under the new law they should be prepared to teach an “opposing” view of the Holocaust, in order not to violate the new law, a comment that led to an apology from the school district superintendent.

Caldwell-Stone said that people taking an interest in local school and library boards, including showing up for the meetings and voting in elections, can help push back on censorship, as some students and parents are already doing. She said the group has argued “very forcefully” for wider communities to have a say on targeted books, and “that the work is evaluated as a whole and not focused on one image or a few words, so when you evaluate a work’s educational suitability that you’re looking at the broader picture.”

In addition, she said there should be “mechanisms [in place] for those parents who do have concerns about the literature for whatever reason to opt their young student out of that particular reading assignment.”

We aren’t burning the books – YET!



Maureen Dowd Reflects on New York City’s Finest – Jason Rivera!

Thousands of police officers accompanied the body of Officer Jason Rivera to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Friday.

Credit…Stephanie Keith for The New York Times

Dear Commons Community,

On Friday, one of New York City’s finest, Officer Jason Rivera, was laid to rest after being killed in action answering a domestic disturbance.  His death and that of his partner, Wilbert Mora, shook the soul of the Big Apple.  A sea of blue filled Fifth Avenue Friday morning as thousands of officers from across the country bid a final farewell to the fallen hero.

There was a distinct heaviness in the air as people who loved Jason Rivera and those who never even met him came to say goodbye to a man described as the very definition of integrity and joy.

Thousands of people gathered inside and outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a moment that arrived decades too soon.

Fellow officers draped Rivera’s casket in white – as pure as the fallen hero, described as loyal and loving, with a smile that could be seen for miles.

Maureen Dowd pays tribute to Rivera and others who serve us in our police departments throughout the country.  Entitled, Rhapsody for a Boy in Blue, it is touching commentary! 

Below is the entire column.



Dominique Luzuriaga with the flag from the coffin of her husband, Officer Rivera.

Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

New York Times

Rhapsody for a Boy in Blue

Jan. 29, 2022

By Maureen Dowd

We don’t hear much about good cops these days.

Their stories get lost amid the scalding episodes with trigger-happy, racist and sadistic cops.

The good ones get tarred with the same brush, even though the last person who wants to get in a squad car with a bad cop is a good cop.

It takes a catastrophe, like 9/11, or an attempted coup like Jan. 6, or a heartbreaking funeral with a sea of blue, like Friday’s ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the murdered 22-year-old New York City police officer Jason Rivera, to remind us that we should be proud of good cops even as we root out bad ones.

“There shouldn’t have to be a funeral to acknowledge how valiant they can be in the face of danger,” Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum told me.

My heart aches for the families of good cops whenever I see “ACAB” (All Cops Are Bastards) graffiti scrawled across urban landscapes.

Growing up, I went through another period, in the ’60s, when it wasn’t cool to be proud of anyone in uniform and when graffiti about “pigs” was common.

When you’re related to a police officer, there’s always a hum in your brain, one you try to block out but never can, that when they leave in the morning, they might not come home.

My mom was terrified that my dad, a police inspector in charge of Senate security, was not coming back on March 1, 1954, the day four Puerto Rican nationalists pulled out guns and sprayed bullets from the spectators’ gallery above the House floor. Five representatives were wounded. My father ran over from the Senate and wrested a 38-caliber pistol from one of the shooters.

My brother Kevin, then in second grade, was traumatized by my mom’s terror as she stood in the kitchen, frozen, before she got word that my dad was OK. “Your father is in a shooting,” she told Kevin.

I thought about this listening to Dominique Luzuriaga, Officer Rivera’s widow, give her eulogy through sobs.

“You know, it’s hard being a cop’s wife sometimes,” she said. They had a fight the day he died. She didn’t want him to be on the phone for work so much. But he was excited to be a police officer, so excited that on his first day at the station in Harlem, he double parked in front and caused a traffic jam.

He epitomized what we want in an officer — full of compassion and joy, with an infectious smile. His older brother, Jeffrey, remembered Tata, as his family called him, stripping down to his tighty-whities as a child to do Latin dances.

Rivera was the mirror opposite of the brutal Derek Chauvin. As Jeffrey recalled, “My brother was afraid of heights, he was afraid of rats, he was afraid of dogs.” But he “was not afraid to die to wear that uniform.”

Officer Rivera and his 27-year-old partner, Wilbert Mora, died answering a 911 call from a mother in Harlem who said her son had verbally threatened her. They walked down a hall in the apartment and the son jumped out and opened fire, fatally wounding both officers.

In a letter to his commanding officer in 2020 titled “Why I Became a Police Officer,” Rivera said that the relationship with the police in the neighborhood he grew up in, Inwood, on the northern tip of Manhattan, “was not great.”

“I remember one day, when I witnessed my brother being stopped and frisked,” he wrote. “I asked myself, why are we being pulled over if we are in a taxi?” The incident bothered him. But when he saw the force changing and trying to reach out to the community, he wanted in. Writing about “this chaotic city,” he said “something as small as helping a tourist with directions, or helping a couple resolve an issue, will put a smile on someone’s face.”

He loved cop shows and food, and he loved his wife. He was the class clown, but he got a serious crush on Dominique in grade school. Teachers had to sit them apart so they could focus.

When she complained that fateful day and they bickered, he offered to give her a lift and said to her, “It might be the last ride I give you.”

“I said, ‘No,’” she recalled, and fetched an Uber instead. “And that was probably the biggest mistake I ever made.”

When she was called to Harlem Hospital, she said, “Walking up those steps, seeing everybody staring at me, was the scariest moment I’ve experienced.”

Standing by her dead husband, wrapped in sheets, she told him: “Wake up, baby. I’m here.” In the eulogy, she often talked directly to her husband, as though he were standing at her side: “The little bit of hope I had that you would come back to life just to say ‘Goodbye’ or just to say ‘I love you’ one more time had left. I was lost. I’m still lost.”

When they wheeled Rivera out of the hospital in the freezing cold a week ago Friday, to be placed in an ambulance to go to the morgue, his body was draped in an N.Y.P.D. flag and police officers were standing vigilantly, silently. The only sound was a police helicopter whirring overhead. Officers there said they were stunned when the eerie silence was broken by the wailing of Rivera’s mother.

“My boy, my little boy, come home to us, my little boy,” she keened over the body. Tough cops dropped their heads, their faces wet with tears.


Woke up to Winter Storm Kenan this Morning!

Dear Commons Community,

Winter storm Kenan greeted us this morning here in New York with whiteout conditions.  Above is a photo I took at 7:00 am. I could not see the other side of the lake.  Kenan appears to be saving its worst for New England. 

I hope all stay safe!


Video: Ex-Fox News Host Gretchen Carlson Slams Network for Aiding in Dismantling U.S. Democracy!

Dear Commons Community,

Ex-Fox News host Gretchen Carlson slammed her former network, saying “there’s a big difference between having a conservative opinion and having one that supports conspiracy theories.”

“Conservative television news is certainly not the conservative news that was out there even just five years ago,” Carlson told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Thursday (see video above for complete interview).

“Slowly but surely, this has morphed into eradicating any other point of view since the Trump era that is not just opinion,” said Carlson, who left Fox in 2016.

“It’s gone from an opinion, which was fine, to completely devolving into non-fact-based conspiracy theories and outright dangerous rhetoric, in my mind, and I think it’s a complete disservice to our country,” she told Acosta.

“This is not going to end well, in my mind,” Carlson added.

We need more of the former and present Fox News people to come out and call the network for what it is!


AI Chatbots Expand on College  Campuses as Ethics Questions Arise!

AI chatbots pose ethical risks. Here's how a university handles them. - The  Bharat Express News

Peter the Anteater Chatbot at the University of California at Irvine!

Dear Commons Communty,

Colleges nationwide are increasingly adopting artificial-intelligence tools such as chatbots to expand and streamline communication. In an Educause Quick Poll from June 2021, 36 percent of IT professionals who responded said chatbots and digital assistants were already in place on their campuses, while 17 percent reported they were in the works.

After all, they offer compelling benefits. These tools can field common queries so staff can focus on more personal or complex questions. Data from institutions including New Jersey’s Ocean County College and Missouri Western State University suggest that chatbots can help lift retention rates and save weeks of staff time.

The poll simultaneously revealed, however, that 68 percent of respondents saw ethical concerns as a barrier to adoption.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Indeed, experts caution that the choice to deploy chatbots, and AI more broadly, raises many questions: Is the tool going to be accessible to non-native English speakers, students with language or reading impairments, or students with older devices? Are policies in place to dictate what happens with the information amassed, and who has access to it? Is the college protecting against bias and discrimination by ensuring that both the datasets informing the tool, and the people involved in its development and implementation, are diverse? What does evaluation look like?

The University of Texas at Austin, for example, terminated a machine-learning system in 2020 after critics cited bias and discrimination concerns. The system helped the computer-science department evaluate Ph.D applications, scoring an applicant’s likelihood of being accepted via algorithms based on historical data.

Sometimes, people developing these tools “are simply looking at the challenges as technical challenges,” such as how to safeguard against hacking, said Elana Zeide, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law who researches the ethical implications of AI. “People should be more aware that there are more fundamental challenges.”

The University of California system, including UC-Irvine, has been at the forefront of thinking about ethical AI, including and beyond chatbots. The system adopted recommendations from a nearly 80-page report in the fall of 2021 — among the first of its kind in higher education — that includes best practices for incorporating AI into different aspects of the “student experience,” such as admissions and financial aid, advising, mental health, and remote proctoring.

The report came out of a task force that was formed after researchers across the UC system realized they had similar questions about AI, said Tom Andriola, UCI’s vice chancellor for information, technology and data. They joined together to create a framework for UC’s campuses that reflected a range of perspectives and expertise.

University of California at Irvine chat bot, Peter the Anteater, went live in the fall of 2019, but he offers a glimpse of how one UC campus has kept ethics in the foreground of its work.

The extent to which a chatbot draws on artificial intelligence varies. Peter is “a hybrid,” according to Bryan Jue, Irvine’s senior director for outreach and communications for undergraduate admissions. The bot is programmed to look for keywords and phrases and supply preset directives, but he can learn, too.

Peter will ask the team, “Was this the right answer to do or not?” if he is less than 77 percent confident in the answer he provided, Jue said. If he wasn’t correct, a staffer can “retrain” him by identifying the right answer for the next time a similar question arises. “It’s like you teach a kid, ‘Don’t touch a hot stove,’” said Jue. “It does require some guidance” on the back end.

To expose Peter to a diverse array of queries, the team leaned on students, such as campus tour guides and those working in the admissions office, to feed him questions they remember having as prospective students, or questions that regularly surface during tours. They’ve introduced Peter to colloquial terms that might stump him, like ‘Boba,’ a campus drink staple, and questions that Jue and Morales said they wouldn’t have thought of. Do you have vegetarian options, or kosher meals? What if I have allergies?

This approach dovetails with the UC report’s recommendation that training data be representative of the broad demographic of UC students and applicants. “Our student body is a very diverse one, and all of these different perspectives and experiences inform how somebody might think,” and the questions they might have, said Patricia Morales, UCI’s associate vice chancellor for enrollment management. “Otherwise, you almost have an echo chamber.” Enrollment at UC-Irvine is 37.5 percent Asian, 25.2 percent Latino/Latina, and 16.3 percent nonresident alien.

Collaboration with a tool’s target population is a crucial part of its success, said Richard Culatta, chief executive of the International Society for Technology in Education. “The massive problem that we have in higher ed right now” is that user experience is often not a priority. Adjustments needed “are rarely the adjustments you think you need to make.”

The report also emphasizes that with AI tools, “a human must remain in the loop.” Peter is not a “set it and forget it” tool with little oversight, Jue said; two staffers in the admissions office act as his supervisors. “We treat it like another staff member,” he said. The idea is, just like any other staffer, “I’m going to train you, I’m going to correct you, I’m going to monitor you pretty much daily.“

Transparency around data collection is another key tenet. Peter does require a first name, last name, email address, and broad descriptor of who the user is — such as a parent, current student, or prospective student — to start a conversation, which isn’t the case for all bots. That information gives Peter a tip-off of what questions to expect and helps the office follow up with individuals as needed (with their consent). Conversations through the bot are never linked to students’ applications — a worry brought to UCI’s attention in the past — and data is not shared outside of the admissions office.

Prior to adopting the tool, which comes from third-party vendor Gecko, the university closely reviewed that company’s data-security policies, Jue said.

“Don’t give us your [Social Security Number], don’t give us the number of credits,” he said. “We don’t want any of that stuff” in the chat. If someone has a question “that’s more private” or customized, that’s a conversation that would be referred to a human staffer.

Since launching, Peter has had more than 63,000 conversations, Morales confirmed via email. In 2021, the bot resolved about 87 percent of questions the admissions office received.

Morales and Jue consider that a huge win. Still, they acknowledge that, as with AI more broadly, improvements still need to be made. They want Peter to converse in more languages, for one — especially Spanish, given the state’s substantial Latino/Latina population. (Right now, Peter speaks English, German, and Chinese; the chatbot vendor confirmed it supports 75 languages, including Spanish. Jue said his team wants to test the translation capabilities in-house first, though, and is locating students and staff who are native Spanish speakers to assist.) Jue said that he’d also like to see Peter provide “tangible” services, like signing someone up to receive promotional materials if they’re interested..

Morales added that it’s worthwhile brainstorming ways to better serve as many communities as possible, including those with disabilities. That’s a point that Andriola, the vice chancellor, thinks about too.

In the near future, there could be ways to ask questions “using different channels,” like speaking aloud — perhaps while looking at an avatar — versus just typing, Andriola said.

AI applications including chatbots will become mainstays at most college campuses in the years to come even as ethics questions are raised!



Video: US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona says that the nation’s schools need “to make up for lost time”

Dear Commons Community,

US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said yesterday  that the nation’s schools must act more urgently to help millions of students who have fallen behind during the pandemic. “We must make up for lost time,” he said.

Striving to keep schools open is no longer enough, Cardona said in a speech laying out his priorities (see video above). He urged schools to use billions of dollars in federal aid to expand tutoring and mental health counseling, and to close achievement gaps that have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

The goal is to make schools stronger than they were before, he said, seeing a “chance for a reset in education.”

“Despite our country being in the midst of a surge, I know our children cannot wait any longer,” Cardona said from the department’s headquarters. “They have suffered enough, and this is our moment.”

He took a harder edge on the question of school closures, which are seen as a political liability for Democrats given the mounting frustration among parents. Most schools have remained open during the spread of the omicron variant, but scattered closures have roiled some communities.

“Safely reopening schools is the baseline, but it’s not good enough,” Cardona said. “We must make up for lost time.”

He said schools should now turn their full focus toward helping students recover, especially those from groups that faced education inequities even before the pandemic.

As a start, he urged all schools to provide at least 30 minutes of tutoring three days a week for every student who has fallen behind. He said schools should aim to double the number of counselors, social workers and mental health workers in their buildings — a goal previously set by President Joe Biden.

The education secretary said schools should be able to achieve those goals using federal dollars from Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which sent $130 billion to the nation’s schools last year.

Most schools have barely dipped into that pool, however, and many are still deciding how to use it before a spending deadline in late 2024. Biden last week voiced frustration with how slowly the money is being spent. “Use it” was his message for states and schools.

Cardona said the money should go out now for more counselors and other staff members.

He asked schools to look beyond the pandemic even as some continue to face disruption caused by COVID-19. The omicron variant has led to waves of teacher absences in some areas, leaving some too short-staffed to stay open. Teachers unions caution that the problem will only worsen as exhausted educators quit or retire.

Cardona, a former teacher himself, said teachers need to be paid more and treated with “the respect and the dignity they deserve.” The White House has proposed federal money to support pay increases, but Cardona said it’s up to states and districts to give teachers a livable wage.

“It’s on us to make sure education jobs are ones that educators don’t want to leave,” he said.

Looking to Congress, Cardona pressed for passage of several key provisions of Biden’s education plan, including an increase in Title I funding for low-income schools, more money for special education and universal preschool. All three have been tangled up in political deadlock in Washington.

In higher education, Cardona’s priorities center on student debt. So far, the Biden administration has erased $15 billion in debt for borrowers in certain programs, and it recently relaxed the rules for the troubled Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

In December, Biden also extended a pause on student loan payments through May 1, a move meant to help millions of borrowers put off loan payments during the pandemic. Cardona said today’s burden of student debt is “unacceptable” and that “no one should be forced to make a payment they can’t afford.”

He did not say whether the administration will pursue wider debt cancellation. Biden has faced mounting pressure from progressive Democrats to forgive huge swaths of student debt. More than 80 lawmakers sent a letter on Tuesday calling for the cancellation of $50,000 in student debt for every borrower.

Nearly a year ago, the White House said it would study the legality of such a move, and Biden previously said he would support erasing up to $10,000 per borrower through legislation. The administration has yet to issue a public decision on the issue.

Good priorities.  Let’s move forward!!



Possible Biden Nominees to the US Supreme Court to Replace Stephen Breyer!

Too Afraid To Ask: Supreme Court nominations

Dear Commons Community,

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement gives President Joe Biden a chance to make his first nomination to the high court. Biden has also indicated that he plans to fulfill a campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to be a justice.  Below is a list of potential nominees courtesy of the Associated Press.




Ketanji Brown Jackson has known Breyer for decades. A graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law school, she was a law clerk to Breyer from 1999 to 2000. She is comfortable enough with her former boss to have a little fun at his expense. In 2017, after Breyer accidentally brought his cellphone to court and it rang, Jackson introduced him at an event and pretended to get a call mid-introduction from Breyer’s colleague, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

After clerking for Breyer, Jackson was as a lawyer in private practice, worked as a public defender and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. President Barack Obama nominated her to be a federal trial court judge in the District of Columbia in 2013. Biden elevated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where she has served since June 2021.

Recently, Jackson was part of a three-judge panel that ruled against former President Donald Trump’s effort to shield documents from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol.

Jackson, 51, also has the advantage of a connection to Republicans. She is related by marriage to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Jackson’s husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, a surgeon, is the twin brother of Ryan’s brother-in-law. The judge and her husband have two daughters.



Leondra Kruger would be the first person in more than 40 years to move from a state court to the Supreme Court if she were to be chosen and confirmed as Biden’s nominee. The last was Sandra Day O’Connor, a barrier-breaker who was the court’s first female justice. During his 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan had promised to put a woman on the Supreme Court. He fulfilled that commitment in his first year in office when he elevated O’Connor from a state appeals court in Arizona.

Kruger, 45, has been on the California Supreme Court since 2015. She was just 38 when chosen for the job by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. She’s seen as a moderate on the seven-member court.

Kruger grew up in Los Angeles. She is the daughter of a Jamaican mother and Jewish father; both are pediatricians. She attended Harvard before getting her law degree from Yale. Like Jackson, she was a law clerk to a Supreme Court justice — John Paul Stevens.

Before moving back to California, Kruger worked for the Department of Justice. She argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government, including one involving religious schools’ ability to fire teachers.

Kruger is the first California Supreme Court justice to have a baby while serving on the court. She and her husband have two children.



J. Michelle Childs’ resume doesn’t include a law degree from Harvard or Yale or service on a federal appeals court, common characteristics of the current justices. But she has a powerful backer who has Biden’s ear: Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.

Clyburn and Biden are longtime friends. Clyburn’s pivotal endorsement of Biden before South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary in February 2020 is seen as critical in Biden’s path to the nomination.

On Thursday, he said Childs’ deep legal experience gives her the “ability to empathize” with the Americans whose cases are considered.

“Judge Childs has everything I think it takes to be a great justice,” Clyburn said. “We’ve got to recognize that people come from all walks of life, and we ought not dismiss anyone because of that.”

Childs, 55, is a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law. She has a master’s degree from the school as well as a different legal degree from Duke.

She was previously a state court judge and has served as a federal trial court judge since 2010. In 2014, before the Supreme Court ruled that gay couples had a right to marry nationwide, she ruled in favor of a gay couple seeking to have their District of Columbia marriage recognized in South Carolina.

Biden nominated her in December to be a federal appeals court judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but senators have yet to act. Among the current justices, only Justice Elena Kagan wasn’t a federal appeals court judge before joining.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, one of Biden’s top congressional allies, said that South Carolina Judge J. Michelle Childs’ vast experience – to include her non-Ivy League degrees, an uncommon occurrence on the nation’s highest court – gives her the “ability to empathize” with the Americans whose cases are considered.

“Judge Childs has everything I think it takes to be a great justice,” he said. “We’ve got to recognize that people come from all walks of life, and we ought not dismiss anyone because of that.”



If Biden decided to go outside the judiciary, the choice could be NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund head Sherrilyn Ifill, 59. She is a deeply respected civil rights lawyer who has held the post since 2013. Ifill, who has announced she will step down in the spring, is the second woman to lead the organization.

Ifill started her career at the American Civil Liberties Union, then worked on voting rights legislation at the legal defense fund before she joined the faculty at University of Maryland School of Law, where she taught for more than 20 years. Ifill graduated from Vassar College and earned her law degree from New York University School of Law in 1987. She was among the group of lawyers named to study the Supreme Court by Biden in 2021.

She’s a prolific author and writer, and in February of last year wrote an opinion column in The New York Times on how the legal profession must reckon with the fact that lawyers helped President Donald Trump by enabling him to effort “the most dangerous assault on American democracy in more than a century,” through his meritless lawsuits challenging the election, efforts to install a sympathetic attorney general who would help him, and by the growing movement in Congress to adopt Trump’s election lies.



Another potential candidate outside the judiciary, Murray, 45, is a New York University Law professor. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Yale Law School. She clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was then at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

At NYU, Murray teaches family law and reproductive rights and justice, as well as constitutional law. Her research focuses on marriage equality, reproductive rights and the laws around sex and sexuality. She previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

Aside from her substantial law journal work, she’s written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. In December, Murray wrote an opinion essay for the Times about Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s role as both a mother and conservative as the high court considered the most serious challenge in a generation to Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case.

“Whether fairly or not, Justice Barrett’s gender has always loomed large in speculation about her impact on the court’s abortion jurisprudence,” Murray wrote. “Although she did not explicitly invoke her identity as a woman, she seemed to lean into her identity as an adoptive mother — and in fact, the only mother on the court — to question the underpinnings of Roe.”



Holly Thomas, 43, was just confirmed to the largest federal appeals court last week, the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. She is the second Black woman ever to sit on the court.

Thomas is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School. She had been in the Family Law Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court since 2018, and before that she was the deputy director of executive programs at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

She has also worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and was as an appellate attorney in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

She overcame a party-line vote deadlock in the Senate Judiciary Committee, requiring an additional floor vote to move her forward after Republicans questioned her ability to separate her prior advocacy for progressive issues from her work as a judge. During her time in the New York Solicitor General’s office, she filed briefs advocating for policies that allowed transgender people to use the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. At her confirmation hearings, she said she was more than able to set aside her work in order to fairly serve as a judge.



Eunice Lee, 51, was named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in August, the first former federal defender to serve on the court. Her appointment was lauded as a recognition of the need to broaden the judiciary’s legal expertise, particularly because defense lawyers are not a common choice for such posts.

Lee graduated from Ohio State University and Yale Law School. She then clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Susan J. Dlott, and later for Judge Eric Clay on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. She spent time from 1998 to 2019 at the office of the appellate defender in New York City and also taught clinical law at New York University Law School.

Biden’s already interviewed her once – he spoke with her directly for her appeals court position.



Biden has also spoken with Jackson-Akiwumi, 43. She comes from a defense attorney background, having worked in the federal defender program in the Northern District of Illinois since 2010. She was confirmed to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in June on a bipartisan vote. Jackson-Akiwumi attended Princeton University and then Yale Law School. She began her legal career as a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge David Coar, then worked as a clerk on the Fourth Circuit appeals court.



Biden is also looking at Minnesota U.S. District Court Judge Wilhelmina Wright, 58, the only jurist in Minnesota’s history to serve in the state district court, appellate court and state Supreme Court. She was sworn in six years ago to the federal bench, making history as the state’s first Black female federal judge. At the time, 14 Republicans voted for her.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, she first clerked for Judge Damon Keith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She went into private practice in education law, representing school districts that sought to better educate public school children. She was a federal prosecutor in Minnesota for about five years before she was first named a Minnesota state judge. She became a federal judge in 2015.


Video: Brianna Keiler asks – “Why is Rupert Murdoch, who was one of the first to get vaccinated, allowing this anti-science BS on the air? … It is killing people.”

Dear Commons Community,

CNN’s “New Day” anchor Brianna Keilar yesterday slammed Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch (see video above) for allowing personalities on the right-wing conservative network to continue to peddle disinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

Murdoch was one of the first people to get the first dose of a COVID vaccine in December 2020, when he thanked the “amazing scientists” who developed it and urged others to get the shot, Keilar noted. But hosts and guests on the network have repeatedly dabbled with or sent anti-vaccine messages.

“Again, the daily  question is why is Rupert Murdoch, who was one of the first to get vaccinated, allowing this anti-science B.S. on the air?” Keilar asked, adding, “Because it is killing people. But, you know, ratings. And that is the ultimate moral crime.”

At some point, the vast majority of Americans will see Murdoch and his associates for the harm and agony they have caused for the victims of COVID!  And for what – to make a buck!