Monday, March 30, 2020

Mask 'em if you got 'em - but don't buy them, yet


Who knew antifa were practicing good public health? Bandanas are better-than-nothing substitutes for masks.

So, Vox.com did not cover itself with glory on coronavirus during the month of February. On Feb. 13 it mocked Silicon Valley efforts at physical distancing and said that data "from the CDC suggests that the flu is a greater threat to Americans than the coronavirus." I checked their NYTimes reference supposedly supporting the claim (archived here), and it doesn't.

Before that, on Jan. 31, Vox confidently declared that covid would not become a pandemic (they deleted the Tweet last week with a Nixonian vague reference to the Tweet no longer being operative). And on Feb. 25, Vox said "there’s no good evidence to support the use of face masks for preventing this disease in the general population."

I'm in my usual backseat driving position of critiquing something where I'm not an expert, but it wasn't hard to be skeptical about the masks. I wrote on Facebook on Mar. 2 that it was disingenuous to say masks protect medical workers but not the public. On some of this (not all of it), Vox was just uncritically reporting the consensus position. Historically we've needed the media do a better job of reporting the climate consensus, but a distinction here can be made between the massive scientifically-established climate consensus versus the motivated-reasoning guesswork by the establishment that wanted the public not to buy masks when they're desperately needed by medical workers.

To be fair, Vox seemed to clean up its act in March, and it's certainly no Trump. Not glorious, though.

I feel a little guilty beating up on the US government's medical establishment as they work hard while I sit on a sofa. Everyone all the way up to and including the Vice President are surely working hard right now. And I'm not beating up the 99% of the medical people working for the government that didn't make these decisions, but at the top there were major mistakes, and it wasn't just Trump and his cronies that made them. Producing a faulty test was a huge error, not importing substitute German tests was another, not allowing locally-made substitutes a third, and giving bad advice on masks/not telling people to wear bandanas and scarves a fourth.

Trump ran the show, these are all his mistakes. But when he's gone, there will have to be more work to guarantee they don't happen again.

Don't buy masks, yet. The government should've commandeered all of them, weeks ago. But if you have them, keep one or two to use and reuse, and give the rest away. In a month or two, there should be enough to buy them for everyone, which could be a big part of successfully transitioning back to a more normal world.

In Memorium Philip Anderson


Philip Warren Anderson Philip W Anderson American physicist Britannicacom


Philip Anderson has died at the age of 96. Worshiped (not too strong a word) by physicist of the condensed matter tribe, Anderson was also the father of Susan Anderson, an old (and missed) friend of Rabett Run to whom Eli and Brian extend their condolences in this time of her sorrow and difficulty.

Philip Anderson's Nobel Prize autobiography provides clues about him, his work and his life.




Saturday, March 21, 2020

Now is the perfect time for some types of outdoor climbing

I've got a dozen-plus tabs of relevant things I think I should blog about, and then I saw this at Slate, "Climbers, Please Control Yourselves: This might feel like the perfect time to go climbing outdoors. It’s not."

Slate pushes a semi-contrarian position often enough to merit its own nickname, the Slate Pitch. Sometimes it's interesting and useful, more often it's annoying and wrong. Kind of like contrarianism in general.

I'm a long-time mediocre rock climber and a much worse mountain biker (more on biking later). Now, in fact, is the perfect time for the type of outdoor climbing that I do the most and most of my friends do the most - top-rope climbing as day trips. You can easily maintain 2 meter distances, and it's very safe so you're not likely to end up in the ER. Top-roping means you can walk to the top of the cliff you're climbing and set up a rope system from the top. When you go back down and start climbing with a partner controlling the rope, you won't fall any more than the stretching distance of the rope. It's possible to get injured top-roping by climbing far to the left or right of the rope line and then falling, but you could also choose to not do that.

The main change from business-as-usual would be no carpooling to the climbing site. Okay, fine.

Slate's article talks about multi-day climbing trips staying at hotels, and sitting in crowded restaurants. You could, like, not do that. And I'm not buying their idea that getting gas and groceries is all that dangerous an activity.

The main good argument they have is that ending up in a hospital is pretty selfish thing to do these days, as well as a more dangerous thing to do than in normal times. So, you could still do lead climbing, multipitch climbing with really awkward systems of trading off gear while mostly keeping a distance from your partner, and camping away from crowds - but you'd have to climb at a nearly-no risk level which limits its interest.

Contrast top-roping and climbing generally to mountain biking. I only do pretty easy trail riding and even then I see plenty of opportunities to break a leg. My road biking buddies move much faster than me and deal with cars. And then there's just driving to any open space, where you can get into an accident on the drive.

So rather than "not climbing" the advice should be to change what you do to maintain physical distance and reduce risk below what is just acceptable to you, to a level where there's very little chance that you're taking hospital space.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Simple Suggestion For Broadcasting School Lessons

When Eli was but a little bunny, New York City owned a radio station, WNYC, which during the day would broadcast school lessons. Some of them were for extra credit as it were, interesting stuff that teachers could play in their classrooms during the school day. Broke up the monotony of reading, writing and adding stuff up (Eli was a little bunny, little algebra, no calc). But there were also things that kids stuck at home sick could learn from and not bug mom (most often) for an hour or more.

Thus a small suggestion:

Television stations could use their sub channels to broadcast lessons for the kids at home. Cable broadcasters have even more room for learning channels. If they were feeling nice, a lot of this could be openly streamed so all that was needed would be a cell phone

There are broadcast ready materials from online open ed efforts, but it should be possible to recruit from the local ed folk

Here is a place to start

105 tools for distance learning and strategies for student engagement

https://www.albert.io/blog/tools-for-distance-learning/


Another


https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/prek12-oer-in-practice/resources-get-started/

Currently open for the emergency

Math lessons by grade K-12

https://gm.greatminds.org/en-us/knowledge-for-all

The Wayback Machine has some curated educational sites



https://blog.archive.org/2020/03/11/schools-out-or-is-it/?iax=covidinfo%7cctalnk

Added 3/16 Curricula and other material from Minnesota




http://courses.oermn.org/

Monday, March 02, 2020

Bahamas v. Puerto Rico on renewable energy as resilient response to disasters

Renewable energy, especially in distributed microgrids, has a lot of advantages over fossil fuels that need large plants and a vulnerable power distribution lines. This is especially true in island countries that get hit with devastating weather and pay exorbitant prices for diesel power imports.

Puerto Rico seemed at least in the first year after Maria to take only token steps towards use of renewable power. The Bahamas, hit six months ago, seems to be doing better:

Exactly six months ago this evening, Hurricane Dorian slammed into the northern Bahamas. It was the fifth Category 5 Atlantic hurricane in just the last three years. Before that, there hadn't been a single "Cat-5" storm in nearly a decade.

There's a growing consensus among scientists that climate change is what's making hurricanes stronger and more destructive....But the Bahamas has found a ray of hope - specifically, a solar array - that can help its islands survive future hurricanes. And in the process, it may have important lessons the rest of the world should learn, as Mother Nature continues to brew devastating storms like Dorian.

To be fair to Puerto Rico, it's been several years since Maria, giving more time for renewable power and especially battery power to get cheaper, and microgrids to become more familiar to governments (and it's unclear from the report how much better Bahamas will actually do).

Hopefully this improved response will continue and put some silver linings on disaster response, as well as making climate adaptation assist with climate mitigation. See Rocky Mountain Institute's Island Energy Program for more info.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Bolded emphasis added

(UPDATE 3/20/20: Politifact appears to be claiming that Trump was unsuccessful in actually cutting this funding, and it was restored by Congress. The Politifact article is not directly responsive to this claim, however, just a general assessment of the budget. I'd like more information to get a definitive sense, although it's clear what Trump's intent was. I find the other Politifact claims diminishing Trump's culpability to be unpersuasive and even more vague.)


Feb. 1, 2018 article about a decision by Trump to cut Center for Disease Control funding:

Four years after the United States pledged to help the world fight infectious-disease epidemics such as Ebola, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is dramatically downsizing its epidemic prevention activities in 39 out of 49 countries because money is running out, U.S. government officials said.

The CDC programs, part of a global health security initiative, train front-line workers in outbreak detection and work to strengthen laboratory and emergency response systems in countries where disease risks are greatest. The goal is to stop future outbreaks at their source.

Most of the funding comes from a one-time, five-year emergency package that Congress approved to respond to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. About $600 million was awarded to the CDC to help countries prevent infectious-disease threats from becoming epidemics. That money is slated to run out by September 2019. Despite statements from President Trump and senior administration officials affirming the importance of controlling outbreaks, officials and global infectious-disease experts are not anticipating that the administration will budget additional resources....

The CDC plans to narrow its focus to 10 “priority countries,” starting in October 2019, the official said. They are India, Thailand and Vietnam in Asia; Jordan in the Middle East; Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal in Africa; and Guatemala in Central America.

Countries where the CDC is planning to scale back include some of the world’s hot spots for emerging infectious disease, such as China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda and Congo. Last year, when Congo experienced a potentially deadly Ebola outbreak in a remote, forested area, CDC-trained disease detectives and rapid responders helped contain it quickly....

If more funding becomes available in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, the CDC could resume work in China and Congo, as well as Ethiopia, Indonesia and Sierra Leone, another government official said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss budget matters....

Global health organizations said critical momentum will be lost if epidemic prevention funding is reduced, leaving the world unprepared for the next outbreak. The risks of deadly and costly pandemic threats are higher than ever, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the weakest public health systems, experts say. A rapid response by a country can mean the difference between an isolated outbreak and a global catastrophe. In less than 36 hours, infectious disease and pathogens can travel from a remote village to major cities on any continent to become a global crisis.

On Monday, a coalition of global health organizations representing more than 200 groups and companies sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking the administration to reconsider the planned reductions to programs they described as essential to health and national security.

“Not only will CDC be forced to narrow its countries of operations, but the U.S. also stands to lose vital information about epidemic threats garnered on the ground through trusted relationships, real-time surveillance, and research,” wrote the coalition, which included the Global Health Security Agenda Consortium and the Global Health Council....

Without additional help, low-income countries are not going to be able to maintain laboratory networks to detect dangerous pathogens, Frieden said. “Either we help or hope we get lucky it isn’t an epidemic that travelers will catch or spread to our country,” Frieden said....

Officials at the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Security Council pushed for more funding in the president's fiscal 2019 budget to be released this month. A senior government official said Thursday that the president's budget "will include details on global health security funding," but declined to elaborate.

UPDATE: nice catch in the comments by TransparencyCNP on how the high cost of medical care and inadequate insurance in the Trump Era is already hitting people for coronavirus issues, which can obviously affect people's willingness to seek treatment and prevent spreading the infection.

Friday, February 07, 2020

EQ and you (if you're a coyote or badger)

You may have seen the video:



I was excited about this because I've worked with both groups involved in capturing this video, Pathways for Wildlife and Peninsula Open Space Trust. Both of them have been involved in protecting Coyote Valley, a project I've worked on since 2003. Coyote Valley is the 7400-acre valley floor south of San Jose, stopping the post-World War 2 suburban sprawl from San Francisco through Silicon Valley. Coyote Valley sets the stage for growth going up and not out in California.

Protecting open space has much more value than preventing sprawl. It can sequester carbon as well as prevent carbon emissions from sprawl. It can also be crucial for maintaining wildlife linkages. The Santa Cruz Mountain Range is a large chunk of California habitat mostly separated from the rest of California habitat, with partial exceptions at Coyote Valley and along its southern margins. While large, it's not big enough to maintain permanently viable populations of rarer animals like mountain lions, and badgers. It could also be an important climate refuge - it's cooler than southern and eastern habitats adjacent to it.

The animals need to get back and forth though - they need both ways to get across highways, and welcoming habitats on both sides of highways. Protecting Coyote Valley and maintaining pathways for wildlife are linked.

It's especially true in the case of badgers, so that video, in addition to being cute, could be a waddling badger butt of genetic survival.

I did a bit of research on this hunting relationship between coyotes and badgers. It's been well known for decades. There are some claims that it was known by Native Americans - I don't doubt that, but the links I've read don't actually support the claim. Other badger and canid species live in the rest of the world, but I haven't seen any claims for the same behavior.

Cross-species mutualism doesn't have to be learned behavior but this certainly is, and it requires a certain amount of intelligence. Coyotes are already social animals but an adult badger is solitary and not primed to cooperate, so it takes some brains to do so. The cooperation is limited - they don't share the squirrels they catch, but they are still deliberately associating with each other and changing their behavior. This video shows travel together - it doesn't say how far they had to go to get to hunting grounds, but presumably it was at least not in immediate sight.

It's possible that the only thing they understand is that their own hunting seems more successful when the other animal is present. That's the Occam's Razor to make it happen. OTOH, it doesn't exclude that one or both animals understand a bit more, that the other animal's behavior helps their own. Badgers spend less time looking for fleeing squirrels when coyotes are present and more time digging, so they might understand.

Encephalization Quotient is an extremely rough, but readily-measured, parameter indicating an animal's intelligence. The larger the brain is relative to body mass, the more intelligent the animal is likely to be. Adjust the ratio for animal weight because large animals don't need brains to scale linearly with body size, and you've got EQ.

An EQ of 1.0 is about what you'd expect across mammal species. This paper says American badgers are at 1.4 and coyotes at 1.6. Social animals like coyotes tend to be smarter but it's interesting to see badgers up somewhat on the higher end. Being able to cooperate like this might be a factor that keeps evolutionary pressure on badgers to stay smart.

Somebody really needs to radio-collar a known pair of cooperating coyotes and badgers. It would be interesting to see how often they cooperate, whether they appear to be searching for each other, and the distance they travel together, all of which might give a sense of what they actually understand.

And meanwhile, protect their habitats and chances to cross highways safely.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Why bother?

For reasons that defy explanation Eli was looking through Coby Beck's A Few Things Illconsidered, Skeptical Science  before SKS as it were, and came across this 

Denialism Flow Chart

The true horror, of course is that we are trapped in Twitter with no exit