Days of Change

The Art of Noise

October 15, 2020
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This is a graph of COVID-19 cases and deaths. That nearly flat orange line is deaths, but the blue line of cases looks like a lot of statistical noise. If you think it looks like a series of spikes, you see my point. When the media talks about a one day spike, they are using what is essentially using statistical noise to justify their argument that COVID is “out of control.” In reality, the daily number of cases peaked 3 months ago.

Here’s the same data in a different format. In this case, the cumulative number is used (which smooths out the noise) and two different axes are plotted, so that the “death curve” isn’t a flat line. What’s interesting here is that the cases line overtakes the deaths line in August. This means that while the number of cases is increasing at a (slightly) higher rate, the number of deaths is not. Either there is more testing (there is) or the treatment protocols are better (they are) or both.

This is how much better treatment is getting. I did some back of the envelope guesses of how long it takes from diagnosis to death for COVID-19 and used 2 months as the worst case scenario. Looking at the chart above, the number of days may not be that critical. Since the last “spike” in August, the percentage of cases with deadly outcomes has dropped precipitously. Again, this could be due to new cases found through testing. However, since approximately 10% of Americans are believed to have or had COVID-19 and the total number of cases accounts for only 2%, the case fatality rate of about 1.5% could be less than 0.3% in reality, making it as severe as a flu virus without an effective vaccine.

Lockdowns are ineffective because they rely on fear to keep the population in line. When they go on long enough, and in this case, are trying to stop a minor illness, people will resist. Since one super spreader can undo all the lockdowns put in place for weeks, the media has turned to shame as a tool, which is ineffective because the people defying masks don’t blindly follow the dictates of the media. Protecting the vulnerable and not sending COVID-19 patients back to nursing homes seems to be the key to fighting the disease.


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Tribute

September 11, 2020
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My Project 2996 Tribute

One of the worst aspects of this year is the constant counting of dead people and assigning blame for their deaths. No one I’ve heard about has called COVID-19 60 September 11ths yet, but the COVID death toll is constantly measured against wars and other fatal events.

19 years after September 11, 2001, this pandemic is the next generational event. Some kids going to virtual school have parents who were too young to watch the news on 9/11. People who are now the age I was in 2001 will remember some of the aftermath of 9/11, but the pandemic year, the disruption to their lives and jobs. 2020 could be defining year of their adult lives.

The impact of 9/11 was to bring the impact of Islamic terror to the US. It also led us to strike blows against it. We also know that “ending” terrorism isn’t the right goal. Even our current president is trying to get our military out of places where the residents are not that politically separate from terrorists. The US destroyed Afghanistan after the Russians did, but the surgical strikes that cut off the head of the snake.

George W. Bush for his part tried to build up a stockpile of medical equipment after 9/11, but much of it was depleted and not refilled in the following administration. I’m not sure what lessons we will learn from COVID or how much our view of novel pandemics will change over the next 20 years. I will offer this. I don’t really want to be in the middle of the next global crisis.


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It Doesn’t Matter What This Post Says

August 28, 2020
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When Tea Party rallies started over a decade ago, Nancy Pelosi called them “AstroTurf” and the media disparaged the protesters either as people on Medicare / Social Security / Public Assistance who wanted the government out of their government program or closet racists who wanted Barack Obama out of their government. Then came democracy to spank all the leftists with the 2010 midterm results. The lines were drawn between the Obama-supporting papers or networks and the Tea Party. One of the most telling protest signs simply said “It doesn’t matter what this sign says, you’ll call it racism anyway.”

Around the same time, Donald Trump had pivoted from criticizing the Bushes to going after Barack Obama. His demands for Obama’s “birth certificate” were the ones that seemed to force the issue to the point where the long form, Hawaiian document was released to a fawning media. This created a backlash where Obama and the media attacked Trump personally over his inability to become president after trying to get in the game.

The 2012 Election was a disaster. Without Sarah Palin running, the Tea Party field was too varied and Mitt Romney had the “he deserves it” slot. While he did okay in debates with Obama, the campaign run by the same Republicans who lost to Obama once lost to Obama.

While I’ve been a fan of the Tea Party and Sarah Palin, I still see that Republicans need to win Republican offices. In 2016, I saw governor Scott Walker (who eventually lost his race for governor) as the best qualified, then Ted Cruz as the most conservative. Early on, I referred to Donald Trump as glib, which is kind of ironic given the media trying to say he’s incoherent. Palin may have endorsed Trump, but I didn’t.

Looking back, Trump had an interesting psychological operation where Republicans tacitly endorsed him by supporting John Kasich and driving down Cruz’s vote total. At the same time, the Democrats were promoting Trump with the idea that he would instantly lose the election for the GOP.

Trump has bothered me since the days of The Apprentice. In my business, I hear about “sales guys” who don’t know enough about the product and make unreasonable demands on the manufacturers. But the sales guys make the sales that bring in the money that pays the people who make the stuff. Trump sold the United States on him.

Not knowing that Trump would win, I decided to vote for Gary Johnson because I also believe that we should get away from binary election choices. Had I lived in a state with a better chance of Trump winning, (he lost by 22% in my state) I was prepared to vote for him. Just in case.

Now that Donald J. Trump is the official 2020 Republican nominee, I am going to vote for him and for the first time in any capacity. What has been said by the media about Trump has been said about every Republican since I can remember. The third parties are non-starters this year, Trump has a proven track record and Biden / Harris is the disease I don’t want America to catch.


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Natural Selection

August 3, 2020
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For those keeping score, we are entering Month 6 of COVID-19 lockdown. In New York, it’s been pretty oppressive the whole time. Last month, almost every other state has been forced by media pressure to start their own lockdowns. It took months, but New York’s slow growth in cases has pushed it down to 4th most cases in the US, behind California, Florida and Texas. These 4 states are the most populous. This means that in any group of people in the US, a similar percentage will have (or had) COVID-19. That’s why it’s a pandemic.

A lot has been made of the idea of herd immunity. The fear mongers want to tell everyone that since we aren’t anywhere near 60% of the population having COVID-19, people will drop dead all over the place if we don’t mask up and lock down. This is absurd. California made a strong effort to lock down before they had as many cases as New York and it didn’t work. Here’s why.

Think of herd immunity like microwaving a frozen burrito. The heating energy tends to heat the outside while the inside stays frozen. It takes much longer to heat the center of the burrito and it usually involves super-heating the outside to do it. In herd immunity, it is very easy to infect a population with no natural immunity to a disease. However, as the population develops antibodies, the virus starts running out of carriers and the last part of the population (the center of the burrito) will be the hardest to infect. Also, the people who get a virus like this first tend to have the most interactions per day. While 60% is “effective immunity,” even 30% (which NYC has) will greatly reduce the number of new infections. Masks and social distancing make no difference with this method.

Should we self isolate “just in case” anyway? It’s looking less and less effective or likely to prevent infections or deaths. New strains of the virus may be more infections, but less deadly. This makes sense from a “survival of the fittest” model. If a disease is deadly, it has trouble replicating because people die before spreading it much and people tend to run away from the infected or lock them away. The common cold is near universal and has a minuscule fatality rate. It is the perfect virus and it has been around for thousands of years.

Social activity doesn’t just spread diseases, it helps to stop them. This article explains that the restriction of movement in other countries will be the cause of millions of deaths from AIDS, TB and Malaria that have been controlled through the easy access to medical care and drugs interrupted by a relatively mundane flu virus.

My observation now is that states (and some countries) will see resurgences of COVID-19 based on how few people have natural immunity. Those places like NYC who had a massive COVID-19 infection rate will likely see future cases and deaths drop to zero long before other places who thought they “beat” the disease with ad-hoc solutions created at the last minute.


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Socialism Distancing

June 8, 2020
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Every couple of years, there’s a guy who becomes the “face” of protesting over race or gender or some other “inequality.” This year, it is George Floyd. He can be seen in a video yelling “I can’t breathe,” something that would be impossible if he couldn’t breathe. He likely died from his run in with the police, but the fentanyl and meth in his system probably didn’t help.

Of course, “I can’t breathe” is just code for “police are harassing me” anyway. Cities filled with potential rioters run by Democrats (so, basically all of them) have chosen to make police stand down and knee down while the city cuts their funding.Cutting police funding is the new war on democracy.

Watching this has given me a new perspective on my quest to explain Donald Trump. The Wuhan flu outbreak couldn’t be fixed medically. Patients who get very sick stay sick and sometimes die. There’s no vaccine. Testing is only effective in small populations where the progression of the disease was known beforehand. Human beings are the delivery system for viruses. The solution was to separate humans from each other. This breaks the chains of transmission and will slow (or potentially stop) the development of new cases.

Knowing this, we can look at the two political parties. All Democrats are going in the same direction. The fights are over the ones who are trying to fool their constituents that they are “moderate.” Whether they are driving a Formula One or a bicycle, they are all headed to hell. The Republicans, however, have been in a rebuilding phase since either 2008 or 1988, depending on your perspective. Many of the leaders of the party are waiting for the cultural shift that will make them too unpopular to exist. James Carville has been predicting it since 2009 at least. It never happens.

So, if we look at socialism (or Progressive Republicanism) as a virus, we never know for sure who will contract it. People who loved GW Bush and Mitt Romney back in 2012 hate them now for opposing Donald Trump. Trump ended up being a form of political distancing. He was not connected or particularly beholden to Republicans. Because of that, he could cut himself off from the ones who caught the progressive virus. Carrying the analogy further, he also defies the ability of Republicans to be chameleons and mutate their stances because the support of President Trump is the only standard by which Trump will support them.

Instead of authoritarianism, Trump represents a sort of libertarian ideal where any guy off the street can run the government with any reasonably competent group of people who are often not “professional” political types. We’ll find out sooner or later if he is also the vaccine.


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Limited Time Offer

May 20, 2020
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Two months after my last post, all the states did engage in various types of lock downs and most are now lifting them. New York State is going to spend another month phasing out restrictions while New York City, the other global epicenter, is still pretty much on restriction.

One of the problems I had with the lock down strategy is that it misinterpreted what “social distancing” intended to solve. Keeping apart was intended as a method to reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases just as the number of sick people was about to peak. There was little that could be done to prevent deaths, but hospital deaths due to lack of sufficient treatment (like in Italy) could be halted by reducing the number of communicable interactions.

Social distancing more or less worked. However, the lack of total voluntary social distancing triggered a panicked response by the government to keep people from the places where they could gather. That lock down drove us from under 6 million unemployed to about 26 million. While social distancing is sustainable for some time, lock downs are not. Remember, the advocates of social distancing even pointed out that people would probably still be infected until herd immunity was reached, just at a slow enough rate for effective hospitalization.

Governments in many states thought they could end an epidemic by lock down. That is basically impossible. The rest of the world will keep coming to the United States even if we did all the lock down things. Plus, people want to be free. A disease with a mortality rate of 2-5 times that of the flu just is not scary enough to take away the freedom of people. At the same time, the most vulnerable populations in New York nursing homes were being exposed and dying from COVID-19 patients reintroduced by order of Governor Cuomo.

What was originally an artificial depression is becoming a real recession due to businesses now out of business from extended lock downs. If a vaccine is months to years away and magic bullet treatments don’t exist, human beings will have to get along the old fashioned way. We’ll go out and interact and many will get “it” (like the quarter of NYC with antibodies already) until we reach herd immunity. We just need to protect those 70 and older in poor health who have a relatively high chance of dying. A good economy helps when you need to perform extraordinary measures to protect a vulnerable population.


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To Wuhan Flu, Thanks for Nothing

March 20, 2020
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“Do I have coronavirus?”

On February 26, I did a Google search on that as a joke while I was on a long road trip. This was some time after the Diamond Princess cruise ship had been locked down and cases were popping up in the US. Foreign travel to the US had been restricted, but the word pandemic was about to be placed on COVID-19, making it no longer isolated to China with travel-related infections.

By about March 11, the concept of flattening the curve came into play. President Trump gave a speech. A couple of days later, there was a White House press conference and New York State was pulling kids out of school. Last week, flattening the curve just reminded me of a line from the Dukes of Hazzard theme.

By today, crisis mode has been invoked. If your state hasn’t cracked down on personal movement, it probably will soon. The plan is to essentially ride out the progression of the virus, but not let it “go viral” and infect 100 million people before May. On the plus side, anyone who got coronavirus and recovered is essentially vaccinated. They can’t spread it. But without a vaccine, the people who are at risk could overload hospitals.

Now, if you believe this economically disastrous plan of shutting down the economy for 6 weeks will lead to socialism in the US, it will only if everyone thinks this is a great system. Right now, everyone hates it and a government handout may not give them a job back. What we need to think about is what can we do in the future.

Human touch and freedom of movement aren’t the enemy. Crowded cities and below-market rate air travel probably are. Most of the seeder cases of COVID-19 were in the last 2 months from international travel. We can’t stop all air travel, but we can stop bailing out airlines. When they start to fail, we’ll be left with fewer airlines forced to charge higher rates. People will have to save up more for European vacations, but it’s better than millions going on unemployment.

On the population density front, my behavioral sink post detailed the work of John Calhoun. While it is disputed, (because he used rats and it would be illegal to do this to humans) there was a consistent theme. Even when scarcity of food and clean bedding wasn’t an issue, rats just stopped giving a crap when they lacked “social distance” and fighting was not for survival. They stopped reproducing and the population died out.

In the case of a contagion, social interactions are problematic, but social interactions in dense cities are far worse. You run into more people, people you don’t run into regularly and from further away than when you live in a small community. These contacts have the opportunity to spread something to the most new people, much like the person who comes back from Italy and everyone they run into had not been exposed to coronavirus before.

Instead of crazy, multi-week lockdowns every couple of flu seasons, we should work for solutions that are better for many reasons.


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New York’s Bag Ban, the Battle for Control

March 8, 2020
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I enjoy Left on Left violence, and one current topic is the liberal intelligentsia going after New York for doing their bag ban incorrectly. In California, the “free” bag is no more, but shoppers can get a heftier (slightly reusable) plastic bag for 10 cents. In New York, you can’t buy a plastic bag for any price, but can spend 5 cents for a vastly inferior paper bag like the kind that’s hard to carry and rips open. Apparently, NY decided to go harder as part of their inferiority complex to the largest state.

As in any lefty attack, blaming regular people is on the menu. I’ve seen a couple of articles now claiming that it is much easier to manipulate the masses into using fewer or no bags by just charging a simple 5 cent fee. CNBC went on for a number of paragraphs about how “free” things encourage wasteful behavior. This an other stories have some fundamental things wrong.

  • Complimentary things are not free – You can’t walk into a grocery store and ask for a bunch of “free” bags. Those bags are complimentary, provided at no charge to carry things already purchased. Even back in the paper bag days, stories figured out that putting things in bags increased customer satisfaction.
  • Plastic bags have a purpose – They are a system for transferring groceries from the store to the car and from the car to the home. Most people either bring them back to the collection bin at the store, or more likely, use them for something else. If they throw them away, so what? Landfills exist to be filled.
  • Perception of value – People know that plastic bags are not 5 cents. On Amazon, they are around 2 cents a piece. It may cost the store even less. New York has even stated that there is revenue from this process to fund their agenda. 5 and 10 cents don’t seem like much. That’s why the phrase “nickel and dimed” was coined to explain how it adds up. In this case, to the tune of hundreds of dollars per year.
  • This debate is a generation old and the free market decided – I remember when “paper or plastic” was a contentious issue. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade but paper uses trees. Recycling reuses the product, but a lot of energy and chemicals are required. Reusable bags can get dirty and cleaning them requires more energy and chemicals. My mother was staunchly pro-paper. At one time, paper was used for covering books, paper training, making school projects and starting fires. Eventually, people just bough Kraft paper and used the bags with the nice handles for groceries. Now, the government wants to decide. While it can hamper the free market, eventually the market will find a way.

Right now, lawsuits and a mini revolt has led to a moratorium on the bag ban. Maybe the state will have to re-write the law, like they did with the NY SAFE Act and Criminal Justice “reform.”


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Mitt Romney – Hero of the Persistence

February 5, 2020
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Today, Donald Trump was acquitted of both articles of Impeachment. The celebration among Trumpers lasted about 10 minutes, followed by a sense of emptiness that was quickly fill with hatred for Utah Senator Mitt Romney.

He voted to acquit on one article. On the other, he voted to convict, so that Trump’s margin of acquittal was only 15 votes more than necessary. By doing a minimum to differentiate himself from 52 other Republicans, Romney is now above Satan and just below John Bolton on the Trump hate list.

The “Romney hates Trump” theory is fine, but he could have voted guilty on both charges. This more measured, non-Trumpian response seems more deliberate than that. It’s an indication that Romney represents the Republican wing of the Republican Party. That position does not hold a lot of clout, which is why Ted Cruz and Jeff Flake gave up on it. However, it is a bet that history will look back with a less than favorable view of Donald Trump.

Interestingly enough, Romney voted to convict on the charge of abuse of power. Trump did, in fact, have a payment to Ukraine held up for a period of time. Even if you don’t think that’s an abuse of power, Trump’s tweet of a video calling Romney a Democratic Party asset does seem a little abusive.


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On the Passing of Don Imus

December 28, 2019
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In 1994, I was in the midst of washing out of my first university and spent the summer part-time at a janitorial job where my father worked. On the way, we would listen to Imus in the Morning. I continued to listen as I drove to community college, although I would alternate between him and Howard Stern depending on the signal (and show) quality.

When MSNBC premiered in 1996 a few months after the Imus’ infamous performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner, his show was simulcast on the channel. Imus soon promoted MSNBC talent on his show, like Laura Ingraham. He even had hosts on like Chris Matthews, who months earlier was so offended by Imus at the WHCD, he claimed to walk out during the speech.

Imus would continue on MSNBC for another decade as he increasingly called out the liberal direction the network was taking. While Imus’ termination followed the Rutgers incident, the forces of evil (Keith Olbermann and lackeys) had wanted him out, especially since his high ratings were embarrassing them.

Imus was back on the radio after a short hiatus, but eventually the marketplace and the reduction in guests made it impossible for me to find his broadcast. Imus retired in 2018. His goodbye is on Youtube under his son’s social media account.

I listened to hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of Imus over the years and his many frequent guests, but I have my fondest memories of sharing some laughs with my dad at a time when I was in a tough situation. Eventually, washing out was replaced with two degrees and an engineering job. Everything is temporary. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Sometimes, it’s just the way things are.

Rest in Peace, Don Imus.


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