Monday, May 4, 2020

Danse Macabre

“The point of civilization is to be civilized; the purpose of action is to perpetuate society, for only in society can philosophy truly take place.”
Iain Pears, The Dream of Scipio


If there was an Olympics of Logical Fallacies, Donald Trump would win gold in the Begging the Question luge.

Hell, he might take home all the medals.

But I digress.

"Interesting? By Congress not wanting the special 5 minute testing apparatus, they are saying that they are not 'essential'. In any event, we have great testing capacity, and have performed 6.5 million tests, which is more than every country in the world, combined!"
-- President Donald Trump, via Tweet, 5/4/20

That was Trump, this morning, in what has become the normal here in America, a president blasting out a daily stream of incoherent rage and self-aggrandizement. This happens every day now, like some horrible side effect of the pandemic. The Bubonic Plague, you got huge infected lymph nodes that swelled to the size of a goose’s egg. With the election of Donald Trump, we have to put up with a rash of swollen, infected tweets filled with pus and madness.

At this point, I’m not sure I even remember what it was like to have leaders who weren’t functionally insane.

There are two...I guess we have to call them thoughts in this non sequitur of a presidential statement.

Let's take them one at a time:

"By Congress not wanting the special 5 minute testing apparatus, they are saying that they are not 'essential'.

No. That's not what Congress said.

“Congress is grateful for the Administration’s generous offer to deploy rapid COVID-19 testing capabilities to Capitol Hill, but we respectfully decline the offer at this time. Our country’s testing capacities are continuing to scale up nationwide and Congress wants to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities where they can do the most good the most quickly."

That was a joint statement issued by the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House on Saturday.

Now, imagine what it took for Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi -- Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi -- to come together in agreement and issue a joint statement.

Even Mitch McConnell thinks all available testing should be prioritized to hospitals and first-responders.

And, yes, given that it's McConnell, that's probably a cold-blooded calculation to appeal to the chumps he needs for reelection, but still.

Congress turned down testing, saying that the first priority should be those on the front lines of the pandemic, the doctors, nurses, first responders, the people who need testing the most.

And Trump went online to mock that idea in front of the world.

This is Trump.

This is how he thinks.

If you put the needs of others above yourself, you must not be important.

That’s Trump.

Because Trump can't imagine valuing anyone more than he values himself.

But, it’s the second bit that really got me.

"In any event, we have great testing capacity, and have performed 6.5 million tests, which is more than every country in the world, combined!"

More than every country in the world combined.  

No matter how many times Trump repeats this bullshit, it's still a lie. It's still not true. Not even close.

As of today, the US has completed 7,249,126 tests.

Russia as completed 4,300,000. Germany, 2,547,052. And Italy 2,191,403.

That's a three-country combined total of 9,038,455.

Which, even if you went to a Betsy DeVos charter school, is still about two million more than the US.

And that's just THREE countries combined.

Three, out of 212.

Yet Trump claims, again, that the US has tested more people than all other countries combined.

And it's worse than that, because Trump and his dimwitted USA! USA! followers seems to think it's the number of tests that matter, as if it were some sort of competition, and not tests per capita.

Trump claimed this morning that 6.5 million test have been completed in the US. That's not even the correct information -- and in this case, you'd think he'd really try to get the right number because the real number is higher: 7.25 million.

But again, what does that actually mean?

Well, it means that 98% of Americans haven’t been tested.

The current population of the United States is 328,000,000.

Seven million tests is 2.1% of the population.

If you tested 2% of 328,000,000, then that means 321,000,000 Americans, give or take, are currently untested.

But it's more complicated than that, because the population of the United States is concentrated in densities that vary widely between various urban centers and the rural countryside, and the infection among those sub-populations is not evenly distributed. Per capita infections in some areas, such as New York City for example, are a higher percentage of the population than in other areas, say, Wasilla, Alaska. But, urban centers are typically far better equipped to deal with disease than rural medical systems, which means the death rate per infection also varies widely.

As, I said, it's more complicated than just simple numbers, and vastly more complicated than, Ha ha, we tested more people than other countries, so we win!

Per capita, that's what matters. In America that's 21,000 people per every 1,000,000 -- or about 2.1% -- that have been tested.

For comparison, the United Arab Emirates has only tested 1.2 million people, compared to the US's 7.25 million.

USA! USA! Right?

No. See, the population of the UAE is only about 9,000,000, so that's 121,300 people tested per 1,000,000 or about 12% of their population.

Meaning they're doing a hell of a lot better job at getting their population tested.

Simple childish comparisons to other countries mean nothing.

Who has the most tests does not matter -- it's not a competition.

He who dies with the most tests, still dies.

The only measurement which matters is the percentage of population tested in relation to the virulence of the disease and your ability to prevent infection.

I was talking to my mom yesterday.

Mom is in her late 80s. She remembers back when she was a kid and had the measles. Now, the measles vaccine wasn't invented until the mid-1960s. So, back in the 1930s, if you had a highly infectious disease, you got quarantined. Mom told me how the Department of Public Health came to the house and put a notice on the front door, quarantined. People inside, stay inside. People outside, stay away. And that's how it was until you recovered.

And people cooperated.

Yes they did. Because measles, mumps, polio, whooping cough, scarlet fever, etc, killed a hell of a lot of people, or left them blind, sterile, or unable to breath on their own.

We don't remember this stuff nowadays, because enough of us get vaccinated so that there aren't pandemics of these diseases.

Voluntary self-quarantine at government direction isn't anything new. For most of our history as a country, it was the norm. It's only recently that we've suddenly decided that social distancing to protect others and ourselves is OMG! FASCISM!

Did we shut down the entire economy for these outbreaks? Sometimes, at least in local areas, but generally no. Because that was the nature of those diseases. And because people did what was necessary to prevent the spread of infection.

With some diseases, quarantine doesn't work because the transmission vector is contaminated water supplies or infected fleas or it's so damn virulent that it can't be contained. However, that's not what we're talking about here.

For some diseases, even if you don't have a vaccine, there's a threshold where if you can verify enough of the population free of the disease and then keep them away from infection – say by social distancing – then you have a reasonable assurance the population is mostly safe. But that depends on complex factors like population densities, the transmission vectors of the disease, environment, and most especially the ease and availability of testing with high confidence and the willingness of the population to cooperate.

Especially the willingness of the population to cooperate.

If you can't test enough people quickly and as many times as necessary, AND/OR if the population won't cooperate, then even diseases that can be controlled by quarantine will become overwhelming pandemics.

COVID-19 isn't the Black Death, but it's not the flu either.

Just because we've done more testing than Cameroon, doesn't mean the threat isn't real or it's safe to go out in public without precautions.

At the moment, we don't have a vaccine for the Coronavirus, and we don't have enough testing to verify more than 2% of the population free of the infection. So, we are literally no better off in this than our grandparents were 80 years ago -- worse, because they, for the most part, were willing to cooperate with public health for the safety of those around them.

Back when my mom had the measles, the country was in the grip of the Great Depression and the world was teetering the brink of WWII. And yet, people still somehow were able to look out for each other.

And I can’t find a single case of Herbert Hoover or Franklin Delano Roosevelt mocking them for it.

We are supposed to be a nation where government values the citizen over all.

We are supposed to be a community where we value others as much as we value ourselves, if not more – that’s what community is.

The President of the United States mocking elected officials for putting Americans before themselves shows you just how utterly unfit Donald Trump is for any office in this nation. And for Trump to believe testing is some sort of simple dick measuring contest between nations instead of the foundation of a much larger and more complex problem, shows you just how ill-equipped he is intellectually to manage this situation. This isn’t about what China did or didn’t do. This isn’t about how many tests have been completed in relation to other countries. This is about us, about our country, about our government, and about our leaders taking responsibility for their own failures.

If civilization doesn't value people more than it values profit, if our nation cannot or will not protect the vulnerable from the selfish and predatory, then what goddamn good is it?

If our elected leaders don't value the citizen more than they value themselves, then they are unworthy of being our leaders.

The world grows ever more complicated, the threats to civilization ever more dangerous, and if our leaders cannot rise to the challenge of this crisis, any crisis, then we need better leaders.

More than that, if our leaders cannot themselves understand the nature of the threat and are unwilling or unable to then convince the citizens to act in their own best interest, then they are not leaders at all. And if our leaders actively encourage the population to act in a manner that will almost certainly lead to disaster, then they must be removed from office.

Ultimately, it falls to us.

If you want a better nation, you have to be a better citizen.

“The human ripples of pain are still heartbreaking when made visible to us now. Our friend Agnolo the Fat wrote: ‘Father abandoned child, wife husband, one brother another; for this illness seemed to strike through the breath and sight. And so they died. And none could be found to bury the dead for money or friendship…’”
-- Dan Carlin, The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses