Archive for December, 2021

Vanity Fair: Biden put all his eggs in the vaccination basket …

December 26, 2021

Lacked the imagination for an Operation Warp Speed for testing and therapeutic drugs.
=============

Two must read articles:

Vanity Fair: The Biden Administration Rejected Proposals for “Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays”

WSJ: Big Pharma Success, Government Failure

Here’s a merged extract of the articles … both of which are worth reading in their entirety.

===========

The essence

In January 2021, the incoming Biden Administration was sent a 23-page document outlining a national rapid-testing strategy that would enable the country to reopen safely even before the vaccine rollout was complete.

The document made a case for rapid testing as the most powerful tool to reduce transmission and case counts quickly.

Then, on October 22, a group of COVID-19 testing experts presented the Biden administration with a detailed strategy for overhauling America’s approach to testing.

The plan was to put rapid at-home COVID-19 testing into the hands of average citizens, allowing them to screen themselves in real time and thereby help reduce transmission.

The plan called for “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”

The big, bold idea for free home tests for all Americans to avoid a holiday surge, was killed by the Biden Administration.

=============

The reasons:

> “The Biden Administration took a vaccine-only approach … and didn’t support the notion of testing as a proper mitigation tool or therapeutic oral antiviral drugs.”

The Administration has had a single-minded fixation on vaccinating Americans left testing and therapeutics on the back burner for so long.

The Administration feared that at home rapid tests and therapeutics might somehow signal to wary Americans that they could skip vaccinations.

Officials failed to foresee how vaccine efficacy would wane over time and demand would plateau. 

> The FDA dragged its feet vetting and approving at home tests … valuing “exquisite sensitivity, rather than “public health utility”.

“If our goal is defined as public health, every test run last year was practically useless.”

While rapid antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests, they are “extremely sensitive for very contagious people” … when they’re at peak viral load, these tests approach 100 percent sensitivity.” Source

> Many doctors opposed in home testing, viewing patient test results as theirs alone to convey.

Some doctors had even opposed home testing for pregnancy and HIV, arguing that patients who learned on their own about a given condition would not be able to act on the information effectively.

> There wasn’t capacity to manufacture over-the-counter tests at the required scale.”

The plan required an estimated 732 million tests per month.

The capacity problem was twofold: The FDA had authorized only a handful of different home tests, and those it had authorized could not increase manufacturing fast enough.

=============

Bottom line

> It wasn’t a matter of Biden not having thought ahead about the need for rapid tests (as he told ABC News on TV) … It was a matter of his team considering, and then rejecting, a plan to have hundreds of millions of home tests available now..

> Biden’s recently announced plan is widely regarded by experts (i.e. “the science”) as a totally inadequate “exemplar of too little, too late …

We need several billion tests and have needed them for over a year to help prevent spread.”

Advance government orders like Operation Warp Speed’s for vaccines would have accelerated production of anti-virals.”

> The Biden administration has lacked “the imagination to have an Operation Warp Speed-level programs for testing and therapeutics.”

“The White House, in baseball terms, is playing small ball. When it comes to rapid testing, they’re bunting the players along.”

“Vaccines have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, but many more lives would have been saved if anti-viral oral treatments were available sooner. The drugs represent a huge pharmaceutical success but a missed government opportunity.”

> So, as COVID-19 is exploding again, we’re stuck with “endless lines of desperate Americans clamoring for tests in order to safeguard holiday gatherings” … and, rationing of live-saving anti-viral drugs.

Local example: One of the most expansive urgent care chains in the Maryland-Virginia market restricts testing to symptomatic patients only … and warns patients of 6- hour wait times (in a waiting room with a hundred or so other symptomatic patients)

=============

In Biden’s own words:

Anyone, anyone who needs to be tested should be tested at no charge, at no charge.

Tests should be available to all who need them and the government, the government should stop at nothing to make that happen.

No excuses should be made.

The administration’s failure on testing is colossal and it’s a failure of planning, leadership, and execution.”  

Oh yeah, that was in March 2020 in a blast against Trump.  Transcript

As Forrest Gump would say: “What goes around, comes around”

Merry Christmas … 45 Lessons in Life

December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and HAPPY NEW YEAR to all !

This short video was sent to me by a friend a couple of years ago

It really resonated with me, so continuing a holiday tradition, I like to share it at Christmas time.

back with you after the New Year

* * * * *

         click to view  (best with audio on)
image

 

Need a smile today?

December 24, 2021

Two of my grandkids attend Holy Trinity School in Georgetown.

Earlier this week one of the school’s teachers, Kathleen Fitzpatrick (aka. Ms. Fitz), became a viral internet sensation by sinking a full court shot … on the school’s playground … in front of her cheering students.

Here’s a 1-minute video from CBS Sports that is guaranteed to make you smile.

The girl in the camel-colored coat is my granddaughter Maddie.

image

Vanity Fair: Biden put all his eggs in the vaccination basket …

December 24, 2021

Lacked the imagination for an Operation Warp Speed for testing and therapeutic drugs.
=============

Two must read articles:

Vanity Fair: The Biden Administration Rejected Proposals for “Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays”

WSJ: Big Pharma Success, Government Failure

Here’s a merged extract of the articles … both of which are worth reading in their entirety.

===========

The essence

In January 2021, the incoming Biden Administration was sent a 23-page document outlining a national rapid-testing strategy that would enable the country to reopen safely even before the vaccine rollout was complete.

The document made a case for rapid testing as the most powerful tool to reduce transmission and case counts quickly.

Then, on October 22, a group of COVID-19 testing experts presented the Biden administration with a detailed strategy for overhauling America’s approach to testing.

The plan was to put rapid at-home COVID-19 testing into the hands of average citizens, allowing them to screen themselves in real time and thereby help reduce transmission.

The plan called for “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”

The big, bold idea for free home tests for all Americans to avoid a holiday surge, was killed by the Biden Administration.

=============

The reasons:

> “The Biden Administration took a vaccine-only approach … and didn’t support the notion of testing as a proper mitigation tool or therapeutic oral antiviral drugs.”

The Administration has had a single-minded fixation on vaccinating Americans left testing and therapeutics on the back burner for so long.

The Administration feared that at home rapid tests and therapeutics might somehow signal to wary Americans that they could skip vaccinations.

Officials failed to foresee how vaccine efficacy would wane over time and demand would plateau. 

> The FDA dragged its feet vetting and approving at home tests … valuing “exquisite sensitivity, rather than “public health utility”.

“If our goal is defined as public health, every test run last year was practically useless.”

While rapid antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests, they are “extremely sensitive for very contagious people” … when they’re at peak viral load, these tests approach 100 percent sensitivity.” Source

> Many doctors opposed in home testing, viewing patient test results as theirs alone to convey.

Some doctors had even opposed home testing for pregnancy and HIV, arguing that patients who learned on their own about a given condition would not be able to act on the information effectively.

> There wasn’t capacity to manufacture over-the-counter tests at the required scale.”

The plan required an estimated 732 million tests per month.

The capacity problem was twofold: The FDA had authorized only a handful of different home tests, and those it had authorized could not increase manufacturing fast enough.

=============

Bottom line

> It wasn’t a matter of Biden not having thought ahead about the need for rapid tests (as he told ABC News on TV) … It was a matter of his team considering, and then rejecting, a plan to have hundreds of millions of home tests available now..

> Biden’s recently announced plan is widely regarded by experts (i.e. “the science”) as a totally inadequate “exemplar of too little, too late …

We need several billion tests and have needed them for over a year to help prevent spread.”

Advance government orders like Operation Warp Speed’s for vaccines would have accelerated production of anti-virals.”

> The Biden administration has lacked “the imagination to have an Operation Warp Speed-level programs for testing and therapeutics.”

“The White House, in baseball terms, is playing small ball. When it comes to rapid testing, they’re bunting the players along.”

“Vaccines have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, but many more lives would have been saved if anti-viral oral treatments were available sooner. The drugs represent a huge pharmaceutical success but a missed government opportunity.”

> So, as COVID-19 is exploding again, we’re stuck with “endless lines of desperate Americans clamoring for tests in order to safeguard holiday gatherings” … and, rationing of live-saving anti-viral drugs.

Local example: One of the most expansive urgent care chains in the Maryland-Virginia market restricts testing to symptomatic patients only … and warns patients of 6- hour wait times (in a waiting room with a hundred or so other symptomatic patients)

=============

In Biden’s own words:

Anyone, anyone who needs to be tested should be tested at no charge, at no charge.

Tests should be available to all who need them and the government, the government should stop at nothing to make that happen.

No excuses should be made.

The administration’s failure on testing is colossal and it’s a failure of planning, leadership, and execution.”  

Oh yeah, that was in March 2020 in a blast against Trump.  Transcript

As Forrest Gump would say: “What goes around, comes around”

She died 4 days after getting her booster shot … coincidence?

December 23, 2021

When a fatal risk materializes close to home, statistical probabilities and presidential safety assurances are of little comfort.
===========

From the get-go, I have been concerned about the long-term health risks of the covid vaccines … but, I’ve been very sanguine about the short-term risks and appreciative of the short-term benefits.

Accordingly, I’ve been vaxed and boosted … and, have advocated the same for my fellow seniors.

But, my confidence level has waned.

Here’s why…

=============

As I’ve previously posted, up to now, I’ve been blessed (or “lucky”, if you prefer) to be in the 64% of Americans who don’t “personally know anyone who has died due to complications from covid-19”.

image
YouGov

My closest covid-related death or hospitalization has been at 5 or 6 “degrees of separation” or more.

That changed last week when…

A very close relative of an immediate family member (think: 1-degree of separation) dutifully “did the right thing” and got a covid booster shot

The lady was in her early 60s … very active … in good health with no covid-risky co-morbidities … no history of head aches or heart problems.

The morning after her booster, she she woke up with a head ache that got worse over the next couple of days.

On the 3rd day, she went into cardiac arrest …and on the 4th day, she died.

==============

The official cause-of-death: cardiac arrest attributed to a previously undiagnosed brain aneurism.

English translation: The booster shot was coincidental, not causal.

I’m having a hard time believing that.

Strikes me that, even if the shot wasn’t a direct cause, it likely accelerated and enhanced the fatal effect of the aneurism.

But, of course, I’m not a doctor … so draw your own conclusion.

==============

I always counseled my students not to generalize from a single data point or from their personal experiences.

Easier said than done!

When a fatal risk materializes close to home, it stops being a statistical rarity.

Today, I personally can’t help but think that Biden’s cavalier “free and safe” is more free than it is safe.

Maybe I’m not alone since “fully vaxed” people — even seniors — aren’t breaking down the doors to get booster shots.

image

=============

P.S. I don’t know which vaccine the lady took initially or whether the booster was the same brand as the initial doses.  I won’t ask, but I’ll report if I hear any thing.

The question that I want somebody to ask Biden, Psaki or Fauci…

December 22, 2021

Our past couple of posts dealt with the omicron outbreaks at colleges and in pro sports.

Those venues share a common behavioral trait: practically all of the college students and athletes are fully vaccinated … yet, omicron is spreading fast enough that students are being sent home (potentially to spread the virus there) and sporting events are being postponed or cancelled.

In this week’s speech, Biden — a bit more restrained than usual —  repeatedly took shots (pun intended) on the the folks who are unvaccinated … still implying that the roughly 1/4 of adults who are unvaccinated are the predominant cause of the spread.

=============

So, the question I’d like some reporter to ask Biden, Psaki or Fauci is:

College campuses are relatively contained and controlled environments. 

College administrators have mandated vaccinations (reportedly with >98% compliance) and enforced strong mitigation practices, including masking.

So, how do you explain the surge of covid cases on college campuses?

============

That’s not intended as an anti-vax question.

I’m both fully vaccinated (i.e. 2 shots) and “boosted”, so I don’t take Biden’s admonition personally.

But, I want to understand risks of my catching and transmitting the virus.

============

P.S. For the “textbook” answer to the question, see: Colleges hit by surge in covid cases…

The essence of the answer: Waning vaccine effectiveness among “cohorts” of students who got vaccinated at approximately the same time … right before the school year started.

First colleges, now sports leagues encountering covid case surges…

December 21, 2021

Again, cohort vaccinations meet waning vax effectiveness to create chaos.
=============

Previously, we demonstrated mathematically that, because of vaccines’  waning  effectiveness, a near-100% vaccination rate slows, but doesn’t stop covid spread  … we  showed  how the underlying math largely explains the  surge  in covid cases on college campuses … and we warned that colleges might be sending infected students home for the holidays.

Well, colleges aren’t alone.

The Hill is among sources reporting that:

image

Case in point: The NFL

During the first 2 1/2 months of the football season, from early September to late November, there were only about 110 players on (and off) the COVID-19 reserve list.

That number is over 100 again, and some teams are be being hit particularly hard.

The Rams list was 13 last week and continues to grow; the Browns have 15 players and their head coach out.

=============

According to the league, nearly 95% of NFL players are vaccinated.

But, just like colleges, the  contagion spike is largely attributable to the Omicron strain of the virus,  “cohorted vaccinations” and waning vaccine effectiveness.

On those latter points, glad to see somebody else has seen the light.

Zachary Binney, a sports epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University says:,

One possible explanation for the recent spate of cases is waning immunity from the initial vaccines. 

Lots of professional athletes likely got vaccinated around the same time, so their immunity could be wearing off simultaneously.

=============

The Hill points out: “For the NFL, the timing couldn’t be worse as many teams are playing some of the most meaningful games in the final weeks of the regular season.”

Specifically, teams may have to resort to playing 2nd and 3rd stringers in their most important games in the seasons.

Despite play-off and championship implications, the NFL had hoped  to play on without postponements or cancellations.

Already that hope has perished.

Saturday’s scheduled game between the Cleveland Browns and the Las Vegas Raiders was rescheduled for Monday.

23  Browns players — including the team’s starting quarterback –were on Saturday’s covid list.

Sunday’s scheduled game between the Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles was also postponed until Tuesday.

The Washington Football team had 23 players on the covid list, including its first- and second-string quarterbacks.

Sunday’s  game between the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams was also postponed until Tuesday.

As of last Friday, the Rams had a league-leading 29 players on the covid list.

But, the Monday Night Football game between the Bears and the Vikings played on … even though the Bears had 16 players sidelined with covid, including its entire defensive backfield.

The Bears lost.

While there weren’t play-off implications for the Bears, there were for the Vikings

What a mess.

=============

P.S. And, what about the college bowl games and championship play-offs?

They’re at he intersection of the campus and sports’ covid case surges.

Ouch.

This year, college students may be spreading more than holiday cheer…

December 20, 2021

Caveat friends & family: they may come packed with the coronavirus.
=============

Last week, we posted: Colleges hit by surge in covid cases.

The essence of the post:

> Almost all college students have been vaccinated …  the vast majority were all vaccinated circa. August, 2020.

> The vaccines’ effectiveness wanes over time … down to about 50% at the 6 month mark.

> So, the vaccinees in the August cohort group are down to about 65% vax effectiveness

> And, the August cohort of vaccinees won’t qualify for booster shots until February

>Which means that about 1/3 of college students are walking around medically equivalent to somebody who is unvaccinated.

For the math details, see: If 100% were vaccinated, would we be out of the woods? … or, would we morph to a “pandemic of the vaccinateds”?

> And, the highly transmissible Omicron strain has hit many (most?) college campuses.

That’s a recipe for a covid surge — both on campus and more broadly since, as the WSJ reports:

image

For example, Princeton is “encouraging” students who plan to travel home for the holiday break to leave campus as soon as possible.

The rationale: “Avoid students getting stuck on campus if they tested positive and had to quarantine”.

So, what’s the rub?

Clearing campuses could lead to broader spread of the disease.

“Sending students home as soon as possible is like wrapping up a ticking time bomb and putting it in the mail”.

So, what’s the answer to minimizing viral spread from the hot spot college campuses?

> Require “unboosted” students to get covid tests before they travel home for the holidays

> If they test positive, quarantine them on campus until they test negative

> When they test negative, send them packing .. and encourage them to re-test when they land at  home

Bottom line: If your student visitors don’t follow the above protocol, they may not be “ticking time bombs” … but the chances of them being virus-carriers are certainly greater than zero … and the odds may be significantly greater than zero.

So, don’t get complacent just because they’re “fully vaccinated” and have been sent home … again, caveat friends & family!

Colleges hit by surge in covid cases…

December 17, 2021

Dual culprits: Omicron and waning vax effectiveness …
=============

This headline from the AP caught my eye earlier in the week :

image

The story in a nutshell:

Facing rising infections and a new COVID-19 variant, colleges across the U.S. have once again been thwarted in seeking a move to normalcy.

They are starting to require booster shots, extend mask mandates, limit social gatherings and, in some cases, revert to online classes.

Cases in point:

Cornell University abruptly shut down all campus activities on Tuesday and moved final exams online after more than 700 students tested positive over three days.

Hours later, Princeton University moved its exams online and urged students to leave campus “at their earliest convenience” amid a rise in cases.

A day later, New York University canceled all non-academic events and encouraged professors to move finals online.

Moments after I read that, I got a blast alert email from Georgetown:

We are experiencing a notable and concerning increase in COVID-19 cases on our campuses this week.

Yesterday marked the largest one-day total for COVID-19 cases within our community.

Accordingly, we are taking several immediate steps to help protect the Georgetown University community.

=============

Here’s the ironic twist:

Cornell, Princeton and NYU all report student vaccination rates of more than 98%.

I assume that Georgetown has about the same, near total vaccination rate.

In fact, practically all colleges in the U.S. required that students get vaccinated before returning to campus in the Fall.

That’s a key point that we’ll get to later.

==============

Why it’s happening…

One reason for the surge is Omicron — a well publicized and  highly infectious strain of the virus.

A second, less publicized, but mathematically logical cause of the surge in infections is the vaccines’ “waning effect”.

Awhile back, we worked through the math:

If 100% were vaccinated, would we be out of the woods? … or, would we morph to a “pandemic of the vaccinateds”?

The post is worth re-reading in its  entirely, but for those of you who want to just cut to the chase…

It has been reported that covid vaccines start with an effectiveness rate over 90% but, over the course of 6 months, the vaccines lose about half of their effectiveness.

Again, re-read the original post for an explanation of what 90% effectiveness really means,

image_thumb8
Source

The bottom line…

To keep the arithmetic simple, we’ll assume that all college students were vaccinated last August.

That puts the August “cohort group” 4 months along the waning curve … down to about 65% vaccine effectiveness.

That means that — at the 4 month mark — about 1/3 of the matriculating students are medically equivalent to being unvaccinated.

One more time, , re-read the original post for an explanation why this is logically and mathematically true.

So, BINGO.

When a highly transmissible strain of the virus hits a campus that is, practically speaking, 1/3 unvaccinated, you’re dealing with a surge in cases.

That’s not medical theory or political philosophy … it’s simple arithmetic.

===============

So, what are colleges doing?

Simple answer, dusting off the old mitigation playbook: cancelling social events and athletic venues, requiring social distancing (preferably outdoors), finishing the semester with online classes and tests.

What they’d like to do is have all students get booster shots ASAP.

That would reset the the “waning curve” back up to the full 90%+ effectiveness.

But, there’s a problem with that …

The official CDC policy is wait “at least 6 months after completing the patient’s primary COVID-19 vaccination series.”

That means, the cohort of students who got vaccinated in August won’t qualify for boosters until next February.

Uh-oh

Are you smarter than a rocket scientist or neurosurgeon?

December 16, 2021

The answer may pleasantly surprise you…
=============

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) recently published an article addressing the question: Who’s smarter, a rocket scientist or a neurosurgeon?

They tested a sample of the two brainiac-typed groups … and, for yuks, threw in a group of “average Joes”.

The researchers used factor analysis to cluster the results of the tests into six “domains of intelligence”.

The results are charted below … the red squares are the brain surgeons … the blue dots are the rocket scientists … and the dotted line is set by Average Joe.

image

> The rocket scientists were remarkably average … all of the blue dots are insignificantly distanced from the dashed benchmark set by Average Joe

> The brain surgeons exhibited a significant edge (vs. both the rocket scientists and Average Joe) on problem solving speed.

> But, that edge was offset: the brain surgeons scored below average on memory recall speed.

Bottom line: “Don’t put too much stock in someone’s profession when assessing their intelligence.

Most of us are pretty average, despite what we may want to believe.”

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I don’t know if that’s good news or bad news.

Scientists: “Alarmed over recent trends in K-12 math education”

December 15, 2021

It’s oft reported that the U.S. is 25th (or lower) in the world in math & science … and things aren’t getting any better.

Case in point: Last week we posted study results indicating that K-8 students’ standardized math scores have fallen by about 10% since the pre-pandemic levels.

That’s ringing alarm bells for scientists and mathematicians.

So says a letter boasting about 500 signatories, including:

Four winners of the Fields Medal in math; two winners of the Turing Award in computing; a Nobel laureate in physics and another in chemistry; 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences; and faculty at Stanford, Berkeley, CalTech, MIT and every top U.S. university for hard science.

As the WSJ opines: “When mathematicians, physicists and engineers speak up to defend the integrity of their fields, Americans should pay attention.”

==============

The scientists buy-into making math more inclusive (i.e. more “welcoming” to women and black / brown minorities) and more relevant (e.g. injecting practicality and social meaning).

My take: Their issues seem to revolve around:

> “Slow rolling” … the elimination of “tracking” in favor of one-size-fits-all courses that get watered down for the general student population (think: common denominator)

> Performance measurements …  the elimination or diminution of standardized testing … intended to reduce students’ anxiety and potential loss of esteem … at the expense of clear metrics re: achievement and progress, individually and collectively

> Subjectivity …  minimizing “right” answers … in favor of ones that are   “directionally correct” or simply “nice tries”

Weighing in, in absentia, is Albert Einstein:

“One reason why mathematics enjoys special esteem, above all other sciences, is that its laws are absolutely certain and indisputable, while those of other sciences are to some extent debatable and in constant danger of being overthrown by newly discovered facts.”

> Methodology … ditching road-tested protocols and procedural documentation in favor of “many ways to skin a cat” and informal or mental “scratch-padding”.

Again, quoting Einstein:

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of expressed logical ideas.”

> Diminished “higher math” … delaying algebra until high school … and squeezing calculus offerings in high school … reducing students’ preparedness for college and making colleges responsible for skills’ remediation.

=============

The signatories largely dodged the remix of education emphasis away from hard sciences and math towards social and political discourse.

Einstein would be disappointed on that count:

Yes, we have to divide up our time like that, between our politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever. Albert Einstein

But, he signatories’ did issue a strong warning:

“The erosion of math and science education is threatening America’s prosperity and survival in a competitive world.

Those disciplines are centuries old and arguably even more critical for today’s grand challenges than in the Sputnik era.”

Amen.

Tesla collides with “mobility justice”…

December 14, 2021

From the “Had to see this one coming” file.
===============

Two “progressive” causes are on a collision course.

Climate Control and Environmental activists are flooring the accelerator on electric vehicle adoption.

But, Racial Justice activists are concerned that EVs may impede “mobility justice.”

The Washington Post has stepped up to pour fuel to the fire:

image

Here’s my Cliff Notes version of the WaPo exposé:

This question must be approached from the viewpoint of “environmental justice

While electric vehicle use is growing rapidly in well-to-do, mostly White communities, minority neighborhoods are being left behind.

It’s a question  of “mobility justice.”

“They have put Black and Brown people, the people who can least afford it, at the mercy of the market,”

In urban neighborhoods, residents lack driveways or garages and must rely on street parking.

The question: where and how for residents to charge their electric cars.

Look at any map of charging stations in the United States, and in most of the big cities, what is immediately apparent are big blank spaces coinciding with Black and Latino neighborhoods. Electric vehicle advocates call them charging deserts.

“Chargers are only in the expensive parking garages patronized by doctors and professors.” 

 “It’s a sign of gentrification when you see chargers.”

In the coming age, the lack of charging stations and electric vehicles that depend on them threatens to worsen an already disproportionate exposure to air pollution in minority neighborhoods and relegate Black and Latino drivers to gasoline-powered cars.

Blacks and Hispanics on average bear a ‘pollution burden’ of 56% and 63% excess exposure, respectively.

“This huge investment in electric vehicles just traps minorities in a car-dependent, asphalt-heavy future.”

Pittsburgh, where the worst air pollution closely tracks with historic Black neighborhoods, has produced a “Mobility Vision Plan” that seeks to “advance mobility justice to redress the infrastructure racism of the past.”

A nonprofit organization wants to refashion urban buildings for the coming century, installing co-located coffee shops and EV charging stations. They’ll call them Jolt — get a slug of caffeine while your EV gets an electric charge. 

Save for the cheap shot at professors, we shoulda seen this one coming…

 

 

Is $3 trillion statistically different from zero?

December 13, 2021

Dems say the social spending bill is free, but the CBO now disagrees.
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Biden’s selling proposition for his social spending program: It won’t cost a dime.

Manchin says that he’ll vote against it if it costs more than $1.75 trillion.

The bill that Congress passed is loaded with accounting gimmicks … mostly pretending that expensive programs will be terminated after one or two years … rather than becoming permanent spending fixtures.

Well, end of last week, the CBO released an estimate that de-gimmicks the BBB bill to estimate the real cost of the program.

Budgetary Effects of Making Specified Policies in the Build Back Better Act Permanent (cbo.gov)

And the answer is: $3 trillion … which certainly doesn’t qualify as rounding error … or statistical insignificance.

image

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According to the CBO analysis, three line items alone account for over $2.5 trillion in spending:

Pretending that the child tax credit and child care programs terminate in 2022 and 2027, respectively … and, raising the State & Local Tax Deduction limit from $10,000 to $80,000.

In total, the top 7 line items account for over $3.3 trillion in spending … up $2.5 trillion from the gimmicky bill, as passed by Congress.

image

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As the WSJ points out:

All of this gives Mr. Manchin, and other Democrats hiding behind his skepticism, ample ammunition to call the whole thing off.

If this bill passes, they’ll own all of the deficits, debt and inflation that result.

That said, I’m betting under on Manchin having the ‘nads to vote no on BBB.

If 100% were vaccinated, would we be out of the woods?

December 9, 2021

Or, would we morph to a “pandemic of the vaccinateds”?
=============

Biden keeps blaming (shaming?) the persistence of the coronavirus on the folks who “stubbornly” refuse to get vaccinated.

That raises the headlined question: “If we got to the point that 100% of the population was vaccinated, would the coronavirus finally be vanquished?

Let’s put aside politics, religion and even the debate on natural immunity … and just run some numbers.

=============

Starting Point

Early-on we were told that the vaccines were roughly 90% effective against symptomatic infections.

English translation: Comparing matched samples of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated study participants … roughly equivalent in their natural susceptibility and their viral exposure … 90% a fewer vaccinated people became symptomatically infected (as compared to the symptomatically infected unvaccinated participants).

Currently, the CDC is reporting that about 70% of the adult population (18 and over) has been vaccinated.

About 225 million Americans fall into the 18 and over category.

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Step 1

To illustrate the math, we’ll use the 70% and 225 million numbers.

There are about 67.5 unvaccinated adults (100% minus 70% = 30% times 225 million equals 67.5).

And, assuming full vaccine effectiveness (90%), there are 15.75 million vaccinated adults who are medically equivalent to the unvaccinated adults (225 times 70% times 10% equals 15.75).

Let’s coin the sum of those 2 groups UnVaccinated Equivalents or “UVEs”..

So, at full vaccine effectiveness (90%), we have 83.25 million UVEs  (67.5 + 17.5 equals 83.25) … that’s about 37% of the over 18 adult population.

But, the vaccines have waning effectiveness, right?

=============

Waning Effectiveness

It has been reported that, over the course of 6 months, the vaccines lose about half of their effectiveness.

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Source

To keep the arithmetic simple, we’ll assume that 6 months after full vaccination, the vaccines wane to 50% effectiveness.

To start, let’s assume that everybody who is vaccinated got vaccinated exactly 6 months ago (and hasn’t gotten a booster shot).

That would raise the number of UVEs (unvaccinated equivalents) up to 146.25 million (equal to 65% of 18 and over adults)   … the 146.25 million is made up of 67.5 million unvaccinateds and 78.5 million vaccinateds whose vaccine effectiveness has waned (225 times 70% times 50%).

Let’s get more realistic…

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Base Case

The prior scenario assumed that all people were vaccinated exactly 6 months ago.

But, not all vaccinateds got vaccinated exactly 6 months ago … they got vaccinated over the course of 6 months … and, thus, theyare at varying stages of vaccine “wanedness” … somewhere between 90% full effectiveness and 50% waned effectiveness.

If we assume that the vaccinations were evenly spread over the 6 months (rather than all on day one) then the average vaccine effectiveness among those who have been vaccinated would be about 70% (the average — halfway between 90% and 50%).

That would give us 114.75 million UVEs (equal to about half of all adults)   … made up of 67.5 million unvaccinateds (225 times 30%) and 47.25 million vaccinateds with waned vaccine effectiveness (225 times 70% times 30%)

Let’s call that our base case.

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What if 100% vaccinated?

Now let’s bump the fully vaccinated rate up to 100% and see what happens…

There would be no unvaccinated adults, but there would be UVEs (unvaccinated equivalents) — the vaccinated adults with waned vaccine effectiveness.

How many of them?

Using the above logic and numbers, there would be 67.5 million UVEs (225 times 100% times 30%) … fully vaccinated adults whose vaccine effectiveness has waned … rendering them roughly equivalent to an unvaccinated person.

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Rscap

Note that the 67.5 million UVEs is — coincidentally, using the above assumptions — the same number as the number of unvaccinateds who are currently walking around.

And, it implicitly assumes that everybody gets a booster every 6 months … to keep resetting the effectiveness clock.

To be fair, this estimate doesn’t adjust for any accumulated effectiveness that comes with successive booster shots or pre-existing natural immunity).

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The bottom line

Based on these rough estimates, we won’t move above our current level of coronavirus exposure even if 100% of the population gets vaccinated.

So, Biden will eventually lose his talking point of a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” … and, unless there’s a marked improvement in the vaccines’ “durability”. we’ll morph to a “pandemic of the waned vaccinated”

That’s not a medical or philosophical point … It’s simple (?) arithmetic.

COVID Effect: Students’ academic proficiency down 12%

December 8, 2021

And, even worse in math.
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A recent working paper published in the NBER attempts to calibrate how much learning was “lost” when schools were shuttered and classes went virtual.

Analyzing standardized test data from 3rd through 8th graders in 12 states, researchers concluded that overall academic proficiency (i.e. considering both math and ELA) declined just under 12% from pre-pandemic levels

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My take:

> Surprising (to me): Only a slim majority of students were scoring as “proficient” before the pandemic, now, less that than a majority are proficient.

> That said, there are wide variations by state in both proficiency levels (ranging from 33.7% in WI to 67.1% in VA) and in pandemic-related drop-offs (from 2.2% percentage points in WY to 9 p.p. in VA) … the latter of which the researchers attribute the degree of in person vs. online schooling during the pandemic.

> Note that the state that scored highest in proficiency in 2019 (VA @ 76.1%) kept its lead in 2021 (67.1%) despite having the biggest drop (down 9 percentage points). The researchers point out that, of the 12 states studied, Virginia offered the least amount of in-person instruction during the pandemic.

> In comparison, Florida and Wyoming – 2 states that were almost entirely in person — dropped only 4.8 and 2.2 percentage points, respectively.

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ELA

> The researchers found that the percentage of students who scored “proficient” in language arts (ELA) declined in spring 2021 by an average of 6.3 percentage points

> The ELA drop-offs are tightly banded for the 12 states with a slight positive correlation for in person schooling … for example, note that the 2 “fully in person” states – WY and FL – have the shallowest declines.

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Math

> In math, the researchers found that the percentage of students who scored “proficient” declined in spring 2021 by an average of 14.4 percentage points .

> Outboarding the precipitous 31.9 percentage point drop in VA, as with ELA, there appears to be a correlation … with in person schooling dampening the drop … and, the 2 “fully in person” states – WY and FL – among the shallowest declines.

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Bottom line

> Only half of 3rd to 8th graders are “proficient” in math and ELA … that’s scary in itself!

> The 12 percentage point drop in test scores is, shall we say, “statistically significant … and the researchers note that they think their methodology understates the drop-off

> As usual, the most dismal scores came in math … there’s low likelihood that they’ll improve if equity math with no right methods & no right answers takes hold.

> Virginia: No wonder that education-oriented parents were up in arms during the VA gubernatorial election.

Right now, how many folks in your community are carrying Covid infections?

December 7, 2021

Make your guess, then read on…
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The likelihood that any of us get infected by covid starts, in theory, with its “prevalence rate” — the percentage of people walking around with a current (and possibly contagious) infection.

That’s why I’ve been so interested in that number.

To that point, researchers reporting in the science magazine Nature say:

On December 31, 2020,  0.77% of the U.S. population had a contagious infection.

That’s about 1 in every 130 people on average.

In some places, it was much higher.

In Los Angeles, for example, nearly 1 in 40 (or 2.42%) had a SARS-CoV-2 infection as they rang in the 2021 New Year.

OK, that at least gives us an order of magnitude.

We can expect that about 1 in 100 people we bump into have a covid infection and may be contagious .

The rate is higher in hot spots — communities and venues.

So, is 1 in 100 a high number or a low number?

It probably overstates the risk since (a) not all infected people are contagious (b) not all contagious people transmit the virus at the same severity level (c) some people are more immune than others (i.e. naturally or via vaccinations), and (d) some people mitigate more effectively than others.

So, the likelihood of getting infected is probably much lower than the community prevalence rate, but it’s certainly not zero.

So, keep your guard up.

NIH Director: Many more Covid infections than official tallies show

December 6, 2021

And, some other CDC numbers that might surprise you.
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Being a numbers guy, a post in the NIH Director’s Blog caught my eye: COVID-19 Infected Many More Americans in 2020 than Official Tallies Show

The specifics:

A recent article published in Nature offers a comprehensive estimate that puts the true number of (covid) infections by the end of 2020 at more than 100 million.

That’s equal to just under 1/3 of the U.S. population of 328 million.

That big number piqued my curiosity: The study was on nearly year old data … what’s the current number?

I was pleased to discover that the CDC regularly posts an Estimated COVID-19 Burden containing data re: cumulative infections, symptomatic illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.

Here’s my analysis- tweaked extract from the current CDC tabulation of covid infections:

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Some takeaways…

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Infections

> The CDC currently pegs the cumulative incidence of infections over 146 million

> That total translates to almost 45,000 per 100,000 population.

> Since there is some double-counting — i.e. persons who have been infected … and then re-infected … the percentage of covid-infected Americans is less than 45% … probably only slightly less.

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Infection Rate

> Surprisingly (to me), the infection rate is highest among those aged 18 to 49

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> The infection rate is lowest among those 65 and over — probably reflecting the high (and early) vaccination rate in that group

> And, the estimated infection rate is next lowest among those under 18 …. who haven’t been authorized for vaccinations until recently … hmmm.

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Hospitalization Rate

> Across all ages, 5.12% of infections result in hospitalization.

> There’s a very strong correlation between age and likelihood of hospitalization (if infected), e.g. rate is 1% if under 18

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Death Rate

> Across all ages, .63% of infections result in hospitalization.

> Death rate is practically zero (.002%) which equates to about 1 in 40,000 for those under 18 who get infected … and not much higher for those 18 to 49

> Middle age death rate is only .58% … about 1 in 170 who get infected

> But, the death rate is almost 4% for those 65 and over … about 1 in 25 who get infected

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Technical note:

The covid infection rate estimates are pivotally dependent on estimates of the so-called ascertainment rate —  the percentage of total cases that are confirmed via testing.

The Nature researchers estimate that only about 25% of all infections are confirmed via testing. 

Conversely, 75% are mild or asymptomatic infections that aren’t subjected to (or confirmed by) testing.

Early on, the ascertainment rate was pegged at about 10% … suggesting that total infections were about 10 times the number of confirmed cases.

That multiplier is now pegged at about 4 times confirmed cases since more asymptomatic infections are being detected by forced surveillance testing (e.g. for employment or travel)

My unfulfilling shopping experience…

December 2, 2021

A microcosm of life in Bidenland
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Motivated by a leaky dishwasher and Black Friday ads, my wife and I ventured out to do some appliance shopping.

First stop: Best Buy … where we were “greeted” by a police car strategically positioned in front of the entrance … apparently a company self-defense reaction after the looting (err, a Psaki coined “pandemic reaction”) at one of their stores in Minnesota.

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Slithering past the police car, I spotted the now commonplace “We’re Hiring” sign… an attempt to lure some government-supported couch- potatoes into the work force.

Entering the store, there were rent-a-cops prominently stationed to reassure people who might have thought that the police car outside wouldn’t stop a gang of flat screen and iPhone snatchers.

Note: I’m sure that the police presence was intended to give shoppers a (false) sense of security.  All it did for us was raise suspicions and our anxiety level: “What are they expecting to go down?”

We haven’t had to buy an appliance in years, so I was unpleasantly surprised by the price tags on the appliances. Transitory inflation?

But, not to worry … Black Friday discounts will fix that right?

There was only one dude (err, “blue shirt”) working in the appliance department … the ratio of shoppers to “blue shirts” was about 20 to 1.

While browsing, I overheard the lone blue shirt tell another shopper: “None in stock … at least a 4-month wait”.

That seemed to apply to everything … even the stuff that was in the Black Friday ad.

Note: Decades ago, I worked for a retailer.  The laws at the time were clear: If we advertised something that we didn’t have in stock, we got fined.  I guess that practice went out the door with cash bail.

Enough for shopping!

When we walked out, there were 2 police cars out front — facing each other.

Note: I’’m told that’s a standard “pincer formation” that allows the police to quickly close off an entrance.

We couldn’t wait to get home

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Bottom line: We had the full Bidenomics experience: (1) police presence (privately contracted by the owner) to protect against mostly peaceful looting and thuggery  (2) skeleton crews of store personnel (3) high prices, and (4) no inventory.

Am I better off than I was a year ago?

Nope.

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P.S. I’m not trying to dump on Best Buy.  They’re doing what they have to do given the Biden-induced challenges they face.  In fact, BB is probably doing a better job than other stores…

Putting Biden’s approval slide in context…

December 1, 2021

How does he rack up versus Obama & Trump?
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Earlier this week, we posted some results from a 130,000 person survey done by a polling company called Civiqs.

The poll centered on the question: Do you approve or disapprove of the job that Joe Biden is doing as president?

Consistent with other recent polls, Civiqs found that at the national level a majority disapproves of the job Biden is doing .. and his job approval is underwater (or, “upside down”) by 16 percentage points …  and he’s underwater in all but 5 states.

A couple or readers opined: “Yeah, but Trump was worse”.

As evidence, one reader linked me to a Statista recap chart.

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Fair enough…

> Biden started out at about 57% approval … and has already fallen 24  percentage points to 43%

> Trump was slower out of the gates with about 45% approval … and, to a  comparable time point in his term of ofice, he dropped about 7 percentage points to 38%

> For reference. Obama started out at a sky high 67% approval … and slid about 16 percentage points to 51%.

Bottom line: Trump certainly didn’t get a honeymoon period … his “opposition” was entrenched from the get-go … so, his 7-point performance slide was less than Obama’s 16 point drop or Biden’s 24 point slide.

That said, it’s true that Biden is outscoring Trump 43% to 38% ten months into their presidencies.

But…

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Taking a longer-run view, note that Trump rallied from his 38% low to almost 50% … as the economy grew, the Southern border was contained and the Middle East stabilized.

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Then, Covid hit our shores and Trump’s approval plummeted back down to about 35%.

The question of today: Has Biden’s slump bottomed out?

If so, will his performance earn him the same approval  trajectory that Trump enjoyed pre-Covid?

I’m betting the under on that one.

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Thanks to JD for raising the question and feeding me the Statista lead.


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