Cavalcade of Mammals

Maybe COVID-19 isn’t that dangerous? (and the country should mostly ignore it)

JP Sears is an irreverent comedian. He made a video poking holes in the mainstream story of COVID-19. He claims:

1. You should do what you think is best based on your own assessment and accept the consequences of your decision.

2. Original estimate of death rate of 4.5%. LA County study shows incidence is 25X-40X higher, so the actual death rate is lower. New estimate of death rate is between 0.1% - 0.2%.

3. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and dies is labeled a COVID-19 death, so the death count is over estimated. The treating physician doesn't determine the cause of death.

4. Mandatory vaccination is offensive. If a vaccine is developed, it will be approved for use without long term safety testing.

5. Pharmaceutical companies have a track record of recklessly pushing dangerous drugs.

6. Be afraid of any tracking--RFID, phone apps.

7. Rant about Bill Gates not having medical training. He controls the WHO, which is setting US COVID-19 policy. He is using his non-profit foundation to gather power.

I’ll address claims out of order, because “YOU CANT TELL ME WHAT TO DO, I’M A REBEL!”.

2. 26,000, or 1 in 700 (0.14%), of New Yorkers have already died of COVID-19, which provides a floor to estimates of the death rate. Estimates of incidence in New York range from 21% (New York city) to 3.6% upstate to 13% expectant mothers in New York, to 13.9% statewide incidence from antibody testing. Estimate that 20% of people in the state have had COVID-19, gives a death rate of 0.14% x 5 = 0.7%. But the confirmed death count is known to be an under count. The true death rate can be estimated by looking at how many people have died in NY this year and comparing it to a typical year. This gives an estimate that the COVID-19 mortality that is ~50% higher in NY than the confirmed death toll. So 0.7% x 2 = 1.4% mortality rate. A death rate of ~1% +/- 50% (0.5-1.5%) with good hospital care seems like a reasonable estimate.

In Iceland, testing a random sample of people gave an estimate that 2100 – 2800 people in the country had COVID-19, with 10 deaths, giving an estimated mortality rate of 0.36% – 0.48%.

So the incidence of COVID-19 is higher than reported with many people having mild disease. The US isn’t testing all symptomatic people, population surveys are only starting to report results.

Illinois reports 3,111 deaths and 70,873 cases, a death rate of 4.4%. But no one thinks that 4.4% is the death rate. A more reasonable estimate would be 50% more deaths, 4666 and 10X more cases, 710k, giving a mortality rate of 0.66%. The number of undiagnosed cases is where most of the uncertainty lies.

No one was reporting a mortality rate of 4.5%, that is bullshit. The early March results were all over the map, but no one took them seriously, they were early reports. And everyone knows the number of cases is higher, a lot of people with mild or asymptomatic disease, though there still is a lot of uncertainty as to how many people have had COVID-19.

It is still possible that the best estimates today are off, and that the mortality rate is lower. Let’s say it is 0.25%. Given that there is no vaccine, no one had any immunity to the virus a few months ago, and how easily it spreads, it would infect 2/3 of the country in a few months if it wasn’t slowed down. 2/3 of the US is 200 million people, 0.25% mortality would be 500,000 people. 2.5 million people would require hospitalization, but the US only has hospital beds for a small fraction of that number, so mortality rate under conditions of uncontrolled spread would be much higher.

Here are graphs of excess mortality, NY, UK, US state estimates, and CDC (NCHS) reporting:

3. This is a conspiracy theory that grew out of an interview Minnesota State Sen. Scott Jensen, a family physician, did with Fox News host Laura Ingraham on April 8. This turned into a meme, “hospitals get an extra $13,000 if they diagnose a death as COVID-19!”. There is no evidence for this, and Jensen now says his statements were misconstrued.

COVID-19 deaths are being reported by doctors using the existing practices. That there are *lots* of COVID-19 deaths can be seen from the rise in overall mortality this year. The CDC estimates disease prevalence and mortality using multiple lines of evidence–death certificates, testing of hospital samples, etc. This is how the yearly flu mortality figures are assembled by the CDC. It takes 1-2 years for these estimates to get finalized.

4. It will be interesting to see whether this blows up if a vaccine is developed. I could see the anti-vax movement colliding with the ‘taking COVID-19 seriously is a Democratic attack on freedom’ being pushed already by the President.

If a vaccine is developed, every sensible person will go out of their way to get it. Middle aged people who get COVID-19 end up in the hospital 2-3% of the time. Who wants to risk that? Also, widespread vaccination would allow us to open up the country again without triggering a new wave of cases. Will vaccination be mandatory for school children, or for people visiting nursing home or attending concerts? Maybe.

If a vaccine is approved, it will have gone through safety and efficacy testing. It will most likely *not* have been tested as thoroughly as a typical vaccine, because this is a crisis, and every day of delay costs lives. And costs people billions in lost income.

6. Until a vaccine is available, the best way to control the spread of COVID-19 is testing and track & trace. Identify and quarantine infected people, and identify and quarantine people that came in contact with them. There have been proposals to use tech–a phone app, or phone location data, to help identify contacts. Other countries are already using this successfully.

The fear that this will be used in the US to set up a permanent regime tracking everyone’s whereabouts all the time for… some sort of bad purpose is crazy.

1., 5., 7. The idea that a person shouldn’t take drugs made by pharmaceutical companies because they are keeping you sick to sell you drugs is, again, nuts. Disease exists, and before effective treatments, people suffered and died. Before modern medicine, people got lots of fresh air and exercise, many people ‘exercised’ all day long, and ate ‘all natural foods’ from the local farms, and they still got sick and died. This point seems unrelated to the COVID-19 rant.

Bill Gates has spent the last ~20 years working on public service projects–education and infectious disease. Not much has come of the education projects, but his funding of infectious disease projects has been very productive and is well-regarded. He knows more about epidemiology than almost everyone without a PhD in the subject. He’s been reading this stuff for years, for ‘fun’. Why are we hearing from him? He knows a fair amount about it, and America loves CEOs and rich guys. The WHO is an organization that coordinates efforts of world governments to fight disease. Like all UN efforts, it has little power and runs on cooperation and donations by member countries.

The idea that you should do what you think is best for yourself and screw everyone else is a very American idea. When it comes to skydiving and shooting heroin, I’m all for it. But this is a case where the behavior spreads disease and puts everyone at risk. A good analogy is drunk driving. Freedom, but never responsibility! Public health measures like quarantine, banning large gatherings, and mask wearing reduce disease and save lives. These are measures taken to fight a disease endangering the country, temporary measures directly aimed at stopping the spread of disease. I think it is reasonable to enact and enforce public health guidelines.





Failure

Americans shut down the country for the last 7 weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 and give the federal government time to get ahead of this–put mass testing in place, ramp up protective gear manufacturing, etc. The Republican administration wasted the time–we don’t have the protective gear or enough testing capacity. They haven’t even tried–Trump gave up, his administration spent the time bullshitting and planning who to blame the disaster on. Now the Republicans are pushing to reopen businesses and attacking states with Democratic governors trying to keep the pandemic under control. They have organized their brown shirts to come out and threaten violence against measures to save lives, measures with broad public support.

This month 1,500 Americans are dying every day of COVID-19. The projections are that this will continue all summer, and may get worse as states reopen businesses without enough testing or protective gear to halt the spread. Work and risk dying or lose your job, no unemployment for you, that’s the Republican plan. The Republican plan is for 100,000 more Americans to be killed this summer, and they are fine with it. Trump gives himself an “A+”, calls his response perfect. He has no plan to change course, to work hard to save these lives. Republicans is Congress and across the country don’t have a word of criticism to offer. They fully support the plan where 100,000 Americans die of COVID-19 this summer. This is an epic failure. With an active, engaged, and competent government, most of these people can be saved.

And this is the second round of failure. When Trump was briefed on the developing COVID-19 pandemic, he sat on his ass for six+ weeks. He didn’t want there to be a disaster while he was President, so he ignored it and hoped it would go away. Most of the 70,000 Americans that have been killed by COVID-19 would have been saved by a proactive response, by a President that listened to scientific advice, took the intelligence reports seriously, and acted–put the government in motion and got the country mobilized.

COVID-19 in the US

I’m thinking about how the pandemic will play out in the US. I think the experience of Singapore provides an illustrative example. Singapore did a good job of controlling the pandemic early on. The government took steps to put testing in place, identify and quarantine the infected, supply protective equipment so everyone could be masked in public, etc. And it worked, new cases dropped to near zero.

But Singapore isn’t just a prosperous, modern country, it also has a large pool of poor foreign workers, an underclass that doesn’t get government services, by design they get poorly treated and their problems ignored. COVID-19 is spreading among these people in Singapore now. The government wasn’t monitoring them and didn’t know this was happening until the outbreak was extensive. These people weren’t tested, weren’t supplied with protective equipment, and live and work in conditions that are crowded and allow disease to spread freely.

But all these people live in one country, and if the pandemic spreads in one segment of the population, it will spread everywhere, and this is how Singapore’s response failed.

The divide isn’t as stark in the US, but the US has always been a country with a prosperous segment of the population and large patches of underclass–people whose problems are ignored. Basic services are available to those with enough money, everyone else suffers their absence. The US government is organized to ignore the problems of the underclass–they don’t get health care, they are forced to work while sick and into old age. You can see this attitude in the federal government’s response–we have some testing, enough for the people who matter. Not enough protective gear for everyone, so it is distributed commercially–those with money can buy it.

What does this mean for the US response to COVID-19? It means that instead of a national effort, to test, treat, and protect everyone in the country, the US has been focusing on the upper class. Leaving some segments of the population where COVID-19 spreads freely. But the US has one connected population, there are plenty of contacts between people in different classes. The disease doesn’t respect the class boundaries, and so it will spread back to the upper class. A disease can’t be contained by a net with large holes.

So that’s the US response to the pandemic–rather than make a national effort, the US will take its usual approach. This will fail, and the pandemic will continue spreading. Better dead than egalitarian!

I expect the economic response will follow the same outline, and the US will focus on bailing out the ruling class and will choose to have a long and deep depression rather than have the government help everyone out and lift us out of the depression.



Links for April 2020

Wisc politics blog.
The Republican-led Wisconsin State Legislature has not taken one single action since the crisis hit. Not. One.
Even in the Before Times, they were planning to take a nine-month break. 
Tony Evers proposed one (very reasonable!) $700 million plan to address the crisis on March 21, and the Republicans did nothing with it, and proposed no alternate plan. The governor has now proposed a second plan. Democratic lawmakers are urging their Republican counterparts to take it up. It remains to be seen if the Republican leadership in the legislature will do anything.
Restaurants and other small businesses have been asking legislative leaders to waive the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits– something the governor has supported even before the crisis hit–and they’ve done nothing about it. 
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, inundated with 160 calls per second as unemployment claims skyrocket into the hundreds of thousands, even had to go out of its way to clarify that the legislature would be needed to waive that waiting period. The legislature could waive that waiting period quickly and easily and the governor would undoubtedly sign it into law.
The legislature could even just go in for a lay-up and allow at-home alcohol delivery. Who would be opposed to that right about now?
The Republicans in charge of the State Legislature spent more than a year shouting about being a co-equal branch of government only to do not one single thing once a real crisis hit.

Kids STEM stuff:
MEL Science
Mystery Science
Kiwi Crate boxes

What does this physicist think of economists? by Jason Smith (parody)

COVID-19
Will I Get A Check From The US Government, And How?
Illinois Dept of Public Health–COVID-19 cases, deaths statistics
IHME COVID-19 projections
This Is Trump’s Fault: The president is failing, and Americans are paying for his failures. by David Frum (conservative critic of Trump)

The Self-Made Man: The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth. by John Swansburg

Yasky-bot. An industrial robotic arm becomes open.
Built a controller and kinematics solver for a robot arm.





Links for March 2020

An Unsettling New Theory: There Is No Swing Voter: Rachel Bitecofer’s radical new theory predicted the midterms spot-on. So who’s going to win 2020?
NEJM: Covid-19 — Navigating the Uncharted. Most interesting bit is that there may be many undiagnosed cases, making the death rate much lower–1%, maybe lower. Of course, this also means it has spread much more widely, and 20-70% of a population will get the disease.

HERETICAL THOUGHTS ABOUT SCIENCE AND SOCIETY An essay by Freeman Dyson, 8.7.07
Wrong at every scale and in uninteresting ways. Unfortunately, it means his opinion was unreliable after he published this (and likely for at least several years).

How to be a Democrat, according to Republicans: Beware the advice offered by your literal opponent. by Shuja Haider
Compilation of the terrible record of never-Trump and other unhappy Republicans.

Wild mushrooms poison thousands of people every year. USDA just introduced a device to detect the deadliest toxins. by Jessica Fu
Jokes I’ve Told That My Male Colleagues Didn’t Like. by Ali Kelley, Kate Herzlin, Danielle Kraese, and Ysabel Yates
Fareed Zakaria Is Completely Ignorant About the Nordics. by Matt Bruenig
Timeline on Jared Kushner, Qatar, 666 Fifth Avenue, and White House Policy by Ryan Goodman and Julia Brooks

Links for February 2020

The State of Georgia Is in Play: New voter registrations are outpacing Republican efforts to purge the rolls. by Nancy LeTourneau
David Rosenhan–How a fraudulent experiment set psychiatry back decades. by Andrew Scull
In the 1970s, a social psychologist published ‘findings’ deeply critical of American psychiatric methods. The problem was they were almost entirely fictional.
Don’t Just Get Mad. Get to Work.
The FlipSide –curious if there is anything useful here. Seems to cover–this is the what the conservatives are saying today. Not the same as ‘this is something conservatives are saying worth considering’.
Rep. Schiff at Senate Impeachment Trial: In America, Right Matters. Truth Matters.
9 highlights from the impeachment trial this week

Graphics Gems Repository

The Fire This Time: In the Face of Rising White Supremacist Violence, Police Continue to Investigate Victims and Activists. by Alice Speri

Knotweed. Invasive species in the US and UK.
Where Might Trumpism Take Us? For analogies that show us where the nation might be headed, look close to home. by Jamelle Bouie

This One Chart Explains Why the Kids Back Bernie. by Eric Levitz

Lean Morse code online.
How Troubling is our Inheritanchttps://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/mvhkc/e – A review of genetics and race in the social sciences. by Philip Cohen (pre-print)


SETI and METI

With the recent discoveries from planet searches–Kepler, etc.–it is clear that habitable planets are fairly common. The parameters of the Drake equation are filling in, and making it look likely there are many planets with life in the galaxy. So how to resolve the Fermi Paradox?

One possibility is that while life is common, intelligent life or technological civilization is rare. Certainly, there are no good estimates for this. But let’s assume that this is not the barrier, that say, 1:1000 planets with life develop a technological civilization.

Going past the existence of intelligent life, space is quite big. Likely FTL is impossible. Slower than light travel is expensive, slow, and difficult. So let’s assume everyone stays close to their home star.

How difficult is communication? Reception is fairly easy, but how expensive is transmission? How strong does a signal have to be to get received at 1000 light years, 100k light years? How much energy does it take? Also, the only stars that ‘count’ as communicating are those that can keep it up for a long time–100k, 1M years. Long enough for extended back and forth messaging.

The only potential communication partners we have–stars we can find by searching for messages (SETI)–are those with an active Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) program. That is, technological civilizations that have a long term program sending messages to all the nearby stars

You can run the Fermi numbers and get a reasonable chance there is a communication partner within 10k light years, but the conversation would still be slow, so the effort required is great.

Quid pro quo with a turn around time of 2X light years is very slow. So what form of communication is the most reasonable strategy? I doubt star ‘A’ wants to send a short message, and wait for a reply, leaving the channel closed 99.99%+ of the time. And yet if the star ‘B’ on the other end stops reciprocating, you don’t know for a long, long time.

Links for January 2020

Money Laundering 101 byCZEdwards

Building Prototypes Part 4 of 18 (video) by Dan GelbartMachine Shop 1 (video) by Henrik Bak HeydeEverything We Know About Birds That Glow. Owls, puffins, and lots of other flying friends exhibit fascinating patterns under blacklights. by Cara Giaimo

Can intelligence be changed? by Martin Lövdén
Broad cognitive abilities, narrow cognitive abilities, General crystallized intelligence (gc), and general fluid intelligence (gf)

The Progressive’s Guide to Corporate Democrat Speak by Richard J. Eskow

How Political Fact-Checkers Distort the Truth: Glenn Kessler and his ilk aren’t sticking to the facts. They’re promoting a moderate dogma. by Alex Pareene

Inside the Secret List of Demands Warren Gave Hillary: The Massachusetts senator pressured Clinton to stock her administration with officials very different than Obama’s team. by ALEX THOMPSON

For The Win (3rd Ed.) is field-tested to help even the smallest counties assemble a high-energy GOTV program with little money and limited computer skills. by Tom Sullivan

2016 Timeline: The future of driverless cars, from Audi to Volvo.
All these companies have blown the timelines. Very little progress since 2016!

UCHealth: Making pseudoscientific claims about acupuncture. by Orac. Shame on U of Colorado!

Michael Hudson: The Vocabulary of Economic Deception
by Yves Smith
“The income tax was a basic reform back in 1913. Only 1% of Americaís population had to pay the tax. Most were tax-free, because the aim was to tax the rentiers who lived off their bond or stock holdings, real estate or monopolies. The solution was simply to tax the wealthiest 1% or 2% instead of labor or industry, that is, the companies that actually produced something.”

Machine Shop 1 (video) by Henrik Bak Heyde
Building Prototypes Part 4 of 18 (video) by Dan Gelbart
Lathe info by BlondiHacks

“The Trials of Nina McCall” by Scott Stern
“The American Plan. The forgotten initiative had resulted over several decades in the detainment of perhaps 100,000 women or more around the country, all on the mere suspicion of carrying STIs. Many of the women were imprisoned – usually without due process – and forced to undergo painful treatments, typically injections of mercury or arsenic.”

ARS Culture Collection (NRRL) “The ARS Culture Collection is one of the largest public collections of microorganisms in the world, containing approximately 98,000 isolates of bacteria and fungi. The collection is housed within the Mycotoxin Prevention and Applied Microbiology Research Unit at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois.” Many beer yeasts!

Whole Foods is selling dangerous anti-vaccine propaganda in its checkout aisles. by Maddie Stone
Whole Foods carries the Well Being Journal, magazine that publishes anti-vax articles.

Precious Plastic v4 launch. Complete plastic recycling system.
How To Be a Nonconformist 1968 hand drawn pamphlet by by Elissa Jane Karg
IBM pitched its Watson supercomputer as a revolution in cancer care. It’s nowhere close. by Casey Ross

A polyploid admixed origin of beer yeasts derived from European and Asian wine populations.

Ale strains and the S. cerevisiae portion of allotetraploid lager strains were derived from admixture between populations closely related to European grape wine strains and Asian rice wine strains. Similar to both lager and baking strains, ale strains are polyploid, providing them with a passive means of remaining isolated from other populations and providing us with a living relic of their ancestral hybridization…

Serenity — Outtakes
Math 101: A Reading List for Lifelong Learners
-Mostly pop science math books. No one today needs to read Euclid.

GOP senators know Trump’s defense is based on lies. Here’s proof. by Greg Sargent












Links for December 2019

Iceland’s Yule Cat
Multi Material 3D Printing Makes Soft Robot
refs:Voxelated soft matter via multimaterial multinozzle 3D printing

Recipe:Sweet Potatoes with Goat Cheese Mallows
Laced with garlic and rosemary and topped with pecans and goat cheese, this easy casserole gives a savory wink to the traditional sweet-on-sweet Turkey Day staple.

Martin Gardner (1914-2010) site

My Best Mathematical and Logic Puzzles
Martin Gardner’s Table Magic
Mental Magic: Surefire Tricks to Amaze Your Friends
Relativity Simply Explained
Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner
Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries?: Discourses on Godel, Magic Hexagrams, Little Red Riding Hood, and Other Mathematical and Pseudoscientific Topics
The Universe in a Handkerchief: Lewis Carroll’s Mathematical Recreations, Games, Puzzles, and Word Plays
A Bouquet for the Gardener: Martin Gardner Remembered
The Last Recreations: Hydras, Eggs, and Other Mathematical Mystifications

EDM Electrodes Repurposed As Air Bearings

Git instructions, link

Glass idea: Penrose tiling

GOP Goes Gonzo
New drug forces flu virus into ‘error catastrophe,’ overwhelming it with mutations
Race, genetics and pseudoscience: an explainer
Memorial Day Massacre: Ten demonstrators were killed by police bullets during the “Little Steel Strike” of 1937
Echo Dot 3rd Gen. hacking
Crystalline Process — photography in kiln
Hot Kiln Imaging — photography in kiln
High precision air bearing CNC lathe and grinder — Dan Gelbart
Two Bat Detectors
Compliments of Chicagohoodz: Chicago Street Gang Art & Culture by James “Jinx” O’Connor
John Barnett on Why He Won’t Fly on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner
PBS NewsHour skips Bernie Sanders

What if the foundational theories about how to run a company have been corrupted? by Lila MacLellan
The Economy of Evil: The Political Economy under Fascism should scare us. It is all too familiar.
The Eight Counts of Impeachment That Trump Deserves — The lessons from Nixon and Clinton by David Leonhardt

THE ONE HUNDRED NEAREST STAR SYSTEMS from RECONS (Research Consortium On Nearby Stars
List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs (closest 52)