My Pearl Harbor Moment

 

On April 5, the Surgeon General warned us that we needed to brace ourselves for the worst week in our lives. The coming week, and the week that followed, were expected to be the pinnacle of the crisis, and we had to be prepared: “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country, and I want America to understand that.”

But now that we have made it through the hell that was the last two weeks, I find myself with a moment to look back on the miseries I have just survived, as difficult as it is to think about some of them.

Like the time last week when my daughter put a particular flavor of gelato on the grocery list. But the first store I went to didn’t have that flavor, so I had to go to another store.

Or the time I was in the mood for a good burger, but I discovered that our favorite local burger place was temporarily closed. I thought about just going to McDonald’s, but they’re offering only a limited menu right now, and I didn’t feel like compromising.

And then, on another night when we were in the mood for Mexican, the local place was so busy that they didn’t answer the phone the first time I called to place an order. I had to call them again from the parking lot and then sit there and wait for almost 15 minutes before they brought our order out to the car.

Meanwhile, the liquor store has adopted a “one customer at a time” policy, so I had to wait in line outside for almost five minutes before my turn.

But on a more serious note, I have been watching as our state grapples with a health-care crisis of unimaginable proportions. According to the statistics I’ve seen, our hospitals are almost nearly overwhelmed, with several hundred of the state’s 7,000 hospital beds occupied.

I knew, before the Surgeon General’s wakeup call, that this pandemic was going to be very hard on some people in some places. That there were people who were sick, and others who were putting their lives on the line to help them. But if I hadn’t been warned, I wouldn’t have known that during these last two weeks the suffering would spread to every corner of the country and be the “hardest and saddest” time in most of our lives. And yet somehow we survived.

Someday people will ask me what it was like to live through the national hell that was April of 2020, and I will just have to tell them: “There’s no way you can possibly understand.”

Coronavirus Game Changer? The Bendavid/Bhattacharya Study

 

A new study has just been released by Eran Bendavid, Jay Bhattacharya, and colleagues titled “COVID-19 Antibody Seroprevalence in Santa Clara County, California” (here).  You may remember Dr. Bhattacharya from Peter Robinson’s interview about 2 weeks ago (here).  This is the study that Dr. Bhattacharya discussed in Peter’s interview, of antibody testing that would establish the number of people who had been infected with COVID-19, which would allow us to estimate how many infections have gone undetected.

The short answer is: a lot.  The study estimates that the true number of infections in Santa Clara County is 50-85 times greater than the number reported from antigen testing (also called PCR-based testing).  The PCR or antigen testing determines whether a person has an active infection at the time of testing.  The antibody testing determines whether a person has previously been infected.  Santa Clara County, by the way, is the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area, centered on San Jose and including Stanford University and Silicon Valley.

Our discussion about this study started at Locke On’s post (here), at which our friend Mendel said that this “could be a genuine game changer.”  I concur.

In summary, Dr. Bendavid and his team tested 3,330 residents of Santa Clara County, on April 3-4.  They estimated that the prevalence of prior COVID-19 infection was 2.49%-4.16%.  This was “50-85-fold more than the number of confirmed cases” in the county.  They estimated an infection fatality rate (IFR) in the range of 0.12%-0.2%.

Note that this result is just for Santa Clara County, which is somewhat younger than the US as a whole.  According to the Census Bureau, 13.5% of Santa Clara County residents are 65 and over (here), compared to 16.0% nationally (here) and 14.1% in New York City (here).  Based on data from New York, about 75% of COVID-19 deaths have been to people 65 and over, so the IFR estimate for Santa Clara County would have to be adjusted upward somewhat, to be representative of the nation as a whole.

Adjusting for this difference in age distribution, I calculate an IFR for the nation as a whole in the 0.14%-0.23% range.

If this is correct, it implies a maximum death toll for the United States in the range of 320,000 to 530,000.  So no, we’re not looking at millions of deaths.  We’re looking at a much smaller figure — 425,000 as a point estimate — if the Bendavid study is solid information, as it appears to be.

[My calculations are as follows.  For the total deaths estimate, 330,000,000 population x 70% (herd immunity level) = 231,000,000 x IFR of 0.14%-0.23% = 323,400-531,300 deaths.  For the age-adjustment to the IFR, assume 75% of deaths to those 65 and over, so the Santa Clara County IFR of 0.12%-0.20% implies an IFR of 0.67%-1.11% for 65 and over, 0.035%-0.058% for under 65, then apply the overall US population ratios of 16.0% 65 and over, 84% under 65, and add the age subtotals, yielding 0.136%-0.226%.]

We can discuss the implications in the comments.

ChiCom delenda est.

 

 

Member Post

 

The OACB (Oregon Association of Commercial Burglars) has filed a lawsuit against the State of Oregon, and Governor Kate Brown demanding that shelter in place be extended for another 18 months. The suit also demands that their members that are caught by police should no longer be arrested, or jailed due to the risk of […]

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Putting a Dollar Value on a Life Saved

 

In 1981, Ford Motor lost millions in the Grimshaw case involving a gas tank rupture and fatal fire in a rear-ended Ford Pinto. The key fact for the jury was a memo that Ford engineers prepared for NHTSA. The memo explained that there were modifications that could have been made which would add $137 million to the production costs but the net risk reduction was only worth $49 million based on a calculus of the value of a human life. Therefore, the modifications were not cost-effective.

The jury was outraged that there was such a calculation, that there was a dollar figure on a human life. But the truth is that such calculations are made all the time.

As distasteful as it sounds we must now do exactly that in dealing with the COVID pandemic.

Every law student knows the Hand Formula set forth by judge Learned Hand (best name for a judge ever!) in US v. Carroll Towing (1947) which is that legal burden (B) or value of what should be spent to prevent harm is equal to or greater than the cost of that harm (L for “loss”) times the probability (P) it will accrue which is often summarized as B>=PL. The formula requires input of a value in the event of a negligently-caused death. Personal injury litigation often has to come up with a value of human life. Regulatory law must also do so.

Life-saving medical treatments that could extend lives are not authorized by insurance companies or Medicare if the cost exceeds the value of those additional weeks and months for the patient. We do not remove every tree or lamppost along all roads. NHTSA has an algorithm that computes road risk based on numerous inputs like the proximity of objects. Rules are then generated about setbacks, speed limits, etc., but the risk never goes to zero. We make playgrounds safer but kids still find ways to hurt themselves. We have rules for food handling, prescription drugs, flammable materials, and workplace safety but with the understanding that the risk never goes to zero short of eliminating the activity or product itself.

The current COVID pandemic has not really been subjected to a B>=PL analysis because the initial characterization of the pandemic was that of overwhelmed hospitals and two million dead Americans. The potential loss was so great that the amount we should spend to avert it was unlimited, like the need to defeat Hitler and Tojo or what parents would willingly pay to recover a kidnapped child.

But now we know (a) the overall risk is much less than first believed and (b) that with or without lockdowns tens of thousands more Americans are likely to die in the coming months and (c) the prospect of effective treatments and additional tools in the very near future appears bright. We appear to have delayed the spread with existing social-distancing methods but we do not know how much of that reduction was already built-in to the nature of the pandemic. Countries and US states with looser policies don’t appear to have rates of infection the slightest bit worse than those who have locked down tightly.

To put the matter as bluntly as possible, each one trillion dollars we lose as a result of continued economic shutdown probably now likely buys us fewer than ten thousand lives saved. That is a cost of $100,000,000 per life. We don’t spend even a fraction of that amount to prevent any other known lethal risk that will accrue for the three million Americans who will die from whatever cause over the next twelve months.  I have no idea how to make that economic truth politically palatable but the better though hard choice is to suck it up and accept the risk at hand and take only the measures we can reasonably be expected to afford as we do with every other known risk in our lives. A policy approach that assigns virtually infinite value to a life lost to one particular risk is not prudent nor is it fair to shortchange every other requirement of life and society.

Member Post

 

As we speak, there are musicians forming new bands, even now. One of the most difficult things for any newly formed band is to choose a name. This can be excruciating. You will be stuck with it. There are a lot of requirements. It has to reflect the genre of music, and the mood or […]

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China Revises Death Figures

 

Per Worldometer (here) and National Review (here), the ChiComs just updated their death figures for Hubei province (Wuhan’s province). They had previously reported 2,579 deaths in Hubei and increased this figure by 1,290.

This is exactly 50% of the previously reported death total: 2,579 / 2 = 1,289.5, rounded to 1,290.  What a coincidence.

ChiCom delenda est.

QOTD: Their Dream, Our Nightmare

 

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) … The most improper job of any man … is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.

J. R. R. Tolkien, in a letter to his son Christopher Tolkien (29 November 1943)

 

While looking for a quote to describe the spiraling madness of the recent lockdowns, I noticed something interesting. The classical view of tyranny was the ruler unbound by laws and higher authority. (“Between a tyrant and a prince there is this single or chief difference, that the latter obeys the law and rules the people by its dictates, accounting himself as but their servant.” John of Salisbury in the 12th century) The noble king, worthy of obedience, serves God and obeys the law. The tyrant acknowledges no power above himself. We sometimes see this in the current crisis – witness Chicago’s mayor getting a haircut during the lockdown, or Gov. Beshear persecuting the Church and violating the constitution – but the problem here is something different.

While taking the train to visit family, I noticed the well-labeled, clearly-marked emergency brake handles. Next to each of them were signs indicating the legal liability for using them improperly. It is just as vital that the capability is there as it is vital that it should never be used lightly, for fear of the consequences. There are plenty of similar cases, including ejection seat handles, fire alarms, and the nuclear football. Similarly, we have some powers in our society that are labeled “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY BREAK GLASS”, and it is important to have them. If America was faced with an invasion, an ongoing actual natural catastrophe, or something else horrifying, we can temporarily engage the emergency measures, even though we know it will have its own risk and costs. That is how most people understand these powers, but not everyone.

What some people see here is not a disaster, but an opportunity. They sprinted to hit the big red button as soon as they had the opportunity. For these evil, horrible people, this epidemic nightmare is their dream come true.

It’s understandable, really. Everyone desires power of some sort. However, those who are not humble enough to know their own limitations are usually constrained by the knowledge that no one will tolerate this for long. Eventually, people will turn against their fantasy of absolute power brought to life. But these lockdown addicts apparently believe they can get away with it, or are having too fun getting their oppression on. They need to be reminded – if this use of power is not justified and directly related to the crisis, as our editor says, it undermines the very foundation of government.

Remember this on Election Day, if not sooner, and begin preparing tar, feathers, and a rail.

Coronavirus Update 4-15-2020: The Other Guys

 

I have a new COVID-19 update for you, based as usual on the Johns Hopkins data through April 15 (here). As you probably know, I’ve been tracking and graphing reported deaths, and sometimes cases, in the US and the Western European countries. Western Europe is defined as everything west of the old Iron Curtain (other than micro-states, and not including Greece or Iceland).

I call this post “The Other Guys” because I’m going to include some reporting on the smaller countries, which I’ve generally combined into my “Other Western Europe” category.

Tiny Belgium has recently emerged as one of the hardest-hit countries, surpassing Italy in reported COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 as of Tuesday, April 14. If present trends continue, Belgium will surpass the hardest-hit country, Spain, tomorrow (April 17).

In fact, Worldometer (here) shows Belgium higher than Spain at this very moment, though this is based on current-day reporting that might change. (One more caveat — per Worldometer, the micro-states of San Marino and Andorra are actually the hardest-hit. I have not been tracking them separately, due to extremely small size.)

You can click the graphs to enlarge.

Here are total reported COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 population, in linear scale, for the larger countries plus Belgium:

You can see that the US and Germany remain at quite low levels compared to the others, and you can clearly see a quite rapid rise in France and an even more rapid rise in Belgium. Part of the recent increase in Belgium was a pair or reporting delay, detailed below.

Here’s the graph for the smaller countries, leaving in Italy as a point of reference. It is the same information as the prior graph, reported deaths per 100,000, and is on the same scale:

You can see the rapid rise in Belgium, with the Netherlands being the second hardest-hit of the “other guys,” followed by Switzerland. The next graph is the same data in logarithmic scale, which would allow you to observe any sudden changes in rates:

I don’t really see any sudden changes here, though different countries have progressed at somewhat different rates.

Here are the counts of daily reported deaths per 100,000 for the larger countries, excluding France for the moment:

You can see that our hopes that the peak was April 10, initially claimed by IHME, have not proven correct. April 15 was the US peak for reported deaths, and the day before is the second highest (thus far). My own prediction (here), posted on April 5 based on data through April 4, was that tomorrow (April 16) would be the peak. We’ll see.

In the US trend line, you can notice a dip around April 12-13, and a prior dip around April 5-6. This will be more apparent in the rate of growth graph later on. There is a recurring tendency for US reported deaths to be lower on Sunday and Monday, rebounding on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The graph above also shows a recent upturn in Spain, and shows that the UK is at levels comparable to Italy at the height of its suffering about two-three weeks ago. Germany has a strange trend line, with a correction on April 11 that actually caused a negative number of reported cases for that day.

Here is the graph of daily reported deaths for France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, including Italy and Spain as reference points. Note that the scale of this graph changes from the prior graph, due to Belgium’s very high figures on a couple of days.

The two spikes in Belgium are a data anomaly, but the extremely high level of reported deaths remains accurate even if this anomaly is corrected. Per Worldometer:

  1. On April 7, Belgium reported 241 previously unreported deaths in retirement homes. This is the first spike in the graph above. This error was 2.08 deaths per 100,000, the equivalent of an error of about 6,900 deaths in the US. Even without this error, Belgium reported 1.40 deaths per 100,000 on April 7, a very high figure.
  2. On April 10, Belgium reported 171 previously unreported deaths in elderly care centers (the deaths occurred in March). This error was 1.48 per 100,000, and even without this error, Belgium reported 2.80 deaths per million on April 10, which is still the highest daily total that I’ve seen in any country.

France also had similar corrections on April 2 and 4, explaining the first spike in the data for France.

Next are my usual graphs for the daily percentage growth in total reported deaths. Note that the reporting period for this graph is different, focusing on March 25 to April 15. The first shows daily percentage growth for the US, with Italy and Spain for comparison:

This is the graph where you can really see the weekend effect in the US trend line (darker blue). You can see a decrease on March 29-30, with a spike the next day; a decrease for April 5-6, with a spike the next day; and a decrease for April 12-13, with a spike the next day. This is a pattern of a lower reported death figure on Sunday and Monday, rebounding on Tuesday, which is understandable and probably due to reporting being slower over the weekend. The only real relevance to our ongoing analysis is that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on favorable figures on a Sunday or Monday.

Here is the graph of the three-day moving average in total reported deaths, by country:

Here you can see the generally good news, which is the decrease in the growth rate virtually everywhere. There is a slight upward curve in the US trend line, probably as a result of the Sunday-Monday reporting phenomenon discussed earlier. In fact, notice that in this graph, you see a stepwise reduction in the US trend line, which corresponds to this same effect.

Germany has a notable upward turn, also due to very low figures over the weekend. Thankfully, Spain has finally reached the very low level of daily growth as Italy, around 3%.

Finally, I can’t resist patting myself on the back. As noted above, I made a prediction back on April 5. It has been a little bit high, but actually better than the IHME prediction made the same day. Here is the graph:

The real test is still to come and will depend on whether my prediction is accurate about the peak. I predicted tomorrow, so we’ll see.

ChiCom delenda est.

Member Post

 

I’m here to destroy (in the webtastic sense) Erick Erickson’s insulting and shallow argument in The Purpose of the Church Library. Now, prior to finding and reading his article via HotAir, which is increasingly unreadable due to the anti-Trump influencers posting such pieces, I wouldn’t have known Erick Erickson if he’d shown up at my […]

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Arizona Does Coronavirus like Pros

 

Amateurs talk cases, professionals talk logistics. The professionals are in charge in Arizona. Every state, and the Coronavirus Task Force, should take note and give their citizens the same level of information. Dr. Cara Christ, MD, is the Arizona Department of Health Services director. Watch how this works in its April 14, 2020, Arizona COVID-19 briefing.

First, Dr. Christ lays out the trends in cases. The first chart is from the Arizona coronavirus page, updated daily, giving us a snapshot of the current extent and geography of the disease.

The second and third slides give us the trends.

The hospital reporting on COVID-like illness, or what the feds are calling “influenza-like illness,” shows Arizona has been trending the right way for about two weeks now, even as our number of reported cases increase with testing.

Now we get to the professional stuff. Given the number of cases and the trends in hospital reporting, what is Arizona’s status on beds and ventilators?

You can see that, even though there has been an increase in cases reported, there has been essentially no change in the level of inpatient bed use. There has been, and remains, a large reserve of beds, forced by the government directed cancellation of “elective,” really non-emergency, surgeries. In Arizona, Dr. Christ.

Even in the case of ICU beds, with all their associated equipment and personnel, Arizona is in great shape. We never needed the Army Corps of Engineers to bring more rooms back into service. ICU use in Arizona has been steady for the past two weeks. That brings us to the hot button issue, driven nationally by willful ignorance of available data.

Dr. Christ made that the last chart of her update. We are not even scratching Arizona’s existing capability. Total use is sitting, rock steady, around 25 percent, including COVID-19 patients.

This steady, competent, professional message, conveyed in the accompanying brief, marks a change in tone from earlier panic button mashing. The earlier tone came from ignorance, at the state and county level, of what was ground truth in the hospitals. Apparently, hospitals were not required to report and, over two months past the first federal briefings and the China travel ban, the state had not bothered to get the facts straight.

On March 23, 2020, the day before Admiral Polowczyk stepped up to the White House press briefing microphone for the first time, Governor Ducey signed an executive order on enhanced surveillance,* compelling full reporting of relevant data. After the admiral from J-4 got the nation-wide logistics sorted out and told governors that he now had visibility on the ground truth in their states, the Arizona government went from “I need, I need”** to “we’re good, we’re good.” The whole April 14 briefing, with two weeks of good data, took on a calm, competent, forward-planning tone. Governor Ducey even announced the addition of a large capacity to test for antibodies, starting with health and emergency workers.


* Excerpt of Arizona governor’s executive order 2020-13

** From the April 3, 2020, Coronavirus Task Force briefing:

Q Because a lot of governors are saying that they can’t get what they need and different states have more pressing urgency, obviously, depending on the caseload.

REAR ADMIRAL POLOWCZYK: So we marry up — we’re marrying up where CDC — where the demand for COVID is to what’s in the commercial system. We’re providing that to these — to the commercial system. And we are making allocations to those of most pressing need.

Thirteen days — we now have the data. We now can make informed decisions. And so all of the “I need, I need, I need,” I now know the volume that has been happening and needs to be happening.

White House Communications: Opening Up America Again

 

The White House team continues to impress. They have already created a new section on the official White House website on opening the country back up. The contents match the slides presented at the press briefing and the PDF format guidelines. President Trump had Dr. Birx brief the plan, explaining how we got here and how it could be safe for people to come out of their bunkers. Dr. Fauci stepped up briefly to add emphasis and concurrence. The focus was on state and local conditions, not nationwide solutions.

Earlier in the day, the White House team got big rigs and truckers cleared onto the grounds. President Trump showed his firm grasp of logistics, understanding that it is the truckers, not bureaucrats, who got the food and even toilet paper to the store shelves and home delivery distribution centers. He made a point of having these men and women speak.

Remarks by President Trump Celebrating America’s Truckers

[emphasis added]

HEALTHCARE | Issued on: April 16, 2020

South Lawn

2:28 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: That’s beautiful stuff. They are beautiful, beautiful trucks. That’s the real deal. You wouldn’t switch jobs with anybody, would you? Huh?

MR. MADIGAN: No, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: You wouldn’t — I know the truckers. They wouldn’t switch with anybody. It’s what they love, right? That’s why they’re good at it. These are the best too.

Well, thank you all for being here as we celebrate some of the heroes of our nation’s great struggle against the coronavirus: our brave, bold, and incredible truckers. And look at that equipment — they’re the best made — and great companies also, and companies that have really helped us a lot. We appreciate that.

At a time of widespread shutdowns, truck drivers form the lifeblood of our economy — and the absolute lifeblood. For days, and sometimes weeks on end, truck drivers leave their homes and deliver supplies that American families need and count on during this national crisis and at all other times. They’re always there. Their routes connect every farm, hospital, manufacturer, business, and community in the country.

In the war against the virus, American truckers are the foot soldiers who are really carrying us to victory.  And they are. They’ve done an incredible job. We’ve had no problems. It’s been just — it’s been just great, and we want to thank you very much. It’s really great. We have a little special — a little special award too.

To every trucker listening over the radio or behind the wheel, I know I speak for the 330 million-plus Americans that we say: Thank God for truckers. That’ll be our theme: Thank God for truckers.

On this special occasion, when we honor the truck drivers of America, I’m grateful to be joined by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who’s doing a fantastic job, and the CEO of the American Trucking Association, Chris Spear.

An official statement capped off the day, repeating President Trump’s repeated claims of coordination with Congress and the 50 governors [emphasis added]:

This morning, President Donald J. Trump convened two bipartisan dialogues with Members of the Opening Up America Again Congressional Group to discuss the next chapter of the COVID-19 recovery.  This afternoon the President celebrated the vital role truckers play in keeping America well-stocked. Later, the President discussed his health-based vision for putting our Nation back to work with America’s Governors. This evening, President Trump continued his unprecedented level of access to the American people at a press conference where he presented his guidelines on the three phases of Opening Up America Again. President Trump remains a tireless fighter for the American people and will continue to take decisive actions to keep our Nation healthy and prosperous.

Learn more about the guidelines at WhiteHouse.gov/OpeningAmerica.

American Liberty Is Not a Disease

 
Bob Wiley

Bill Murray as Bob Wiley in What About Bob?

In the days and weeks following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Americans faced a choice: we could cower in fear, hoping a prostrate position would appease our enemies, or we could fight. We fought. Nearly twenty years later, we find ourselves under attack and again at a crossroads. But now in the wake of the coronavirus, many Americans have lost their will to fight. People who once defied fear by stepping boldly out in their neighborhoods, going back to work and school, joining the military, and cheering hometown sports teams in huge arenas and ballparks despite continued threat of attack are now calling the police on neighbors playing at the community park. We have decided that living in fear is the new normal. The government and the media convinced us that safety at all costs is a righteous substitute for freedom. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Freedom doesn’t come without accepting a certain level of risk. If you think government can eliminate risk, you aren’t living free. For example, conservatives have long fought against both liberals in the media and Democrats holding political office who try to convince us to forsake our Second Amendment rights for public safety. Gun ownership comes with risks. Accidents happen and lives are lost to violence and suicide. Yet the moment we give in to anti-gun activists’ demands is the moment we lose our right to defend ourselves. The gun debate is one battle in the ongoing war for the soul of America and the outcome will determine in whom power resides, the government or We the People. The coronavirus is just the current battle.

Easter weekend was a breaking point. Reports of parishioners being fined for gathering in church parking lots in their own cars; a father in Colorado handcuffed in front of his daughter for playing a game of catch in a park; local authorities encouraging citizens to report their neighbors for violating social distancing rules. In Raleigh, NC, police were called to a group protesting the government shutdown. Raleigh PD stated the demonstrators were in violation of the Governor’s Executive Order against group activities, and that protesting was a non-essential activity. I wonder how the White House Press Corps would react if President Trump declared their reporting a non-essential activity? I’m certain the First Amendment would get the bold-type treatment in the pages of the New York Times and on CNN.

Tyranny falls in and out of favor depending on the tyrant.

The pandemic stopped being about concern for human life as soon as it was seen as a weapon in the Blue versus Red political war. More broadly – and alarming – the threat of the virus is a tool to peddle fear in a country in which emotion can override rational thought and deliberation. Most of the news outlets report with a forked tongue, declaring themselves gatekeepers of truth while they expose their bias by slanting coverage against any efforts that challenge their anti-Trump narrative, including parroting Chinese state propaganda. This situation provides the perfect convergence of mass panic and hysteria with a government intervention that promises safety and survival. But it comes with a price. All we have to do is give in to the fear – and we see it with every steep curve in the chart, with every projected death count, with every heart-wrenching story of separation and death, and now with every warning of a potential “second wave” outbreak if the country ends quarantine too soon. I see the terror in the eyes of the customers who shop at my pet store. They are afraid of everything, even their neighbors and coworkers. Most have been convinced their paralyzing fear can only be cured by living life according to the diktat of the government, and seeing to it everyone else does, too.

We should have learned the lessons from 9/11 that the government cannot guarantee our safety no matter how many liberties we surrender, and also that fear of the fight will defeat us faster than any enemy, human or not. The threat of failure is enough for some to submit to a government that will control every aspect of life.

There is a Bill Murray movie called What About Bob? in which Mr. Murray plays the title character Bob Wiley: a neurotic man mentally dependent on his psychotherapist. Bob believes he can’t live in the world outside his apartment without the close attention of his doctor. (Spoiler Alert) Bob is cured by learning he can live independently only after he realizes life naturally comes with risks. We are becoming a nation of Bobs. Our cure is accepting that American liberty isn’t a disease and the cure is a coddling government. The cure is in an acceptance of risk as the cost of freedom.

We cannot let a political class convince us to relinquish our God-given rights in the name of security. It is the only sure path to lives of captivity. I don’t care who is in city, state, or federal office, nor whether he has an R or D behind his name. Unchallenged power in the hands of authority is an addictive drug; the only cure is to put it back in the hands of the people. It’s a risky proposition, and there are no guarantees of blue skies and rainbows on every day’s horizon, but freedom is the one thing worth that cost.

Let Them Eat Butter!

 

It’s not the cholesterol that will kill you. It’s the hernia from trying to hold up both ends of the conversation with a perpetually aggrieved social justice warrior. I never associated Land O Lakes packaging with genocide, sex trafficking, or Native women as sex objects. Perhaps I’m clueless, but I’ve always associated butter with a baked potato, pancakes, croissants, scones, muffins, and once in awhile a pat of butter on a steak that was cooked on a wood pellet grill.

I’m not a total Neanderthal. I do wheel out my recycle bin containing my gifts to the recycling gods, placed just so on the altar of the curb on a weekly basis. I will admit that I’m having difficulty memorizing 50 or so new gender pronouns.

From the Washington Examiner:

Land O’Lakes is retiring the iconic Native American butter maiden that has appeared on its logo for the past 92 years.

The Minnesota-based company said it was phasing out Mia the butter maiden on its packaging as it “looks toward our 100th anniversary” and will soon replace her with farm owners “whose milk is used to produce Land O’Lakes products” instead.
“As a farmer-owned co-op, we strongly feel the need to better connect the men and women who grow our food with those who consume it,” Land O’Lakes President and CEO Beth Ford said in a February press release. “Our farmer-to-fork structure gives us a unique ability to bridge this divide.”

Some critics have labeled the old logo racist, including North Dakota state Rep. Ruth Buffalo, who said its image went “hand-in-hand with human and sex trafficking of our women and girls … by depicting Native women as sex objects.”

“Yes, it’s a good thing for the company to remove the image. It’s kinda like with land acknowledgments, it’s a good gesture and a step forward. But we can’t stop there. We as a whole need to keep pushing forward to address the underlying issues that directly impact an entire population that survived genocide,” Buffalo said.

McClay on Zinn: ‘Maturity and Acne Don’t Generally Mix’

 

I recently stumbled across Professor Wilfred McClay’s review of Mary Grabar’s book, Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History that Turned a Generation Against America, from which the pithy quote in the title of this post was taken regarding Zinn’s appeal to teenagers. The link at PowerLine caught my eye because I recognized Professor McClay’s name from the 25-session online course on American history offered by Hillsdale, which I just completed last week. Having experienced Professor McClay’s instruction, I believe him to be a trustworthy source on the subject of American history — unlike Howard Zinn.

But, it made me wonder, has anyone here read Zinn? Or, worse, been taught from his deplorable book? I managed to make it through my public education before the publication of A People’s Historyso I was spared. And I’m sure most of us have better uses of our time than to go back and “catch up.” But, have any of you been afflicted with Zinn’s History? What was your experience of it?

Member Post

 

A Beaverton, Oregon man was arrested twice in under 5 hours for Felony-DUII, and driving while felony-revoked. So much for sheltering in place. The driving while felony-revoked charge is a pretty good indication that these were not his first two arrests for DUII. He blew a .20 BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) on the first arrest. […]

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COVID-19: The Cold Equations

 

This is my attempt to explain some of the dilemmas of ‘restart’. It pulls together a string of comments I made on this post. (My thanks to @rodin for not only that post but his whole series tracking the pandemic and its implications.) There will be math, but nothing worse than simple algebra. Estimates are sourced with inline links. Qualifications and elaborations are at the bottom in footnotes. Off we go:

1. There is no pre-existing pool of COVID immunity in the population. There’s a theory that COVID arrived here earlier than officially recognized, and was the cause of some of the nastier upper respiratory ‘flus’ of the mid-winter. This has been pretty thoroughly debunked by testing of patient samples that were preserved from that time. See the Twitter stream here (RTWT) with additional discussion here (post 7/ and onward). The CDC has a standing program to collect samples from ‘influenza like illnesses’, see here and here. This is done for flu vaccine planning and evaluation on an annual basis, and predated COVID. So there’s a large pool of existing samples that would have disclosed any earlier infections.* There’s no magic, we have to go on what’s shown by current testing and cases.

2. The case infection fatality rate in the US is somewhere around .6%

As of this writing, there are 646,300 positive tests in the US, 28,640 deaths.

Assuming a 7/1 ratio of total cases including asymptomatic & minimally symptomatic (nonpresenting) cases to positive tests (based on early Wuhan data) implies 4524100 actual infections.

28640/4524100 ~ .6%

This is probably a bit low, since some currently unresolved cases will end in death.

3. Trying to reach ‘herd immunity’ would be a catastrophe

In its pure form, herd immunity is the idea that an epidemic can be stopped by immunity in the population. The level of immunity required is implied by the R0 ‘R-nought’ characteristic of the infection, which is the average number of persons infected by each current carrier. If R0 is below one, the epidemic will eventually die out. If some of those who would otherwise be infected are already immune, R0 can be effectively reduced. To use a simple example, if the raw R0 is two, then having more than half the population already immune will take it below one. For more discussion, see this paper and this twitter stream. **

The paper linked above contains an estimated R0 for the onset of the US infections of 3.29. This implies a critical herd immunity threshold of about 70%.

My current estimated total cases is 4,524,100. The US Census estimates the current US population at about 329.5 million. So our current case percentage is 1.37%.

To get to pure herd immunity we need 70/1.37 more cases that result in immunity, which is about 51 x.

51 * 28,640 current deaths = 1.46 million deaths to reach herd immunity in the US.

We aren’t going to do this.

4. Antibody tests will not become a ‘pass’ to return to work or socializing

Current case percentage is about 1.4%, see above. Let’s assume we are about halfway through the first wave, which is consistent with the IHME modeling, so we have about 2.8% previously infected and hopefully immune by its end.

You can’t restart an economy with 2.8% of the workers and customers, and no one’s going to put up with rights infringements implied by a pass system to get that level of benefit. ***

Antibody testing will be very useful, but more in finding out what the actual case count has been as opposed to those formally tested positive, which can turn my back of the envelope estimates into hard numbers.

5. Distancing, masking, and isolation will be with us for the duration

R-nought can sound like it’s an immutable constant, but it’s not. It’s an effective rate that is roughly:

(A true constant that is characteristic of the virus) times
(The average number of exposures from each carrier) times
(An average probability of transmission per exposure)

Herd immunity goes after the last term, in a brute force manner, but using it alone is a disaster. Stay-at-home and shutdowns are a brute force way of affecting the second term, but using them alone is an economic disaster.

Masking is an attempt at mitigating the third term – cut down the chance of transmission per contact. Distancing affects both, fewer people encountered and less chance of infection per each. Isolation gets known cases out of circulation.

Unless and until a vaccine is found and distributed, we’re going to be trying to get R-nought below one by a variety of such measures, pushing the virus into small enough populations that it can be traced and victims isolated. Since we don’t have hard data on what measures have what results, the initial response has often been to take it to the limit. Now we have to back off and learn what’s real, what this article calls ‘the Dance’.

If there’s a policy lesson here, it’s that a uniform, nationally mandated response is the wrong approach. This a case where the ‘Laboratory of Democracy’ in the states will be all too real, and necessary to find combinations that work.

* There’s some speculation that a recent heavy case of common cold might confer some resistance, since colds are also caused by coronavirus of a different sort. Any such effect would, however, be incorporated in the existing caseload.
* For those who want more depth on the analysis of the virus’ arrival and variations, see here for an amazing display of what can be done with current RNA sequencing technology.
** For simplicity, this assumes that immunity is an all-or-nothing thing, typically not the case. So it’s going to be an average, not a hard number.
*** To make matters worse, while there are effective antibody tests being produced, we don’t actually know what level (IgG titer) of antibody confers effective immunity. It’s known that asymptomatic or mild cases of COVID-19 produce lower levels of antibody, whether that creates immunity is also unknown. We’re going to be figuring this out on the fly.

Stopping Cold Turkey

 

If you’ve read my most recent post, you know that I have a still-undiagnosed medical condition, which is not life-threatening but painful. And I’m discouraged by the delays of the medical system to move things along. So I’ve decided to take my health into my own hands.

I’m stopping cold turkey. Favorite food and drink, that is.

If the diagnosis comes out as I suspect it will, @kayofmt has had the same condition. And she has kept it in remission, even though they say it is incurable. Her remedy: cutting out coffee, chocolate, alcohol, tomatoes and citrus fruits, and drinking organic raspberry juice. That’s all. The Mayo Clinic confirms most of her choices.

I am addicted to my morning coffee. I won’t lie. Okay, I probably have a little too much, but I’m going to switch to green tea (which has very little caffeine). And then there’s the chocolate chunk cookie that I have every evening—just one—that I will sacrifice. I rarely have citrus (even though I live in FL). And I don’t eat much in the way of fresh tomatoes, although I cook a lot with diced tomatoes. I’m going to skip it all for a while. And let’s not forget pizza.

I’m not drinking alcohol right now because I am taking a medication for another condition that combined with alcohol will make me deathly ill. I’ve been surprised that I haven’t much missed my glass of wine with dinner for the past week. But I know I will miss Friday margaritas (@she, you can have mine).

All that said, it may be harder than I think. We all probably feel to some degree that we are already making sacrifices with the virus restrictions. It’s the little joys, at least to some degree from our food and drink, that provide comfort. Celery doesn’t quite cut it.

You might ask if I’m acting rashly, since I haven’t received a diagnosis, but that may not happen until late May. But I’m in pain, and removing this food and drink from my diet won’t kill me. At least I hope it won’t. Maybe the little bit of caffeine in the green tea will keep me from getting caffeine-deprivation headaches.

I can hope.

Wish me luck.

P.S. On a related note, I’d be open to your success stories of quitting certain foods and drinks.

Member Post

 

What if the Land-O-Lakes kerfuffle isn’t about political correctness at all, but rather simply about modern corporate branding and superior graphic design theory? Here are the two butter boxes side-by-side: From a design standpoint, the box on the left is muddled and cluttered. The new box makes much better use of the aesthetic real estate, […]

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The Wuhan Coronavirus in Michigan

 

For the last few weeks, I have been—for the most part—hunkered down at home in south-central Michigan. I drive to my office on the Hillsdale College campus two or three times a week to teach my seminars (“Machiavelli, Erasmus, and More” and “The American Constitutional Convention”) via Zoom. I would like to be able to report that I have used the time I have not spent traveling to deliver talks and participate in conferences in Pittsburgh, at Arizona State, Louisiana State, Harvard, Boston College, and in Portland, ME, to write articles and book chapters and get a start on my next book. But I haven’t. Instead, I have begun reading Decameron with my wife; I have watched season three of “Babylon Berlin”; and I have read article after article on the internet.

I will have to confess that I have not learned much that I did not already know. Xi Jinping and his minions lie and are more than willing to sacrifice the lives of their fellow Chinese in a vain attempt to avoid embarrassment, and the like can be said of the Ayatollah Khamenei, of Vladimir Putin, and of their minions. The CDC is incompetent. The FDA is so wrapped up in red tape that it cannot respond to a genuine crisis. The World Health Organization is profoundly corrupt. The models that epidemiologists construct are not necessarily more reliable than those employed by climate scientists. Donald Trump tends to say the first thing that comes into his head. Michael Bloomberg is a stooge for Xi Jinping. Bernie Sanders is crazy. Joe Biden is senile. Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer are attempting to take advantage of a public health crisis to push a partisan agenda, and they resolutely attack the President for foolishness they are guilty of themselves. And, yes, the mainstream press is so irredeemably corrupt that their antics would be an embarrassment to the yellow journalists of yesteryear. I knew all of that before I entered my confinement.

I wish that I could say that I now know a lot more about the Wuhan coronavirus than I knew before the lockdown. But that is not true. Reading what the “experts” say about this epidemic is like reading what the “experts” say about the likely trajectory of the stock market. Those of us who are advanced in age are anxious about both, and there is no consensus about either. In the latter case, prognostication is for the most part always guesswork. In the former case, there are too many unknowns, and guesswork and anecdote are close to all that we have to go on.

Sure, the coronavirus is exceedingly contagious and we cannot rely on herd immunity. But how contagious? Here expert opinion differs, and the evidence is scanty. The same goes for the number of those infected and for the mortality rate. The statistics that we have are not reliable – even where the authorities who compile these statistics are thoroughly honest and decent. We are caught in the same sort of “fog” that we would be trapped in if we were at war, and it is virtually impossible to make intelligent public policy decisions in these circumstances. How much worse is this epidemic likely to be than the worst of the recent flu epidemics? If we only knew . . .

Still, there are a couple of things that one can discern, and here I wish to deploy the evidence from Michigan (such as it is). Take a look at this map. With your cursor, you ought to be able to touch on the various counties and learn how many Michiganders have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and how many have died with it (if not necessarily from it):

As you can see, something like 80% of those diagnosed with the disease and 80% of those who have died live in three contiguous counties – Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb – and most of the rest reside nearby or in the vicinity of Grand Rapids. What the three counties mentioned above have in common is proximity to the Detroit Airport, which is a major hub with a host of direct flights to Asia and to Europe. Southeastern Michigan would appear to be an epicenter for the disease for the same reason that New York City and the nearby counties on Long Island, in upstate New York, and in New Jersey form an epicenter. Had we cut off all international travel earlier than we did and had we shut down domestic air travel early on, this epidemic might have much more easily been contained – and we might have been spared the economic travails now underway. I do not mean to cast blame on anyone – except for Xi Jinping and his stooges at the World Health Organization who bamboozled us. I mean only to point to the conduit by which this epidemic spread.

There are two other patterns worth noticing. In Michigan, men with the disease are far more likely to die than women. The numbers change daily, of course, but the proportions – 57% men, 43% women – are stable. Moreover, senior citizens are especially vulnerable. As of 6 April, those over 60 made up 24.2% of the state’s population and 61% of the fatalities, and the median age of those who die is, as of yesterday, 75 (it has gradually crept up from 71). The fact that women over that age greatly outnumber men over that age adds to one’s impression that men are much more vulnerable. The reason is, I presume, genetic.

There is one other pattern that is evident. A disproportionate number of those who die are African-American. Blacks make up 17% of the state’s population and 40% of those who die from the disease. The local liberals in these parts trace this to racism, but that makes little sense. If anything, there is discrimination here in favor of African-Americans, not against them. The discrepancy no doubt has something to do with place of residence and a lack of social distancing. There is a large African-American population in Detroit, which is densely populated. It may also have a genetic component. The propensity to succumb to particular diseases often does have such a component. Eventually, we will know.

Nothing that I have said here should be surprising. The same patterns are evident elsewhere. Like the flu, the Wuhan coronavirus spreads through social networks, and the older and more decrepit one is, the more likely that, if infected, one will die.

Member Post

 

I realized in the course of a conversation via comments with a fellow Ricochet poster (thanks Phil Turmel), that I had failed to ever post about my ‘Grand Tour’ around Europe (well, Southeast England and Paris) last summer. It would probably be useful to begin with some context. The moment I, and the AP results, […]

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Day 87: COVID-19 Return to the “Life We Aspire To”

 

The screengrab above is from the University of California San Francisco Department of Medicine “Grand Rounds” video of April 9 that @lockeon brought to my attention. This slide inspires the title of this post and the characterization of what it is that we most dearly want: to have a life like we had before the pandemic.

The debate rages on Ricochet on what price to pay in personal autonomy and public policy to contain and/or defeat the virus? Our members scan the data and come to various conclusions. Some feel the crisis is overblown as a means to enact controls on the people that progressives have been seeking for a long time, while others feel that the crisis is exactly as represented and personal liberties and the economy need to be sacrificed in the short term at least to preserve us all.

The truth is … elusive. Liberty is being sacrificed, but is it necessary for the common good? How long and in what ways must it continue to be sacrificed? It does not give one confidence to hear as New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said to Tucker Carlson last night that the “bill of rights” was not part of his consideration in issuing his lockdown decrees. Maybe his statement was an inartful formulation of the balancing of interests he was doing. But it does not inspire confidence when a governor dismisses personal liberty so off-handedly.

The video linked above should be of interest to the Ricochet readers in a variety of ways as it gives us a look at one of our premier medical systems. It lends us the perspective from the inside. There is an expression that “when you are a hammer, everything is a nail.” UCSF is animated to defeat disease in all its forms. It is a research and teaching hospital/system. As you listen to the various presenters in the video, you come to realize that parts of UCSF have been in the game since early January. And much has changed in that time.

As you listen you will hear the biases that inform them: the primacy of the greater good, the comfort with the existing progressive political structure, the self-congratulation of enlightened Silicon Valley companies dispersing their workforces to home environments before the shelter-in-place orders were even considered by the politicians, the relative immunity from economic harm that is being suffered by “non-essential” workers and employers. That they have these biases does not make them wrong. It only makes them partially informed. Just as the biases that many of us may have that militate in the opposite direction: personal agency above community concerns, central planning and collective control inevitably leads to poverty and death, a perfect world is unattainable so risks must be accepted.

But I digress. The question is whether, when and how we get to the “life we aspire to?” When you look at the UCSF slide of April 9 and California Governor Newsom’s “re-opening” criteria of April 14, you see a lot of overlap:

1  Widespread testing that would allow the state to isolate people exposed to the virus and trace people with whom they have come in contact.

2  The ability for the state to care for older and medically vulnerable Californians, who are most at risk of suffering severe effects from the virus, as they continue to isolate at home.

3  The capacity for hospitals to handle a potential surge in patients, plus resume normal preventive and other medical care.

4  The identification of promising treatments.

5  The development of guidelines for businesses and schools to allow physical distancing even as they reopen.

6  The creation of a data-tracking system that provides an early warning if the state needs to reinstate a stay-at-home order.

Nowhere in the guidelines is there any consideration other than for the prevalence and risk of disease. This follows in the same pattern as policies for gun control: eliminating injury and death through limits on lawful access to guns, but no consideration of the value of citizen-owned guns as self-defense or a countervailing force to tyranny.

If this is the attitude of our leaders and influencers, there is no generally recognized return to the life we aspire to. There is only progression to the life our leaders aspire to for us.

[Note: Links to all my COVID-19 posts can be found here.]

‘Foyle’s War’

 

I see that Amazon Prime is offering at least the first season of this British crime drama. My late wife and I watched it when it originally came out, almost two decades ago, and enjoyed it. It appeals to my sense of vicarious nostalgia, my longing for a time I never experienced and a romanticized and idealized simplicity that I’m pretty sure never existed.

“Foyle’s War” is set in Hastings, a town on the British coast south of London. The series begins in the summer of 1940: France has just been invaded, and the British people are on a wartime footing, afraid that a German invasion of their island is imminent. Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, played in a charming and understated way by British actor Michael Kitchen, conducts the business of law enforcement under the shadow of invasion.

The producers of the series invested a considerable effort, particularly in the early seasons, in accurately portraying wartime Britain. Every episode reveals interesting details of British life under blackout, curfew, rationing, and wartime mobilization. Without showing us the horror of the London bombings (though one episode touches on them) or actual military combat, the show nonetheless conveys something of the profound challenges the war inflicted on the British people, and something of the resolve with which they met those challenges.

I rewatched the first episode of the first season today, and was reminded again how much I admire our cousins across the pond for standing alone, and for so long, against the German war machine. And, on this watching, I realized that while many have been or will be touched by personal tragedy in our current travails, this epidemic finds us richer, more secure, and better prepared than the British were, and facing a vastly less threatening opponent.

It’s a fine series full of pleasant and sympathetic characters, set in an interesting place and time. I recommend it.

Memorial Day BBQ Lockdown

 

The government is not prepared for what’s coming. They are not taking the problem seriously and making preparations for the direst threat to the social distancing lockdown. I am, of course, talking about nice weather. In a little more than a month’s time, Victoria Day Weekend and Memorial Day weekend will be upon Canada and the US. Millions of people are going to fire up the BBQs, throw on meat, and invite their friends over. There are not enough police and soldiers in the countries to stop this.

This virus has, so far, has not been as devastating as initially feared and the estimated body count is dropping by the day. If people truly feared for there lives, I wouldn’t be writing this piece. But more and more places and people are not taking this seriously and I am hearing multiple counties in California that just go about their lives as if nothing is happening.

You can keep people shut up in the month of March for 6 weeks. But you can’t keep them all locked up forever. People are going to rebel and no one is thinking about what will happen next.

As our editor in chief pointed out, the consent of the governed is needed to keep this quarantine going and personally I am getting really tired of endlessly extending the deadline without any answers on when things are going to get better.

The shutdown was supposed to prevent the hospital system from crashing. It worked. Now it’s time to get back to it and come up with real plans and real timelines for getting us all back to work.

Cause otherwise, the people will do it for them.