Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Murderous Idiocy

Derek Lowe in his Science Magazine blog asks the obvious question. Why the hell are we still conducting trials of hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 and why are doctors giving it to people. The verdict is in. It doesn't work. On the contrary, it kills people. He discusses this paper in The Lancet which is a retrospective observational study -- yes, yes, not a randomized controlled trial but quite compelling:

[W]hen compared with mortality in the control group [i.e., people hospitalized with Covid-19 who did not receive HCQ] (9·3%), hydroxychloroquine (18·0%; hazard ratio 1·335, 95% CI 1·223–1·457), hydroxychloroquine with a macrolide (23·8%; 1·447, 1·368–1·531), chloroquine (16·4%; 1·365, 1·218–1·531), and chloroquine with a macrolide (22·2%; 1·368, 1·273–1·469) were each independently associated with an increased risk of in-hospital mortality.
They controlled for age, sex, race or ethnicity, body-mass index, underlying cardiovascular disease and its risk factors, diabetes, underlying lung disease, smoking, immunosuppressed condition, and baseline disease severity, meaning they largely eliminated the problem of confounding by indication. And mortality for patients given the drug nearly doubled. It literally killed 9% of the people who took it. And there are plenty of other studies that show no benefit and definite harm.

So why did the federal government buy up mass quantities of this drug, give it to veterans, and push it on public health authorities? And why were so many patients in the Lancet sample given the drug in the first place, in spite of lack of any evidence for its effectiveness? We all know the answer: it's because a fat orange man with an absurd bouffant hairdo claimed repeatedly that it was a miracle drug and even claimed to be taking it himself. The evidence for this, he claimed, was unspecified people who had called him on the phone.

So two questions. Why on earth does anyone listen to this fool? And who is responsible for all those people who were fatally poisoned by this snake oil?

Also, too, said orange fat man is a dex addict and a pervert. (Okay, allegedly.)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

What David Atkins Says

Here. The corporate media have got to stop pretending this isn't happening.

Sunday Sermonette: The GOAT

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the most important event in the Jewish liturgical calendar. It is established in today's reading, Leviticus 16, but the contemporary observance has no relationship whatever to the ritual described here. It is more than fair to say, in fact, that the Jewish religion is somehow descended from the religion of Leviticus, but it is not the same religion at all. The modern observance of Yom Kippur developed after the destruction of the Temple. It includes, oddly, recitation the night before of a prayer in Aramaic renouncing all vows. Of course Jews do not really renounce their vows - if they owe money or have a contract they still honor it the next year. But I digress.

The elaborate ritual described here is essentially arbitrary, so I won't have much to say about the specifics. It doesn't much matter. But I do have some general observations. This seems to have been transposed. It should follow immediately after the death of Aaron's sons, for whatever unspecified error they made in a priestly ritual. Indeed, although ultimately the rites elaborated here are said to atone for all the sins of the Israelites, the proximate cause for this is that violation of ritual. The first part of Leviticus focuses on ceremonies and ritual purity, and grounds piety and obedience to Yahweh in these largely arbitrary practices. As we will see the later chapters, which are generally more relatable for us today, focuse on conduct in the mundane realm. (By the way the Orthodox practice of not spelling God's name with vowels, but rendering it as YHWH, is basically silly. Biblical Hebrew largely omits the vowels from all words, not just the name of God. This God's name is Yahweh and the Israelites in ancient time pronounced it as such.)

Second, keep in mind once again that this was actually written in the 6th Century BC, and the historical fact is that these practices were essential to the Israelite religion only during the Second Temple Period, which followed the return from the Babylonian exile, from about 516 BCE to 70 CE. We have been in a time warp the whole time we have been reading. The Exodus and the exile in the desert never happened. All of this is a projection onto a fictitious past. The religious leaders who returned from the Babylonian exile set out to create a unifying, orthodox version of the Jewish religion which had not existed previously. Indeed, Israelites did not exclusively worship Yahweh prior to this; he was a God, not the God. Actually he is not even in 516 BCE a universal God but rather he is exclusive to the Israelites. So this is as much more about nationalism and collective identity than it is about metaphysics.

Lastly, regarding the scapegoat. The historical record suggests that it was not actually abandoned in the wilderness, but rather pushed off of a cliff, to make sure it could not return to inhabited lands. Nice.

16 The Lord spoke to Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died; and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is upon the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat. But thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat, and shall have the linen breeches on his body, be girded with the linen girdle, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water, and then put them on. And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
“And Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats, and set them before the Lord at the door of the tent of meeting; and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Aza′zel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; 10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Aza′zel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Aza′zel.
11 “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house; he shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself. 12 And he shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small; and he shall bring it within the veil 13 and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat which is upon the testimony, lest he die; 14 and he shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times.
15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood within the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it upon the mercy seat and before the mercy seat; 16 thus he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins; and so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which abides with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 There shall be no man in the tent of meeting when he enters to make atonement in the holy place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar which is before the Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar round about. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and hallow it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.
20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat; 21 and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22 The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he shall let the goat go in the wilderness.
23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there; 24 and he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 And the fat of the sin offering he shall burn upon the altar. 26 And he who lets the goat go to Aza′zel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. 27 And the bull for the sin offering and the goat for the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be carried forth outside the camp; their skin and their flesh and their dung shall be burned with fire. 28 And he who burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you; 30 for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. 31 It is a sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute for ever. 32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments; 33 he shall make atonement for the sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 And this shall be an everlasting statute for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” And Moses did as the Lord commanded him.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A good answer to the most puzzling question.

Why do Trump's supporters stand by him, no matter what? So asked Bob Altemeyer about two years ago. Given all the swill that's spilled over the dam since then, the question seems even harder to answer, but he had it nailed way back then. Do read the whole thing. The gist is that people with authoritarian personalities don't think for themselves at all. You can't reason with them because they were never reasoning in the first place. They just want to be told what to think. Pull quote:

[T]he fidelity of Trump’s base remains astounding. He has made so many unforced errors because of his lack of understanding and low problem-solving intelligence, his vast ignorance, his enormous, never-ending dishonesty which seems as reflexive as his breathing, his explosive hostility, his uncontrollable vanity, his despicable demeaning of women, his squalid vulgarity, the stupidity of his stereotypes, the shabbiness of his thinking, the buffoonery of his parading, his attacks on the institutions he needs most to safeguard the country, his incredibly poor judgment about the character of those whom he has brought into his administration, his equally mind-numbing lack of judgment about foreign leaders, friend and foe, and  his willingness to inflame Americans’ disagreements and turn them into conflagrations which make us that deeply divided house which the Gospels and Abraham Lincoln warned against—how can his supporters have stood so solidly behind him? You’d think they’d be having some second thoughts at least. . . .

Compared to most people, studies have shown that authoritarian followers get their beliefs and opinions from the authorities in their lives, and hardly at all by making up their own minds. They memorize rather than reason. . . .When your beliefs are memorized copies of other people’s opinions, you don’t really know why they are right. That means you don’t know IF your professed truths really are true. So how do you maintain your beliefs should events and discoveries contradict them?

Researchers discovered decades ago that people validate their social opinions socially to a certain extent by selecting news outlets, friends, and so on that will tell them they are right. This produces an illusion of consensus, at least among all the “right” people like themselves. Almost everybody does this, but authoritarian followers do it much more because they don’t have many ideas of their own, beliefs they have worked out for themselves and can defend. And they are much more likely to expose themselves only to sources of information that tell them what they want to believe. Getting only one side of a story raises the chances you will get it wrong, but as Ralph Peters, formerly the military analyst at Fox News, said recently, “People that only listen to Fox have an utterly skewed view of reality.”

So there is no sense trying to reason with these people. They are blind sheep.

The true death toll

A commenter asks why people don't count death certificates to determine the actual number of deaths above the norm, since we can't trust the reported Covid-19 deaths. Well, people have done this, and it's pretty disturbing. Researchers who did this in Italy found the actual number of excess deaths to be twice the reported rate. In New York and New Jersey, the excess is at least 50%. This can happen because many deaths are not attributed to Covid-19, whether because they are attributed to influenza or pneumonia in the absence of testing, or because the virus can cause symptoms such as stroke and kidney failure, which is just now being understood.

Now researchers at the Surgo Foundation have examined death rates at the county level in much of the U.S. Uh-oh. "Our data suggest that we may be especially undercounting COVID-19 deaths in Southern parts of the US. In more than 200 of the counties we examined, excess death rates were between two times to 30 times higher than reported COVID-19 death rates."

They conclude:

The data suggest we could be missing large numbers of COVID-19 deaths in places where testing is low. Using data from the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus database, we compared the rate of coronavirus testing with the reported rate of coronavirus deaths. . . . [S]tates with higher rates of testing have also seen higher rates of deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Why might this be? Testing has ramped up in areas hardest hit by coronavirus, so the COVID-19 death rate may be higher in these states simply because their outbreaks are worse and there are, in fact, more deaths per head among the population.
But another possible explanation is that states with lower testing rates are not catching, and therefore not counting, COVID-related deaths, which could make their reported death rates lower than in high-testing states — and lower than they are in reality.
This was the Resident's logic: If we don't test so many people, we won't have so many cases.  Works for southern governors too. Anyway the truth is that while the reported number of deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S., as of this writing, is nearly 100,000, the true number is likely at least 50% higher. Just so you know.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Yet Another Democrat-Chinese Hoax

As you have likely heard, the failure of two dams near Midland, Michigan has forced the evacuation of thousands of people. Property damage will be immense.

Bob Henson of Weather Underground notes that most dams in the U.S. are privately owned, and that an analysis by the Associated Press found some 1,688 dams across the country in poor or unsatisfactory condition. This is a problem, since obviously government isn't going to force private dam owners to spend any money to prevent potentially thousands of deaths. That would violate the God-given principle of the Free Market™.

However, there's another problem. Human-caused climate change is increasing the number of extreme precipitation events. Henson:

Although there have been some dry periods in 2020 across the Great Lakes states, it has been a wetter-than-average year thus far. This follows 2019, the wettest year on record from Michigan to the Dakotas, and 2018, which wasn’t far behind. The Central Lower Michigan climate division (Division 6) has seen a dramatic increase in overall precipitation over the last century, as shown below: the average yearly total has gone from about 28” at the turn of the 20th century to about 35” today.
Here's the picture:

Note that there are ups and downs over the years, but the long-term trend is indisputable. This is another problem with the brains of climate deniers. A cold snap or a year that wasn't as hot as last year proves that climate change isn't real. Err, no, it doesn't. Henson again:

One of the recurring messages in decades of projections of human-produced climate change is that precipitation will tend to decrease in the subtropics and increase at northern midlatitudes. That’s exactly what is happening in central Michigan. What’s more, the intensity of multi-day downpours is rising in many parts of the world, including the United States, and the most-affected U.S. regions are the Midwest and Northeast, as noted by Climate Central.

But what's really important is that Virginia governor Northam wants to take away your guns so you won't be able to guard your potato farm.