Category Archives: News

justice and justices

What the Republicans did in not confirming Merrick Garland was egregious.  By comparison, rushing to confirm Amy Barrett Browning seems fair and reasonable.  The real sin was failing to confirm Merrick, not rushing to confirm Amy.  But – here we are.  The Democrats seem powerless to stop Browning’s confirmation.  I’m pretty opposed to screwing up our Democratic institutions, and packing the court definitely falls under that umbrella.  I’m so opposed, I’d be hesitant to even vote for Biden if he fails to state that he won’t pack the court.

And yet . . . adding two justices to the court would null out Trump’s pick that replaced Garland and add the Garland equivalent that should have been added to the bench.  Which seems fair.

Again, RBG could have averted all this.  So I kind of blame her.  But mostly I blame the Republicans for failing to confirm Merrick Garland.

RIP RBG

When I heard RBG had passed, I had three reactions in this order:

1.) Sadness.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an icon well worthy of admiration for women everywhere.  I love that an elderly intellectual woman became such a popular hero.

2.) Worry over her replacement.  Democrats may win the battle to delay appointment of a new justice past the election.  Honestly, I think the travesty was the failure of Obama’s appointment of Merrick.  However, I think Trump has an excellent change of being reelected.

3.) Anger.  RBG was 87.  Why the hell didn’t she step down during Obama’s term?  She said that her greatest wish was to have the next administration appoint her replacement, but words are empty.  Actions are what count.  RBG absolutely had full authority to ensure a likeminded replacement.  RBG was an incredible woman.  But are there not other incredible women who could have filled her shoes?  Kagan and Sotomayor are doing a great job!

I honestly feel like RBG tarnished her legacy significantly by failing to step down sooner.

Yes, it will be hypocritical if the Republicans appoint someone now.  But RBG easily could have died any time in the last four years.  And Trump may be reelected.  To assure her succession, she needed to step down five years ago, at age 82.

I’m curious if others agree with me.  All I see in the news and social media are people talking about how great she was.  Am I the only one also angry with her?

However, I loved these two articles on hyprocrisy.  Genius.  One.  And two.

Melbourne

I’ve been following the situation in Melbourne, Australia with great interest.  If you haven’t been following along, Australia was initially shielded from an early Covid surge, presumably by its geographical remoteness and low population and population density.  (Australia has a population of only 25 million, less than California or Texas.)  Australia went on lockdown and effectively stamped out Covid.  A couple months ago, however, the state of Victoria, where Melbourne is, experienced a resurgence.  The government instituted another lockdown, comparable in severity to what’s been done in more conservative states like Washington and Pennsylvania.  When that lockdown failed to be effective, they instituted a second lockdown for six weeks that I can compare only to communist China.  This lockdown, not surprisingly, has been effective.

It’s worth noting that the second outbreak was seeded by Australians returning from the USA who were staying at quarantine hotels.  It’s a little unclear to me exactly what happened, but there were rules violations either by the hotel residents, workers, or both.  I think both.  Their quarantine hotel system is pretty severe, and it’s interesting / depressing how a limited number of violations touched off a major outbreak.  The US’s honor system quarantine rules don’t have a prayer, in my opinion.

In any case, here’s a graphic of Victoria (Melbourne) cases.  Victoria has a population of 7 million.  That’s about the same number of people as we have in Washington.

To put these numbers in perspective, in Washington state, numbers peaked at about twice these levels in June / July.  And Washington state has had maybe half the cases per capita at peak as compared to Texas or California.  So, Melbourne experienced a very real surge, but nothing like US hot spots.

For reference, you can see here that initially, they had very few cases (though I suppose we don’t know how effective testing was), and they were effective stamped out.

The draconian lockdown Victoria residents are currently under includes, as a sampling, restrictions like the following:

  • Very limited list of essential businesses which people can leave the house to work at.  (The US has a very broad list of “essential businesses.”)
  • One person may leave the household per day for groceries or essentials
  • No one may go more than 5 km from their house.  This is enforced with checkpoints.
  • Playgrounds are closed.
  • You may not leave the state without a permit from the government.  One person who had such a permit but failed to quarantine upon their return to their state has been sentenced to six months in prison.
  • No demonstrations or protests of any kind.  One woman was arrested for posting about a protest on social media.
  • Playgrounds closed.

As you can see from the chart above, the lockdown has been successful.  Some analysts are saying that if the lockdown is continued through the end of *October*, they could eliminate Covid completely from Victoria.

The government is supposed to announced a plan this Sunday for leaving lockdown.

Now, it’s hard to say whether this kind of management makes sense.  My personal opinion is, given the severity of Covid, absolutely not. However, maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe Australia will eliminate Covid.  Lockdown will end, and Australians will be able to go about their normal lives with kids in school, sports, parties, jobs, etc., all back to normal by the end of the year while we in the US are still home schooling (or at least those of us in Democrat-run states).  To achieve this, Victorians will have spent many months on lockdown, including six or more weeks as virtual prisoners in their homes.

If it doesn’t work, and they can’t stamp out Covid and have to either resort to more lockdowns, or give up, then this will have been a colossal disaster for Australia. If it does work and they can go back to their normal lives, maybe it will have been worth it.  It will be fascinating to see how things pan out.

I don’t think this approach was ever a possibility in the US due to culture, larger population and population density, much more extensive spread in CA and NY before we knew what was happening, lack of strong federal leadership, lack of enforceable state borders, and on and on. I am very glad I don’t live in Australia, but for a more severe illness, this is exactly the right sort of approach.  And I don’t think the US will have the will or ability to implement it, no matter who is president.

 

Seattle policing

Seattle’s police chief, Carmen Best, just resigned.   I personally think she’s done an incredible job under very difficult circumstances.  Please note that Best, an African-American woman, has been working to diversity the SPD and meet Justice Department guidelines to reduce unnecessary force.  Here’s what I see that happened:

1.) A black man is murdered in the midwest

2.) A whole bunch of white people start rioting nightly in Seattle.  In the extreme case, they forced the police to abandon one of their stations, creating an autonomous zone, and directly resulted in the deaths of multiple black minors.

3.) White “protesters” continue to riot nightly, demanding 50% cut to police funding.  Note that the aforementioned diversification of the force and compliance with justice department directives had increased the budget.   Surely that’s not surprising.  Among other things, protesters show up at Best’s house.

4.) Seattle city council starts cutting the police budget, punitively cuts Best’s salary, and don’t consult Best.

5.) Best resigns.

Fabulous.  From the Seattle Times editorial:

Best declined to use the word “racist,” when pressed by a reporter to characterize the council’s actions.

Others may not be so kind. They will see that politicians in power caved to a vociferous mob, and advanced their positions, by bullying and forcing out a Black woman in a position of authority who has been a role model to many others.

“I call it anti-Blackness,” said Rev. Harriett Walden, a longtime advocate for police reform and co-chair of the city’s Community Police Commission.

school and covid

Most Seattle area schools have announced closures for the first six weeks.  How are things in Seattle?  Well, here are our confirmed case counts:

Doesn’t look great, right?  Well, it’s worth looking at test counts.  We are currently at about 3.5% positives, compared to something like 20% positives early in the year.

As you can see, test numbers have risen dramatically.   Here are hospitalizations:

For me, hospitalizations are the most informative measure for understanding short-term Covid status.  Median time to symptoms is 4 to 5 days.  My understanding is that hospitalization normally occurs rapidly (within a few days at most) after symptoms arise, if it’s going to be necessary.  Looking at this plot, there is a definite uptick, but it is small.  King County provides paltry statistics on hospitalizations and Covid in general compared to, say, Texas, but we do know the following:

  • 2.4% of hospital beds are occupied by Covid patients
  • 64% of hospital beds are occupied / 36% are free

Deaths are obviously the best indicator of the impact of Covid, but there can be a huge lag.  Nevertheless, here are deaths in King County:

I don’t see any uptick in deaths whatsoever.  The “surge” started in mid-June, so if there were a legitimate increase in cases, I would think we’d see that reflected in deaths by now to at least some degree, but time will tell.

Again, I share all this to answer the question, should schools in the Seattle area open?  Should I send my children to school or elect the online option if they do open?

It’s also worth considering at some level the risk to various populations from Covid as compared to the flu.  Note that the CDC has updated their estimate of Covid fatality in the US from 0.4% to 0.6%, a significant increase, but still quite low (or quite high, depending on how you look at it, I suppose.)

Fatality rate is only part of the question.  How many people catch the illness is the other, and Covid appears very contagious.  I decided to look at deaths through the end of June for Covid and use the knowledge that the CDC says roughly 5% of Americans have been infected.  Let’s assume very conservatively that 100% of Americans would be come infected if we went about business as usual.  Therefore, to compare the relative impact, I multiplied fatalities through late June by 20 and compared against the worst fatalities for that age group from the flu in the last ten years.

Age Group Flu Max Deaths Covid Deaths Predicted Covid Deaths – 100% Exposure % Risk Delta
0-4 396 17 340 0.86
5-17 870 14 280 0.32
18-49 5240 2970 59400 11
50-64 6751 20665 413300 61
65+ 50903 92280 1845600 36

Now, 100% exposure would never be reached.  While a densely populated urban area might be able to reach close to 100% exposure, most places will not, so there is inherent conservatism in the approach.  However, given the overwhelming uncertainty, I think some conservatism is warranted.  Also, I should note that I calculated this a few weeks ago and haven’t updated it.  The risk should obviously remain constant as Covid spreads, but more data will make it more accurate.

In summary, the risk from Covid for a child between 0 and 4 is slightly less than a bad flu year.  Between 5 and 17, the risk is substantially less – less than a third the risk of a bad flu year.  The 18-49 age group is obviously of interest to all of us.  We have roughly 10 times the risk of a bad flu year from Covid.  Now, I consider my risk of death or permanent injury from flu negligible.  What’s 10 times negligible?  I think still extremely low and not worth worrying about.

50+ your risk is SIXTY times a bad flu year.  Given that at 50, your risk from the flu has also increased, this is starting to get alarming, and the Covid death numbers reflect this.  Obviously, the 65+ folks are hit the hardest.  While they have “only” a 36x factor on the flu, you can see that 50,000 people in this age group die of flu in a bad year, so their risk from flu is high to begin with, and 36 times high is very dangerous indeed.  Tell your parents and grandparents to stay home.  (I do, and they half listen to me.)

My conclusion from all this is that yes, Seattle schools should stay open.  Teachers aged 50 or older and with any co-morbidities should stay home.  Students who share a household with someone over 50 or with co-morbidities should stay home.  That’ll probably result in about half the kids in classrooms and half at home.  In a separate post, I’ll share the steps my school is taking for safety, as recommended by the state DOH.  If Seattle schools cannot support everyone going back, they should at a minimum open their doors to all students on free or reduced price lunches, typically less than half the student population in Seattle.

What do you think?

Since I started writing this, almost all Seattle-area public schools have announced they will be 100% virtual.  I expect them to remain virtual through next summer, given current numbers and what I know about vaccine development efforts.   Our small private school is currently planning to open its doors with an extensive array of safety precautions.  We are planning to send the kids to school.   (It wouldn’t surprise me if the county DOH forces the school to close, but we’ll see.)

Again, what do you think?  Am I being stupid and risking the lives of my family?  What would you do?

I should add that my job disappeared with Covid, and so I’m not working right now.  I’m enjoying being home with the kids, and I love that S gets to see her sisters all the time.  However, language immersion doesn’t really work through remote learning.

vacation. and covid resurgence.

We are on vacation today.  It’s our first vacation of any kind in about a year, and of course the first since S arrived.  We’re only about 90 minutes from home except that an hour ferry wait made it 2.5 hours.  Frankly, the trip was pretty rough.  When you’re in line for the ferry, you’re inching along at a snail’s pace.  Because you’re moving, the baby has to stay in the car seat.  You can’t pull off and take a break anywhere or you’ll lose your place in line.  And S was fussing and crying and the kids were being annoying.  Yeah.  Finally, after being here a few hours and getting S to bed, I’m starting to feel a bit relaxed.  I don’t think vacationing with a baby is ever really all that relaxing.  We’re probably a couple years at least from a vacation that is in any way truly relaxing.  But still.  It’s good to get out of the house.

Today, my county moves to “Phase 2.”  One 5 person gathering per week is now permitted.  Retail stores can now reopen at limited capacity, and restaurants can open at 50% capacity.  Frankly, I have no interest in going to a retail store or a restaurant or a hair dresser, but I’m glad to see us reopening.  However, I’m mostly depressed because Covid cases and deaths are continuing to surge.  We had another record high number of cases today since early May, and deaths are up the last couple days as well.  The cause is unclear – if the contact tracers know, they aren’t saying.  Cases are apparently up in young people and Seattlites, but are not directly linked to the protests (not that I necessarily trust them to tell us if they were.)  There have been transmissions in households driving it apparently.  But why would there be any change in how Covid is getting transmitted *within* households?  That makes no sense.

I should really stay away from the news and DOH website for a few days.  Tracking this is not helping anyone.  Do I have the willpower to not go to a news website or the DOH website for the rest of our vacation?  I have literally not missed a day monitoring the DOH website since a couple weeks after this started.