Get Vaccinated!

Back in September, I developed a simple model to predict how many more Americans would die from COVID-19. Over this long weekend, I updated the model with numbers from the New York Times on Friday, November 26.

As I entered the numbers and watched the changes, I had questions about some of my assumptions, so I won’t post the whole spreadsheet the way I did in September. I think the bottom lines are no worse than any other projection. Across the US, 133,859,829 people remain susceptible. That’s 40% of the population. We need that to be closer to 10%. In September, the number was 147,194,141.

Although unvaccinated people have been filling hospitals, their numbers are not enough to make a big difference in those remaining susceptible to the disease. Additionally, evidence is mounting that having been infected with the virus produces less, shorter-lasting immunity than vaccination does.

I did not do a formal sensitivity analysis, but watching the numbers in the spreadsheet change made it clear that vaccination is the biggest factor in decreasing the numbers of susceptible people. Over the next few weeks, we will see large numbers of children vaccinated, which will help, but children in the age group newly opened for vaccination number about 33 million.

South Africa has one of the best surveillance programs for the virus, and they have found a new variant, which the WHO has called Omicron. None of the things that we want to know – NOW! – are available, and they won’t be available for weeks. Omicron has many more mutations than previous variants, which means it’s been hiding out somewhere as those mutations piled up.

Which means that the earlier variants weren’t as transmissible as Delta. One of the things I am watching for is Omicron’s transmissibility relative to Delta. If it’s much less, it won’t replace Delta, no matter what its other characteristics.

Here’s a good summary of what is known about Omicron. And here’s WHO’s update. What you need to do is the same as before – get vaccinated, mask up, use testing before getting together with people. And tell your legislative representatives we need to vaccinate the world.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

How To Respond To The Russian Buildup?

Over the weekend, Samuel Charap, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, published his thoughts on the situation in Ukraine. Russia has been building up troops along the Ukraine border and making threatening noises. Dan Nexon outlined the situation.

Part of Charap’s argument is that the United States should pressure Ukraine to fulfill its commitments to the Minsk Accord, which slowed down military action in the eastern part of Ukraine but is unfavorable to Ukraine. That provoked heated argument from analysts of Russia.

I’ll post some of the better arguments here and leave my analysis for a later post. They are mostly Twitter threads, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see them expanded into articles. Sadly, some of the discussion has degenerated to “You’re being paid by Putin” and similar accusations. I won’t include that.

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Wars and Rumors of Wars

Now that we are out of Afghanistan and have declared the Forever Wars over, a number of people are eagerly pushing their favorites for the next war.

Alexander Lukashenka, who lost Belarus’s election for president but doesn’t want to go, is causing trouble on his borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia by forcing refugees from the Middle East across those borders. Belarus has restricted the flow of oil to Poland.

Lukashenka’s neighbor to the east, Vladimir Putin, backs him warily because Belarus is one of Russia’s few allies. On the other hand, Lukashenka has defied Putin in the past. His latest move to restrict the flow of oil to Poland may or may not be backed by the Kremlin. Putin has been increasing troop strength near the eastern part of Ukraine, where he has kept a shooting war going since 2014. It’s unlikely that he is preparing for a broader invasion – that would require holding additional territory and thus more military resources. But it’s not clear what he’s about.

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Task Force 9

The Times report on the bombing of civilians in Syria in March 2019 has a number of facets. It was an independently operating, secret task force that ordered the bombing. Let’s pull that story out of the larger article.

“Who dropped that?” a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone

The Times investigation found that the bombing had been called in by a classified American special operations unit, Task Force 9, which was in charge of ground operations in Syria. The task force operated in such secrecy that at times it did not inform even its own military partners of its actions. In the case of the Baghuz bombing, the American Air Force command in Qatar had no idea the strike was coming, an officer who served at the command center said.

It seems dangerous to have a unit in battle that doesn’t inform its partners of its actions. The US has even coordinated with Russia at times in Syria.

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The August 29 Drone Strike In Kabul

On August 29, an American drone killed ten people in Kabul, seven of them children, none of them terrorists. The man targeted was an employee of a humanitarian organization.

Making sense of partial information half the globe away from the scene is difficult, but there seem to be obvious weaknesses in the evaluation that led to this tragedy. There is little reason to believe that these weaknesses are not replicated in the targeting of other drone attacks.

The US military has been remarkably transparent about their investigation, although not all the intelligence has been released. Additionally, the military position is that this incident was regrettable, but they seem unwilling to publicly acknowledge that the weaknesses they’ve identified may exist in other drone missions.

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The Biggest Bomb

Popular movements in the late 1950s pressed toward the Limited Test-Ban Treaty (LTBT), signed in 1963, which prohibited atmospheric testing. It was preceded by a voluntary test moratorium by the United States and the Soviet Union from 1958 through 1961. At the time, the development of nuclear weapons – and other things like a nuclear-powered airplane – was wild and woolly.

One of the points of competition was the size of explosion that a nuclear weapon could produce. This was a somewhat silly competition, because the amount of damage a bomb could wreak increases with the cube root of its energy. So ten 10-megaton (MT; that’s millions of tons of TNT equivalent) weapons would be much more damaging than one 100-MT weapon. But for some, size does matter.

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Washington Post’s January 6 Article

I have read the monster Washington Post offering on the January 6 insurrection. I am grateful to the Washington Post for a chronological story of events. It’s something newspapers hardly ever do.

If you read most newspaper stories quickly, you get the feeling they have explained events in some chronological-like order. If you, like me, try to make a timeline out of the story, you will find that it consists of a punchy introduction to get your attention, which may or may not be situated in time relative to the rest of the article, which proceeds in fits, starts, and flashbacks. I think they call it “narrative.”

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Update on “Havana Syndrome”

Last week Julia Ioffe published an article claiming that Walter Reed Army Hospital had filled up with victims of unidentified health incidents, although she used the title phrase. I use it only because it is familiar; no medical syndrome has been defined. I am also not linking to Ioffe’s article because she published it on Puck News, where everything is behind a paywall.

The good side of that erroneous claim is that some good factual articles showed up.

Jonathan Jarry of McGill Office for Science and Society

Natalie Shure, TNR

Philip Bump, Washington Post

Some of the insistence that there must be a directed-energy weapon in the hands of our adversaries comes from the feeling that psychogenic illness is “all in your head” and indicates malingering. Bump talks about his anxiety attacks, which bear strong resemblance to some of the incidents.

Followup to my earlier post.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Nature Thought Of It First

The latest is combining two components to make an enormously strong glue, as we do with epoxy. That’s what mussels have been doing much longer.

Mussels live in a difficult environment – sea rocks between the tide lines. They are constantly battered by waves. They glue themselves to the rocks with a glue that they form by mixing iron and vanadium compounds.

Tobias Priemel, Gurveer Palia, Frank Förste, Franziska Jehle, Ioanna Mantouvalou, Paul Zaslansky, Luca Bertinetti, and Matthew Harrington, at McGill University, found that mechanism. The photo illustrates how it works. And vanadium is a very rare metal in biological processes.

Longer article here, and preprint here.

Image:

Image credit: T. Priemel A scanning electron micrograph (left) shows part of a microchannel within the glue-secreting organ of a mussel. The channel is lined with cilia (blue). Mussels release adhesive protein sacs (green) from their tissues (yellow) into the microchannels. The sacs rupture, forming a fluid mass (purple). The mussel also releases metal particles into the channel, where they help crosslink the proteins and cure the glue. A 3D reconstruction of SEMs (right) gives a view across an entire microchannel. Microchannels are 10–100 µm across.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

China’s New Missile System

In August or July, China tested a missile (or rocket) system that may be a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) or maybe something else. I’m not a missile expert, so I have no opinions on what it is, but I know some missile experts whom I will quote.

The exact nature of what was tested is unclear – the term “hypersonic” is being tossed around, but that has been unclear for some time. ICBMs are hypersonic (traveling faster than sound) when they re-enter the atmosphere. The newer vehicles that are given that name are different in being maneuverable. The confusion suggests that we need to clarify what the threat is and use names related to that. But multisyllabic words that are almost understandable are a staple for convincing Congress to spend more on weapons.

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