Monday, December 06, 2021

Wildly optimistic Omicron musing

I keep reading that the three big questions about the Omicron variant are:
  1. How contagious it is (i.e. whether it is more or less contagious than the currently dominant Delta variant).
  2. How dangerous it is (i.e. whether it will cause more or less hospitalizations and deaths than the Delta variant)
  3. How much it can evade acquired immunity from prior COVID infections and vaccines.
We don't know the answer to these questions yet, although we have a little information already.

Re: #1, Omicron seems to be spreading fast in South Africa where they actually are good at monitoring the variants of infections detected in public (the U.S. is not good at that. Most positive COVID test samples are never genetically sequenced to see what variant it is). Re: #2, so far there have only been anecdotes of mild infections from Omicron. But hospitalizations and deaths happen later if there is a serious infection and we have only known about this variant for less than 2 weeks. As far as I know, that's all we really have so far.

I am sure more information will come out by the end of the month, but in the meantime, why not speculate wildly? That's what everyone else seems to be doing, usually with dire predictions of failing vaccines and overwhelmed ICUs. But there is a better, more optimistic scenario:

Delta is dominant because it out-competed original COVID because it was able to increase the viral load it produces which made it spread much faster. As a result, original COVID is effectively extinct. The disease that kept so much of humanity hiding indoors in the second half of March 2020 (and earlier for people in China) has been defeated, just not by us. It was beaten by other COVID strains. What if Omicron is even better at spreading than Delta, but is a lot less dangerous to people. In other words, the answer to Q1 is "very contagious" but the answer to Q2 is "not very dangerous." What if Omicron is really really not dangerous, only producing asymptomatic or extremely mild symptoms at all. That combination would be ideal. Because then Omicron could go out and out-compete Delta and any other variant that are still out there, effectively wiping out the strains that pose a serious threat to human health. In other words, there is a plausible scenario, although I bet it is highly unlikely, that a new scary-sounding variant is actually a path out of the COVID pandemic crisis.

The caveats: I have little idea of what I am talking about. I'm just playing with possible answers to the questions I have seen posed in the media about the new variant. I have zero background in immunology and it could be that the scenario I am describing is impossible for some reason. But I do think with so many people speculating about the worst-case scenario of what Omicron could mean, to also consider what the best-case scenario would look like. There is a wide range of where this could go. While bad stuff often happens they do not always happen. Sometimes we do luck out.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Dr. Oz committed voter fraud in PA, he thinks that makes him eligible to be Senator

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity physician known as the host of the “Dr. Oz Show,” announced on Tuesday that he would run for Senate in Pennsylvania, jumping into a crowded Republican primary for an open seat that is crucial to both parties’ quest for a Senate majority in 2022.

His principal residence, however, has long been in Bergen County in New Jersey, where he voted. He has also become a registered Pennsylvania voter, listing an address that is a home owned by his mother-in-law in Montgomery County, in the Philadelphia suburbs
So basically Dr. Oz's only qualification for being governor of Pennsylvania is the fact that he fraudulently voted in that state in last year's elections.

The GOP primary for this Senate seat is going to be heavily contested and nasty. There is a zero percent chance that Oz is a carpet bagger will not be brought up by other Republican campaigns, not to mention the fact that he is running for the nomination of in a party that is currently obsessed with voter fraud after apparently committing voter fraud in this Commonwealth.

That's not even getting to the fact that his first name is not "Doctor" it's Mehmet, the Turkish version of Mohammed. "Mehmet" is what will be on the ballot. That will be the ballot for the Republican primary. You know, the party that has openly embraced outright racism and hostility to anything relating to Islam or middle eastern culture in recent years. Good luck with that!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Omicron thoughts

  1. New variants are a normal part of there being a virus. You can minimize the number of new variants by reducing the number of people with active infections (in this case that would mean vaccinating more people and quickly isolating the ones who get infected), but they are going to happen as long as the virus is out in the wild.
  2. Although variants could be worse, they could be better too. Or something in between. Just because you hear "variant" is no reason to freak out.
  3. This travel ban is stupid. We don't know if Omicron can from South Africa, that's just where it was first detected. It has now been detected a lot of other places too. Travel bans barely ever work, and they definitely can't work if the virus is already out of the banned area. This is just punishing South Africa for doing the right thing, identifying a new variant and telling the world about it.
  4. The travel ban is also understandable. As stupid as it is, US and EU leaders need to show that they are taking decisive action when the world freaks out about something like this. Ideally, that would mean taking non-stupid actions (and frankly I wish our leaders had more courage to do that more often), but the sad reality is that smart moves are rarely rewarded politically in the short term.
  5. There is something ghoulish about the rich countries of the world hoarding vaccines and then punishing the less vaccinated poorer countries with travel bans when variants pop up as a direct result of there being less vaccinated people.
  6. There is zero reason to believe that Omicron is any more dangerous to vaccinated people than Delta is. It could be less dangerous. It is just too early to tell. (Although it is true that as the disease evolves further away from the strain that was used to develop the vaccine, the vaccines will probably get less effective. But that's why the pharm industry should concentrate on strain-specific boosters. No, I have no idea how hard that is. Leave me alone)
  7. The general pattern for diseases is for it to get more contagious but less deadly over time. That's where the evolutionary pressures point them. It is in the virus' interest to be spread as widely as possible. Killing the host or even putting him/her in a hospital isolation ward does not help it spread. The ideal mutation from the virus' evolutionary interests' point of view is for it to be extremely contagious with no negative symptoms at all. Then people will go on with their lives, spreading the virus far and wide and never resting home in bed, or going to an isolation unit, or dying, all of which will slow or stop the spread. To the extent it is helpful to think of the virus "wanting" to do anything, it doesn't want to hurt us. It wants to find a way to coexist with us. It may never find a way to do that, but that really is what the variant-making process is about.
  8. How stupid do you have to be to believe that the entire world is making up a variant to manipulate the mid-term U.S. elections? Just when you think Fox and Friends couldn't get any dumber...
  9. If you're going to give variants Greek letters, you shouldn't be skipping letters. I get that the "nu variant" and "xi variant" each have their own complications, but maybe you should have thought about that before using the Greek alphabet. There are plenty of other alphabets in the sea. And no one gave a shit if Delta Airlines was unfairly maligned by the last big variant.


I now have as many years as there are cards in a standard deck.

I guess this coming year is the joker.

Previously: 51 50 49 48 47 4645444342, [41], 40393837363534

Friday, November 19, 2021

Fixing USPS will be slow, but Biden is probably going as fast as he can

I know a lot of people who have been frustrated that almost one year into Biden's term, Louis DeJoy is still postmaster general. The problem is that the USPS's governing structure is designed to give it some independence from whoever happens to hold the presidency. And that is good! DeJoy's postal "reforms" were always part of the Trump agenda, but because of the procedural hurdles to changing policy, they weren't able to get a majority on the USPS Governing Board and install DeJoy as postmaster general until June 2020 (in the last six months of Trump's term),. Even then DeJoy wasn't able to institute his plan to ruin the USPS until October 2021, almost five years after Trump won the presidency in November 2016. Bureaucracy is frustrating, but in that case it protected USPS from a destructive conflicts-ridden postmaster general for almost all of Trump's term, and then prevented Trump's troll from doing major damage until after Trump was already out of office.

Of course now that Biden is in office, those same institutional barriers that made change slow for Trump are now slowing down Biden too. But in comparison, Biden is making a lot faster progress. He got three members of the USPS Board of Governors confirmed just 4 months into Biden's term, giving Democrats a majority on the USPS Board. Unfortunately, one of the Democrats that Trump appointed, Ronald Bloom, still supported DeJoy so there were not enough votes to fire DeJoy and reverse his changes before DeJoy put them into effect on October 1, 2021.

Luckily, Ron Bloom's term expires next month. After 77 public interest groups urged Biden not to reappoint Bloom, Biden is expected to announce today that he will nominate someone else for the Bloom seat. Plus the term of another USPS Board of Governors member, Republican John Barger, also expires next month. So Biden should be able to nominate two new members to the Board, making an easy vote to get rid of DeJoy.

Of course, those two new members need to be formally nominated and confirmed by the Senate first. It is still going to be a slow process. But DeJoy should be gone by mid-2022, which would be less than a year after his disastrous postal reforms went into effect. That counts as record time given the bureaucratic realities in my book.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Stamp twice today!

Second Stamp Day is the least appreciated of all the official Rubber Hose Holidays.

For history buffs: The Original Day2011201220142015201620172019, 2020

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The EU has an easy out of the Belarus border crisis

The best move the EU can do to resolve this crisis is to just let in all 4,000 refugees. They could then be resettle them across Europe, and the EU could broadcast images of refugees living a better life than most people are in Belarus.

As easy as that choice seems to be, it will never happen. The EU (and the European voting public) is too anti-immigrant to tolerate something like that. But 4,000 people is drop in the bucket of a union with a population of 447 million. Admitting them would have no effect on employment or the overall economy. And for Europeans who just think foreigners are icky, they can rest assured that almost all of them will never even encounter any of the refugees if they were let in. But the fact that there is almost zero cost to the EU by admitting the refugees and it would give an enormous propaganda victory to the Union that would almost certainly get Lukashenko to stop piling refugees at the border, doesn't matter. This crisis is  caused as much by the EU's bigotry as it is by Lukashenko's border shenanagans.


Monday, November 08, 2021

What was the right answer?

The key fact missing from this article about the quiz:
On Monday, WGNO reported that a Sacramento-area school district is under fire for a strange multiple-choice question on a history quiz asking students to identify "a group of complete idiots."

"Whitney High School, located in the Sacramento suburb of Rocklin, released a statement Saturday saying it would investigate the quiz," reported Connor Malone and Gurajpal Sangha. "The question supposedly asked respondents to identify 'a group of complete idiots.' The options shown were the 'KKK,' 'all of Florida,' 'FOX news,' and 'Texans.'"