Total mortality reveals uncounted Covid deaths

April 29th, 2020

The New York Times pretty much copied this: Covid-19 data – Tracking covid-19 excess deaths across countries | Graphic detail | The Economist

Life in a ‘Coronavirus Hotel’

April 29th, 2020

This is not quite what I suggested in my “modest proposal” of March 16 but it does have some of the same elements.

Addendum (suggested by my friend John Butler)

To the tune of Hotel California and with apologies to The Eagles:

Welcome to the Hotel COVID-19
Such a lovely place (for a virus chase)
A mask for your face,
Plenty of room at the Hotel COVID-19
Any time of year (a Corona beer,
You can get it here).

Planet of the Humans 

April 28th, 2020

The over-the-top reaction of Elizabeth May made it certain that I would have to actually watch this.

And I’m not sorry I did.

The main messages (which bizzarely the very poor Guardian reviewer almost completely missed in a relatively favourable review) are that there will not be any solution to the various problems of human impact until we defuse the population bomb and that any technology which might help but can be misused for profit will be so misused in the context of a “free market” capitalist system.

Like much of Moore’s work (but also unfortunately also just like much of the work of those who are now squealing like stuck pigs), the film is polemical and manipulative to a fault, and crosses the boundary into dishonesty at various points. The fact that, as a ten year project, it includes much that is out of date, is not in and of itself a failing, but the movie’s failure to acknowledge changes that happened several years ago is one. For example Bill McGibben’s endorsement of biofuels was reversed several years ago – well after he was first challenged on the topic by Gibbs, but long before the movie actually came out. And I don’t think that acknowledging this would have reduced the impact of using biofuels as an example of how easy it is to overlook hidden weaknesses (especially ones involving vulnerability to abuse for profit) and pick a wrong horse when desperate for a techno-fix.

Another failing is the confounding of environmental impact of construction and back-up of one energy source with that of the fuelling of another. Just because there is such an impact does not necessarily negate the benefit of a proposed alternative. But the need to properly account for ALL impacts has often been ignored by the proponents of “climate friendly” alternatives.

The smug and smarmy manner of Ozzie Zehner playing “gotcha” with solar and wind projects doesn’t help matters (but he seems a lot less offensive in the live chat session that accompanied the movie’s release)

Anyhow, what I find most interesting about all this is the lengths to which people will go to make it all about them and miss the very clear actual point of the exercise.

An Interesting Experiment

April 19th, 2020

I suppose there will be some value in future to having the knowledge of exactly how much harm one person can do in a situation like this.

Source: Trump Encourages Protest Against Governors Who Have Imposed Virus Restrictions – The New York Times

Canada Letter: How can it happen here?

April 18th, 2020

ThisNew York Times ‘Canada Letter’ is a welcome contribution to the exposure of the evils of private care facilities.

My only problem with the article is Susan Bartlett’s reference to reticence about complaining out of “deference for our health care system”. These loathsome private facilities are not part of Canada’s public health care system, but rather have been allowed to encroach on and exploit that system by right wing politicians eager to turn that system into an American-style profit generation machine. (And indeed when Bartlett first did her research the situation may have been different, as there are many cases of former public and non-profit facilities having been bought out or forced into management contracts with private for-profit operators.) I’d say such things should happen only “over my dead body” but sadly am reaching the age where that is becoming more and more likely.

Part of the Problem

April 11th, 2020

In political arguments (especially in a democracy) there is a tendency to value quantity over quality. We are all have good reason to be afraid of alienating potential supporters, and as a result sometimes we are slow to reject even the most evil of allies – let alone to quibble against well-intentioned but invalid arguments. However, that is where I come in.

Nick Malik’s answer to the Quora question: If the participation of Hunter Biden in the Burisma board of directors could be a case of corruption, why is it not investigated in a regular US court? is a case in point.

Malik skips the opportunity to use the lack of prosecution as evidence for the claim that whatever investigation was done found nothing illicit, and chooses instead to “prove” the absence of corruption among the Bidens by arguing that it would be impossible for Hunter to offer anything to the Ukrainians because he was just a private citizen with no elected office – an argument which is, of course, clearly wrong (and which, if accepted, would also “prove” the innocence of Trump in the face of our current awful “witch hunt”).

It may seem necessary to some to respond to a false claim by “proving” that it is impossible rather than merely false, but by basing one’s defense on an excessively strong claim one becomes vulnerable to any arguments against the stronger claim; and furthermore, by relying on an indefensible position one also creates doubt as to the existence of a more robust but less remote defense.

Some of today’s anti racists, climate defenders, and so on strike me as like knights defending an impregnable castle who decide to defend it by running to an outer wooden stockade. But when the stockade is breached there is noone back at the castle.

Calling Mike Bloomberg…

April 8th, 2020

This is just one example of stories that need to be widely disseminated during the coming US election. Massive distribution of TV ads showing DT’s early comments on COVID-19 is another. And there are many more.

Mike Bloomberg has proved that money is not enough to just buy a nomination – let alone an actual election – but it may be enough to ensure that a valid message gets out to the electorate, and so to unveil and defeat a confidence trickster.

If Bloomberg is sincere in his wish to rid the USA of Donald Trump’s presidency, then he has the means to do that. All it will take is unrelenting and timely exposure to the stupidities, inanities, and contradictions uttered by the current Buffoon-in-Chief.

This will not earn Bloomberg the presidency for himself but by showing his commitment to principle rather than personal advancement it may actually earn him the latter.

He can’t be included on the ticket this year since the VP has to be a woman and has to appeal to the Sanders wing. But after Biden retires in 2024, his VP and successor Elizabeth Warren might well be advised to take on Mike Bloomberg as her running mate.

So while he may never actually become president, little Mike could well become VP if he plays his cards right – and does what is best for both his country and the rest of us.

Where’s the Fucking Data?

March 29th, 2020

I am sick and tired of seeing only what journalists have managed to pull out from random published reports – especially when that consists of summary statistics based just on numbers by nation. But even when someone has the wit to give us numbers per million I would prefer to be able to choose my own list of countries and/or look at other data than mere reported infection rates.

What I really want is an easy link to a complete database of all confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses including fields for:

  • date of first suspected diagnosis,
  • date of confirmed diagnosis,
  • estimated time from infection to suspected diagnosis (based eg on severity of symptoms at time of diagnosis)
  • political jurisdiction (as closely as possible),
  • employment exposure level (medical worker, other public-facing service, non-public-facing worker, other, none)
  • possible source from infected contact (family, workplace contact. medical workplace contact, known community, known traveller, unknown)
  • severity (asymptomatic, non-hosp flu-like, hospitalized, ICU, fatal)
  • outcome (recovery, death)
  • date of outcome determination

Why isn’t such a thing easily available to whomever wants to study it?


The Man’s a Fucking Idiot!

March 24th, 2020

Before Trump started talking about choloroquine, health experts were looking into it as part of the solution. But now the drug is flying off the shelves in pharmacies and it’s so scarce that pharmacists are saying they don’t have enough in stock for people who actually need it for things like arthritis and lupus.     Choloroquine is poisonous if taken improperly, so there’s an understandable hesitation on the part of health officials to tout a drug that hasn’t been tested for covid-19, knowing that people will seek it out and could harm themselves.

A man in Arizona died and his wife is in critical care after they treated themselves with the choloroquine they use to clean their fish tank. It had the same active ingredient as the malaria drug. The woman told NBC News that she heard Trump talk about the drug and that they “were afraid of getting sick.” Hospitals in Nigeria are also treating a flood of people who are suffering from choloroquine poisoning.

Source: Coronavirus Updates from The Washington Post


Mitigation vs Suppression

March 22nd, 2020

There’s been a lot of rather loose talk recently about the distinction between “mitigation” and “suppression” which are really just expensive words obscuring the simple difference between “make it grow less fast” and “make it shrink”.

The basic fact is that in most of the world, the number of as yet undetected cases of COVID-19 may already be so great as to overwhelm our intensive care capacity when the expected percentage of them become critical. This means that we need NOW to do whatever we can to minimize infection rates and actually make the infected numbers go down. Making it grow less fast is not enough.

But even making it go down is not enough. If we start it going down next week that won’t mean we can just relax. We’ll have to keep it going down for some time. And even if we eventually make it go down almost to zero, that will still not be enough if there are still parts of the world where it exists more strongly. We will need to be able to catch and stop any new cases that come in through our borders or that pop up from the few remaining undetected cases at home.

But the other side of this coin is that we may not have to eliminate it completely. If enough of the population (in this case apparently about 70%) is immune, then any local outbreak is expected to shrink. (This is sometimes referred to as having “herd immunity”.)
One way to make people immune would be by vaccination, but we don’t yet have a vaccine (and don’t expect one for at least 18 months). Another source of immune people might be those who have had and survived the disease. So the best bet might be not to try to kill the disease completely, but rather to keep the number infected at a constant level that is just below what would overload our intensive care capacity.

In the language of suppression and mitigation, this would be to suppress as quickly as possible until the acute care need becomes manageable, and then relax restrictions just enough to keep making almost full use of our IC facilities until either the “herd immunity” level is reached or an effective vaccine is developed.

See: COVID-19 « alQpr

(328) Alan Cooper’s answer to Why is capital more important than labor? – Quora

March 17th, 2020

This is a poorly phrased question because it uses the ill-defined term “important”.

But it is one that is often asked so maybe it needs an answer.

The word “important” is used in many ways. If you value human life, then even an economically unproductive life is important. And even in strictly economic terms, a hunter-gatherer may survive by picking fruit and catching frogs without the need for any physical capital besides access to a productive environment (and perhaps the “intellectual capital” of information passed down from previous generations about what is and is not safe to harvest). So capital has not always been even economically more “important” than labour.

But in the *modern* world we rely very much on both accumulated knowledge and built infrastructure to enhance our productivity – so much so that anyone who has access to and control of these things that we call “capital” can easily purchase any necessary labour from those who do not “own” the capital by offering them a small share of the product which will, though tiny, nonetheless vastly exceed what they could produce for themselves without access to that capital.

This raises the obvious question of in what sense it is in any way appropriate, fair, or right that some few people should by birth be assigned a hugely disproportionate share of the world’s accumulated capital while the rest are reduced to bargaining their increasingly unnecessary labour for a tiny share of the product.

So far as I can see, that obvious question has an obvious answer. It’s not! There is no argument that I can accept which justifies the present state of affairs and it’s long past time to fix it.

Source: (328) Alan Cooper’s answer to Why is capital more important than labor? – Quora

A “Modest Proposal” for Flattening the Curve

March 16th, 2020

It seems clear(?1) that the pandemic will proceed in each community until about 70% of the population has acquired immunity by having survived the infection. The question is just how many will not survive.

The good news is that the proportion of young and healthy people who will die is very(?) small. But the potential cull of their parents is much higher. For those over 70 the death rate appears to be around 10%, with the actual rate being strongly dependent on the availability of suitable intensive care.- especially mechanical ventilators which, not being so much needed in the normal scheme of things, will be in short supply when the peak infection rate hits.

Since there is as yet no way of reducing the actual number of people who eventually get the disease, the key to minimizing the losses is to lower the peak infection rate so that all those for whom the disease is critical have access to the best possible treatment.

This means that old people (and young ones who are not too desperate for a quick inheritance) may benefit from any behaviour which slows down the progress of the disease, and, by spreading the demand over a longer time interval, makes it less likely for people to die due to not having access to optimal treatment. (See this Washington Post Article for a good explanation of how “social distancing” works to keep down the peak number of active cases – and also this Medium article for more detail on some of the actual history of the pandemic – and this report form a team at Imperial College in London which apparently was istrumental in persuading the UK and US governments to adopt strong measures of social distancing.)

I must admit that my first reaction on hearing of the disease was (despite being over 70, and so in a relatively high risk population myself) to say “well let’s just get it over with and take our chances – like dealing with the pain of pulling off a band aid”. But on realizing the significant life-saving potential of high tech medical equipment, and seeing the numbers in need of that equipment quickly overwhelm the capacity of a relatively modern medical system in Italy, I have changed my tune and now favour as much social distancing as we can stand for as long as we can stand it.

However I do have a novel suggestion to add for dealing with this novel Coronavirus.

Perhaps, given the very low risk of serious harm to an identifiable sub-population, it might be helpful to ask for volunteers to undergo early infection and quarantine – after which they would be free (nay, even encouraged) to get out and mix with others as much as possible.

The main reason for bothering to slow it down (as opposed to taking the “rip off the bandaid” approach) is the fact that if all the infections happen quickly then the small percentage who get critically ill will still overwhelm our intensive care capacity and so suffer losses which would otherwise have been avoidable. But if we could increase the immune population by selectively infecting and isolating people at low risk for complications, then the peak IC burden might be lessened. Does it make sense therefore, to use the now empty cruise ships, hotels, and holiday camps to offer free luxury accommodation (and guaranteed access to whatever critical care might be needed) to groups of healthy young people who can expect to spend part of their holiday under the weather but who will be free to mingle among themselves throughout both their brief (usually mild) illness and also a substantially longer period of normal health?

For my own part it might have made sense to get it early if I could have been sure of getting in there with access to the best available care before the big rush made it likely for me to end up gasping without a ventilator. But sadly, I think it may be already too late for that.

(?1)NB (added March19) The success of China in suppressing transmission sufficiently to bring a halt to new internal cases leaves a large unexposed population still vulnerable to potential infection unless at least the borders continue to be very closely monitored with mandatory quarantine of every new arrival until fully confirmed with non-carrier status.

(?2)NB The claim that for the young and healthy this has a death rate that is “very” small may be understating the risk since a fatality rate of 0.5% per year would be about the same as that of US troops deployed to combat in Iraq in the early 2000s. (But perhaps the “modest proposal” of asking people to expose themselves to that probably inevitable risk just earlier rather than later, and for the purpose of reducing the risk for others, is at least no more callous than asking them to do so in order to achieve a political goal which may have been mainly just to maintain control of a massive oil supply.)

Anti-Nausea Pill Resolves Moral Conflict

February 23rd, 2020

Here’s an interesting counterpoint to Jonathan Haidt’s ‘Moral Foundations‘ theory.

Before deciding that something is wrong, we might ask ourselves, is it just that I’m disgusted by it?

Source: Find something morally sickening? Take a ginger pill | Aeon Ideas

Why symmetry gets really interesting when it is broken | Aeon Ideas

February 23rd, 2020

Here’s a nice bit of writing that gives the reader just enough information to start a journey in each of several important directions: Why symmetry gets really interesting when it is broken | Aeon Ideas

From The Village Green

February 14th, 2020

My good friend and 1964-5 college roommate John Butler is the editor of The Village Green, an environmental newsletter focused on the area around his home in Ontario but with much of more general interest as well.

In the latest issue he writes:

I have long been an admirer of Rex Murphy, Newfoundlander extraordinaire, insightful essayist, courteous radio host, adept and sprightly player with the English language.

But he has changed.

Now, as columnist for mildly right-of-centre publications, he rails angrily (and with inaccurate logic and evidence) at those who oppose fossil fuel projects, particularly projects in Alberta.

He doesn’t seem to be an overt climate change denier, though he savages people who propose policies to deal with climate change. He seems much more interested in touting any fossil fuel project that produces jobs, no matter how vile the outcome of those projects. He also seems near-obsessed with not offending Alberta by espousing fossil fuel reduction policies, lest we seem ungrateful to that province and thereby drive it closer to western-province separatism.

In a recent column he condemns the very idea of an aid package for Alberta to deal with the loss of oil patch jobs, calling it something we do for third-world counties but not for our fellow citizens – it might demean them. Better, he says, for Canadians and their governments to embrace fossil fuel mega-projects like Alberta’s Teck oil sands mine.

Rex Murphy has one thing right – the scale of the issue is enormous. Vastly curtailing – even eliminating – the fossil fuel industry in western Canada will be necessary if Canada is to play its fair role in combatting global heating. Part of that involves drying up the insatiable demand by the rest of Canada – and the world – for fossil fuels. Part of it should also involve concerted national investment in developing green energy jobs in Alberta to compensate for lost oil jobs (easy to say but hard to do since it involves sacrifices on the part of non-Albertans to make those investments. It also involves Alberta’s willingness to be converted).
It will be tempting to make quiet exceptions, to appease oil appetites and industries – a pipeline here, an oil sand extraction plant there – to stanch the blood. Every nation with regions that rely on fossil fuel revenues faces the same temptation. A little exception here, there, everywhere, forgetting that ultimately there is no such thing as a “little catastrophe”.

Rex Murphy’s argument seems to be a call to loyalty and gratitude – western fossil fuels have enriched all of Canada, so it would be ungrateful and disloyal of us to turn our backs on a part of the country that has done so much good for us.

Imagine your brother opened a factory next to your house. For a long time it made a profit and he shared it with you because you are family. But the factory produced toxic by-products that poisoned both your properties and the people on them. For a long time neither you nor your brother noticed this insidious poison. But now you see it, smell it, taste it. Now you know. Your brother says, “If I close the factory I will starve. For old times’ sake and the sake of the family, let’s keep quiet about the poison. It will eventually kill us and others, but don’t interfere with my operation of the factory.

That kind of family loyalty kills people and their planet.

Millenials vs Mayor Pete

February 13th, 2020

Source: via (178) Habib’s Reading List – Quora

Greenhouse Saturation

February 12th, 2020

Must work on a “for the layman” clarification of all this:

OneTab shared tabs

Shadows on the wall

February 8th, 2020

Alexander Parker’s favorite thought experiment is Plato’s cave.

But what caught my eye was the comment by Gergely Mészáros which ended with the claim that “the analogy fails because we are not the watchers, we are the shadows on the wall”.

Why Vote?

February 7th, 2020

Aeon writer Julia Maskivker asks

Source: Given how little effect you can have, is it rational to vote? But her answer, though in accord with my own, is unconvincingly supported.

Rather than argue from some set of vague moral principles involving duty to community (which could in my opinion have been made much more clear and well supported), I would argue instead from the personal self-interest that Dr Maskivker considers inadequate.

In the modern world many elections are close enough that there is a non negligible probability of a tie. And in the case of a tie every vote has the potential of changing the result.

Furthermore, even when one’s preferred policy option is certain to lose (or to win), the demonstration of a higher level of support can deter those who defeat it (or encourage its elected supporters) in a way that benefits the individuals who wanted it.

Ride-hailing services won’t be accessible to all | Vancouver Sun

January 21st, 2020

I think it was with good reason that BC has been slow to allow ride-hailing services to undercut the service provided by well-regulated and market controlled taxis and encourage people to jump into cars with random unvetted strangers. But I would have thought that after years of delay they would have come up with something better than this!

Source: Ride-hailing services won’t be accessible to all | Vancouver Sun

Other jurisdictions which were quicker to allow these services (such as Toronto) managed to include a guaranteed minimum percentage of accessible vehicles so how did BC manage to fuck it up so badly?