Light At The End Of The Tunnel

One of the things that has made endurance difficult through the pandemic is the lack of an endpoint. A great many yardsticks are available from many sources – cases by day or month, numbers of hospital beds available, hospitalizations, deaths – but not when things are likely to get better, when we can see our friends and family in person again, when children can return to school, when we can feel safer.

The measures we have go up and slightly down, then up again. They can be tied to the early call to “open things up” long before it was wise to, with no plans for stopping the spread. They can be tied to the politicization of measures, like mask-wearing, that might have helped to stop the spread. The general movement in numbers has been upwards, to our current state of almost 4000 deaths daily and a total of 400,000 dead, a medium-sized city of Americans gone forever.

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William Burns To CIA Director

President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of William Burns to be director of the CIA is an inspired choice.

Burns is the most senior and most respected diplomat in the US today. He is currently president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one of the think tanks to which experts go when they are out of government. It’s also the sponsor of the Carnegie Conference on Nuclear Policy, which I’ve attended for the past decade or so, also known as #nukefest. It’s THE gathering for experts on international nuclear issues. The next one will be virtual, in June.

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Chain Of Command

Nancy Pelosi says that she “spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.

I can tell her the available precautions, and I hope Milley did too: NONE

The President has sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. He is not required to consult anyone else, nor is there provision to force him to.

This situation came about because back in the Cold War, it seemed plausible that the President might not know about a nuclear attack until the missiles were on the way. That gave him a half-hour or less to decide. It was also assumed that we would elect only presidents capable of doing the job.

Nuclear strategists have pressed Congress to change the situation, but so far Representative Ted Lieu’s and Senator Ed Markey’s bill has gone nowhere. Maybe the next Congress will see fit to consider it.

No, there wasn’t a workaround when Nixon was wandering the corridors of the White House, drunk, talking to the portraits. We were lucky.

Nancy Pelosi can’t do a workaround with Mark Milley. That would be tantamount to a military coup, and I think that Milley is not interested in a military coup right now.

If this is a concern, Speaker Pelosi, and I think it is, then bring articles of impeachment to the floor of the House. NOW.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Dr. Fauci’s Warning

Dr. Fauci is warning us that it may take more than we thought to get to herd immunity. Now that anti-science Donald Trump is on the way out and Fauci is advising President-elect Joe Biden, he’s telling us what he thinks.

A year ago, we knew next to nothing about SARS-CoV-2. Since then, experts have bootstrapped us all the way to effective vaccines. The bootstrapping started from what we know about other coronaviruses and pandemics in general. It’s a matter of informed guesses, testing them against each other and observations, modifying them, and testing again.

Because the math of epidemiology is similar to the math of chemical kinetics, I’ve been following the modeling. It is also bootstrapping, guessing parameters, testing them, and modifying them. It’s a set of multiple parameters (an unknown number of them) being fitted to data that has serious limitations. The estimates get better as we get more data. That’s what Fauci is saying. Our first guess for herd immunity was around 70%. With almost a year of data, it looks like that could be as high as 90%.

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Pwned!

Alexei Navalny is a Russian critic of the Putin government. He was nearly killed by a Novichok nerve agent in August. Yesterday, he talked to the FSB agent who poisoned his underwear and got a full confession.

Bellingcat is an investigative organization that developed out of Eliot Higgins’s investigations of Syrian munitions, particularly nerve agent munitions, when he blogged as Brown Moses. They worked with CNN and Navalny in this operation.

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