Monthly Archives: October 2020

COVID-19 Update 10/31/2020

Food Safety and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | FDA

Whether it’s the second wave of the first surge or a second wave, the number of COVID cases has begun to increase significantly.

First the (sort of) good news. Deaths have more or less stabilized at average of just under 900 per day. There are exceptions, such as the 27-29th of October when there were over 1,000 deaths each day.

I cannot comfortably say that this trend will continue. The medical community has learned a lot and become more effective, but this stability in death rates cannot be expected to be maintained as the number of new cases increases. Once the number of cases that require intensive care exceed the available ICU beds, it can be expected that the number of deaths will increase. Reports are that this is already the case in El Paso, Texas where adult patients with non-COVID medical issues are being sent to a pediatric hospital to make beds available for pandemic patients.

DAILY DEATHS

Now for the bad news. The number of new cases per day has begun to significantly increase. Yesterday, new cases exceeded 101,000–a record number.

NEW CASES

Because the data now include over 150 entries, a sudden change over a short period of time tends not immediately impact the trend line. However, if the increase that began in late September continues, the trend will follow.

Other factors to consider include:

  • Preliminary data do not indicate permanent or long term immunity for those who have been infected.
  • Treatment options from hydroxychloroquine to Remdesvir do not seem to cure the disease. The best they have been able to do is to mitigate some of the symptoms. While recovery time was shorter when Remdesvir was administered, death rates among patients treated with Remdesvir were statistically similar to patients treated with a placebo. [Link]
  • COVID-19 outcomes are not limited to death or recovery. So called long-haul patients experience a number of long term–and possibly permanent–changes that impact the quality of life, in some cases severely.

My personal interpretation:

  • New cases will continue to increase until either an effective vaccine or a cure is discovered.
  • Given that a segment of the population chooses to ignore prophylactic measures, such as social distancing and wearing masks, numbers can be expected to continue to rise.
  • Family interaction during the holidays will increase infection rates as some people who are normally careful relax their safety measures due to the overarching importance of families.

I fear that many future holidays may be remembered in terms of the death of a loved one due to COVID. I have racked my brain trying to identify even a tiny new idea as to how to deal with the pandemic without success. The best I can offer is: 1) wear a mask; 2) maintain social distancing; and 3) practice frequent and thorough handwashing.

I Feel Like a Number

Numbers - Dr. Odd

I read a couple of things recently that made me feel like a number. The shorter of the two was “The Master’s Tools” by Arielle Pardes, which appeared in Wired 28.18. (I’ve been reading Wired for years and just realized that they don’t use months to mark their issues.) The other is the book Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America by Christopher Wylie.

Both detail how the seemingly innocent trail of Internet data we leave behind can be used by politicians to aim targeted messages at the most receptive audiences.

In a nutshell, the political message to a white, Catholic gunowner who lives on a farm is most effective if it is crafted differently from the one for a black professional who lives in a city. Facebook is one of the prime sources for the data that allows politicians–and other businesses–to slice and dice people and tell them what they want to hear.

Even if the message is not blatantly misleading, there’s something wrong with the inability to tell every voter the same thing.

I avoid Facebook and many other social media platforms because I do not want all kinds of information collected about me and sold to people who want to sell me something. I don’t like being a target.

Back in 1978, Bob Seger wrote the song, “I Feel Like a Number.” I thought I understood it then. I really understand it now. [Link to lyrics and audio]

Thanks for the warning, Bob.

The Amazing Randi

About James Randi - JREF
James “The Amazing” Randi
A bit Gandalfesque, don’t you think?

James Randi has made his last escape–this time from this world.

He called himself a conjurer, rather than a magician. He viewed his craft from a very pragmatic standpoint and had no patience with those who claimed to have supernatural powers. These included stage magicians, faith healers, psychics, and others.

When he was younger, he carried a check in his pocket, which he would give to anyone who could perform “magic” that he could not duplicate as an illusion. I forget the amount of the check (large for the time, but not by today’s standards), which eventually fell apart along the folds because no one ever qualified. Later, the James Randi Educational Foundation offered a million dollars to anyone who could perform any supernatural, occult, or paranormal action under test conditions agreed to by both parties.

At one point, he was the magic expert for Alice Cooper. The show opened with sparks flowing from Alice’s fingers when he first stepped onto the stage. Naturally, one does not want live, extremely flammable pyrotechnics on one’s fingers until necessary. He related how, before each show, he’d be with Vincent Fournier in the dressing room, chatting about whatever. Randi was fascinated how, when they got the three minute warning and he’d start attaching the squibs and Vincent would immediately go into character, transforming into Alice Cooper.

He wrote 10 books, most of which are available from Amazon, as well as many public libraries. However, if you’re not a magic aficionado, a great book to start with is Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone.

The Amazing Randi earned his title of Amazing by teaching and researching as well as performing.

James, thanks, and I wish you well.

Too Much Star Wars?

I confess, there is a lot of science fiction I enjoy–to the point where I refuse to pick either Star Wars or Star Trek as a favorite. When Star Wars first came out, I saw it a number of times in the theater and had the movie on VHS cassette as soon as it was possible. (Kids, ask your parents to explain VHS.)

And, yes, I wish George Lucas had left well enough alone and not made all those changes to the movie. The original theater release did not need improving.

My older son and I watched it numerous times together. When my younger son was a baby and teething, colicky, or otherwise unhappy at night, I’d tell my wife that he wanted to watch Star Wars. She thought that was crazy, but when I took him into the living room, at the first chords of John Williams’s Star Wars theme music he halted his fussing. He’d snuggle into a comfortable position and was soon asleep.

Having provided my Star Wars bona fides, there are some things I see as beyond normal. I periodically get science fiction stories pushed to me on the Internet. Most recently, I ran across “Star Wars: 10 Things You Never Knew About X-Wings.”

The article (post?) goes into detail, such as:

Focusing on the main three X-Wings, the T-65B sits at 13.4m long, 11.76m wide, and 2.4m deep, weighing ten metric tons and going at a max acceleration of 3,700 G (G-force, the force acting on a body of gravity) a max atmospheric speed of 1,050 kph, and one hundred MGLT (Megalight per hour, the relative sunlight speed in realspace).

The T-70 has the same width but a shorter length and depth/height of 12.49m and 1.92m compared to the T-65B. It goes 50 more kph, 10 more MGLT, and with 100 more G-force. Upgrading one more, the T-85 is by far the biggest, at 15.68m long, 13.65m wide, and 2.7m deep. The T-85’s speed is again, by far, the most impressive at 3,800 G, 120 MGLT, and 1,300 kph max atmospheric speed. All of this information is available in the Rebel Starfighters Owners’ Workshop Manual. 

I’ve seen records of archeological digs that were less specific.

Sometimes, even science fiction has TMI (too much information).

Strict Interpretation of the US Constitution

There’s been a lot of talk, lately, as to whether the law, particularly the US Constitution should be interpreted to reflect exactly what was written or whether the law adapts with the times. I am an analyst, so I am cursed with need to make sense—to the best of my ability—of issues of importance that are presented to the masses. I do not claim superior intelligence nor do I do believe I have extraordinary understanding of legal subtleties or political intrigues. I do however view myself as a responsible American voter trying to prepare for the time I will spend in the voting booth. I ask questions when I do not know the answers. However, sometimes the best way to find the answers is to ask the right questions. In fact, the questions are often more important than the answers.

Just for the record, I have sworn an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. I will continue to honor that oath for as long as I live. I take the US Constitution seriously, just as it deserves.

There is a mad dash to nominate and approve a new Supreme Court Associate Justice in the weeks before the next presidential election. The primary goal is stated as to appoint an associate justice who will interpret the constitution so as to reflect the exact intention of the those who wrote and signed the original US Constitution in 1787. The founding fathers were responsible for creating the Great American Experiment, which is both wonderful and yet remains an experiment.

A story, which is generally accepted as true tells us: Benjamin Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin supposedly responded, with a rejoinder at once witty and ominous: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

I believe we may be facing just that question.

The founding fathers planted the seed; for the past 230 years, those of us who love America have tried to nurture that seedling and the plant as it has grown. In my opinion, some parts of the republic have done well, while others need more tending, including some weeding and pruning, even today.

The thoughts and ideals of the founding fathers were based on their times and their norms, which is why many people today believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based on today’s norms. This is not necessarily a new idea. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the third US President wrote to James Madison, the fourth US President and who is considered the Father of the Constitution.

Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right (Emphasis added). It may be said, that the succeeding generation exercising, in fact, the power of repeal, this leaves them as free as if the constitution or law had been expressly limited to nineteen years only. In the first place, this objection admits the right, in proposing an equivalent. But the power of repeal is not an equivalent. It might be, indeed, if every form of government were so perfectly contrived, that the will of the majority could always be obtained, fairly and without impediment. But this is true of no form. The people cannot assemble themselves; their representation is unequal and vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils, bribery corrupts them, personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents; and other impediments arise, so as to prove to every practical man, that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal.”

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:459, Papers 15:396

Inasmuch as Jefferson’s suggestion was never implemented, we have kept the US Constitution, more or less as written. It’s true that there have been 27 amendments, although the 18th amendment (Liquor Abolished) was negated by the 21st Amendment (Amendment 18 Repealed).  Therefore, there have actually been 25 changes to the US Constitution since 1787.

The first 10 amendments, commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791, only four years after the main body of the Constitution, and given that they were primarily the work of James Madison, I propose that it is fair to include and accept that they, too, accurately reflect the will of the founding Fathers.

Before we consider some specific passages of the Constitution, let’s first mentally adjust our perspective to social norms of the Founding Fathers in the mid eighteenth century:

  • Only gentlemen could exert significant power. A gentleman was first and foremost a landowner. In many cases the land that they held had been granted by the British Crown before the War of Independence.
  • A gentleman was invariably white.
  • Every signatory of the US Constitution was a male.
  • Every signature on the Declaration of Independence also belonged to a man.
    • The closest was Mary Katharine Goddard, who was Baltimore’s Postmaster and an important journalist. She was charged with publishing the Declaration, so at the bottom of the broadside, issued in January 1777, the following appeared, “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.”
  • Suffice to say, women could not vote. I find no record of female judges until Esther Hobart Morris served as a Justice of the Peace in 1870.
  • At the time of the Founding Fathers, women were considered chattel (property).

Given these conditions and how they conflict with our norms and mores today (Thank, God) I have a difficult time accepting that strict interpretation is the best approach for the Twenty-first century.

The primary responsibility of the Supreme Court is to review legal decisions to ensure that they agree with the US Constitution. A strict constructionist sees the gold standard as the writings of the Founding Fathers. The Constitution, for example does not address issues concerning communication beyond the printed page. The telegraph, radio, television, internet, and smartphones are outside the instructions left by the Founding Fathers. While the Founding Fathers were well familiar with issues of property and the navigation of the seas, they had no concept of vessels that operate below the seas, in the air above the land, most assuredly of people and equipment that exist and operate above the Earth, on the Moon or on other planets.

Given that, let’s examine some original sections of the US Constitution. The following sections of the original Constitution may have been amended, but the original statement, and therefore strict interpretation best reflects the Founding Fathers’ intention.

  • Section 2, third paragraph: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
    • Women counted in the census, although they could not vote.
    • Native Americans were excluded from both being counted and voting.
    • “Other Persons”—in other words slaves—counted as 3/5th of a person, giving states with slaveowners more clout than other states. The more slaves in a particular state, the more representatives that state would have. At the time of the Revolution, the population of the United States is believed to be somewhere between 2.5 million and 4 million. There were about 450,000 enslaved “other persons,” although I cannot determine how they were enumerated in the total.
  • Further down in Section 2, third paragraph, “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.”
    • The 450,000 “other persons” is believed to include an estimated 400,000 slaves brought from Africa to the Colonies plus another 50,000 who had been born in the Colonies.
      • Americans in all 50 states owned slaves at that time.
      • The “breeding stock” aspect of slavery was a profitable business
    • The effect of the headcount of both freemen and the 3/5th count of slaves on representation was not trivial. In 1790, New York had 6 representatives, Pennsylvania had 8, while Virginia had 10. The number of slaves tipped the balance in Virginia’s favor.
    • Based on the original verbiage of the US Constitution—“The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each Shall have at least one Representative.” The forefathers were looking at a small number of people in a huge landmass, but today, it’s different. Based on strict interpretation, today, we would be entitled to 11,013 members of the House of Representatives.
  • Section 8, paragraph 7 points out that the Congress shall have the Power “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads.” A strict interpretation expected Congress to establish, operate, and maintain a Post Office. Back then, there were not necessarily roads in existence to provide postal communication. The Post Office needed to build and maintain those roads. Nowhere does it say that Congress can abdicate their postal responsibilities onto a pseudo-governmentally-owned-corporation or hand it over to a political sponsor to disenfranchise voters.
  • Section 8, paragraph 12 states that Congress has the authority “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a Term longer than two Years.” The Founding Fathers did not want a standing Army because of the mischief that standing armies in Europe had caused.
  • “To provide and maintain a Navy.” The United States was and is a maritime country. In the time of the Founding Fathers, we were separated from European powers by the ocean, yet we needed to free travel through the ocean in order to maintain trade and commerce.
  • “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel invasions
    “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” During the Civil War, for example, the armies of both the North and the South primarily consisted of state militias.
  • Besides slavery being legally recognized, the Constitution in Article IV, Section 2, runaway slaves were to be returned to their owners. This was superseded by the 13th Amendment, which was passed in 1865—well after the Founding Fathers had passed into history.
  • Since the Bill of Rights was written by the Founding Fathers and reflects their views, the 9th and10th Amendments are especially important:
    • Amendment 9 – Construction of the Constitution: The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
    • Amendment 10 – Powers of the States and the People: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The Federal Government has expanded its authority into areas and in ways that would have shocked the Constitution’s signatories. This has resulted in rights of the individual and the state being impacted–sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

To interpret the Constitution as the Founding Fathers intended is not possible. In college, when a question on an exam asked what an author meant by a particular passage, I would answer in two parts:

  1. No one knows except the original author.
  2. Having established that, the interpretation that you taught is—and I’d regurgitate whatever the textbook or lecture opined.

If, on the other hand, we consider the Constitution to be a more current document, we would have to include the following conditions added by those who were NOT the Founding Fathers. These are not all-inclusive, but do reflect the most significant changes after the Founding Fathers passed on. A strict constructionist should, by rights, ignore every one of these since they are not from the Founding Fathers.

  • The abolition of slavery
  • All persons born in America or born anywhere to at least one American parent are citizens.
  • Voting cannot be denied or abridged on the basis of sex, race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
  • Congress can lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.
  • Attempts to legislate morality, such as Prohibition, have not succeeded.

I recommend that we admit that we’re no longer an 18th century agrarian society and act accordingly.

COVID-19 Update

I continue to track coronavirus cases, as I have since 24 May 2020. My simple linear progression is no longer adequate for anything more than broad statements. I defer to the experts and their more complex models.

However, as any analyst will tell you, there is still a lot that can be learned from the data, even if the search for future activity is taken off the table. Here are some findings and postulations that I find interesting:

There are a fair number of footnotes to the data. Some states try to backdate cases or events for a variety of reasons. It could be plain old human error, processes that are not robust enough to handle the large numbers of cases, or even an attempt to have better optics.

The daily data always decreases over the weekend. I don’t think fewer people get sick or die on weekends, but I can see the paperwork not being filed until the regular workweek.

The rate of increase for new cases has slowed, but not flattened or showing a decline. It is still showing an increase between now and the end of the year. Similarly, the number of deaths continues to rise, but not as steeply as before, hopefully indicating the benefit of experience by healthcare workers. In other words, they are more effective using the tools they’ve had, rather than a miracle drug, although Remdesivir shows promise.

Remdesivir is expensive—$3,100 for a course of treatment in the US but only $2,340 in other developed countries. The rub here is that US taxpayers reportedly invested $99 million for Gilead Pharmaceuticals to develop the drug.

As of Saturday 10 October 2020, the United States has had 7,945,505 cases of COVID-19 resulting in 219,282 deaths. Another 5,089,842 patients recovered, which means there are still 2,636,381 active cases.  These patients may never recover, but may suffer from COVID-19’s various symptoms for the rest of their lives.

Testing is still an area that is somewhat vague. It is reported that 117,601,422 tests have been administered, but there are many anecdotal tales of people having difficulty getting tested. Reports indicate that elites, whether sports stars or politicians, are tested on a regular basis, while regular citizens are reportedly refused.

I wonder what is considered a COVID-19 test. The most definitive test involves inserting a long swab into the nasopharynx, which is quite unpleasant. I can’t see the elites tolerating this on a daily or weekly basis, so maybe they’re using a less accurate but more tolerable test.

Sadly, I believe we’ve got a long way to go before we can relegate COVID-19 to the history books.

Russki TV – “Better Than Us”

Better Than Us | Drama Quarterly

I confess! I’ve been watching a science fiction series on Netflix that was produced in Russia. The tempo–at least for the beginning was slower than I’m used to–but it still was worth watching. Apparently, it was originally called Better than Human, but some other show had copyrighted that name, so it was re-titled as Better Than Us.

In a nutshell, a bot (android) by the name of Arissa has transcended the usual robotic norms, including Asimov’s rules. She has gained a sense of right and wrong, although sometimes, the way she expresses them is a bit oblique. Why? Because she has a sense of self and a sense of morality.

As Winston Churchill noted, Russia–including (in my opinion) Russian entertainment–is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

As I said, the tempo is a bit different than American TV, but interesting and worth watching nevertheless.

Oh, be aware–the closed captions do not match the translated speech, but, hey–what the hell.

Tyler’s Grandson Dies

News sources have reported that John Tyler’s grandson died on September 26, 2020 [Link to CNN]. I mean no disrespect to Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., the grandson, but the media did leave out a few significantly interesting details. Many of us see (and dread) history as boring collection of names and dates, dry as toast, and impossible to make interesting. Just as the devil is in the details, so too are the exciting–and sometimes lurid–details of history.

John Tyler was not elected president, but was vice president to William Henry Harrison. You may remember their famous campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” Harrison’s victory against Tecumseh at Tippecanoe earned him the nickname.* When sworn in as president, Harrison only served 31 days before dying; the cause of death was from a disease, although exactly which disease is still debated.

This was the first time a president had died while in office, so there was little guidance as to how to handle it. Harrison’s cabinet wanted Tyler to be referred to as “Acting President,” but before they could make that official, Tyler announced that he was president. Period. However, he was often referred to as “His Accidency,” but most likely behind his back.

After his term expired, Tyler initially worked as a representative of Virginia on a commission to avoid a civil war. He eventually saw it as insurmountable. In 1861, Tyler voted for the secession of the slave-holding states and volunteered for appointment to the Congress of the Confederacy. Later, when elections were held, he was elected to its House of Representatives, but died before its first session.

Tyler was the only president to be buried under a flag other than the United States Flag. He was also the only president to be considered a traitor and an enemy of the state.

I told you history was interesting.

*It always strikes me as odd that so many American “heroes” main accomplishment were push Native Americans from their own land. Put another way, they coveted their neighbors’ land and commited murder to obtain it.