The Infection Forecast

Morning Edition – How Computer Modeling Of COVID-19’s Spread Could Help Fight The Virus – March 4, 2020

I love the idea of infections being charted like a weather forecast, showing current infections and trending directions for new infections. This information would be very useful for parents, caregivers and the immune compromised, giving all of those groups a heads-up as to what symptoms to look out for when dealing with their patients and the public at large. Not just for COVID-19, but for all diseases in a population.

My brother informs me that his medical software company already does this with the data it collects. Here’s hoping we have forecasting ability available to everybody in the near future. It’s the right thing to do if we want to avoid needlessly hiding in our houses out of fear of catching some disease or other that might be circulating unbeknownst to us because no one is tracking those trends.

Coronavirus Panic

How the Trump administration is incapable of preventing a panic due to the very nature of what the Trump administration is. Also, how can you tell if you have COVID-19? What should I do to avoid getting sick?

It is the last day of February 2020. It’s a leap year this year so that means the date is the 29th and not the usual 28th. Every four years we add in another day so that the calendar that most of human society uses to mark annual time doesn’t slip off of the real cycles of the planet around the day-star, what we refer to as the sun.

We add that day into the calendars every four years (Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400) because generations of measuring solar data had revealed that the previous most common calendar, the Julian calendar (created in 709 AUC, 45 BC) was off by some increment of days in the year, even though it too had an additional day every four years. For more than 2000 years we have been able to mark time uniformly through the use of science and observation.

This is an ironical fact. That the day that exists where it does in the calendar, exists because of science, is the day that marks the first US death of a COVID-19 coronavirus sufferer. He, and probably most of the people in his nursing home, has died and will die because of the Trump administrations denial of science and facts. This latest death that can be blamed on the Trump administration is just the tip of the iceberg. Just the bit of hell that we are about to collide with over the coming months when it comes to our sociopathic president and his unwillingness to accept reality as it exists around him.

…But I’m jumping ahead to the end of the story. For those who haven’t been keeping track of the subject of this latest adventure in epidemiology, I penned a quick piece on the blog the first time I heard a news story about the subject. At the time I wondered about its origins, and whether it stemmed from loosely regulated Chinese genomic explorations. I titled it:

…but the virus was rather quickly determined to stem from wet markets in the Wuhan province of China (Revenge of the Pangolin? -ed.) where the first cases of the viral infection surfaced. That was a month ago. Today, at the end of February, we have President Trump insisting that this coronavirus is a thing that is magically going to be going away while the stock markets crash around him, and his yes-men are running around declaring that the stock markets are crashing because Democrats want to get rid of president Trump.

All Things Considered – How The United States Failed To See The Coronavirus Crisis Coming – April 3, 2020

We also have the Russians cooking up conspiracy fantasies and spreading them all over the internet, some of which are being spread by President Trump’s Stormtrumpers. So it is only a matter of time before the President himself starts demanding to have Bill Gates prosecuted for creating the COVID-19 virus. For all you people who think this is a grand conspiracy playing out around us, just ask yourselves this: what does it say about your belief in an all-powerful government/corporate structure that the coronavirus is so ineffective at killing people?

We’re going to give everyone in the world a bad cold! Mwah, hah, hah, hah!

Now, a worldwide pandemic caused by a virus that bears similarity to four other cold viruses, one that is novel or new and so hasn’t been encountered by your immune system before, is going to have a higher death toll than you would get from a virus that a good number of people’s systems are already partially resistant to. The best minds that I’ve heard speak on the subject compare what is about to happen to the world to what occurred during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918-1919 (Wikipedia) We can postulate a 2% death rate from the virus based on statistics from the countries where the virus first emerged and spread, which means that 98% of people who catch it will be fine (80% will be fine without medical intervention. 18% of those who require medical intervention will survive. -ed.) Like this guy’s story.

As of my most recent test, on Thursday, I am still testing positive for the virus. But by now, I don’t require much medical care. The nurses check my temperature twice a day and draw my blood, because I’ve agreed to participate in a clinical study to try to find a treatment for coronavirus. If I test negative three days in a row, then I get to leave.

Washington Post

As Jeff Jarvis noted on Twitter today, that report represents N=1 which makes it largely pointless. COVID-19 is a lot like the spanish flu in spread rates and death rates, as I noted previously. That means that if at least a billion people catch it, 20+ million people could die from it (214 million Americans infected, 1.7 million dead worst case projections from the CDC -ed.) So you will probably survive the virus if you get proper treatment and you aren’t in the group that is showing susceptibility to the virus. Who is in that group? People who have diabetes. People who have hypertension. People who have compromised immune systems. People like me, dear reader. You will probably live. I will probably die without hospitalization, and I might even die then.

Lipsitch predicts that, within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said. As with influenza, which is often life-threatening to people with chronic health conditions and of older age, most cases pass without medical care. (Overall, around 14 percent of people with influenza have no symptoms.)

Lipsitch is far from alone in his belief that this virus will continue to spread widely. The emerging consensus among epidemiologists is that the most likely outcome of this outbreak is a new seasonal disease—a fifth “endemic” coronavirus. With the other four, people are not known to develop long-lasting immunity. If this one follows suit, and if the disease continues to be as severe as it is now, “cold and flu season” could become “cold and flu and COVID-19 season.”

The Atlantic

Them’s the breaks. One might dismiss all of the noise around the emergence of COVID-19 as fruforaw, much like the noise and smoke around the so many other looming epidemics that have not turned out to be civilization ending events, if the stock markets hadn’t crashed and if the United States was actually prepared and ready for the millions of cases of people needing to be hospitalized and requiring ventilators in order to continue breathing and living. But we aren’t prepared, and therefore the smoke and noise probably conceal a real fire that needs addressing.

That part of the story was the good news, the part where 98% of the infected people will live. Now for the part where people are already dying here in the United States, today. The first death to the COVID-19 coronavirus here has been attributed to be this poor nameless man in Washington state (It wasn’t. The first death was weeks earlier in California. -ed.)

Health officials in Washington state said on Saturday a coronavirus patient has died, marking the first death in the U.S. from COVID-19, the illness associated with the virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s responding to “the first possible outbreak” of the respiratory illness in a long-term care center in Washington. The death was not associated with that facility.

Health officials in Washington said 27 patients and 25 staff members at the center have symptoms associated with COVID-19.

NBCAPNew York Times

…which means that not only is the virus spreading in the US undetected, but that it has been spreading undetected in the US for at least two weeks already. The virus is spreading undetected because we have a president who is more concerned about re-election and the stock market than he is about the possible death toll that his mismanagement of this crisis might yield.

Mismanagement? Definitely. His political appointees to Health and Human Services (HHS) have violated CDC guidelines at every turn. They did not observe quarantine procedures in Japan where the passengers of the cruise ship were flown by helicopter after being evacuated from the ship. They then ignored the advice of these same officials and flew the sick people back to the United States.

TwitterNew York Magazine: Intelligencer

These same HHS officials violated quarantine on the Air Force base where the returnees from Japan were being housed, and then promptly got on planes full of people to fly back to the regions of the country that they had come from originally. All of them possibly infected with the virus that they were supposed to be trying to stop from spreading.

The CDC guidelines for dealing with the spread of infectious diseases have been built up over time, like our calendars and our understanding of the solar system was built up over time. Since Ignaz Semmelweis first proposed handwashing as a preventative to spreading puerperal fever among patients at the hospitals that he supervised, the ignorant have insisted that they knew better what should or shouldn’t be done when it came to the treatment of illness. Always, in the end, science wins out and procedures change so as to encompass the way the world really works, as opposed to the way that the ignorant want it to work.

Short Wave – The Surprising Origin Of Some Timely Advice: Wash Your Hands – January 31, 2020

President Trump doesn’t understand science. His Stormtrumpers don’t understand science. His HHS political appointees don’t understand science. The Republican party itself not only doesn’t understand science, but actively denies science in their bid to stubbornly keep doing exactly the same thing they’ve been doing for the last hundred years. They deny science and their wilful ignorance might well get us all killed in the end, if the worst predictions of climate scientists come to be reality.

We have slowly clawed ourselves up over the course of millennia in our pursuit of understanding who we are and what our place in the universe is. That is what science is. It started with accurate measurements of the world and then the solar system more than two thousand years ago, and now we are mapping the genome and altering the course of mindless natural processes for the first time in man’s history.

…And President Trump wants us to throw it all away because he might not get re-elected if we do what we should be doing right now. He put his Vice President, Mike Pence, in charge of the political process that will govern how we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This fact should scare you if nothing else will. Mike Pence tried to cure the AIDS epidemic with prayer, when he was governor of Indiana. He prayed before he finally agreed to allow needle exchanges, which is probably code for he asked his wife what to do, and she slapped him and told him to allow the exchanges to occur.

However, Mike Pence will now control all communications at the federal level as it pertains to the emerging pandemic. Which means we won’t hear anything about the subject, except that it is all under control. They will be able to say this because they currently aren’t testing anyone for the virus (Now they say they will test. -ed.) They aren’t testing because the first test kits they made were faulty and so did not give reliable results, and they aren’t approving widespread use of any new kits they might make.

It has gotten so bad that New York is now creating its own test kit so as to be certain that they will have enough kits to meet the projected demand for them in their state. They are only the first state to do this. Every US state will have to commision the creation of their own kits, eventually, if they are serious about tracking the progress of this virus across their populations.

President Trump will never admit that his own HHS officials spread the disease because of their reckless behavior, their violations of quarantine procedures. But the most likely culprits for these non-travel related COVID-19 cases are those very same officials. The science-denying president and his science-denying supporters are now betrayed by their own wilful ignorance. If the death toll of twenty million people could somehow be limited to their numbers, I would count that as justice served. It won’t happen like that, unfortunately. Millions of innocent people will now die because political operatives in the United States can’t bear to be held responsible for their own actions.

I thought we were supposed to be the free people. Freedonia? So much for that idea. Now our leaders are no better than the ayatollahs in Iran, pretending that our people are not dying while glorying in their ability to retain political power behind the mask of religion. This is what happens when you let the wrong people run your government. This is what happens when you deny science. I hope our children live long enough to learn from our bad examples.

Life Kit – 5 Ways To Prevent And Prepare For The Coronavirus – February 28, 2020 (Shortwave podcast)


On March 4th we learned that patients aren’t being tested, even though they showed symptoms for the COVID-19 virus. One of them was not tested for five days. Five days.

Morning Edition – Delays In Coronavirus Testing Creates Confusion, Questions – March 4, 2020

What are those symptoms?

COVID-19 symptoms can range from asymptomatic to severe pneumonia leading to organ failure and death. COVID-19 in most people is mild and resembles the common cold. According to the WHO, symptoms include fever (87.9%), dry cough (67.7%), fatigue (38.1%), sputum production (33.4%), shortness of breath (18.6%), sore throat (13.9%), headache (13.6%), muscle or joint aches (14.8%), chills (11.4%), nausea or vomiting (5.0%), nasal congestion (4.8%), diarrhea (3.7%), coughing up blood (0.9%), and conjunctival congestion (0.8%). Symptoms generally occur an average of 5-6 days after infection, but the range is from one to 14 days.

Sciencebasedmedicine.org

(graphic removed / text revised 3/17/20. I hated linking to a Medium article in the first place. Medium uses paywalls. -ed.)

Embedded – Covering Covid: Not Enough Tests – April 4, 2020

Our not testing people, canvassing cities looking for cases among the homeless, the park goers, the partiers, going door to door in residential areas, is how the spread of the virus continues unabated. Italy demonstrated this as reported today (March 17, 2020 – Financial Times) reducing the transmission rate in the town where this method of tracking has been tested to 0%. You’d think we’d have figured this out given the excellent demonstration by South Korea (not to mention China and Singapore, but we don’t have to go as far as they did to have an impact) of the effectiveness of easy and thorough testing of the population, but apparently not.

The math is a known quantity. With an R0 (are-naught) over 1 the coronavirus spreads, and it spreads fast (the R0 in Wuhan might have been as high as 6 before China cracked down and forced quarantine. It could be as high as 6 to 9 if we were not trying to practice social distancing. What is R0? -ed) The fact that people can be (and frequently are) asymptomatic means that there are a lot of infected people out there who don’t even know that they are already infected. If you are in the groups that are at risk (elderly, immunocompromised, hypertension, lung disease, diabetes, etc) then you should not be in a group of people that you don’t already spend all your time around, and those people should not be near other people if they can help it. Those are the math facts that we have to deal with for at least the next month, and I say we because I am a member of the at-risk group just like a lot of other people.

Here are some tips from a virologist concerning how to avoid infections, viral or otherwise:

  1. NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.
  2. Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches. elevator buttons, etc.. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.
  3. Open doors with your closed fist or hip – do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.
  4. Use disinfectant wipes at the stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.
  5. Wash your hands with soap for 10-20 seconds and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.
  6. Keep a bottle of sanitizer available at each of your home’s entrances. AND in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can’t immediately wash your hands.
  7. If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard. Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!

From Snopes.com: Did a Noted Pathologist Write This Viral Coronavirus Advice Letter? (yes he did) I’m going to have to work on not shaking hands. I’ve trained myself not to touch my face over the course of the last fifteen years, ever since my immunologist informed me I was immune compromised. Realizing that having to take antibiotics was the least worst outcome (worst? Painful death) from casually infecting myself with pathogens that I willingly put on my face, in my eyes and nose.

I don’t use the sanitizers much because I have been a compulsive hand washer since I was pre-pubescent. I have to make myself not scrub the skin off my hands on a regular basis. He goes on to recommend zinc lozenges later in the quoted text. Taking zinc to prevent or limit infections borders on woo for me. But, if it makes you feel better to take it, knock yourself out. I won’t be doing that.

Short Wave – Coronavirus Can Live On Surfaces For Days – March 18, 2020

…and be ready to do all that you can (within reason) to avoid getting sick. The Trump administration will not be letting just anybody get the COVID-19 vaccine if one becomes available.

(As of December 2020, two vaccines have been approved for use in the United States. The Trump administration has bungled that roll-out along with everything else it has bungled this year. President Trump claimed credit for the vaccines creation even though the corporations who have produced a vaccine were working on their vaccines before he created his idiotic Operation Warp Speed. Standard operating procedure applies. -ed.)

TwitterForbes

WikiTribune has a Sub-Wiki for the COVID-19 epidemic. If you are like me and want to be up to date on the subject of the now-occurring pandemic, feel free to join me over on WT.Social.

I don’t have an account for the site at this link Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE but here is a image of the site as it displayed on March the 5th. The timestamp will tell you what time in the morning I was still obsessively working on the blog.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE

(Compare March’s map above to December’s map, below. What a difference nine months makes, eh? -ed.)

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE

Modeling scenarios run along these lines,

Here’s the grimmest version of life a year from now: More than two million Americans have died from the new coronavirus, almost all mourned without funerals. Countless others have died because hospitals are too overwhelmed to deal adequately with heart attacks, asthma and diabetic crises. The economy has cratered into a depression, for fiscal and monetary policy are ineffective when people fear going out, businesses are closed and tens of millions of people are unemployed. A vaccine still seems far off, immunity among those who have recovered proves fleeting and the coronavirus has joined the seasonal flu as a recurring peril.

Yet here’s an alternative scenario for March 2021: Life largely returned to normal by the late summer of 2020, and the economy has rebounded strongly. The United States used a sharp, short shock in the spring of 2020 to break the cycle of transmission; warm weather then reduced new infections and provided a summer respite for the Northern Hemisphere. By the second wave in the fall, mutations had attenuated the coronavirus, many people were immune and drugs were shown effective in treating it and even in reducing infection. Thousands of Americans died, mostly octogenarians and nonagenarians and some with respiratory conditions, but by February 2021, vaccinations were introduced worldwide and the virus was conquered.

New York Times

To get to the better modeling scenario we need to flatten the curve,

Twitter – Dr. Siouxsie Wiles h/t to Sciencebasedmedicine.org

…and raise the line,

Twitter – Benjamin Kerr h/t to Liz Specht whose tweet I removed in favor of the NYT opinion article that offered an over/under analysis of the pandemic modeling. I also removed the tweet from drg1985 (Dr. David Robert Grimes) because, while his input was helpful at the time, it wasn’t really what I described it as when I first wrote this article. -ed.

There are no treatments for infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (Covid-19) no matter what President Trump says or tweets about. If you haven’t figured that out already, then I’m amazed that you can tie your shoelaces by yourself in the morning.

sciencebasedmedicine.org

Quinine is an ingredient in a proper gin & tonic. It is not a real treatment for illness no matter what anyone tells you. Quinine was a treatment for Malaria more than a century ago. Malaria still exists because we’ve never developed a vaccine for it. Maybe now that malaria is appearing in Florida again we will get around to that.


On March 16th the national directive to practice social distancing was issued, but without any enforcement provisions at the local level. We are now eight days into the fifteen days that President Trump originally requested, and some cities (Austin) and states (Texas) are issuing directives based on their powers to quarantine as established in previous epidemics. If you think that social distancing and mandated quarantines are not effective, look at this comparison chart and see the difference a few days made.

The Rachel Maddow show – April 23, 2020 (Feedly download link for the video)(A better image from later in the pandemic -ed.)
RACHEL MADDOW – Doctor whose prescience saved countless lives reflects on first stay-at-home order – April 23, 2020

We have yet to see if the state or federal governments have made any headway towards ending this crisis by mandating a ramping up of production of necessary goods or by authorizing the creation of necessary extra hospital beds. (No. They didn’t. They did manage to get extra hospital beds when they converted the now-unusable indoor auditoriums and convention spaces into hospitals. We are still having shortages of personal protection equipment. I’m typing this note in December of 2020.-ed.) President Trump is busy trying to steal money from the American people by creating a 500 billion dollar slush fund that his treasury secretary can then hand straight over to him as compensation for all his golf courses and hotels being closed.

Afterword

I pulled the last addendum from the Crake article that I wrote in January (and linked previously in this article) and I moved it here and expanded on it significantly. The featured image of my Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novelty towel (with Don’t Panic! written on it in large friendly letters) was used specifically to help calm myself and others. I’m freaking out about the virus as I sit here editing, and I know that freaking out is not helpful.

Voilà, I’ve written a sanity mantra that I can read to myself as many times as it takes to put myself to sleep until this pandemic has run its course. May we all be there to witness that. I am scrapping most attempts at further writing on this subject and burying myself in World of Warcraft for the next two weeks, two months, two years, however long it takes. Maybe something non-virus-related will occur to me in the meantime. As I come across new information on the pandemic I may or may not edit it into this article. So if the article looks like it has changed, I have now told you that it would.

I knew back in March when I first contemplated writing this piece that we would be in for a long haul if the Trump administration could not keep the virus out of the country, and failing that, if they could not control the spread of the virus. I have yet to be surprised by the incompetence of this president and his administration, unfortunately.

As the Johns Hopkins image I just added (12/23/20) illustrates, President Trump has failed on all fronts as an effective leader during this crisis. I still marvel at the fact that he won a single state in the election, given the complete meltdown that the country has gone through over the last year under his leadership. Perhaps we deserve the disaster we are going through, given the blindness of our people.

Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after a pandemic will seem inadequate.

Michael Levitt, former Secretary of Health and Human Services

Weather & Meniere’s

I missed raiding again tonight. Thunderstorms started rolling through Austin at about 5:30 pm and persisted until about 7:00 pm. After the first flicker of the house power during a storm we tend to turn all the electronics off. We turn them off and wait until the storm has passed. This is how we’ve approached dealing with power surges in Austin Energy’s lines ever since we lost electronics a number of years ago to a lightning strike that hit a transformer in the neighborhood.

But it wasn’t just the fact that I would have had to reboot the computer and do updates in a few short minutes that kept me from raiding tonight. I’ve been uncoordinated all day. Dropping things, knocking things off the counter that I knew were there and thought I would miss. Just a general sense of dizziness and disorientation that had me wondering if I would make it to raid tonight or not. When the thunder started rolling and the lights started flickering, I not only knew I would probably miss raiding tonight, but I knew that the reason I was feeling so unstable was the atmospheric pressure had changed with the storm front moving through, and that was probably why I was feeling so dizzy. This happens pretty reliably. I’ve tried tracking the barometric pressure in the past, but it doesn’t seem to be highs or lows that are the trigger, but the simple fact that the pressure changes rapidly.

When I went to do the new vestibular exercises that my physical therapist has me trying out, I could not do one of them properly, and this is the first time I’ve had this problem since starting the exercises. I can’t find any Youtube videos that replicate the exercise that was was given to me, the specific exercise that I’m having trouble with today. However, this video illustrates the basic mechanics.

Michigan MedicineCorrective Saccades – Feb 12, 2011

I use my thumbs, and I close my eyes after centering on the target. Then I’m supposed to move my eyes to where I think the other thumb is and then open them again. If I’ve missed the second target I’m supposed to focus on the correct position, recenter, and then close my eyes again before moving my eyes back to where the first target was, repeating as many times as I think necessary.

I could not find the second target today. Dozens of repetitions and the target is never where I think it should be. Never happened before. I started doing this exercise a few weeks ago, and when my physical therapist showed me this exercise I was thinking I don’t need to do this, I know where my thumbs are. Using peripheral vision, I’ve managed to track back and forth between the two targets without a hitch every time I’ve tried the exercise. Then today, I open my eyes and I’m not looking where I thought I was.

I have the explanation for why I’ve been such a clutz all day now. It just doesn’t make me feel better knowing what the problem is. I’m going to have to do a better job of doing the exercises as often as needed and not just when I think I’m having a problem. At least the dizziness didn’t progress into a full-blown vertigo attack today.

Human Barometer

This study provides the strongest evidence to date that changes in atmospheric pressure and humidity are associated with symptom exacerbation in MD. 

Otology & Neurotology

A hat/tip is due to the blog Meniere’s and Me for bringing this finding to my attention. The Wife has called me her human barometer since I was first diagnosed with Meniere’s. I try to laugh with her when she says it.

Improper Takings

One of the segments on the Texas Standard today caught my ear,

TEXAS STANDARD – FORT BEND COUNTY SUES US ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS OVER HARVEY-RELATED FLOODING

[Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert] says the reservoir was built in such a way that overspill and flooding of private property was inevitable. “It should be quite obvious when the federal property ends at an elevation of 95 feet and the emergency spillway for the reservoir is at 107 feet, something’s wrong.”

Texas Standard

I’m not sure how the host of the show was confused by the math in that statement, but doing the math you come to the answer of twelve feet of water being stored on private property when the reservoir is at 100% capacity. This fact should have been evident in the original designs of the reservoir, as I’m sure the County Judge knows. The original construction documents would have these measurements on them.

Anyone buying property behind the dam would have been advised that their property was located in a flood plain, could be subject to flooding if the reservoir was filled to capacity. There are many homes located in floodplains like this everywhere across Texas at least. Probably across the US if not the entire world. If this fact wasn’t disclosed to prospective buyers before they signed contracts, then there is quite a bit of liability there to go around. Not just the corps of engineers, but the county, the developers, the mortgage lenders, the realtors who sold the property, etc. I suspect that there are going to be a lot of lawsuits filed over this in the coming months. At least 3100 of them, possibly a multiple of that number depending on how wealthy the landowners are, and how many governmental bodies had jurisdiction over the property being sold.

I think the county is trying to avoid being sued themselves, that’s how I read this. It’s hard to get a lawsuit to stick against a county when that county is already engaged in a lawsuit against the governmental body, the Army Corps of Engineers, that is responsible for constructing a reservoir that was designed to store twelve feet of water on private land in the first place. Proving the county knew this fact beforehand should be a simple matter of discovery. So I’m not sure how well this defensive action will work, but I wish the county luck.

This entire mess is proof positive that you should take the time to read your contracts before signing them. Have an attorney read them over for you, at the very least. It blows my mind the number of people who just sign contracts without understanding the liability they are assuming in putting their signature on a document that they haven’t read. 

#MAGA: Tragedy in Puerto Rico

The catastrophe that was hurricane Irma’s and Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico has now been exacerbated by the catastrophe of American disdain for the brown-skinned, this disdain having taken the form of the sitting President of the United States, one Donald John Trump.

As of this past week, everyone can see the reason I have hung a derisive label on him from the very beginning of his run for office. In case you are one of the people who has not been paying attention, just like the President, I’ll spell it out for you. This is him, coldly calculating how to stir up his base and secure victory for the Republicans and through them, his re-election in 2020; all with the final goal of allowing him to continue to steal from American citizens as he has been doing since taking office last January twentieth. Targeting the free press:

On The Media, Losing Power

Threatening to nationalize the NFL (socialized football?) over a completely made up issue, players taking a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the player who was excluded from the NFL this year in retaliation for exercising his first amendment speech rights during the games last year, a subject I talked at length about here:

He’s also gone into a full-court press promoting his latest version of Reaganomics. At the same time as drumming up hatred for the press, for football players who have political opinions, and promoting giving himself a tax cut while claiming he isn’t doing that, stripping the Affordable Care Act of every dollar he can take away from it administratively since the House of Representatives and the Senate will not cut their own throats at his insistence and pass legislation ending the ACA. The legislators have gotten the feedback from their constituents. People are scared of losing their medical coverage. There is too much bullshit in the air right now and not enough time to write the words to describe it before the stinking mess lands on all our heads.

All of this is going on while people are dying in Puerto Rico for lack of supplies that the President Trump and his Republican allies in congress could fix if only they cared about the welfare of the citizens of the United States:

On The Media, Losing Power

Puerto Rico is not a state, true, but Puerto Ricans are American citizens all the same. I know that the average white guy can’t tell the difference between Mexicans and Indians (natives of India, not the Americas. Stay with me here) even when they speak, but it is a demonstrable fact that Puerto Ricans are exactly the same kind of Americans as any redneck you could pull out of his truck in any Southern state. My apologies for lowering the social status of assorted brown-skinned people with that off-hand comparison.

Their status as American citizens is easily demonstrable because the law that made them citizens carries the same name, Jones Act, as the law that is being used to kill them with thirst, heat and hunger now, Jones Act. The first Jones Act, more properly known as the Jones–Shafroth Act (so much more illuminating with that name) set up the governmental authority that runs Puerto Rico to the current day. We made them citizens, we gave them government like ours, and we have controlled that island nation ever since.

We control it because of the second Jones Act, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which forbids ships that are not American ships crewed with American crews from moving freight between two American ports, functionally making it impossible to get supplies from the mainland United States to Puerto Rico during this crisis without breaking the law:

Planet Money Episode 524: Mr Jones’ Act

If you want to send a bunch of oranges by truck from Florida to Baltimore, no one cares who made the truck. Or if you want to fly computer chips across the country, it’s fine if the plane is made in France. But if you want send cargo by ship, there’s a law that the ship has to be American made.

Planet Money, Mr. Jones’ Act

President Trump did waive the Jones act requirements for ten days, but those ten days have come and gone. It takes a lot longer than ten days to purchase the goods, fill the ship and move it to Puerto Rico. It was a meaningless face-saving gesture that allows the President to point to something and pretend that he cares. He doesn’t care and his supporters don’t care. I can’t repeat the things that have been written to me as rebuttals for my concerns about Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. The racism has been that obvious.

The US and the world have forgotten about Puerto Rico, ravaged by two successive hurricanes and a month later still largely without power and running water. They have forgotten but the fact that this suffering goes on largely unreported says more about Americans and their leader than any of us are comfortable admitting. We are happy to profit off the sick and the suffering of other people, but we don’t want to hear about it.

Puerto Rico’s largest problem is an economic problem. The government is broke and the people are poor. The fact that the government there was lead down the same golden path as Greece was gains Puerto Ricans no sympathy. Greece was allowed to re-negotiate their debts and will probably be given another chance to do it again. Puerto Rico is being held to account for every dollar they borrowed by greedy Wall Street bankers, and the OHM is more than happy to side with Wall Street when there is money to be directly stolen from poor, suffering brown-skinned people.

Pundits asked each other for eight years when some natural tragedy struck, “is this Obama’s Katrina?” And each time it was shown that they were wrong. They were wrong because, as many flaws as there were in the Second Bush administration, President Bush was capable of learning where he messed up, and Obama continued the progress that Bush II had started with FEMA and the federal government writ large. Disaster after disaster, Obama and the federal government got better at coping with the problems, which is the way it should be and is in stark contrast with the Trump Administration:

After an earthquake shattered Haiti’s capital on Jan. 12, 2010, the U.S. military mobilized as if it were going to war.

Before dawn the next morning, an Army unit was airborne, on its way to seize control of the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Within two days, the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water.

No two disasters are alike. Each delivers customized violence that cannot be fully anticipated. But as criticism of the federal government’s initial response to the crisis in Puerto Rico continued to mount Thursday, the mission to Haiti — an island nation several hundred miles from the U.S. mainland — stands as an example of how quickly relief efforts can be mobilized.

By contrast, eight days after Hurricane Maria ripped across neighboring Puerto Rico, just 4,400 service members were participating in federal operations to assist the devastated island, an Army general told reporters Thursday. In addition, about 1,000 Coast Guard members were aiding the efforts. About 40 U.S. military helicopters were helping to deliver food and water to the 3.4 million residents of the U.S. territory, along with 10 Coast Guard helicopters.

Leaders of the humanitarian mission in Haiti said in interviews that they were dismayed by the relative lack of urgency and military muscle in the initial federal response to Puerto Rico’s catastrophe.

The Washington Post, U.S. response in Puerto Rico
The Breach: How and Why Trump Is Screwing Over Puerto Rico

When Donald Trump took office all the progress enacted by Bush II and then Obama on disaster relief through FEMA and other agencies stopped. The progress stopped cold and then it went into reverse. With Trump’s gutting of the executive offices under his control, and his unwillingness to take the job of president seriously outside of  his weekend golf game where all the deals happen, there is no one left to take the helm. At least Bush II didn’t brag about how good he did post-Katrina. He didn’t chastise the poor and destitute of New Orleans for asking for relief. President Trump insults and scorns everybody and everything, and his Republican boot-lickers in the House and Senate are all too eager to let him do whatever he wants.

If you vote for a Republican in the next election you will be supporting this hateful process and this lack of progress, too. Think about that, before you cast your next vote.

Postscript

Since I wrote this article a few weeks after the hurricanes struck and President Trump failed to act, there have been several podcasts that I’ve listened to that deal with the continuing issues in Puerto Rico. I’m going to append them here, as well as any informative news articles I run across dealing with the subject, for as long as the tragedy continues.

LatinoUSA, Surviving the Storm

On The Media, After the Storm

One hundred days later, More Puerto Ricans have done without power, subsequent to hurricane Maria, for longer than any other storm in US history since the introduction of electricity into the US.

Rhodium Group

The outages have proved deadly, with people unable to use lifesaving medical equipment like dialysis machines, and they’ve contributed to Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 64.

As we’ve reported here at Vox, the actual number of fatalities is likely much higher, a development that has prompted lawmakers to ask for an audit. BuzzFeed also reported that there have been more than 900 cremations across the island since the hurricane without medical examination.

And electricity may not be restored fully in Puerto Rico and the USVI until May, since emergency managers are still reeling from the devastation across the United States in 2017, spreading thin reconstruction supplies like utility poles and power lines across all disaster areas spanning from California to Florida.

Vox. com

In the podcast The1A, Months After Maria, it was reported the official death toll from the hurricane remains at 64; however, statistical analysis reveals that about a thousand additional deaths occurred due to the continuing power outages on the island since the hurricane struck. This was also reported in depth on LatinoUSA,

LatinoUSA, The Death Count

The Two-Way, FEMA To End Food And Water Aid For Puerto Rico

In a sign that FEMA believes the immediate humanitarian emergency has subsided, on Jan. 31 it will, in its own words, “officially shut off” the mission it says has provided more than 30 million gallons of potable water and nearly 60 million meals across the island in the four months since the hurricane. The agency will turn its remaining food and water supplies over to the Puerto Rican government to finish distributing.

Some on the island believe it’s too soon to end these deliveries given that a third of residents still lack electricity and, in some places, running water, but FEMA says its internal analytics suggest only about 1 percent of islanders still need emergency food and water. The agency believes that is a small enough number for the Puerto Rican government and nonprofit groups to handle.

Displaced Puerto Ricans, now living in hotels, may soon lose housing

PBS NewsHour Apr 7, 2018, As thousands of students leave Puerto Rico, hundreds of its schools to remain closed

Army Corps of Engineers to leave Puerto Rico with hurricane recovery unfinished

LatinoUSA, Puerto Rico’s Financial Storm, Part One Jun 26, 2018

LatinoUSA, Puerto Rico’s Financial Storm, Part Two June 29, 2018

Why Is This Happening? Tracing the origins of the Puerto Rico disaster with Naomi Klein Jun.19.2018

ATTN: Puerto Rico Crisis on Facebook

Almost a year after the tragedy, the governor of Puerto Rico finally caved under pressure and asked George Washington University to do an independent study of the death toll resulting from hurricane Maria. The resulting figures were accepted as the actual death toll due to the storm’s impact:

NPR News, Hurricane Maria Caused 2,975 Deaths In Puerto Rico, Independent Study Estimates, August 28, 2018

2975 deaths is getting into 9/11 territory. It is worth noting that this is just the Maria death toll. This doesn’t include the deaths from the hurricane that swept across the island just before Maria. The Orange Hate-Monkey has not apologized for his lies relating to the human cost of Maria on the island, nor has his administration relaxed regulations to allow Puerto Rico to fully recover from the storm that struck Puerto Rico almost a year ago now.

In December of 2020, the Arecibo radio telescope collapsed, in part because of damage sustained during, and unrepaired since, hurricane Maria. Just one more indignity that can be laid at the feet of President Trump:

National Science FoundationFootage of Arecibo Observatory telescope collapse – Dec 3, 2020

How to put all of this in perspective remains the question. When we show disregard for infrastructure that is the pride of the United States from a world-wide perspective, and disregard for our own citizens that is shocking to most observers, what does this mean? Is one worse than the other? I’m too much of a science nerd to trust my own judgement here. But I can’t help imagining what a laughing stock we are as a nation right now, when seen from the perspective of the people who once thought we were admirable.

Walking in a Thunderstorm

I set out for my evening walk, even though this was what the radar looked like at the time.

The Wife told me I was crazy and that I’d better hurry so that she didn’t have to come rescue me. I took some video of the storm.

2017 Thunderstorm

Right after I clicked stop, the whole sky lit up. Isn’t that always the way it is?

Photo Album

Facebook status backdated to the blog.

Challenger 30 Years Later

Everyone knows how they died, we want people to remember how they lived.

June Scobee-Rodgers, widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee
(author unknown)

At 10:40 am on January 28th 1986 the space shuttle Challenger was issued the command “go for throttle up” and the subsequent explosion ended space’s age of innocence. I remember where I was that day. Like most of our memories of those kinds of events, it is probably full of holes and exaggerations.  But I do remember it.  I also remember honoring the Challenger crew’s sacrifice with the crew of the (can you remember the name before you read it?) Columbia.  For quite some time my personal page at ranthonysteele.com had a memorial page for the Columbia and Challenger as a tribute to the sacrifice of both crews.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,
–and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless falls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew–
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

High Flight (the pilot’s creed) John Gillespie Magee

The above was found in a particularly moving article by Nigel Rees (on another now dead website) describing how the poem came to prominence and caught the attention of Ronald Reagan (or one of his speechwriters) who later remembered it and uttered it in memoriam for the Challenger crew. It was the words of Columbia commander Rick Husband that caused me to go looking for the poem back in 2003, when he unknowingly foreshadowed his impending death by observing;

It is today that we remember and honor the crews of Apollo 1 and Challenger. They made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives and service to their country and for all mankind

Four days later, his shuttle burned up on re-entry.  I was awakened from an uneasy sleep that Saturday morning, by the ringing of the phone.  One of our fellow space enthusiast friends calling to tell us to turn on the news.  Columbia had been destroyed.

Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, whose crews were all killed within the space of a week on the calendar, if over 36 years in elapsed time. That is the way it has been for ten years and more for me.  I’ve kept notations on my calendar since the Columbia disaster, so that I could remember these crews and their sacrifices on the anniversaries of their deaths.

The space program means a lot to the Wife and I.  She’s become so heartbroken that we still don’t have a permanent lunar base for her to immigrate to that she refuses to discuss the subject of space in any other form than as a betrayal by the US government of the people of the nation, especially people like she and I who dreamed of going to space someday.  My balance issues convinced me long before I became disabled that I would never have made it to space anyway, so I don’t take the betrayal personally.  But it is hard to argue that we weren’t lied to when the ISS is a shadow of its promised size and scope, and that moon vacations still aren’t a thing we can experience.  Not to mention the complete abdication of NASA’s involvement in space as it pertains to getting supplies to and from the ISS, the reliance on Russia to transfer astronauts to and from the station via 1960’s Soyuz technology.  These are dark days for space enthusiasts when it comes to manned space missions.

So I was a little surprised that I hadn’t noted that today was Challenger day until listening to the BBC World News podcast. As I frequently do, I paused the program and went over to the browser on my phone and inquired about current articles on the Challenger disaster that might be worth sharing.

Top of the list was this piece over at Gawker. It is probably worth mentioning that I have a love/hate relationship with Gawker, the name of the website itself recalls miles of freeway made impassable by hundreds if not thousands of people who just have to look at automobile accidents. Maybe I’m weird, but I can still summon up images from my high school drivers education classes, so I don’t need a refresher on just how we lemmings die encased in steel on US freeways.

The subject of the article was even more enraging than a freeway pile-up that keeps you from getting where you need to be until several hours late, though:

…after the disaster, over time, a different and more horrible story took shape: The Challenger made it through the spectacular eruption of its external fuel tank with its cabin more or less intact. Rather than being carried to Heaven in an instant, the crippled vessel kept sailing upward for another three miles before its momentum gave out, then plunged 12 miles to the ocean. The crew was, in all likelihood, conscious for the full two and a half minutes until it hit the water.

gawker.com

This particular bit of conspiratorial fantasy really isn’t news.  The briefest perusal of the wiki entry on the subject of the Challenger disaster will reveal that it has been premised that the astronauts survived the initial breakup. It isn’t even controversial anymore. There is little evidence either way on the subject, and knowing they survived (or that the crew of the just as tragic Columbia disaster survived) the initial breakup only to be killed later really doesn’t prove anything, or provide any great insight into either tragedy.

I remember picking up at least one supermarket tabloid in the months after Challenger went down that purported to have written transcripts of the last moments of the crew as preserved on the flight recorder.  That concoction was a total fantasy, beneath even the satirical minds of the writers of the Onion today; and the grisly nature of interest in the last moments of the life of a person about to die tragically is something that I’ve never had the stomach for.  That there would have been panic from trained military flyers even in the face of certain doom is very doubtful. As more than one pilot has mentioned to me over the years, the most common last words on flight recorders is oh, shit.  That is because trained pilots are too busy working the problem to realize that ultimate failure is about to kill them until the last moment. When it is too late to panic and have that panic recorded for posterity.

NASA image STS 107 launch
Some of the experiments survived

The pilots of Challenger and Columbia were both powerless to save themselves and their crews. That is the true nature of these tragedies.  The decisions that cost their lives were made by people above them in authority, people who were willing to risk the lives of others even when the engineers who designed those systems stood solidly against launching under the weather conditions present at the time.

Failure of the O-rings caused the Challenger disaster. It is doubtful that a parachute system or some other secondary contingency could have worked in the specific scenario that evolved in that launch. There was a way to decouple the shuttle from the tank and glide home, but that contingency failed with the explosion of the central fuel tank.

Ice and foam chunks damaged the leading edge of the wing of Columbia during its last launch.  There was no way to rescue the crew once they were in space without risking another crew flying under similar conditions, if the next shuttle could have even been made ready in time. Thinking back to the steely-eyed missile men who brought Apollo 13 back home, one wonders what they might have done if they had still been in charge when Columbia was in space.  Would they have risked an EVA to check the wing? Probably. Would they have found a way to get a rescue mission up to Columbia in time to get the crew off?  Maybe. Was there some way to seal the wing in space so it could survive re-entry? People familiar with the mission said no, still say no.

Hindsight is always 20/20. There would have been no need for a parachute contingency (and the added weight/cost) had NASA listened to its own engineers in 1986, because they recommended a scrub and were overruled on the subject.  A similar discussion occurred just prior to the launch of Columbia as well.

Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank the Titanic, Blew Up the Shuttle, and Led America into War by Christopher Burns

If you really want to understand just how stupidly large human systems fail, read that book.  You will come away with a completely different view on history and on current events.  The failures of the shuttle missions in particular remain haunting to the American psyche in ways that so many of our other failures do not. Perhaps this is because they touch on the hopes and dreams of so many. Perhaps because they remain the most visible black marks on the aspirations of this country.

Personally they represent the end of manned space exploration missions in my lifetime. That is what I think of most bitterly when I recall the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. I remember the teacher Christa McAuliffe and her brave, hopeful words.  Her energetic wave as she boarded the transport heading for the shuttle.  I remember thinking upon hearing of the shuttle’s destruction there goes my chance to get into space.  Because that is what it meant, what the tragedy still means to me to this day. The end of hope for a brighter future.  With that knowledge comes acceptance of our limitations as human animals and a greater understanding of just how fragile we creatures are. How fragile our home is.

We may be stuck on this rock for awhile yet, so we probably should figure out how to keep it safe for the time being. Try to avoid that next big thing heading our way.  What is it? Only the future knows.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Hanlon’s Razor

Blizzard 2016

Tiny snowflakes fell like radioactive jewels. The streets were deserted. Electric lights were few. Cars were abandoned alongside the road. As I crossed the Beltway, I could see hungry zombies roaming the empty streets below.

I was followed briefly by a State Trooper, but when he saw my Alaska plates he waved me on with a brave thumbs up. Godspeed, Northman!

Andrews AFB was dark, the great warbirds frozen in rigor mortis on the ramps beneath a load of snow at least an 1/8th of an inch thick.

Stonekettle Station

Watching Weather Channel coverage of winter storm Jonas today, myself.  Like Stonekettle, I am amused by the panic that most people seem to be swallowed by when the weather becomes less than optimal outside.  He posted this video of Jimmy Buffett’s tribute to enduring cold weather as an afterthought;

Jimmy Buffett – Boat Drinks

Living in Austin for the last twenty years, I have learned to be cautious when the weather is anything other than warm and sunny. If it rains here I stay home. If it ices here, I stay home. These people are nuts on ice and water. If it clouds over and starts to rain, Austinites slide off the roads by the hundreds. Blows my mind.

There was a common joke that circulated back in the years I lived in San Angelo. “There are only three things in West Texas that can kill you; the weather, the animals, and West Texans on ice.” I remember riding shotgun in a friend’s car during a pretty impressive snowstorm, traveling back to Sweetwater from the TSTC campus that was just outside of town. The snow was packed across the road, with drifts on the sides of the road. This journey sticks in my mind because it had never occurred to me that some people did not know how to drive on slick surfaces before. I looked over at the speedometer and noticed he was doing 50+ on snow, no snow tires, chains, etc. I commented that he might want to slow down since it was slick. He applied some brakes (never apply brakes on slick surfaces) and the car started to spin gently sideways. Brakes applied in full locked mode, we continued to spin until we were traveling backwards down the highway at 50 miles an hour. luckily we hit a snowbank and stopped before hitting anything else.  We did make it to our destination, eventually.

I grew up in Kansas, and I learned to drive in Kansas. In Kansas the snow starts falling in September and continues falling off and on until April. We had blizzards in Kansas like the one currently hitting the Eastern coast pretty much every year.  Somewhere around this house I have pictures of the Wichita County High School in the 50’s, snow drifts up to the second floor of the school. Learning to drive in Kansas involved driving in snow and ice conditions, pretty much constantly.  Following a snow plow through rural Kansas in order to get to a city with a commercial center was a pretty common occurrence.  I tell you all this so that it is clear, I’ve seen snow. I’ve driven in snow.

Sitting in traffic in my brand new car, small child strapped into the car seat behind me, I have watched while the vehicles around me literally bowl over other cars already visibly stuck on an icy overpass. Watched while people attempt to escape their cars on the bridge, only to slide headlong under the car because the surface is that slick.  That day I waited patiently for traffic to clear, idling my way home on back roads as soon as I could get away from the demolition derby that was occurring on the freeway. That is Austin when there is the slightest amount of precipitation on the roadways, much less when there is an actual freeze.

There are times when I will venture forth in inclement weather here.  Specific events that I know will keep most people off the roads.  We had a snowstorm that actually stuck to the ground in Austin back in 1994ish. There was snow all over the roads across the city. With the snow visible I knew that most of Austin would roll back over and go to sleep, so it was probably safe for me to venture out and enjoy a relaxed drive to work for a change.

It was the most pleasant commute of my working life. The city was abandoned, as far as I could tell. Not a vehicle to be seen on the freeways, the side roads, anywhere. I just sipped my coffee and idled the 3 or 4 miles to work. The most troubling part of the trip was the steep downhill on 19th street to the Lamar Blvd. intersection. Knowing there would be no stopping on that hill, I just kept it in first gear and let gravity do all the work.  I did see several vehicles abandoned on the uphill side of the road (poor souls, I thought) then I turned right onto Lamar and idled into the office parking garage.

I got more work done in the 6 hours it took for the snow to melt and the rest of Austin to make it out to work than I probably did the rest of that week. The rest of the office marveled at the daring exhibited by venturing out on snowy roads. “How did you do it?” they asked. “Just another day’s commute where I grew up” I replied. I didn’t even have to follow a snowplow, so it was easy.

Treating Meniere’s & Its Symptoms

All about Meniere’s Disease. Updated periodically.

When I’m questioned about why I’m retired already, or when someone airs doubts like are you really disabled? the subject of Meniere’s disease is bound to surface. It is bound to surface because Meniere’s disease is the answer to both questions. If you just stumbled across this article on my blog and want to know what is Meniere’s disease? I’ve never heard of it. I can understand that feeling. I’d never heard of it before its symptoms wrecked my life.

Continue reading “Treating Meniere’s & Its Symptoms”