Thursday, May 13, 2021

Hamas vs Israel

It seems to me that Hamas' rocket barrages have tipped a scale they will wish they hadn't.  While Hamas lobbing a few missiles every few months could be handled by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, lobbing thousands will simply overload those defenses.  Once that capability is displayed to Israel's population, I suspect the Israeli leadership has no choice but to make sure this cannot happen again in the future.

I don't believe Israel can simply accede to a cease fire under the current conditions.  They will surely be aware that Hamas will simply restock and the next time Israel will be in an even worse situation.

Israel will have no choice but to prevent this situation from continuing.  Maybe heavy rocket barrages and embargoes against Hamas in Gaza might suffice.  But I doubt the international community will live with that.  Israel will have a relatively short term opportunity before their opposition in the international community gets their act together and starts passing UN resolutions.  My guess is Biden won't veto anything.

I don't see much of an option except for an invasion of Gaza by Israel.  It will last at least as long as it takes them to destroy the missile system infrastructure, and very probably long enough to remove most of the Hamas war making capabilities.

Maybe I'm wrong.  Israel might accept a high level of risk and accept a cease fire.  There is also the possibility that Hezbollah will get involved and start their own rocket barrages.  That would start a regional war.  There don't appear to be any good or safe options going forwards for the people in that region.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Psychology 101: No Fair Trial for Derek Chauvin

My degrees are in physics and electrical engineering, so this isn't really a psychology lesson or class.  But I did want to give my impressions of the psychological forces that prevented Derek Chauvin from getting a fair trial.

First, I want to start with my guess as to what probably happened from Derek Chauvin's point of view.  Obviously I could be wrong, but here goes anyway.  He arrives on scene to find a big African-American resisting arrest.  Along with the other three officers, they try to put him in a police car but he resists, successfully.  That's four small guys (Chauvin was the largest at 5'9" and 140 pounds) that cannot get one unarmed suspect (6'4" and 230 pounds) inside a police car.  He's complaining he cannot breathe, but is talking and resisting.  They call for an ambulance twice.  Training says to put him on the ground and incapacitate him.  They do so, until the ambulance arrives.  A harassing crowd yells epithets and slurs at the police the whole time.  Contrary to media reports, Chauvin put his weight on the upper shoulder blade of George Floyd, not his neck.  The police are worried about the crowd, and wait an unusually long time for a high-priority ambulance to arrive.  When it finally arrives, the medics move several blocks away from the threatening crowd before they try to resuscitate Floyd.  One of the police officers goes in the ambulance and performs CPR on Floyd.

From Chauvin's point of view, he restrained an actively resisting suspect, without causing external or internal bruising or physical damage (other than pavement burns to the side of Floyd's face).  He made sure an ambulance was coming ASAP.  He maintained site security and the suspect's restraints in the face of a threatening crowd.  He ordered one of the policeman to assist the medics in the ambulance.

When they finally get to a trial, he finds his one (union provided) attorney is working against 12-15 state-associated prosecutors.  He watches the jury being selected, all of whom say they are biased against him, but really plan to keep open minds during the trial.  He watches the city award, uncontested, $27 million to the Floyd family for wrongful death.  He watches media as another local white police officer shoots another black man with a gun (when she thought she was using a taser) and riots begin again.  And the jurors are traveling back and forth from their homes daily through or near that rioting.  The judge doesn't grant defense motions for a change of venue or sequestration.  His single defense attorney accepts the biased jurors.  He doesn't stop all of the crowd from testifying about how horrified they were (emotions, not facts) about Chauvin's actions.  He sees state witnesses piling on with analysis, both to use of force and medical outcomes, rather than just best evidence.  An unusual accumulative testimony that is bound to have a negative affect.  He watches his defense attorney unable to effectively cross-examine medical experts.  Then his defense attorney uses a substandard use-of-force expert.  His medical expert is good, but flies out before the judge allows the state to recall their primary medical witness for a rebuttal that Chauvin's lawyer is unable to address.  Then, on closing arguments, the state lies on rebuttal and calls the defense liars.  That's the last thing the jury hears.  No mistrial is called by the judge for prosecutorial misconduct.  The jury is out for just 10 hours (two half days), way too short for an evaluation of the evidence that took three weeks to present.  Then guilty on all counts.

Chauvin is looking at up to 40 years in prison for actions that he considers lawful, in accordance with then-existing training, and restrained (from a force perspective).  He did what he thought was right, and the police administration and everyone else has railroaded him.  By the way, the death certificate indicated severe coronary artery disease, a tumor, an enlarged heart, and three times the probable lethal dose of fentanyl.  Fentanyl apparently kills by suppressing the respiratory system (asphyxiation); Floyd died from asphyxiation.

My point here is that Chauvin is in a bad place, his life is likely over.  And from his view point, he did nothing wrong.  Maybe the general public is okay with this.  But police officers won't be.  Who wants to go through that type of experience?  Any conscientious police officer is going to seriously consider getting out of policing.  Anyone who can, will.

Now I want to turn to the reasons for the lack of a fair trial.  I believe there were three 'actors' that were intended to assure a fair trial according to normal US due process where the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Those would be the judge, the defense attorney(s), and the jury (a composite actor consisting of 12 individual jurors).

We all would like to believe that each actor has a conscience, believes in doing what's right (as opposed to what's wrong), and tries to complete his/her job to the best of their ability.  In case the judge misbehaves, there are appeals.  Defense attorney behavior, unless it is egregious, doesn't have any checks or balances.  You just have to hope the defendant is able to hire (or is awarded) a competent attorney.  The jury is supposedly checked by having twelve jurors with a diversity of experience and the requirement that either a guilty or not-guilty verdict be unanimous.  If they cannot come to a unanimous verdict, the judge will announce a mistrial.

But what if there is a mob outside the court house that has rioted and destroyed businesses and is just waiting to riot again with a not-guilty verdict?  And what of today's cancel-culture on steroids?  The jurors names will be eventually released, probably sooner than later.  The mob will come for them with a guilty verdict.  They will be driven from social media and potentially lose their jobs.  They and their families will be in danger.

Unfortunately, and this has not been emphasized in even the conservative media, the same risks apply to the judge, the defense attorney(s), and even any appellate judges that get involved in appeals.

That risk and pressure can explain the judge not changing the venue, not sequestering the jury, not stopping prosecutorial over-kill and not declaring a mistrial for prosecutorial misconduct.  He left it all for the appellate courts to address.  Nothing the crowd didn't want was going to be his fault.

The jury's behavior is a bit easier to understand.  The risks and pressure would fall most directly on their shoulders.  Many observers point out that 10 hours was not enough time to analyze and argue the evidence.  But it was enough to give a veneer to the fact of 'deliberation.'  They couldn't just ask for a show of hands for guilty and come back in 30 minutes.  Plus, there were probably at least one or two who were having trouble with their conscience, and needed a bit of prodding.  That probably could have been done indirectly by the others pointing out their names would come out quickly if they voted against guilty verdicts and caused a mistrial.

The last actor I want to address is the defense attorney.  He did not have the resources to properly fight a team of 12-15 prosecutors arguing a complicated fact scenario.  He especially didn't have the background to properly cross-examine medical experts.  I'm not sure why the union or Derek Chauvin himself did not hire additional defense support.  It may be with all the media attention, they could not find anyone willing to help or there just weren't funds available.  But the point I want to make is that the defense did a relatively poor job.  Like the judge, Nelson did just enough to potentially support an appeal.  I don't know enough about Nelson's experience or abilities, so it is possible he did the best job he could have with the resources he was given.  But like the others, he too had pressure to not get Derek Chauvin off, even if no one wants to point that out.

So I started with Derek Chauvin's point of view.  A good police officer that believed he was doing the right things to properly restrain and arrest a suspect.  An officer that is now facing up to 40 years in jail when he fully believes he's innocent.  Obviously, those are my assumptions.

But what about the three actors that were supposed to assure a fair trail?  They know the facts of the case.  Of course they cannot see into Chauvin's mind to see his actual intent and situational awareness at the time of the events (neither can I!).  But they know there was a reasonable set of facts indicating that Chauvin did not use excessive force, that his actions were consistent with his training and police policy, and that Floyd likely died from the drugs, his physical problems, and his decision to violently resist arrest.  The judge did little to control the trial and prosecutor misconduct.  The defense attorney did a substandard job for much of the trial (with some exceptions).  And the jury quickly gave into the mob.

What happened to their supposed conscience, belief in doing what's right, and doing their jobs to the best of their ability?  It really appears that their fear for their own safety, and maybe for their families and city, overrode all of those behavior patterns.

I know it's hard to second guess people when their safety is on the line.  Most of us don't want to do that when a case of lawful self-defense is brought to court.  So how could we condemn a judge, jury, and maybe a defense counsel for making such a decision?  The problem is that they very likely sent an innocent man to prison for up to 40 years.  They made a conscious decision to end a man's life in order to potentially save their own lives and careers.

This is not the way we want our justice system to work.  In fact, if this continues, the good police officers will quit and the system will eventually implode, along with our nation.

I want to wrap up with a little self-introspection.  Would I have voted differently if I had been on the jury?  Obviously, my analysis says that I should have voted not guilty, and there probably then would have been a mistrial.  I'm usually not very good at convincing others to change their opinions, so I would likely have been nearly alone on the jury.  But would I have caved to the pressure from the other jurors or even from my own risk assessment?

My last physical fights were in grade school.  During my employment, I had some senior jobs where I felt I had to take unpopular positions.  There were some political repercussions (within the organization) that made me unpopular with some folks.  But in those cases, I was not at physical risk and neither was my family.  The downstream impact did result in my retiring earlier than I normally would have.  In all those events, I did what I thought was right.

But in the Chauvin jury situation, my self-assessment would have been that me and my family were at risk if I voted not-guilty.  In planning to do so, I would have expected to have to quit my job (if I wasn't retired) and move to another state.  There've been times in my life where that wouldn't have been a problem, but other times when it would have been effectively impossible.

So I cannot say how I would have voted; though if I was retired like today, I would have held out for not-guilty.  But what surprised me a little was that none of the 12 jurors was in a position where they could, or were willing to, make the life changes necessary to vote not-guilty.  Of course, it's always possible that they all really believed Chauvin was guilty on all counts.

Unfortunately, this all makes me extremely concerned about the future prospects of life in our country.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Derek Chauvin Trial: Asphyxia or 98% Oxygen?

I've been following the Derek Chauvin trial where he's charged with murder for George Floyd on the Legal Insurrection web site.  My primary source is Andrew Branca's (the Law of Self Defense expert) blog wrap-up of each day's events. 

I'm particularly disturbed by the sudden recalling of the state's witness Dr. Tobin to rebut defense's Dr. Fowler on possible carbon monoxide effects on George Floyd.  Apparently he was about a foot away from the exhaust of the running police cruiser.  Dr. Fowler said Floyd could have had a 10-18% carbon monoxide displacement of oxygen in his hemoglobin.

Judge Cahill allowed the state to recall Dr. Tobin after the defense rested its case.  He pointed out that at the hospital, George Floyd's oxygen saturation level was 98% from a blood draw (not just a finger sensor).

What bothers me, is that all the experts claimed George Floyd died from asphyxiation.  Maybe my not being a doctor means I don't have a clue.  But I always thought asphyxiation meant you weren't getting enough oxygen (and the dictionary agrees).  98% is a great amount of oxygen.  Maybe dead people can have 98% oxygen in their blood, even when they were asphyxiated?  In my opinion, that is just BUNK.

If his oxygen level was that great at the hospital, how could any actions earlier at the arrest site have caused asphyxiation?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Why Many Conservatives Are Hesitant About COVID Vaccines

This is just my take on the topic.  But I really hate the media's implication that all Trump supporters are anti-vax or just opposed to the vaccine because of some Trump mania.  I am not surprised that polls find that up to 30% of Trump supporters don't want the vaccine and a similar number of evangelicals are also opposed.

While I am getting the shot myself, I think they have valid reasons for their positions.

First, there are all the reports of bad reactions and deaths following COVID-19 vaccination.  Sure, I did a back of the envelope statistical analysis that showed the number of deaths were not excessive considering the number of people vaccinated.  In fact, they were quite low assuming the percentage of people that would normally have died during the period when we've been vaccinating people.  But that does not make the stories any the less scary, and they certainly make you strongly consider what might happen if you get vaccinated.

Related to that is the ridiculous media and CDC reports that address those concerns.  They amount to "We, the CDC, have looked at the data on those deaths and adverse reactions and they are not related.  Trust us!"  As far as I can tell, not a single report details what they found and why they claim there is no relationship between vaccination and the reported deaths.  If anybody trusts the CDC or the WHO after the last year-plus of COVID recommendations, well I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell.  Still, my lack of trust in the CDC does not mean they are necessarily wrong, just that I cannot trust what they say.  Why would I expect others to trust them?

Then there are the many headline stories about the people getting COVID-19 after they are fully vaccinated.  Most of those seem to be Johnson & Johnson, but I won't rely on that here.  The reports of the trials indicated that Pfizer was 95% effective at preventing COVID, Moderna was 94%, and J&J was 66%.  Since then, Pfizer and Moderna seem to have dropped to about 90% effective.  That's a lot of percentages where they weren't effective at preventing COVID.  Sure, your chance of getting COVID goes way down, but you would expect some COVID cases with those numbers.  So why are individual cases getting headline news?  All it does is raise doubt about the effectiveness of the vaccines; especially when the news stories do not emphasize the efficacies that came out of the trials.

Then there are all the stories that show your chance of surviving COVID is 99.7% with almost all of the fatalities in people 70 or older with comorbidities.  Everyone by now knows a bunch of people that have tested positive, had some minor symptoms, and are now back to normal.  Then there are even more stories about how a COVID positive test may be a false negative because the tests use too many amplification cycles and reportedly find COVID where just a few dead viruses are present.  When you wonder about the safety of the vaccines from the stories, and the lack of effectiveness of preventing COVID, where do you see the advantages of taking the vaccine?

Then there is the fact sheet for (at least) the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.  It emphasizes that there is no FDA approved vaccine for COVID-19.  That the emergency use authorized vaccine may prevent you from getting COVID-19.  That there are a lot of possible side effects, including death.  And they include a link to a CDC app that lets you report side effects so you can help collect data on the 'not approved' vaccine.  You come away with the belief that you are a guinea pig in an experiment.

Also, the Trump supporters and evangelicals would mostly be found in red states where life either was not in lockdown or is now mostly reopened for normal functioning.  They don't have the lockdown 'stick' to drive them to feel the vaccine is necessary.

But, and I suspect this is the biggest driver, media and the Biden administration are going full blitz at how safe and necessary the vaccine is.  Conservatives have essentially watched the media lie to us 98% of the time for the last four years.  Until the election, Biden was warning how dangerous the short trial new vaccines were.  Most of use see how stupid and damaging most of Biden's actions have been since the election.  Are we now supposed to believe that the media is telling us the truth and the Biden administration is right on something?  I don't think so.  If I had to base my decision on what the media reports, I would simply not take the vaccine.

So what really surprises me is that only 30% of conservatives are opposed to vaccination.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Morals of Derek Chauvin's Prosecutors

Today's rant is about the morality of baseless prosecutions.  Some prosecutors are, I believe, just lower than dirt.  I don't have any problem with defense attorneys doing their best to keep scumbags out of prison.  Everybody deserves a good defense against the government bureaucracy.  But when a government prosecutor knows the defendant is not guilty, and still tries to put them in jail, that I just cannot stomach.

Here's the facts that I am aware of.  George Floyd was about 233 lbs and 6' 3".  Derek Chauvin was the largest of the police officers at 5' 9" and 140 lbs.  George Floyd resisted arrest.  He took an overdose of fentanyl and methamphetamines, reportedly to hide them from the police.  He bloodied his nose on the car's window while resisting arrest.  He complained about trouble breathing before he was put on the ground.  The police officers called an ambulance at least 9 minutes before it arrived.  The knee on the neck was approved police procedure to subdue unruly prisoners.  It was in the police manual and they received training on it.  Finally, the autopsy found no evidence of trauma to the neck and reportedly indicated that George Floyd died from an overdose of fentanyl and methamphetamines.

Unless any of the reports are wrong, or there is some evidence of which I am not aware (possible), there is no other conclusion but that George Floyd died from a drug overdose and not from Derek Chauvin putting his knee on his neck.

I am not sure why the judge did not grant a motion from the defense for summary judgment.  Maybe it's not allowed in Minnesota law for the charged crime.  More likely, the judge would have been afraid of mob justice.  After all, his identity is not kept secret.

Now I turn to the government prosecutors' team of 12 or so lawyers.  They clearly must know about the above facts, more intimately than I do.  But in their opening statements they either left out key parts or lied about some of the facts (like the knee being approved procedure).  So they too must know Derek Chauvin is innocent of the charges.  Yet they are trying to get 12 jurors to send him to jail for 20 years or more.

Who would do such a thing?  Why would someone do such a thing?  Let's consider the alternatives.

First, might the prosecutors have a different take on the evidence?  Since the autopsy indicated no trauma and death from a drug overdose, I cannot understand manslaughter or murder charges.  Doesn't matter what took place before death if that autopsy is correct.  That alternative is out.  Maybe they could claim delay in calling an ambulance, I don't have those facts.  But with five officers at the site and charged, I suspect they called the ambulance as soon as they heard the claims about having trouble breathing.  So this alternative is not realistic.

Secondly, maybe they are just trying to prevent a riot.  That I could understand.  Give him a fair trial and present the evidence.  Except that they don't need 12+ prosecutors for a fair trail.  And the jury selection definitely showed that they did not want anyone with an open mind.  Further, their opening statements were false and misleading.  Maybe preventing a riot is part of the rationale that lets them sleep at night.  But it apparently is not associated with giving the defendant a fair trial.

Third, maybe they were not given a choice by their bosses about whether to accept the prosecution or give it a pass.  That could very well be true for the government employees that are part of the prosecuting team (not the outside attorneys assisting).  I can definitely understand wanting to keep your job and wanting to get promoted.  But here is the crux of my blog.  How far would you go to keep a job and a chance of promotion?  Would you be willing to put an innocent man (or five) in jail for 20 years to life?  Would you respect someone that would?  I would not.

The last alternative would be that the prosecutors want to stir up racial enmity and justify BLM/Antifa actions and positions.  I do not understand such a position.  Hence, I cannot say whether this is the situation and explanation for the continued prosecution.  Continuing a prosecution of an innocent man for such a reason is just despicable.

Bottom line, I have no respect for the prosecuting team, and not much for the judge.  If I were a Minnesota police officer, I would be finding another line of work or move out of state.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Death Statistics and COVID-19 Vaccines

A week or so ago, my wife sent me a link to an article on COVID-19 vaccine deaths and side effects.  The article was mostly a light touch on statistics with a bit of anti-vaxxer opinion thrown in, but no analysis.  My wife is very leery of the vaccine, and to some extent I think she is right.  But the numbers don't really show that.  Let me explain.

At the time of the article, there were over 1,500 deaths reported following COVID vaccination.  According to the reports, there is no data on the causal relationship, and no statistical data was provided on time-frames after vaccination.  There were also indicators (though numbers weren't provided) of significant numbers of emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Further, the reports indicated 100 million vaccines had been given to people by that date.  And I'm assuming for this analysis that the time frame was December 21st to March 21st for both vaccinations and deaths.  Since most vaccines required two doses, one can assume somewhere between 50 million and 100 million people were vaccinated--out of a population of 330 million.  Let's say on the conservative side, 1 in 6 people had been vaccinated.

Reports on general deaths indicate that about 7,000 or more people die each day in the US (before the COVID pandemic).  So over the 90 day vaccination period, 630 thousand people in the US would have died from any variety of causes.  I would presume quite a number of those people either visited the emergency room or the hospital before their deaths.  Now assume 1 in 6 of those people had taken the vaccine (a purely random assumption).  You would have expected 105 thousand vaccinated people to have died.

The question I would have is how many of those theoretical 105,000 vaccinated people that died did so shortly after their vaccination and without other obvious causes of death?  I don't have a clue.  But a report that says 1,500 deaths after vaccination does not seem to me to be unexpected, worrisome, or even any indication that vaccination was the cause of death.  If anything, the number seems lower than I would expect.

On the other hand.  I do not trust government or our health agencies to tell us the truth.  They have strong motivation to brush bad press under the rug and try to get as many people vaccinated as possible.  If a small risk exists, I would not expect them to reveal the truth to us, but instead to rationalize the statement that "there is no indication of causal relationship between vaccinations and reported deaths."

Let me diverge from the statistical analysis to some thought on adverse reactions to vaccines.  One assumes most start with no immunity.  But they say exposure to other flu/coronavirus types can provide some level of immunity.  Let's see what my first line of thinking leads to (note:  I am not a doctor and have no experience with immunology); what follows is pure conjecture.  Either your body already has some immunity and quickly overcomes the invader (vaccine), thus no noticeable symptoms.  Or your body is ineffective and has to put up an extended fight; hence, you are going to get adverse reactions.  Or your body's immune system is good, but is fighting something new, so you are likely to get mild adverse reactions.  That would explain why I never get the flu, but always get the flu vaccine and have no noticeable reactions.

But what would explain worse reactions on a second (booster) shot of the COVID vaccine?  And there are lots of stories about worse adverse reactions.  At least enough so you can assume this circumstance happens more than occasionally.  One would assume the body's response to the vaccine would be more effective on the second shot.  And adverse reactions would be less severe than the response on the first shot.  Either my line of thinking is wrong (very possible), or something else is happening.

They say the messenger RNA (mRNA) Pfizer and Moderna vaccines program your body's response to the virus rather than just presenting a similar viral-like threat as in standard vaccines.  In this case, the vaccine will 1) create a first order invader response like a standard vaccine (however, to the mRNA vaccine itself rather than the virus), and 2) create a second order response by the body that enhances your normal immune response to an actual live virus.

The second order response seems to be the unknown in my line of logic.  It could explain the occasionally more severe reaction to the second vaccine dose.  Everybody is unique physically (our bodies are really complex), and so will be their reactions to newly introduced catalysts (in this case the mRNA vaccine).  If your body did not respond well to the catalyst the first time, it might fight harder the second time.  Thus, the more severe adverse reactions.  That would not necessarily indicate that the catalyst's intended response is not seen (immunity).  And vaccine tests indicate that even with adverse reactions, the immunity occurs.

Okay, that was a long side-bar.  But I wanted to get my own thinking in order.  Once again, the above was all conjecture.

What I really wanted to point out was that 1,500 deaths associated in some way (maybe only in time?) with vaccination is not an unexpected number due to the much larger number of 'normal' deaths expected in the vaccinated population in the US.  In fact, that relatively small number reassures me that the vaccine is relatively safe.

But, I would like to leave you with my reservations.  As I mentioned earlier, I don't trust the government (or most companies/organizations).  They have agendas they are working on; and this one is to get the country vaccinated and back to work.  Small 'losses' probably won't matter to them unless the media hypes the issue.  And the media in this case is pro-vaccination.

Secondly, the FDA has only given an emergency use authorization; the vaccines have not been approved for general use (ha!).  That is, they are still experimental.  The testing has been short term, and there has not been enough time for long term effects to have been observed.  Taking the vaccine is thus a risk.  But it is similar to a risk with any drug.  You could always be in the small percentage of users that have a bad reaction.

Third, there are stories out there that talk about unintended consequences of the mRNA vaccination on your immune system.  If I remember correctly, they claim to reduce immunity to certain other pathogens for a period of about 3 months.  I do not know the details, and had no means to evaluate the likelihood of the claims I've read about.  But those reports definitely add to the perceived risk of the vaccine.

Finally, I am not an anti-vaxxer.  I take the flu vaccine and will take any other vaccines my doctor recommends for me.  On the other hand, if I had a child with a degraded immune system or a significant medical condition, I would talk long and hard with my pediatrician or family doctor about whether the child should get certain vaccines.

I do plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as I can.  I know it's a risk, and a significant one; but I think it is worth taking for some peace of mind.

Masks and Airlines

Yesterday I read an article in Power Line by John Hinderaker titled Mask Theater In the Senate.  Most of it was about the spat between Rand Paul and Dr. Fauci in a Senate hearing, and I liked John Hinderaker's take.  But he ended by touching on John Kerry's maskless flight on American Airlines.  He states "I don’t join in those who condemn Kerry for hypocrisy. In my opinion, not wearing a mask on an airplane is perhaps the first sensible thing Kerry has done in his last four decades in public life."  Let me tell you why I felt John Hinderaker's take was just plain wrong.

First, I want to assure you my position on masks is middle of the road.  I wrote early on that Fauci was wrong when he said masks do not help.  On the other hand, I think politicians and much of the public took mask wearing too far.  Yesterday, I was hiking in a state park with the wind blowing about 20 miles per hour.  There has not been a mask mandate for outdoors in our state.  But a couple with their child came from the other direction, and put on their masks.  The closest we would come was about 4 feet for maybe 5 seconds.  We were on a jeep trail.  I thought that was ridiculous.

Let's also consider the recent CDC recommendations for schools where they reduced the distance rule from 6 feet to 3 feet (while wearing masks).  I've read that 3 feet and a mask reduces droplet exposure by 80%.  So the old 6 feet requirement would have reduced droplet exposure by 96%.  But there were no statistics on airborne pathogens (that are so small they do not drop to the ground like droplets).

Next, take the situation on an aircraft.  People are crammed in about 18" face to face on each side of a person.  If someone reclines their seat, they may only be 10" in front of you (or behind you).  If an aircraft is flying at 30,000 feet, the external atmosphere does not have enough oxygen to support life for more than a few minutes.  Yet on most flights (other than to a hub), you are at that altitude for 3 hours or more.  Obviously, the plane does not pull in external air in any quantities at that altitude.

Yet the airlines say they have increased circulation and fresh air on their planes to reduce the chance of COVID transmission.  Sure, they could easily have increased the number or power of fans.  And while on take-off or landing or at the terminal, they could increase the amount of fresh air they pull in.  But at flight altitude?  The only way to get more air would be to mix fresh with tanked oxygen.  My strong suspicion is that that is uneconomical due to storage tank size, weight and increased fuel costs.

So during most of a flight, maybe you get some air circulating, but it is most certainly not fresh, pathogen free air.

And I used to fly quite a bit.  Almost always, you heard one or more people on the flight hacking their lungs out.  Way too often, they were only a row or two away.  Every once in a while, I got sick after flights.  I almost never got sick the rest of the year.

In my opinion, planes are still probably one of the most dangerous places to pick up a pathogen.  Too many people, too close, and ineffective air circulation.  Masks can only help.  In fact, I wish they would require masks on planes even when there is not a COVID pandemic raging.

Finally, I can understand John Hinderaker's position on masks in general.  I don't like government mandates, and most places have reasonable spacing between people and decent air circulation.  Masks shouldn't be required.  Those few places where those conditions don't hold, people can opt out of visiting.  But traveling long distances without using numerous travel days requires airline flights.  For those situations, you don't have a viable alternative, and yet the conditions for pathogen transmission are horrendous.  John should have picked a different example.  Masks are good policy on airlines. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Texas Deep Freeze Feb 2021

While the recent cold weather storm was (and to some extent still is) a nightmare.  I had it relatively easy.  I only lost power for 37 hours.  Some folks in the neighborhood lost it for over 70 hours, and a week later, just got their water back on.  But I wanted to put down my story, and some of my thoughts.

First, I should let you know about my background.  I was in the military and for a few years was stationed in Rome, NY (mid to upper state near the Adirondacks).  I've gone out cross country skiing when it was -20° F -- though thinking back that wasn't very smart.  But it means I had and still have some cold weather gear.  But I now live in the hill country between San Antonio and Austin Texas.  It seldom drops to much below 30° F even in the winter.

I also love backpacking and have sleeping bags (only down to +20°) and both iso-propane canister and alcohol stoves.  And this last year we converted a van for travel/camping.  It has a diesel stove, diesel heat/hot water, and fairly large capacity lithium batteries.

In the 20 years or so we've been in Texas, I think we had one power outage over 2-3 hours, maybe 12 hours long.  We are on well water, so we have to have electricity for water.  I had plenty of bottles of water, and I even filled the van's fresh water tank half full.

We were told we might get rolling blackouts starting Sunday, and the temperature was expected to drop to 5 or 6° F both Sunday and Monday nights.  I don't remember it ever dropping below the high teens at our Texas home.  And it wasn't supposed to get above freezing till Tuesday, and barely then.  I was running a small ceramic heater in the van to keep the batteries warm, and it was doing an excellent job.  I was also using a small ceramic heater in our well house.

So I decided to sleep in the van Sunday and try to keep the batteries on during the outages.  Also, this was a chance to see how well the diesel heat worked in the van.   The diesel heat was doing well, and I had turned off the ceramic heater.  After I got bored with watching old movies, I went to bed early.  I awoke about 9:30 pm and noticed it was colder in the van.  I checked the heater vents, and the air was only room temperature coming out.  I shut off the diesel furnace and turned on the ceramic heater.  I went back to sleep until about 11:00 pm, when I awoke again, and decided to check the battery status.  They were down to 34%, when it should have been near 100%.  The ceramic heater was set for 1500 W output.  I then checked the inverter, and it showed no shore power (we were in a power outage).  So I shut down the batteries and came into the house.  I was later told the power went out about 8:00 or 8:30.  Because the van operates such that it switches to batteries when there is no shore power, I did not notice when it happened.

By the way, I think the diesel in the lines gelled and likely fouled the fuel filter on the diesel furnace.

The house started at 72° F and went down for the next 36 hours to about 48°.  Monday was sunny, though cold, and I think it helped reduce the heat loss during the day.  I typically wore long underwear, a light fleece top, and lightly insulated snow pants.  When I went outside to check the well house, I added a puffy and a raincoat (for wind).  By the way, we got a whopping 2-4" of snow!  Waterproof mittens, a cap, raincoat hood, and boots rounded out my attire.  I was toasty even outside at 6 degrees.  I slept using my 20° down quilt and long underwear, and was warm at night too.

For food, I used some instant oatmeal, freeze dried lasagna, and chili that I had prepared before the outage.  The alcohol stove seemed to work better than the canister stove at those temps.  I set up an aluminum bench in the garage, raised the garage door a couple of feet, and heated my water and chili in the garage (to avoid toxic fumes).

The biggest problem was disposal of human waste.  We have three bedrooms and four toilets in the house.  Worse, I got a mild case of the runs.  I think it was old, bad milk that didn't make it through the outage.  You could flush a toilet once, but not twice since there was no water to refill the tanks.  I was using lots of hand sanitizer.  It was not what I would call a sanitary situation.

On Tuesday morning, the toilet issue was becoming very urgent.  I decided to bring the composting toilet in the van into the house.  Shortly afterwards (I was hoping I would jinx the power back on), the power came back on.  I had turned off the power to the well-house pumps to avoid breaking any pipes or burning out the motor when the power came back on with frozen pipes.  So still no water.  The composting toilet was a godsend.  I cannot imagine how large families handled the situation.

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, when I tried running the pump (after the outside air had warmed above freezing), I got a lot of noise and no water pressure.  I never heard anything back from our usual plumber.  On Friday, the temps were rising, and suddenly I got water pressure.  It surged to 75 psi in about 5 minutes while I was outside doing some work.  I shut off the pump immediately as it was supposed to have a pressure switch set at 40-50 psi.  I also tried gently rocking the pressure bladder tank.  It appears completely waterlogged.  The only good news was that the pump still worked and we didn't have any broken water lines.

I finally got ahold of our plumber who said he does not work on well systems and that his plumbing supply house doesn't even carry those types of pressure switches.  The local well system company has not gotten back to me.

I've been turning the pump on manually till about 60 psi, then using water for a while, then checking the psi again.  I was able to run the dishwasher, and the clothes washer that way.   Hopefully, we will get some help with the well system in the near future.

Before leaving, I wanted to comment on some of the things I've read about in the news.  First, a word about our winter weather up till now.  I've been going hiking and leaving before dawn every few days.  Most days, the temperature has been below 30, and as low as 25 degrees.  I believe people set their thermostats to something they find comfortable and leave them there.  Most people in our area will have heat pumps.  In town, they probably have gas/propane furnaces.  While a lot of us in our area have wells, a lot of the newer subdivisions use city water (from Canyon Lake).

Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that nobody turns their thermostat up when the temperature drops.  Any additional power used by homes most likely comes from the furnace's duty cycle going up to compensate for the dropping temperatures.  This is totally predictable, and is NOT due to people's bad behavior in turning up their furnace or turning on more heaters.  Journalists or bloggers that say that people turned up their thermostats because of the cold are not being honest.

Further, to my knowledge, I was never asked to turn the thermostat down, until after the event.  And even that message turned out to be a hoax.  If the power system operators believed turning down thermostats would have helped, there should have been a widespread news request to do so.  Maybe I just didn't see it?  But their announcement of the possibility for rolling outages made it seem like it was just a possibility, and nothing to worry about.  Just a temporary inconvenience.

Next, the news reported that a storm in the winter of 2011 resulted in recommendations to weather proof the power grid in Texas (maybe that was the 12 hour outage I vaguely remember).  The reports indicate no weather-proofing was completed.  It is my belief that people are mad about what happened.  Lots of them live in urban settings with gas, power, and water supplied from utilities.  They have no options when services are disrupted, and their lives are put in danger.  Those who have some of their own systems, like our well water, are going to encounter extended outages and expenses--because power that we relied on disappeared for extended periods. 

Governor Abbot had better make sure this problem is fixed, and make the changes public, or he's going to be out on his bum at the next election. 

Personally, I do not like to rely on public utilities, so I've thought about changes.  I should have stored water in our two tubs before the cold arrived.  I should have charged my lithium battery backups for iPhone and iPad usage (I did have one charged).  I cannot do much about the van batteries if I cannot keep them warm (they automatically shut down somewhere between 20° and 30°).  I've ordered some diesel anti-gel and hope that that will keep the van's diesel furnace working.  And I need to keep more stove fuel on-hand.

Keep warm and safe!