The Military (And Others) Respond

On Tuesday (June 2), Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and General Mark A. Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked with Donald Trump from the White House to St. John’s Church, where Trump posed for an awkward photo-op. To clear the way for Trump’s walk, law enforcement personnel used tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters. Milley was dressed in a battle uniform. Esper later said that Trump had tricked him into the walk.

This opens a number of questions. One is the appropriate relationship between the civilian side of government and the military, including whether military personnel should allow themselves to be used for political purposes. Esper is not military, but he is the face of civilian primacy over the military.

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1968 and 2020

A lot of people asking whether 2020 is like 1968, most of them saying that they weren’t there. I was there – not in the riots, but rather focused on my own life. A few years married, in a job at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory that was below my capabilities but learning a lot about reactors. Just moved into a new house. I was not very political, although the Vietnam War was part of every young person’s consciousness.

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Michael Flynn’s Conversations

The repercussions of Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia don’t go away. Michael Flynn is a part of that relationship, although it is not clear how much of his interaction with Russian officials was directed by Trump. Trump keeps interactions at arm’s length so that he can claim he is not responsible for his administration’s wrongdoing. Flynn had connections to Russia before he became part of Trump’s machine.

Attorney General William Barr has requested that the case be dropped against Flynn for lying to federal agents, to which Flynn pleaded guilty. Judge Emmet Sullivan plans to open the case to amicus curiae briefs and has appointed a retired federal judge to argue against the government’s case for dismissal.

Acting DNI Richard Grenell has released records of requests for “unmasking” that resulted in the legal action against Flynn and the discovery that Flynn was lying to Vice President Mike Pence, for which he was fired by Trump. Those records raise further questions of what Flynn was doing.

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A Small Bit Of Good News

I’ve warned before not to believe one single publication until it is confirmed by others, but this study looks solid enough, and there’s another that partially confirms it.

One of the things that has worried me most about SARS-CoV-2 is that it may not provoke robust immunity. That would leave us all vulnerable to it forever, and it would be impossible to stamp out. These studies suggest that a vaccine is possible, or at least that having had COVID-19 confers immunity. There’s no data about how long that immunity lasts, though.

Science magazine has a readable summary of the research. I’ll summarize the findings.

  • Helper T cells, part of our immune system, recognize SARS-CoV-2 proteins and react to them, including the important spike protein that attaches to cells so that the virus can infect them.
  • The T cell response is strong enough to suggest a vaccine is possible.
  • In the second study, T cells from people who have not had COVID-19 responded to virus proteins. This may be because other coronaviruses, which cause colds, are similar enough to provoke the response.

You can bet that virologists working on vaccines are reading these papers, and the ones whose approach is immunization through viral proteins are feeling good about them. But it’s still a long way to a vaccine.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

CDC Projects 200,000 Deaths This Summer

The New York Times obtained a CDC document indicating the likelihood of 3000 new cases of COVID-19 a day by summer, and a total of 200,000 deaths or more.

The White House says

This is not a White House document nor has it been presented to the Coronavirus Task Force or gone through interagency vetting. This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed

Additionally, White House officials say they are using a “cubic model” prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers, led by Trump adviser Kevin Hassett. Hassett is the fellow who predicted a Dow Industrial average of 36,000 just before the tech crash. The “cubic model” is said to predict that deaths will drop to zero by May 15.

UFOs Again

The Air Force released three videos of UFOs taken by pilots in flight. At the moment, three blurry videos taken through sensors we don’t know how to interpret are not the most important news out there.

I’ll admit it – my best guess is that these are artifacts in the sensors. I can’t tell you what, but I’ve seen lights in the sky and funny stuff that I could have called UFOs until I looked more closely. Read More

What We Don’t Know About SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus in the human ecosystem. Humans didn’t pay much attention to it when it was only in bats. It’s of great interest to humans now. Because it’s new to our bodies and societies, we know nothing about it. We are picking up empirical observations quickly, but it’s hard to put them together in real time, motivated by sickness and death.

Research is proceeding, particularly for testing methods for both the virus and human immunity to it, for a vaccine, and for treatments. Many questions are still open. We will hear bits and pieces from the research, but the bigger questions won’t be answered for some time. Read More

Criteria For Loosening Restrictions

Last week, President Donald Trump decided that the country must open back up. He issued a slide package about requirements for opening things back up. The next day, he issued three “LIBERATE” tweets, naming specific states. The purpose of those tweets seems to have been to encourage demonstrations against distancing provisions issued by those governors.

The demonstrations themselves seem to be centrally directed rather than spontaneous, and financially supported by the right-wing money machine. Read More

The Two Numbers I Am Watching Before Things Open Up

The best case would be R < 1 and herd immunity >70%.

R is the reproduction number, the number of cases that one case causes. R0 is the basic reproduction number, which is an idealization of how a disease spreads in a given population. Reff is a measured number for a particular situation. In looking at the models, I see R0 being used in ways that look like it contains other parameters as well. So I will just use R, which is the same as Reff. Using it without a subscript and the context will, I hope, indicate that it is totally situational. Read More

Looking At Data

The mathematical models are not the only way to make sense of the progress of the pandemic. Raw numbers can tell us a lot too. This is my favorite “how are we doing” set of charts. They can display active cases, confirmed cases, new cases/day, deaths, deaths/day, and recovered, for countries or US states and territories, in linear or log scale, raw or normalized for population. And now they have data by counties, too.  Sometimes I just take a quick look, other times, I look for a specific place or parameter, or just more detail. The data come from the Johns Hopkins coronavirus project. Read More