Cavalcade of Mammals

Zach Bush plays the COVID-19 health fraud game

Listened to a Zach Bush on the “Live Healthy Be Well” podcast. Zach Bush clearly has some training in sci and med, he uses a technical terms, but he uses them all wrong, and the result is gibberish. “Viruses integrate into the human genome and let us adapt”? Complete nonsense, and Zack cribbed the plot from “Darwin’s Radio” by Greg Bear* (1999).

The idea this happens all the time–that viral diseases go away because people integrate the viral DNA into their genome and adapt, and this is why SARS and MERS didn’t turn into pandemics–complete nonsense. Zach Bush says he is participating in a “New York clinical trial fund” on human adaption to COVID-19–a fabrication, there is no such clinical trial,
and Zach will never publish the results because it isn’t happening. And a clinical trial is a trial of a medical treatment, and he seems to be saying he’s going to study people w
ho recovered from COVID-19, so a clinical study, not a clinical trial. But it’s all made up, so the details aren’t important.

And then he talks about an idea he has that COVID-19 is deadly for some people because it sticks to smog particles and clumps up, so instead of benignly integrating into human DNA, it is toxic. And then the smog carrying it into the lungs turns into cyanide, a poison. This is nuts. Zach has no evidence for this, he just made it up.

Zach Bush goes on the link susceptibility of COVID-19 to microbiome disruptions due to the fertilizer glyphosate, which ‘stresses’ people and somehow makes them want to absorb virus to trigger adaption to stress. Again, this is complete nonsense. Zach specializes in natural food as a healh lifestyle, and demonizing the fertilizer glyphosate is a long time obsession of his.

The microbiome is great pseudoscience / health fraud nexus. The microbiome is a term for the collection of different microbes living in the human gut, or on the skin. At this point there is good evidence that the microbes living in the gut interact with the body in complex ways and may affect the immune system, food tolerance, maybe other things. But almost nothing concrete is known making it a great source of woo nonsense. It can explain almost anything, and while there is no good reason to hold the belief, it can’t be proven wrong, like perpetual motion machines or that the moon landing was faked or crystal healing.

Zach Bush sells an ION* line of products of magic dirt that are meant to “support microbiome balance”. Is there evidence that it works? No evidence. He also pushes the idea that clean, natural food and water is all that is needed to prevent all disease. This is a lie, but in his mind, he must think his time in medical school was a waste.

Zach is also anti-vaccine, and after going through his crazy COVID-19 story, he drops a bunch of nutty anti-vac nonsense. Vaccines can cause infertility, no worse, contagious infertility! In his view, a COVID-19 vaccine would be bad, because COVID-19 is mostly harmless, and vaccines are harmful. Dangerous nonsense, all fake

It is kind of sad, some people start down the path of medical or scientific training, pick up some of the lingo, maybe finish medical school, and decide that medicine and science are too hard, too much work, and they decide to just make stuff up. Their audience can’t tell the difference between real treatments and the crap they make up, and health fraud is so much easier than developing something new that works. But no so much sad as dishonest, that these people prey on the ignorant and the sick.

*Update: “Darwin’s Radio” (1999) by Greg Bear has human evolution by reactivated endogenous viruses. “Blood Music” (1985) has internal nanobots engineering better humans.

Links for July 2020

Before face masks, Americans went to war against seat belts. by Daniel Ackerman. And the pro-smoking movement.

Exposing Jordan Peterson’s Barrage of Revisionist Falsehoods About Hitler and Nazism by Mikael Nilsson
“Jordan Peterson, YouTube psychology guru and right-wing cult figure, talks a lot about Hitler, WWII and Nazism – in lectures riddled with alarming errors, spurious analogies and a strange reluctance to use the word ‘Holocaust.’ This is why his constant misinformation matters.”

Twibright Optar
A codec for encoding data on paper or free software 2D barcode in other words. Optar fits 200kB on an A4 page.

Missed Payment Rate Hits New High of 32 Percent in July

22 Strange Animals
Meteor Impact Leaves Giant Crater in Africa, Creates Ejecta Blast Zone

Conservative victimhood complex has made America impossible to govern. by Ryan Cooper

CERN’s obsolete particle detectors

Ways To Stay Motivated In This Shit-Shellacked Era Of Epic Stupid by Chuck Wendig

Railroad Grade lever set pocket watches
Modern Calendar Watches by Humbert (Bernard)
“For half a century one of the most widely used text and reference book on how to service, adjust and repair the calendar mechanisms in 20th century watches has been “Modern Calendar Watches” by B. Humbert. This book was published in 1954 in English as part of a trilogy by Scriptar, then publisher of the “Journal Suisse d’Horlogerie” but has been out of print for over 25 years. It is the companion volume to “The Chronograph – Its Mechanism and Repair” (ca.1955, republished 1990) and to “Swiss Self-Winding Watches” (1956, now out of print), all by the same author.”

Talk to your kids about Wikipedia before their teachers do.

Talking to kids, when I find they don’t know something I ask them to google it or to check out Wikipedia. And they all say, “Wikipedia is unreliable, I would never read it!”. Somehow the rule in schools that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source to reference for a paper has turned in a strongly held belief the site should be avoided entirely. Teachers, you done f*cked up!

And really, the school rule not to cite Wikipedia exists because Wikipedia makes assignments too easy–it would be one citation for most kids if allowed, and the teachers want to students to dig deeper, find two or three other sources, maybe crack a book. Which is a fine educational goal, but in implementation it has given kids the completely wrong idea. Wikipedia is a great place to start for most questions, almost always accurate. Entries tend to be short, shorter than Encyclopedia Britannica, but it provides a good starting point–enough info to remind you of an forgotten fact–“When was the War of 1812?”, and enough to give you details to guide a google search for more information.

Links for June 2020

I didn’t realize my blood and bones were nextA one-off injection to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease is now a prospect thanks to advances in gene editing.Since 2014, entomologists have sampled millions of insects around LA, identifying 800 species, including 47 new to science.
‘Antifa buses!’ Panicked armed men hit small-town streets across America to fend off imagined hordes by David Neiwert
Zombie Companies in a Zombie Economy by Charles Marohn

I Am Your Progressive Mayor and I Think We Need to Cut Our Roving Death Squads a Bit of Slack by Bob Vulfov
THIS IS AN US PROBLEM by Ed is ginandtacos

Sleep Loss Can Cause Death through Accumulation of Reactive Oxygen Species in the Gut
by Alexandra Vaccaro et al.
New article with a partial answer to the question, “What physiological process makes animals need to sleep?” It will be interesting to see if this paper holds up. Only read the abstract, the paper is behind a paywall.

Kilobaser — DNA synthesis machine, $15k Euros

Multiplication magic squares

Surveillance Self-Defense: Attending a Protest from the EFF.

Why This Started in Minneapolis: Conditions that led to George Floyd’s death are not unique to Minneapolis and St. Paul. But there’s a reason why the Twin Cities triggered a national uprising. by Sarah Holder

What’s left of Magic Leap? The dream of mixed reality is on life support by Adi Robertson

Perl subroutine signatures
Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2. June 2020. Science

In its first tough test, CRISPR base editing slashes cholesterol levels in monkeys
A CRISPR edit for heart disease: A one-off injection to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease is now a prospect thanks to advances in gene editing.
Very exciting–some limits: 1) doesn’t hit all cells, only a subset, 2) may not be able to target all cell types, 3) Mainly single base changes, so gene KOs, small GOF changes, or changing on module (binding site), 4) immune response may limit number of treatments.

I didn’t realize my blood and bones were next. by Luke O’Neil
Stories of workers dealing with Republican COVID-19 denial.

Links for May 2020

Adrian Bott—’I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party. LeopardsAteMyFace subreddit

Judy Mikovits is a pseudo-scientific anti-vax, conspiracy theory pushing nutter.

Universities are run by corporate style boards, and this is a failure. Time to go back to faculty-run universities.
Free puzzle books in Project Gutenberg
The Conspiracy Theories A Conservative Must Believe Today by David Atkins
New York Times’ Style Guide Substitutions for “The President Lied” by Mickey McCauley
The Nonprofit Grifters Who Want a Cut of the Coronavirus Bailout: After years of undermining health policy to aid their Big Pharma patrons, patient advocacy groups are making claims to federal pandemic relief. by Audrey Farley
The workout drug: As researchers learn more about how exercise fights chronic ills like heart disease and diabetes, doctors may soon be able to treat physical activity as the powerful medicine it is. by Bob Holmes

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.


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)

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.

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