/2:00PM Water Cooler 5/22/2020

2:00PM Water Cooler 5/22/2020


By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

#COVID19

At reader request, I’ve added this daily chart:

The data is the John Hopkins CSSE data. Here is the site. I have changed to a linear scale as a default for US States and territories (see below).

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I changed the default from log to linear because of this post in today’s Links: “The public do not understand logarithmic graphs used to portray COVID-19“:

[W}e find that the group who read the information on a logarithmic scale has a much lower level of comprehension of the graph: only 40.66% of them could respond correctly to a basic question about the graph (whether there were more deaths in one week or another), contrasted to 83.79% of respondents on the linear scale. Moreover, people in the logarithmic group also proved to be worse at making predictions on the evolution of the pandemic: they predicted, on average, 71,250 deaths for a week after the experiment was taken, whereas the linear group predicted 63,429 (our ARIMA forecasting model indicated 55,791, and the actual number of deaths on that date was 54,256). Nevertheless, respondents in both groups stated a similar level of confidence in their answers.

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“‘How Could the CDC Make That Mistake?’” [The Atlantic]. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conflating the results of two different types of coronavirus tests, distorting several important metrics and providing the country with an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic. We’ve learned that the CDC is making, at best, a debilitating mistake: combining test results that diagnose current coronavirus infections with test results that measure whether someone has ever had the virus. The upshot is that the government’s disease-fighting agency is overstating the country’s ability to test people who are sick with COVID-19. The agency confirmed to The Atlantic on Wednesday that it is mixing the results of viral and antibody tests, even though the two tests reveal different information and are used for different reasons. This is not merely a technical error. States have set quantitative guidelines for reopening their economies based on these flawed data points…. Viral tests, taken by nose swab or saliva sample, look for direct evidence of a coronavirus infection. … Antibody tests, by contrast, use blood samples to look for biological signals that a person has been exposed to the virus in the past. A negative test result means something different for each test. If somebody tests negative on a viral test, a doctor can be relatively confident that they are not sick right now; if somebody tests negative on an antibody test, they have probably never been infected with or exposed to the coronavirus. (Or they may have been given a false result—antibody tests are notoriously less accurate on an individual level than viral tests.) The problem is that the CDC is clumping negative results from both tests together in its public reporting.” • Gaaah!!!

Politics

“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” –James Madison, Federalist 51

“They had one weapon left and both knew it: treachery.” –Frank Herbert, Dune

“They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” –Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

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2020

Biden (D)(1): I kept making jokes during the electorally competive portion of the Democrat primary about “the Biden juggernaut,” but as it turned out, Biden had a good deal of good will on the balance sheet, despite virtually no investment in campaigning:

I wish I had some polling on Biden support and West Wing watching. I bet they correlate highly.

Cuomo (D)(1): “Why Does the Media Take the Onus Off Cuomo?” [The Cuomo Files]. “Right now, Cuomo commands the third largest budget in America, only behind what the State of California and the United States itself spends annually. With this budget comes the sort of power we can’t quite fathom—the ability to replenish or decimate school budgets, determine the fate of one of the world’s largest transit systems, or watch a bridge with your family’s name rise across a famous river. When there is success, no one takes more credit than Cuomo…. When there is failure, Cuomo disappears…. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided new opportunities for Cuomo to take credit and skirt blame…. For weeks, nursing home operators begged the state for more PPE and warned about the danger of readmitting sick residents into such a precarious environment. Rather than transfer nursing home residents to unused, makeshift hospital facilities that had sprung up across New York, Cuomo’s DOH forced patients back to their nursing homes to infect others…. On May 10, in a concession that his own policy was wrong, Cuomo announced a reversal: residents could only go back to their facilities if they tested negative for coronavirus. The most honest framing of this story would emphasize Cuomo created this policy, it was a disaster, and he had reversed course. With less popular and canny politicians (see de Blasio, Bill), this happens all the time. But look again at that Newsday front page: “NEW RULES ON NURSING HOMES. Cuomo: Hospitals Can’t Discharge Patients to Care Facilities Unless They Test Negative for Virus.” What’s missing here? Cuomo’s role in the catastrophe….. The second sentence in the headline implies, wrongly, hospitals were willingly dispatching nursing home residents who tested positive for coronavirus back to their nursing homes. Hospitals were being compelled to send them and nursing homes were ordered to take them. Who did the compelling and the ordering? Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, who controls the Department of Health.”

Sanders (D)(1): “Bernie Sanders, seeking peace with Joe Biden, asks his own delegates to turn down the volume” [WaPoi] (agreement). “‘Refrain from making negative statements about other candidates, party leaders, Campaigns, Campaign staffers, supporters, news organizations or journalists. This Campaign is about the issues and finding solutions to America’s problems,” said the social media policy sent to some delegates. ‘Our job is to differentiate the senator from his opponents on the issues — not through personal attacks.’” • If the Sanders campaign were entering the convention on a cresting wave of strikes that the Sanders “movement” had helped fund, nobody would be worrying about such trivialities…

Trump (R)(1): “COVID-19 continues spreading into counties with strong Trump support” [Brookings Institution]. “Now, for four weeks running, counties newly designated with a high prevalence of COVID-19 cases were more likely to have voted for Trump than for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, according to our analyses. In the latest week of this monitor, such counties favored Trump by a 12% margin in 2016, and, as in recent weeks, they are also much less urban and less racially diverse than places where the coronavirus was most prevalent in March and early April.” • Handy map:

It would be nice if there were some sort of semantic to the horrid color coding, but yellow is newest. The fulll fize version is available at the source.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Columnist: ‘I Would Vote For Joe Biden If He Boiled Babies And Ate Them’” [Jonathan Turley]. “[Liberal Democrat support for Biden] has included statements from leading figures that they believe Biden did sexually assault Biden staffer Tara Reade but would still endorse him. None however have gone quite as far as Nation columnist Katha Pollitt who has declared that she would support Biden “if he boiled babies and ate them.” … Many Democratic politicians and commentators have struggled with the clearly hypocritical position of declaring Biden innocent while previously insisting that women “must be believed.” The problem is that, if you declare that no one has a right to be simply believed, it requires a full and fair investigation. However, Biden has refused to open up his records to look into any allegations of sexual harassment or sexual abuse by Reade or others. Thus, you can either declare Biden to be innocent without such a review of this papers as has Speaker Nancy Pelosi or you have to call for his records to be reviewed.”

Stats Watch

At reader request, I added some business stats back in. Please give Econintersect click-throughs; they’re a good, old-school blog that covers more than stats. If anybody knows of other aggregators, please contact me at the email address below.

Rail: “Rail Week Ending 16 May 2020 – Biggest Weekly Decline Since 1988” [Econintersect]. “Intermodal and carloads are under Great Recession values. Whilst container exports from China are now recovering, container exports from the U.S. continues to slow. The rate of growth of rail had been improving before the coronavirus (even though it was in contraction) – and now the coronavirus is driving rail deeper into contraction. The effects of coronavirus will continue to slow rail.”

Trucking: “Trucking Industry Growth Significantly Declines In April 2020 Due to Coronavirus Impact” [Econintersect].

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Commodities: “The pandemic is hitting seafood businesses even harder than the meat industry… crippling many of their key markets as fishermen and processors strain to redirect their highly perishable products. U.S. supermarket shoppers are buying more fish and shellfish to prepare at home during quarantine, but experts say 70% of seafood is consumed in restaurants and the sales to consumers aren’t offsetting the lost business” [Wall Street Journal]. “Fishermen across the country have docked vessels and distributors have rerouted what fresh fish they can towards groery stores and into freezers, while sometimes destroying the rest. Meanwhile, prices for many items have plummeted as costs climb for processors trying to prevent the virus from spreading in seafood plants as it has in slaughterhouses.”

Retail: “A long-running split in the retail sector is accelerating under the coronavirus pandemic. Department stores and apparel retailers along with the goods and services companies that supply them are staggering…while big-box chains such as Walmart Inc., Target Corp., Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos., are coping with sales surges”” [Wall Street Journal]. “The gap between the general-merchandise and hardware retailers and the department stores was growing even before the pandemic and economic crisis highlighted the fragile nature of traditional business models. Macy’s Inc., Victoria’s Secret parent L Brands Inc. and others reported steep sales declines last quarter, leaving them with mountains of excess inventory. ”

Shipping: “March 2020 U.S. Airline Cargo Data (Preliminary): International Cargo Weight Down 14%” [American Journal of Transportation]. “March 2020 would be the third consecutive month and the sixth month in the last seven that the total weight of cargo on U.S. airlines declined from the same month of the previous year. The 1.4% decrease from March 2019 was larger than the decreases from 2019 in both January (-0.5%) and February (-0.1%)…. March 2020 would be the fourth consecutive month that the weight of domestic cargo on U.S. airlines rose from the same month of the previous year.”

Shipping: “Amazon.com Inc. is opening its logistics operations more to third-party suppliers as it tries to get business moving normally again. The e-commerce behemoth has started allowing unlimited shipments of nonessential goods to warehouses… as part of a broader plan to resume pre-pandemic business operations” [Wall Street Journal]. “That includes pushing back its annual Prime Day shopping promotion until the fall, when the company’s leaders believe distribution networks will have regained their footing. Lifting the warehouse limits suggests Amazon can now process orders more quickly in its warehouses and handle more inventory after its shipping delivery times sank under a flood of orders driven by the coronavirus lockdowns. Retail competitors have stepped in with strong results in the meantime, in some cases claiming advantages in using their brick-and-mortar stores for fulfillment. Amazon’s shipping speeds have improved, but the company hasn’t reinstated one-day shipping for many Prime orders.

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 50 Neutral (previous close: 52 Neutra;) [CNN]. One week ago: 39 (Fear). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated May 22 at 11:52am.

The Biosphere

Why I enjoy plants and find them hopeful:

“Tree Deaths in Urban Settings Are Linked to Leaks from Natural Gas Pipelines Below Streets” [Inside Climate News]. “Natural gas leaks from underground pipelines are killing trees in densely populated urban environments, a new study suggests, adding to concerns over such leaks fueling climate change and explosion hazards. The study, which took place in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a low-income immigrant community near Boston, also highlights the many interrelated environmental challenges in a city that faces high levels of air pollution, soaring summer temperatures and is now beset by one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the nation. Dead or dying trees were 30 times more likely to have been exposed to methane in the soil surrounding their roots than healthy trees, according to the study published last month in the journal Environmental Pollution.”

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For dam faliure connoisseurs (remember Oroville?), “Michigan dam failure caught on video.” This was the first dam of two dams to go:

Here is a frame-by-frame explanation of that failure. Here is a photo gallery for all the failures. And here is a long thread of commentary by dam mavens:

“Dow in Midland: Flood water mixed with our containment ponds; no chemicals released” [Detroit Free Press]. “Dow announced on its Facebook and Twitter pages that flood waters began ‘commingling with on-site containment ponds’ at the Midland plant at about 10 a.m. The company then partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to activate emergency flood preparedness plans. Later in the afternoon, company officials said the flood waters were mixing ‘with an on-site pond used for storm water and brine system / groundwater remediation,’ adding, ‘The material from the pond commingling with the flood waters does not create any threat to residents or environmental damage. There has been no reported product releases.’” • Raising the question of what, exactly, was being remediated….

“Dow critics skeptical of company’s claim floodwaters pose no threat of contamination” [MLive]. “Christy McGillivray, political and legislative director of the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter, said she does not trust Dow’s statement claiming that mixing of what is in the containment pond with floodwaters pose no threat to humans or the environment. ‘They have a long and very colorful history of harming public and human health and insisting that they’re not doing anything wrong,’ McGillivray said. She does not know of a case in which the company did not resist taking responsibility, she said, calling Dow’s corporate history related to the topic ‘egregious.’… [Allen Burton, who is a professor of environment and sustainability and of earth and environmental sciences, director of U-M’s Institute for Global Change Biology] also has concerns about the flood stirring up existing contaminants at the Superfund site. The rush of water could carry those substances downriver. ‘There’s a whole mishmash of pathogens and chemicals that are being introduced into the river, so there’s gonna have to be a lot of sampling downstream — not only in the river but obviously in the floodplain where this water has spread,’ Burton said.”

Water

“America’s longest river was recently drier than during the Dust Bowl. And it’s bound to happen again.” [WaPo]. “For the first decade of the century, the Upper Missouri River Basin was the driest it’s been in 1,200 years, even more parched than during the disastrous Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a new study says. The drop in water level at the mouth of the Missouri — the country’s longest river — was due to rising temperatures linked to climate change that reduced the amount of snowfall in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and North Dakota, scientists found.”

Health Care

“Cluster of Coronavirus Disease Associated with Fitness Dance Classes, South Korea” [Centers for Disease Control, Emerging Infectious Diseases]. The abstract: “During 24 days in Cheonan, South Korea, 112 persons were infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 associated with fitness dance classes at 12 sports facilities. Intense physical exercise in densely populated sports facilities could increase risk for infection. Vigorous exercise in confined spaces should be minimized during outbreaks.” • Here is extremely handy diagram:

Note that the tweet both provides gym rats witih plausible guidlines for safety (no high intensity classes), and a plausible business model for gyms that want to open. (“High intensity” implies, I would imagine, heavy breathing, which correlates neatly with the discovery that shouting — much more so than talking, or simply breathing — is a likely transmission vector.) “Keep calm and carry on” would seem to apply in many ways!

“Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis” [The Lancet]. “We did a multinational registry analysis of the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19. The registry comprised data from 671 hospitals in six continents. We included patients hospitalised between Dec 20, 2019, and April 14, 2020, with a positive laboratory finding for SARS-CoV-2. Patients who received one of the treatments of interest within 48 h of diagnosis were included in one of four treatment groups (chloroquine alone, chloroquine with a macrolide, hydroxychloroquine alone, or hydroxychloroquine with a macrolide), and patients who received none of these treatments formed the control group…. We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, when used alone or with a macrolide, on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19. Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival and an increased frequency of ventricular arrhythmias when used for treatment of COVID-19… To our knowledge, these findings provide the most comprehensive evidence of the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine (with or without a macrolide) for treatment of COVID-19.” • I don’t want to get cranky about this, but my understanding is that the strongest case for hydroxychloroquine is not in hospital, but as a preventative or at the first sign of symptoms, in combination with at least zinc (readers correct my faulty memory). So 671 drunks looking under the lamppost are no more likely to find the keys than one drunk.

“If 80% of Americans Wore Masks, COVID-19 Infections Would Plummet, New Study Says” [Vanity Fair]. I don’t believe we ever ran this link as a link. From May 5, still germane: “”One reason is that nearly everyone there is wearing a mask,” said De Kai, an American computer scientist with joint appointments at UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute and at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He is also the chief architect of an in-depth study, set to be released in the coming days, that suggests that every one of us should be wearing a mask—whether surgical or homemade, scarf or bandana—like they do in Japan and other countries, mostly in East Asia. This formula applies to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence (occasional mask refuseniks) as well as every other official who routinely interacts with people in public settings. Among the findings of their research paper, which the team plans to submit to a major journal: If 80% of a closed population were to don a mask, COVID-19 infection rates would statistically drop to approximately one twelfth the number of infections—compared to a live-virus population in which no one wore masks.” • Same for Hong Kong. I wonder if the same could be true fir Bangkok, Thailand, as well, because there, PM2.5 particulate matter from construction has been a known health risk for awhile, so mask-wearing was frequent, if by no means universal.

Mask wars:

“FDA names 28 antibody tests to be taken off the market” [Fierce Biotech]. “The FDA named more than two dozen coronavirus antibody diagnostics it says should be taken off the market weeks after the agency closed its open-door policy on COVID-19 blood tests and required developers to submit their products and data for review. The 28 serology tests, mostly manufactured overseas, include ones that were voluntarily withdrawn by their sponsors as well as those that neglected to pursue an official FDA Emergency Use Authorization. Under a policy in place from mid-March through early May, the agency allowed over 180 antibody blood tests to be sold and distributed in the U.S. without federal review but with certain conditions for manufacturers: They must notify the FDA of their plans, perform self-validation studies and carry a label saying the product is not authorized and incapable of diagnosing COVID-19 on its own.” • I wonder how that affects our statistics…

“5 tips for supporting mental health during COVID-19” [World Economic Forum]. “Stress accelerates and reaches new peaks every day and threatening news continues to trigger uncertainty and anxiety. In fact, according to a recent survey published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of the people living in the United States feel the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health. This is not something we anticipated and were prepared for and many of us feel lonely, helpless and are looking for much needed support in dealing with this life-changing crisis.” • Handy chart:

I suppose if I’m a Walmart executive I’ve seeing my market for charging by the minute for counselling expand. So there’s a bright side.

“Social determinants of health and survival in humans and other animals” [Science]. “Social scientists are motivated by an interest in contributing to policy that improves human health. Evolutionary biologists are interested in the origins of sociality and the determinants of Darwinian fitness. These research agendas have now converged to demonstrate strong parallels between the consequences of social adversity in human populations and in other social mammals, at least for the social processes that are most analogous between species. At the same time, recent studies in experimental animal models confirm that socially induced stress is, by itself, sufficient to negatively affect health and shorten life span. These findings suggest that some aspects of the social determinants of health—especially those that can be modeled through studies of direct social interaction in nonhuman animals—have deep evolutionary roots. They also present new opportunities for studying the emergence of social disparities in health and mortality risk.” • Social distancing, as a “new normal,” will have its own costs.

“It’s a good day.” [Zeldman on Web & Interaction Design]. “This is what recovery looks like for my family: an endless sleeping sickness. Every weekday I wake up energetic, convinced that I’m definitely getting better. Even with all the sleeping, I really am confident that I’m recovering. But how do I quantify that? People who care ask how I’m doing. It’s hard tell them. They want to hear I’m getting better. I try not to disappoint them. But I don’t lie. Things are about the same. And about the same. And about the same. Yes, I am getting better. No, nothing has really changed. Our fevers are long gone. We are not contagious. We wheeze and are exhausted. That’s what recovery looks like on weekdays. On weekends, I sleep all day.”

Failed State

“Coronavirus: Over 1,000 California pastors agree to defy state’s order, reopen churches on May 31” [ABC7]. “More than 1,200 pastors across California, including in the Southland, say they will defy the state’s stay-at-home order to resume in-person church services on May 31…. On Wednesday, attorney Robert Tyler said a large collective of pastors signed a letter pledging to resume services at the end of the month. The letter came one day after the U.S. Department of Justice sent Newsom a letter saying his order discriminates against churches.” • Gotta keep the collection plates overflowing…. (I’m betting these aren’t the storefront churches Chris Arnade writes about.)

Zeitgeist Watch

Via dk:

News of the Wired

“America’s most illegal record has been obliterated” [WhichCar]. “The Cannonball Run is a simple, and highly illegal, record that despite having no governing body, is infamous within car culture…. To set a Cannonball Run record, you must traditionally start at the Red Ball Garage in Manhattan, then traverse the entire United States of America as fast as possible to finish at the Portofini Inn in Redondo Beach, California… According to [Ed] Bolian, who has been in contact with the new record holders, the time to beat is now less than 26 hours. A sub 28-hour Cannonball Run was once unthinkable. While he has not disclosed the exact time, that frame of reference means the drivers would have had to achieve an average speed of at least 173km/h for the 4507km journey…. This new flurry of record attempts follows a team of drivers who took advantage of empty roads that had been created by the coronavirus lockdown to set a cross-country time of 26 hours and 38 minutes.” • So, optimism!

“Meta Blog” [Tim Bray]. Reflectiing on hits from his recent post on resigning from Amazon: “But aren’t blogs dead? · Um, nope. For every discipline-with-depth that I care about (software/Internet, politics, energy economics, physics), if you want to find out what’s happening and you want to find out from first-person practitioners, you end up reading a blog. … Dense information from real experts, delivered fast. Why would you want any other kind?”

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Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com, with (a) links, and even better (b) sources I should curate regularly, (c) how to send me a check if you are allergic to PayPal, and (d) to find out how to send me images of plants. Vegetables are fine! Fungi and coral are deemed to be honorary plants! If you want your handle to appear as a credit, please place it at the start of your mail in parentheses: (thus). Otherwise, I will anonymize by using your initials. See the previous Water Cooler (with plant)
here. Today’s plant (AM):

AM writes: “The street outside the house on April 9th, in RI. Not sure if these are cherry or crabapple trees, but friends and family in Maine say cherry. I have decided to call them ‘snow blossoms’ and am very glad that I have flowers on the trees instead of the snow that fell on the same day in Maine!!” It is actually very important to look up at the sky in the early spring, and generally.

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