November 04, 2021

Tuesday’s Elections Were Depolarizing

The results show how much Trump hurt Republicans in 2020.

There’s no question that Joe Biden got many more votes than Donald Trump in 2020. Many of the swing votes for Biden in 2020 from independents and moderate Republicans (like me) were actually anti-Trump votes much as many of the swing votes when Trump was elected the first time were anti-Hillary votes (again like mine). By November of 2020 Trump was already threatening to ignore election results he didn’t like; this alone showed him unfit for office.

In the November election Republicans other than Trump actually did well and Rs gained seats in the House. By the time of the Georgia runoffs, Trump’s megalomania and refusal to accept defeat cost Republicans control of the Senate. The reaction to progressive’s absurd call for defunding police, blatantly racist politics, and intolerance for free speech was dampened by the damage Trump did at the top of the ticket.

On Tuesday in local races nationwide the anti-progressive reaction continued. The surprising results were in blue and purple states. Virginia, which Biden carried by 10 points, elected not one but three Republicans at the top of the ticket – including its first Black female lt. governor and its first Latino attorney general. Deep blue Seattle, badly damaged by looting and beset by homeless problems, has a non-partisan mayoral election. The over-whelming winner is committed to rebuilding the police. Seattle also elected Anne Davison city attorney. She said that she believes the job of her office is to maintain laws so there is public safety. Her opponent, according to King 5 News, “is a self-described abolitionist who wanted to reimagine the City Attorney’s Office and how it prosecutes offenders.”. Prosecutors who promised to do their job of prosecuting crime were elected all over the country regardless of party affiliation.

In very Democratic New York State, there were ballot items which would have allowed same-day registration and no-fault absentee voting; both were defeated by 3-2 margins. Apparently the democratic voters in that state do not agree with the progressive orthodoxy that every safeguard in elections, even ones which have been around forever, are a Republican plot.

Eric Adams, the new mayor of New York, is a Black Democrat. He’s also a pragmatic ex-cop who’s pushed back against the racially polarizing policies of the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, and is committed to effective policing.

These were all state and local races and I think they were decided on state and local issues. Even if there were not an impasse between moderate and progressive Democrats which has stalled passage of the Biden agenda, I think the result would have been the same. Similarly, since these were local races, the all-to-present ghost of Donald Trump was not as damaging to Republicans as it was in 2020 and will be again in 2022 if they continue to allow themselves to be drawn into his web of reckless deceit. On the other hand, almost half the country voted for him in the last election so it’s not easy to disavow him and still win elections. That’s the Republican dilemma.

If Democrats want to remain a power locally and nationally, they have a similar dilemma. Their albatross is the progressives and their racist and inane policies. Many Americans, especially young Americans “educated” to forget the failures of socialism and to over-emphasize the injustices in American history, believe in the progressive agenda as sincerely as die-hard Trumpers believe that the 2020 election was stolen. The Democrat’s dilemma is how to win elections without playing to this constituency.

The future of the country may depend on how well the parties can tack back to a reasonable center. I think the party which escapes its radical wing first wins the next election. At least I hope so.

October 28, 2021

Draft Report Says We’re Well Along the Way to Our 2050 Net Zero Goal

Vermont Carbon Budget Numbers Won’t Please the Green-Industrial Complex.

The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA), which was passed by the Legislature in the last session over Gov. Scott’s veto, contains a requirement that the Vermont Climate Council create a Carbon Inventory for Vermont. A draft of that inventory called Carbon Budget from a subcommittee of the Council is now available. If the full Council pays as much attention to its own carbon budget as it should, it will realize that there is a doable path to carbon neutrality which has the twin benefits of being achievable and NOT bankrupting Vermont.

Here are three headline numbers from the carbon budget:

  1. In 2020 it is estimated that burning of fossil fuel for energy will add 8.6 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere (MMT CO2-e).
  2. In 2018 (the last year we have information for), Vermont forests REMOVED 5.2 MMT CO2-e from the atmosphere. (I and others have argued that this number should be much higher but the number in the budget is estimated according to standards and methodologies which are generally accepted nationally and blessed by the UN so let’s go with it). The photosynthesis which uses sunlight to turn atmospheric CO2 into carbon which is stored in the ground, in the trunk and branches of our treesand oxygen which goes back into the air is a form of carbon sequestration.
  3. With other puts-and-takes, the budget estimates that current annual NET emissions – the net amount of CO2-e Vermont adds to the atmosphere – is currently “only” 5.65 MMT CO2-e.

5.65 MMT of reduction is a much easier goal to hit than 8.6. Simply increasing the amount of forested land by converting uneconomic dairy farms to trees and better management of the 75% of Vermont which is already forested would take us within spitting distance even given the conservative carbon accounting in the budget.

But what is our goal?

Section 592 of GWSA says:


The Plan shall include specific initiatives, programs, and strategies that will:
(1) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation, building, regulated utility, industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors;
(2) encourage smart growth and related strategies;
(3) achieve long-term sequestration and storage of carbon and promote best management practices to achieve climate mitigation, adaption, and resilience on natural working lands;
(4) achieve net [emphasis mine] zero emissions by 2050 across all sectors…

That seems to be pretty clear and has an appropriate emphasis on how we actually affect the atmosphere. However, Section 578 says:

Vermont shall reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from within the geographical boundaries of the State and those emissions outside the boundaries of the State that are caused by the use of energy in Vermont …  by:
(1) not less than 26 percent from 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2025…
(2) not less than 40 percent from 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2030 pursuant to the State’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan; and
(3) not less than 80 percent from 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by January 1, 2050 pursuant to the State’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan.

Note that there is nothing in Section 578 which talks about “net” reductions. This section isn’t about effect on the atmosphere; it is about justifying huge expenditures for incentives for electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar panels, and wind turbines! If we squander money on the short-term unachievable goals of Section 578, we won’t be able to reach the long-term goals of Section 529 which are the only ones that matter if you’re concerned about the effect on climate of atmospheric CO2.

So what’s going to happen?

The Climate Council will probably make recommendations to the legislature which almost exclusively rely on elimination of fossil fuels to achieve the short-term goals as section 578 seems to require. They will largely ignore the carbon already being sequestered by Vermont forests and the potential for much more of the same.

This year the State will have enormous amounts of federal funds available for “climate change”. Instead of using those funds to make lasting change, they will be frittered away on subsidies for things like electric cars (going to happen anyway and make less difference than you would think) and cold weather heat pumps (haven’t proven effective). The funds that are doled out to favored industries won’t be available for actual long term effective reduction of emissions. Eventually the federal funds will run out and the incentive programs will either die or, worse, be replaced by mandates.

What should happen?

The Climate Council mandate allows it to suggest changes in legislation. It should suggest that the language in Section 578 be dropped since it unwisely constrains the solutions available to us and is not about actual environmental effect. It should insist that mitigation strategies and expenditures be weighed by the net amount of atmospheric CO2-e reduced per dollar spent. The Carbon Budget makes it clear we can get from here to there, that we can become carbon neutral without bankrupting the state.

See also:

Trees Are the Right End of the Stick for CO2 Reduction in Vermont

The Science Behind the Trillion Tree Campaign

Vermont Is Already Carbon Neutral

October 22, 2021

CDC Authorizes Boosters for Those Who Got Moderna or J&J Initial Shots

How many people have died because these approvals were caught in bureaucracy for at least a month?

Yes, people who have declined vaccination are a risk to others. Yes, there should be requirements for vaccination. Yes, vaccination saves lives – not only of those who get the jab but of the people they don’t spread the virus to.

So why the hell haven’t I been able to get my Moderna booster in the month since Pfizer boosters were approved? Why can’t I sign up for it now (I tried!), Why aren’t children over the age of five getting their shots? The President says vaccines save lives; he’s right. But inaction in the government he runs is killing people willing to be vaccinated by denying them the shots they need. Yes. Killing people. Vaccinations save lives; not getting fully vaccinated – whether by choice or because the government still forbids it, kills people. It’s really that simple.

Ever since the third dose of Pfizer was authorized for vulnerable populations, it’s been clear that Moderna and J&J boosters were going to be authorized “soon”.  I’m vulnerable by age so will probably get my Moderna booster soon. But why have I had to wait? Not for new data. The data is in; the effectiveness of the original shots fade with time like many vaccinations. Israel and other countries have been giving 3rd shots for a while so we know that they do save lives and do not seem to have short-term negative effects. We’re not waiting for data; we’re waiting for bureaucracy. First the FDA staff recommends (no one really cares what they recommend); then the FDA consultants recommend (they were unanimous on Moderna and J&J boosters); then the FDA chief weighs in; then – all of that being done – the CDC has to go through their bureaucratic process. Today a CDC advisory panel recommended the booster and tonight the CDC director signed off (can’t complain about the time between those two steps).

The states have been planning for approval; good for them. But they couldn’t finish their planning without knowing what twists would be in CDC “recommendations”. Hopefully we’ll be able to sign up for shots tomorrow. I’ll be up early and trying. Meanwhile people have been dying and infecting others while they wait. If you don’t believe that, you don’t believe vaccines save lives.

Dr. Fauci said a couple of weeks ago that it’s now clear that people who got the J&J shot should really have gotten a booster after two months. Good for him being honest; there’s no shame in the fact that we’re learning as we go along. But, if we now know that they were under-vaccinated to begin with; how can it be possible that we still haven’t gotten around to authorizing their boosters? This is an emergency.

Similarly. It’s understandable that we didn’t initially rush to approve vaccines for children. They weren’t hard hit by the first wave of the pandemic, and they are not the same as adults. More studies were needed. Those studies have been done for a while now. It was predictable that the virus would mutate to attack vulnerable populations passed over the first time and uninoculated. It was predictable that children in school – and they do have to be in school – would be potent vectors for a third wave of infection.  We all know that kids are going to be authorized in November. The data is in. What the hell are we waiting for; why are we going to let the virus have another Halloween surge?

This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s an issue of competence and resolve. If you believe that some of the unwilling should be required to be vaccinated in order to go to work, school, or use public transport, how can you not be outraged that the willing were not allowed to have the booster shots whose effectiveness has already been proven? We should have been demonstrating in the streets if we weren’t too afraid of COVID to go out in crowds. We should not be patient with bipartisan federal incompetence – death resulting.

Update: By 615 this morning (morning after evening approval by the CDC) CVS had updated their website to enable those who'd had Moderna and J&J to make appointments and I was able to get an appointment for today. State of Vermont taking appointments as of 8AM. That is good fast work.

See also: Walk the Vaccination Walk!

October 18, 2021

We Should’ve Said “Requirement” Rather Than “Mandate”

Words matter.

I’m very pro Covid-19 vaccinations as a way to turn that virus from the root of a pandemic to just one more background pathogen like its many flu-causing cousins. I do think that students, teachers, health care workers, people coming into the country, people on trains, planes, busses, and many others should be vaccinated.

I’ve been saying “vaccines should be mandated.” That phrase, I’m afraid, helps cause resistance to vaccination. What I should have been saying is that vaccines should be required in many cases.

What’s the difference? A mandate would be “all adults need to be vaccinated”. That’s different than a requirement that all medical workers must be vaccinated. We live with requirements all the time. All doctors need to meet educational and experience requirements. Nurses have different requirements. Drivers of hazardous vehicles are required to take drug tests (and, by implication, are required NOT to take certain drugs). Other vaccines are required for students in many states.  We don’t call these requirements “mandates”.

“All adults must be vaccinated” is a mandate you can’t escape unless you are Peter Pan. A requirement that you must be vaccinated to be a health care worker can be met by deciding not to become a health care worker. The requirement for vaccination to go to public school can be and is avoided by home schooling or private school. If your religion says that you can’t be vaccinated and vaccination is a requirement for riding on public transport, you are free to practice your religion by not riding public transport.

Mandates mean you have no choice. Requirements mean you have a choice, but your choice has consequences which are yours to bear. If you choose not to take periodic flight physicals, you choose not to be a pilot. But it is your choice.

It’s probably too late to put the “mandate” genie back in the bottle. Nevertheless, “mandate”  was the wrong word to use, and I believe the word “mandate” has stiffened some people’s resistance to vaccination. While I wait for my third shot, I’m going to practice saying “requirement”.

September 29, 2021

Now Available – Worldwide and Local Current Starlink Performance

Another volunteer project to help those using and evaluating Starlink.

StoweVT

The blue dot circled above is our dish in the center of Vermont. Volunteers run software which collects statistics every 15 minutes and uploads them to update the tables and the map at https://starlinkstatus.space. You can see below that we have been averaging download speeds of 143Mbps, upload around 12Mbps, and ping times of 43ms. Below that you can see our most recent updates including the percentage of time our dish was obstructed (0% happily).

Statuspage

There are also tables with country and region-wide averages. Of course, there’s also a smart phone app to see all this. None of this is affiliated with Starlink or SpaceX (although I hope they pay attention to it); it was developed by frequent software contributors Tysonpower and Mike Puchai.

There are at least three uses for Starlink Statuspage:

  1. For those who are broadband-deprived, helps evaluate Starlink as a solution.
  2. For those with Starlink, shows whether they are getting the performance they should expect.
  3. For planners, shows the geographic spread of broadband access provided by Starlink.

Starlink Statuspage won’t reach its full potential until there are many more users willing to run the client and share their own status. Here’s where you are needed if you have a Starlink dish. At the moment, however, you have to be something of a nerd to run the client. The original client software, which is available free on Github, only runs on Linux or on Linux subsytems on Windows or Macs (see Note to Nerds below).

If you are not a nerd but do want to share data in the interest of better connectivity, you probably will have to wait until there is a Windows and/or Mac native client available. I may try to put something together for Windows if there’s enough interest. If you would be willing to run a client in the background of your Windows or Mac machine to help populate this map and are not Linux-proficient, please fill out this form.

Update: I've out together a more-or-less self-installing native Windows client for Windows 10 or better. It has not been tested on many machines yet; but,  If you'd like to contribute data and run Windows normal;y it, you can get instructions here. It's free, also, of course.

Note to nerds

Following the instructions on Github, it’s easy for any nerd to install this on a Linux machine. The instructions are for a newly-installed Raspberry PI 3B+. I don’t have a Linux machine (yet) but followed the instructions and was able to install in the Windows Linux Subsystem (WLS) using Ubuntu.

There is one caution, however: the script uses the Ookla Speedtest CLI. The current Windows version of the CLI crashes when it’s run in WLS Version 1. This is a known problem which Ookla says they will fix. I have verified that Linux version of the CLI does work in WLS Version 2.

However, before I upgraded my WLS to Version 2 (which is a pain), I developed a work around using the Windows CLI invoked from the Ubuntu shell script. If you’d like the work around, please use the comment field in this form to request it and I’ll send it to you. If there’s sufficient interest I’ll post on Github and/or give to the Starlink Statuspage developers to post.The alpha self-installing Windows client I have developed is largely scripts for Windows Powershell. Powershell comes with Windows 10 and you don't have to know anything about it to do the install and run the client,

See also:

How to Find Out Free If Starlink Will Work at Your House

Another Free Way to Tell if Starlink Broadband Will Work at Your Location

Starlink Archives

September 28, 2021

The Last Election Wasn’t Stolen

We need to make sure the next one isn’t either.

It was necessary and appropriate to quickly open up drop off and remote voting during the pandemic conditions of the last presidential election. Despite some legitimate fears and some very illegitimate claims, the more open elections did not lead to significant fraud. There’s been enough investigation after the fact to make any reasonable person confident that Biden won and Trump lost because that’s the way the voters wanted it to be.

Unfortunately the good results from last time do not guarantee that we will have a fair election next time unless we take precautions now. Do you trust the other side not to cheat? Do you trust hackers of all kinds to stay away? Last time no one knew there would be such widespread open voting until almost the last minute. This time those who want to steal elections have plenty of time to prepare to cheat.

The country will be deeply damaged if there is enough evidence of fraud that the result of the coming presidential election is legitimately in doubt.

Mail-in ballots invite cheating unless we take steps to make them safe. Third party ballot collection is a disaster waiting to happen. Back in 2018, a South Carolina Republican primary had to be rerun because of a criminal operation involving collection ballots and forgery. There is very little protection against this being repeated many times over in states which allow third party ballot collection including Vermont.

Secret ballots were invented to prevent ballot-buying as much as to protect voter privacy. If the ballot is secret, how does someone who wants to buy a vote know that they actually got the vote that they paid for? This was a problem for Tammany Hall in New York City during the bad old days and they came up with a pretty ingenious solution; all it required was a few blank ballots to start with. Each person who was hired to vote would get a filled in ballot which they would smuggle into the voting booth; they didn’t get paid until they returned with the blank ballot they had been given by the election officials but didn’t deposit in the ballot box. That ballot would then get filled in and used by the next bought voter. Voting machines were supposed to end that scam but have problems of their own. We now use outsized cardboard ballots partly to avoid ballot smuggling.

If there is no effective verification of mailed in ballots, they can be used to make sure bought voters stay bought. The problem is worse if ballots are mailed to people who don’t request them because there will be blank ballots floating around. We know we have a large population of drug users whose addiction drives them to do almost anything to obtain the money to buy drugs (Tammany Hall counted on alcoholics to be part of its election stealing). If a crooked ballot collector can simply pay drug users for their blank ballots or even pay them to fill them in as told, that is certain to happen.  I’m not advocating disenfranchising those with a drug problem; but a requirement that votes be signed in a way that can be authenticated and delivered in person (preferably) would help prevent massive fraud. In the interest of safety, mail in ballots should have to be requested and individually mailed.

Verification requires something to verify against. Even if same day registration is allowed at polling places, prior registration must be required for mail in ballots. Signature verification is tricky although it can be automated to some extent, Passwords (and a mechanism for rediscovering forgotten passwords) would be familiar to most Americans by now,

I’d advocate online voting with authentication but think that’ll take too much time to develop in a hacker-proof way. And then might not be hacker-proof after all.

It’s racist nonsense to imagine that minority voters are less capable than anyone else of complying with some simple verification requirements. Also it’s racist to assume minority voters “belong” to one party or the other. It is necessary, however, that traditional polling places be equally accessible in all neighborhoods.

Trumpists and anti-Trumpists are both gearing up to declare the next election fraudulent unless they win. More frightening than that, they will absolutely believe their own accusations of fraud. Denial of results didn’t start with Trump even though he uniquely tried to turn denial into criminal insurrection. Stacey Abrams still hasn’t conceded that she lost the Georgia gubernatorial race; many people still believe that Trump only won the first time with Russian help; and, of course, you remember the hanging chad.

Extremists are not going to believe the next election is fair unless their side wins. Many Americans are going to be very unhappy with the next election no matter how it turns out. It is essential to national unity that the results not be clouded by actual evidence of fraud.

September 22, 2021

Does Bernie Sanders Oppose Vaccine Mandates?

He sounds like he may agree with Tucker Carlson.

At a meeting Monday Senator Sanders said he had a message for men: “I want you all to be thinking about how you would feel if the government, state government, federal government, told you what you have to do with your own body. You would say this is outrageous, this is unacceptable, this is a denial of my basic rights and it is.”

This is exactly the language opponents of mandatory vaccination use to justify their resistance to mandates: you’re trying to tell me what to do with my body.

Now, of course, I’m quoting Sanders out of context. He was at a roundtable with abortion rights advocates and was trying to make the point that abortion is not just a women’s issue but actually a human rights issue. (You can read the full context in VT Digger here or watch Sanders remarks on WCAX). I haven’t heard his position on vaccine mandates

It is possible both to be for legal access to abortion (in most cases) and to support vaccine mandates (in most cases); I am. However, if government can’t tell people what to do with their bodies, it can’t tell them they have to be vaccinated. Not even a US Senator gets to have it both ways.

I asked friends in the Vermont press why no reporter seems to have asked Sanders whether he supports vaccine mandates given his “hand off my body” position. “Sanders hasn’t answered question from the Vermont Press for years,” they told me. So I asked him using the correspondence form on his website; I’ll let you know if I hear back and what I hear back. If you’re curious, you may want to ask as well.

Tucker Carlson also appeals to men in his anti-mandatory-vaccine screed. He says that requiring the military to be vaccinated is a ploy to “identify the sincere Christians in the ranks, the free thinkers, the men with high testosterone levels, and anybody else who doesn't love Joe Biden and make them leave immediately.” I don’t think Bernie would agree that Biden’s vaccine mandate is a plot to take over the military. But Bernie does seem to agree that the government has no right to tell people what to with their bodies; that is what he said.

The extreme political left and right may actually be closer to each other than they are to us reasonable people in the middle.

See also: Most Workers Should be Required to Get Vaccinations

September 21, 2021

Fear Elected Trump and Biden

And saved California Governor Newsom from recall.

We vote our fears more than our dreams. The margin to elect Donald Trump in 2016 came from voters afraid of immigration, immigrants, and crime.

Biden’s election would have been resounding if it were not for the fears raised in both Black and White voters by calls for banning the police and leaving people exposed to crime. The relative trouncing of the Democrats in House elections owes a lot to fear of mayhem. On the other hand, fear of what Trump might do after his dangerous and disgraceful refusal to accept the election results cost Republicans the two runoff elections in Georgia which determined control of the Senate.

Newsom probably would have avoided recall in heavily Democratic California; but polls at first showed the race surprisingly close, possibly because of the blatant hypocrisy of his unmasked dinner with lobbyists in an expensive restaurant after he’d banned such gatherings for others.  Polls show voters in California alarmed by rising crime rates and homeless sprawl. IMO the race turned quickly when Larry Elder, the Republican who likely would have replaced Newsom, said his first action in office would be to repeal Newsom’s mask and vaccine mandates. People are really afraid of the virus! There was also partisan flood of money into the state, much of attracted by Newsom’s wise decision to run against Trump rather than Elder.

I‘m for vaccination mandates; I don’t think we’ve gone far enough yet. But it is frightening how quickly we are willing to give up civil liberties, especially other people’s civil liberties, when we are afraid. Unless something new shows up to frighten us, the two parties will present these frightening views of each other in 2022 mid-term elections:

Democrats are in favor of eliminating police protection and coddling criminals, illegal immigrants, and rioters of the left-wing variety.

Republicans are in favor of letting people die of COVID, insurrection, and protecting rioters of the right-wing variety.

It won’t be pretty. Especially since neither description is entirely inaccurate.

See also:

Fear Leads to Fascism

9/11, COVID-19, and Civil Liberties

September 16, 2021

9/11, COVID-19, and Civil Liberties

Twenty years ago Congress quickly enacted the Patriot Act which abridged some civil liberties to confront a clear and present danger whose extent we did not know. In the last two years many civil liberties have been curtailed because of the actuality of a pandemic and the impossibility of predicting its course.

9/11

Twenty years after 9/11 many question whether the Patriot Act and other reactions were worth the cost in loss of civil liberties and in the abuses of the surveillance powers granted by the act. The questions are worth asking even though the simple answers on either side are garbage.

A democratic society must be able to react to threats or it is a sitting duck. I think it was right to waterboard Sheik Mohammad to find out what might be coming next (the waterboarding was not specifically authorized by the Patriot Act but it was allowed by the government). I think it was right to authorize new surveillance of communication with FISA Court approval. There has not been another major attack by foreign terrorists on US soil (fingers crossed) since 9/11.

On the other hand our focus on foreign terrorists led us to underestimate domestic threats from both the right and the left. We saw our capital under siege and then invaded. Portland, OR is still the scene of almost daily violence between the right and the left. Kenosha is still not rebuilt after riots decimated its downtown. The FISA Court was misled and misused to spy on the Trump Campaign in 2016; that’s wrong no matter what you think of Trump. We live in a surveillance society – but that’s more because we choose to use Google, Facebook, Amazon etc. than because of the surveillance powers granted to government.

The Patriot Act had sunset provisions starting in 2005. Smaller and smaller subsets of it were reauthorized legislatively under both Bush and Obama until 2020 when the last provisions expired so it is no longer a threat to any civil liberties.

COVID-19

Starting in March of 2000 both the executive branch of the federal government and many state governors took emergency action because of the pandemic. It seemed inconceivable at the time that we could be ordered to stay at home, businesses could be ordered to close, interstate travel essentially banned, and landlords forbidden to evict tenants for non-payment of rent. Who knew there was so much executive power? But most of us accepted most of the restrictions since we had good reason to fear the pandemic simply overwhelming our medical facilities. With hindsight some actions were probably excessive – closing schools, for example – but we didn’t know, and still don’t know, how much worse the pandemic might have been just as we don’t know how many terror attacks would have happened without the Patriot Act and hard interrogation.

Even with hindsight I think much emergency executive action WAS necessary. However, prolonging the states of emergency which allowed for these unilateral actions by the executive branch was NOT necessary and puts civil liberties at great danger now. When the Vermont Attorney General was asked when the state of emergency would be over, he said something like “when the governor declares it over.”

Fortunately for Vermont, Governor Scott did end the state of emergency although many other governors haven’t. In the wake of the Delta Variant, Scott has been criticized by legislators and other for not reimposing a state of emergency which would, among other things, order rather than advice school districts to adopt mask mandates on their own.

Where the Hell are congress and the state legislatures?

The governors had to act quickly and unilaterally last spring. It’s been a year and a half since the pandemic was recognized but very few state legislatures have acted either to impose their own mandates or to give the governor the explicit authority to do so or set rules for their own review of emergency decrees. The Vermont legislature could have voted for a mask mandate – hopefully with a sunset. They didn’t; more convenient to let the governor take the heat one way or the other. Cases are rising alarmingly again in Vermont. What is the legislature doing this time? Criticizing the governor for not declaring another emergency, apparently without realizing the harm to both health and democracy they do by not acting.

Biden was right to require vaccinations for federal workers and federal contractors. Similarly requiring care facilities which are paid by Medicare or Medicaid to require their employees to be vaccinated is good public health and passes constitutional muster. The federal government requiring employers of over 100 people to require vaccination serves a good purpose but is constitutionally shaky. State legislature, who have authority over workplace safety could legislate a similar requirement, but they haven’t. The federal government could require passengers in interstate commerce to be vaccinated just as it required them to be masked. But it hasn’t.

The FDA claimed the authority in a health emergency to suspend many evictions. The Supreme Court ruled that was overreach. Congress probably has this authority; but it didn’t act. Instead President Biden reimposed the expired FDA rule despite what even he acknowledged was its inability to withstand a constitutional challenge (it didn’t). Biden looked sincere when he took the oath to defend the constitution ;but, gosh, it’s an emergency.

Every interest group in the country is claiming that their cause is a “health emergency” meaning that the democratic process can be ignored if it stands in the way of their goals. Can’t pass gun control? Just declare an emergency and impose it by executive order. If racial injustice is a “health emergency”, then anything done in the name of racial justice can bypass the legislative process. What about climate?

The Patriot Act was passed by Congress and included sunset provisions. The states of emergency are largely both unlegislated and unlimited.

Democracies die in a state of emergency!

See also:

It’ll Be a Great Day When 100% of Covid Cases Are in Vaccinated People

Most Workers Should be Required to Get Vaccinations

Walk the Vaccination Walk!

September 09, 2021

There Was No Significant Change in the Number or Intensity of Hurricanes Hitting the Continental US Between 1900 and 2017!

This is The Science – or at least The Facts.

Full-bams-d-17-0184.1-f2

The two charts above are from an article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The article itself contains complete sources for the data as well as methodology. You can check yourself but the data is solid and the methodology straightforward.

Let’s look at what we’ve been hearing in the news which makes the actual record so surprising:

The latest UN IPCC says that the storms are evidence that the danger from man-made warming is increasing.

This is NOT what the latest UN report says! It is how many politicians and media people choose to interpret the report. The latest report somewhat reduces the high end of its estimate for global warming in the near future. Specifically on the subject of tropical storms its says: “There is low confidence in long-term (multi-decadal to centennial) trends in the frequency of all-category tropical cyclones. Event attribution studies and physical understanding indicate that human-induced climate change increases heavy precipitation associated with tropical cyclones (high confidence) but data limitations inhibit clear detection of past trends on the global scale.” (Section A.3.4 in the Summary for Policy Makers). In other words, we think global warming should cause more tropical storms but we can’t find evidence of that actually happening.

The number of named hurricanes in 2020 set a record.

We only name the storms we can see. These days thanks to satellites we see them all. Prior to that we missed many of the storms which stayed at sea. That’s why the American Meteorological Society article only counts storms which make landfall. We do have an accurate record of them. Number of named hurricanes is not a useful statistic on which to base public policy.

In most people’s lifetime, there has been an increase in the number of storms hitting the US.

That’s actually true but misleading. Most people haven’t lived as long as I have. If you look at the charts above, there was a very unusual lull in the number and intensity of storms hitting the US between 1960 and 1984. Since then, hits have gone up almost to the level I remember as a kid in the 50s when hurricanes Carol and Diane floated my boat in the street and flooded my basement in New Rochelle, NY.

Monetary damage from coastal storms is way up over the last 120 years.

That’s absolutely true. Again to quote the article from the AMS: “Growth in coastal population and regional wealth are the overwhelming drivers of observed increases in hurricane-related damage. As the population and wealth of the United States has increased in coastal locations, it has invariably led to the growth in exposure and vulnerability of coastal property along the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts.”

Central Park had its rainiest hour ever during Ida.

True enough if you interpret ever to mean since 1869 when record keeping began. This is a big country and it is likely that local records which are at most a couple of hundred years old will continue to be set, especially if you look for extreme hours. It’s always useful to ask how old the previous record was to give context. According to the Washington Post, the total for the day of Ida in Central Park was “only” the 5th highest ever. According to the National Weather Service, the wettest 24 hours in New York history happened in 1903.

Ida tied as the 5th strongest storm to make landfall in the US, again according to the Washington Post.  It shared honors with Laura in 2020 (oh oh) and Last Island Hurricane in 1856. The strongest Atlantic storm we have record of is the Great Hurricane of 1780, which killed more than 20,000 people and incidentally helped the American States win the Revolutionary War with the damage it did to the British fleet.

President Biden Says that Ida is irrefutable proof of man-made climate change.

President Biden is trying to sell an infrastructure plan which is long on questionable green initiatives and short on the kind of infrastructure improvements which actually protected New Orleans from Katrina-like damage during Ida. If Trump had said that, we’d call it a lie; let’s just assume that Biden’s speech writers didn’t read the facts on hurricane trends.

And in conclusion….

Why does it all this matter so much? The fact that hurricanes hitting the continental US haven’t increased in number or intensity over the last 120 years doesn’t prove that man-made warming isn’t happening. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. The hurricane record to date does cast some doubt on the accuracy of the models which predicted their increase. But what’s really important is that misdiagnosis and specious attributions even in a good cause lead to bad policy decisions. We can all start driving only electric cars immediately and hurricanes will keep happening. Extreme weather is not going to go away and climate is not going to stop changing even though we may be able to influence its trajectory.

We need good information to make good decisions. That’s not what we’re getting from either politicians or the press in general.

See also: What We Learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Ida

September 08, 2021

What We Learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Ida

It may not be what you think.

Lesson #1: Lessons from Katrina saved New Orleans from Ida

Ida and Katrina were very similar in the way they hit New Orleans on August 29th 16 years apart. Ida actually had much stronger winds when it made landfall and dropped more rain in many places. Katrina killed 1200 people in the New Orleans area; there were only a handful of fatalities in New Orleans from Ida. Even without a full accounting it, appears that physical damage from Ida was much, much less than that from Katrina.

The difference was a $14.5 billion rebuild of the New Orleans levees and pumps which failed so catastrophically during the earlier storm. This is a wonderful example of a government program gone right. The army corps of engineers learned what went wrong during Katrina and rebuilt in a way which assured that this particular catastrophe wasn’t repeated.

There was, of course, flooding damage in the Northeast which received the usual intense media coverage of catastrophes in and around where the media lives and works even though this damage wasn’t near the scale of the damage inflicted by Katrina 16 years ago and 1200 miles away. We do need to learn from this damage where infrastructure needs to be stronger and what makes some basement apartments unsafe. We do need to spend money on infrastructure; we’re not going to be able to cancel storms.

Lesson #2: Our electricity infrastructure is not dependable in an emergency

 The lingering damage from Ida – and it is significant – is largely an electrical grid which failed quickly and is only being restored slowly. In anticipation of an electrical failure, the pumps which kept the city from flooding ran on standby diesel and natural gas fired generators; they could not have been run from wind turbines and solar panels. Most hospitals this time have standby generators running on fossil fuel. A Tesla would not have been a very good escape vehicle from the storm.

This disaster as well as the electrical-spark ignited fires in California and the critical electrical failures in Texas during last winter’s cold snap are all signs of a grid which 1) needs to be rebuilt with a more resilient decentralized architecture and 2) is not nearly ready to support a massive switch from fossil fuel to electricity.

Lesson #3: The best way to avoid hurricane damage is not to build in harm’s way

New Orleans is below sea level and on a path which hurricanes have taken at least since the end of the last ice age. With hindsight, it was not a great place to build a city despite the obvious commercial advantage of being where the Mississippi River meets the sea. It’s there, however, and hopefully we’ve learned to protect it. However, there is no good excuse for federal flood insurance which makes it possible for mostly wealthy people to build and rebuild on exposed seashore using tax dollars.

According to the American Meteorological Society: “Continental United States (CONUS) hurricane-related inflation-adjusted damage has increased significantly since 1900. However, since 1900 neither observed CONUS landfalling hurricane frequency nor intensity shows significant trends, including the devastating 2017 season… Growth in coastal population and regional wealth are the overwhelming drivers of observed increases in hurricane-related damage.”

Deaths from hurricanes in the US have decreased dramatically as weather forecasting and evacuation routes have both improved. Infrastructure investment again.

But President Biden said that Ira is proof of climate change?

President Biden is selling an infrastructure plan which is light on damage-reducing infrastructure and heavy on handouts to green industries. He apparently doesn’t read the Bulletins of the American Meteorological Society (see above). Climate always changes and yes CO2 levels are rising; but, whatever other damage that change may be doing, it apparently hasn’t resulted in an increase in the number or intensity of hurricanes hitting the US since 1900. More on that strange fact and why we do we don’t hear it often in a post to come.

September 02, 2021

Starlink Beta vs. Fiber

Last year we had terrible DSL from Consolidated Communications and much better, although not always consistent, service from wireless ISP GlobalNet. I signed up for fiber service from Stowe Cable for installation this year and also was accepted early as a Beta tester for Starlink. Now we have both Starlink and fiber and can compare the two. I was very happy to cancel my Consolidated service but felt bad about canceling GlobalNet, which was essential to me for many years.

Most of the time there are only two of us in the house. We are pretty heavy Zoomers for retired people and we have cut the cord so all of our entertainment and news either comes over the air or streaming over the internet. Note that Starlink does NOT position itself as better than fiber; the Beta is called the “better than nothing Beta”; but cost or availability may force you to make a choice – at least for now – between the two.

Speed

The fiber service I ordered is 100Mbps download and 100Mbps upload. By my measurement over the last couple of months, I’m getting exactly that. Starlink delivers download speeds between 75 Mbps and 200 Mbps most of the time although it can go as low as 40 or (once) as high as 325. Average is probably around 125Mbps. The upload speed varies between 8 and 15Mbps. In practice for us the speeds might as well be the same. Like most residential users, we don’t need as much upload capacity as download (that’s just a feature of fiber). If I had a choice of how to use 200Mbps of total capacity, I’d probably divide it 175Mbps down for occasional huge downloads – recovering from backup, for example – and 25Mbps upload; but I don’t have a choice.

Latency

Latency is the time between when you send a packet off into the internet and the time when you get a response. Actual latency depends on how fast the server is which is responding to your request, but minimum latency is a property of your internet connection. For example, geocentric satellite service like HughesNet have unacceptably long latency because the satellites are so far from earth that, even at the speed of light, it takes a long time for a packet to get to or from them. Traditionally we measure minimum latency by sending pings (test packets) to known fast servers like Google or Cloudflare. My fiber connection has a normal latency of 15-20 milliseconds (ms, thousandths of a second) while Starlink’s latency runs from 45-60 ms. In practice, this is a distinction without a difference except to high frequency stock traders and some gamers.  If latency is greater than 150ms, it begins to degrade both VoIP and video conferencing.

Loaded Latency

Latency as defined above is measured when you are using your connection for nothing but measuring its performance. In the real world we only care about latency when there is actually stuff going on, videoconferencing for example. Latency under load is called, logically enough, loaded latency. It’s not as much a function of distance as how buffers are handled in the network (don’t worry if you don’t know what this means). Starlink latency degrades quickly under load and easily gets as bad as 300ms – past the redline as far as video conferencing is concerned. This has the practical result of making you freeze on Zoom which can be annoying to other participants. I think this can be cured by better network software from Starlink and it will be helped when there are laser connections between satellites. But today Starlink gets poor marks for loaded latency compared to my fiber connection. Note that a fiber ISP might also have poor loaded latency but mine is good.

Reliability

Total outages are rare both on Starlink and on my fiber connection. However, Starlink has frequent periods (currently about 10 per hour) where latency spikes up to 5 seconds or more. These spikes cause freezing on Zoom (although they rarely cause a disconnect) and can cause gaming and other cloud apps to disconnect from your PC. In the seven months when we had Starlink and not cable, we were able to participate from home in videoconferencing much, much better than if we had to rely on DSL. We could’ve studied at home or worked from home. But there is no question that our fiber connection is more reliable currently. Starlink is still in Beta so interruptions are to be expected – but for how long?

Note that these short interruptions do not interfere with video streaming. You can watch West Wing equally well with either connection.

Price

The Stowe Cable fiber connection costs $130.95/month; Starlink is $99/month. Note that fiber may be much cheaper where you are, especially if there’s competition. The Starlink kit cost almost $600 with taxes and shipping and pretty much installed itself. Installation of the fiber connection was much, much more expensive; but that’s because we live on a private road and have a long driveway so had to pay for trenching and a conduit for the fiber. If you are on public road with fiber already running past your house, installation would be cheaper than Starlink.

Expandability

By paying much more, I could increase my fiber speed up to a gigabyte up and down – 10x what I have now. I could also pay less and get less. Currently there are no other tiers of Starlink service. Elon Musk says it will get faster but seeing will be believing. Elon also says that Starlink will become portable and even mobile – which fiber certainly isn’t. But you don’t get that today.

Availability

There’s the rub. It may be many years before fiber comes down a road near you. You can’t do much about that. The huge amounts of federal money recently allocated for broadband expansion have created enormous competition both for supplies – like fiber itself – and for skilled people to install it. On the other hand, there is a backlog of orders for Starlink and the company has not forecast when availability will get better nor has it given a firm date for exiting Beta and standing behind reliability. The 100,000 installations worldwide to date is a pretty paltry number. If you don’t know when fiber is coming to your neighborhood, however, you have little to lose by making a $99 refundable deposit to get on the Starlink waiting list.

See also:

FireTVStick Thrashes at&t’s DIRECTV

Starlink Broadband Passes “Better Than Nothing” Beta Test

Starlink or Your Local WISP for Broadband Service

Starlink

August 26, 2021

It’ll Be a Great Day When 100% of Covid Cases Are in Vaccinated People

Because that’ll mean that 100% of people are vaccinated.

The numbers we hear in the nightly news consistently undermine the importance of vaccination even though the intent is to do the exact opposite. Problem is that neither political leaders nor most reporters know much about statistics. There’s enough misinformation current so you certainly should ask why you should believe my applied statistics 101 in this post. I’m not an epidemiologist or even a medical professional; I didn’t sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night. I have made my living with statistics-based software which controls things in real time based on statistical information and I have some related patents. Still, you should be skeptical and judge whether what I’m saying makes sense.

What does 95% effective mean?

Developing vaccines which were initially “95% effective” at warp speed was an enormous achievement even though the efficacy wanes with time and is reduced by mutations. But what does 95% effective mean? Does it mean that you have only a 5% chance of getting Covid if you’re vaccinated? NO. Definitely not! It means that people who were vaccinated in the study groups were only 5% as likely to get symptomatic Covid as those who were given a placebo. If 500 out of 10,000 unvaccinated people got Covid, the studies are saying that only 25 similarly situated vaccinated people had symptoms. That’s huge and that’s the reason the vaccines were quite properly authorized for emergency use almost as soon as these results were available.

What if everyone were vaccinated?

Then all cases would be breakthrough cases but there’d still be cases. If the chance of an unvaccinated person contracting symptomatic Covid at a particular time and place during any given month is 2% and vaccinated people statistically have 95% protection (5% breakthrough rate), then the chance of a vaccinated person getting infected is 0.1%, a small number but not nothing. If 300,000,000 of us are vaccinated and the breakthrough rate is 0.1% (numbers for illustration only), then we’d still expect 300,000 cases per month. 100% of these would be breakthrough cases. Would that mean the vaccines aren’t working? Of course not. Without them there would’ve been 6 million cases, 20 times more.

Moreover vaccinated people are saving the lives of the unvaccinated by reducing the overall spread rate. If everyone were vaccinated, cases would quickly become rare and far between and then almost non-existent in the vaccinated population – fingers crossed on mutations and booster shots.

What to watch for

As more people are vaccinated, the number of symptomatic Covid cases among vaccinated people will go up. As we have less unvaccinated people the number of cases among the unvaxxed will go down. The numbers that are important are the rate among the vaccinated and the rate among the unvaccinated. These rates are confirming the efficacy of the vaccines although both the Delta variant and the apparent waning of effectiveness are muddying the waters. Both rates will go down as the unvaxxed get a free ride from the vaxxed – fingers still crossed on mutations and booster shots.

But immunity doesn’t mean you can’t get Covid

Even if a vaccine is 100% effective (none are), they don’t stop you from getting infected. Your immune system has no way to destroy pathogens before they enter the body. It can only fight them on home territory. Even if we are “immune” because of either prior infection or vaccination, pathogens we come in contact with do establish small beachheads on our bodies before being repelled by the prepared immune system. Unfortunately in the case of Covid even those beachheads – often too small to be noticed – can be the staging ground for infecting someone else. We vaccinated people are much less a breeding ground for virus than the unvaxxed; but we can still spread the disease.

95% effective doesn’t mean 95% improved protection at the individual level

Vaccines work by preparing your immune system to fight a particular pathogen. If you have a strong immune system, that preparation may well be enough to assure that it will always defeat the pathogen before it is a serious threat to you. On the other hand, if you have a weak immune system because of disease or treatment for disease, you will have a much smaller chance of beating back the disease. Your immune system will be forewarned but outgunned. The 95% statistic is a group statistic and useful for populations but not individuals. It is a blend of those for whom the vaccine is close to 100% effective and those for whom it is not very effective at all. That’s why the immunocompromised need – and are going to get – boosters ASAP.

And in conclusion…

Get the damned shot if you haven’t. Get your booster as soon as it is available. And, even if vaxxed, wear your mask where there is high likelihood of getting or transmitting disease.

See also:

Most Workers Should be Required to Get Vaccinations

Is Political Correctness Putting Gay Americans at Risk?

August 18, 2021

Letter from Starlink

With a few notes on significance.

Last month Starlink sent the letter below to Beta users of which I am one. The news in it is important to those waiting for Starlink or considering ordering it. I can’t find an online copy so I’m posting it here along with some comments following the text of the letter.

Starlink
 

Since our last update, the Starlink team has been hard at work building the systems and infrastructure to enable growth while continuously improving service quality. Below are some of the highlights:  

Space Lasers
As Elon recently mentioned, the Starlink team is preparing to launch upgraded satellites that will include space lasers.  Space lasers enable our satellites to transfer data between each other without having to go through a ground station.  Once fully deployed, space lasers will make Starlink one of the fastest options available to transfer data around the world. 

 Connecting to the Best Satellite

The team completed roll out of a new feature to all users that enables your Starlink to seamlessly switch to a different satellite in real time if communication with your assigned satellite is interrupted for any reason.  There can only be one satellite connected to your Starlink at any time, but this feature will enable choice of the best satellite, resulting in far fewer network disruptions.  

High Temperature Management
The Starlink team has initiated a series of software improvements that change how your Starlink responds to high temperatures.  These improvements will roll out over the next few weeks and should address invalid “Thermal Shutdown” app alerts seen by some customers. 

Starlink App Upgrades
The Starlink team recently rolled out several improvements that enable users to
do all of the following from the app:

  • make network name/password changes 
  • enable WPA3 security
  • separate control of 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz  

To date, Starlink has received deposits from almost every country around the world.  Going forward, our ability to expand service will be driven in part by governments granting Starlink licensing internationally.  

Thank you for being an early user of Starlink—we appreciate your feedback and continued support!    

The Starlink Team

 

Space Exploration Technologies Corp | 1 Rocket Road, Hawthorne, CA 90250 | Unsubscribe

Questions? See Starlink FAQs

My Comments:

The most important news is the space lasers; but they are an intent, not a reality for Starlink. Iridium already uses inter-satellite laser communication to provide true worldwide coverage albeit low bandwidth from their constellation of 66 LEOS with only four ground stations. Once the lasers are operational, Starlink will be able to provide coverage even in countries which don’t allow ground stations to be built. Satellites will also be able to choose optimum paths for packets to the ground based both on capacity available at various ground stations and which ground station can provide the best entry point into the terrestrial Internet for the current packet. Smart routing will improve the perceived speed of Starlink and open the door to space-based cloud computing. Finally, inter-satellite communication opens the way for Starlink to be used as long-distance backbone. But the feature is useless until implemented in many satellites – so still vapor at this point.

Connecting to the best satellite is here today and is a BFD. It has reduced (but not eliminated) Starlink’s annoying small drops in service. I also hear that it has made Starlink more useful in places where there is an obstruction some of the time since Dishy now doesn’t have to insist on trying to see through a tree if it has another alternative. My dish is in an obstacle-free location now so I haven’t tested this.

High temperatures are not a problem here in Vermont. It’s impressive that the Starlink team has been able to respond quickly to the thermal problem experienced in hotter places.

Altogether good progress. The announcement I’m really waiting for, however, is that Starlink is out of beta. It can’t be a serious contender for all the money now going to broadband unless it goes into production status. Staying in beta too long is like the CDC never quite getting around to full rather than emergency approval of the various Covid vaccines. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

See posts in Starlink for more on the service.

August 11, 2021

Most Workers Should be Required to Get Vaccinations

So should everyone receiving COVID benefits.

RosyWorkers

Workers who have contact with either coworkers or the public should be required to get vaccinations. Kudos to companies like United Airlines who have announced mandatory vaccinations. We all get to vote on decisions these companies make when we’re deciding whom to patronize – or where to take a job.

Half a kudo to University of Vermont Medical Center for encouraging vaccination.; but only half because they are leaving employees the choice of periodic testing instead of vaccination. And only half a kudo to UVM itself which is requiring students but not faculty and staff to be vaccinated.

Governor Scott announced that some state workers dealing with vulnerable populations will be required to get vaccinations but that there may be some sort of “exit ramp”. He’s done a great job of leading through the pandemic and certainly deserves much credit for Vermont’s leading the nation in vaccination rate; but, with all due respect, the exit ramp for those not wanting to get vaccinated, should be termination. For the sake of both their coworkers and the public, all state workers who are not working strictly from home should be vaccinated. We have a choice of airlines, but we don’t have an immediate choice of which state we’re dealing with.

Employers are having a hard time finding employees and some are afraid that a vaccination mandate will exacerbate the situation. However, I’m sure that there are many people who would prefer to work for an employer who assures that all coworkers are vaccinated. If that turns out not to be the case, government mandates like those requiring safe workplaces put all employers on a level playing field.

People can quit if they don’t want to get vaccinated. However, unvaccinated people should not be eligible for any of the generous COVID benefits available from the state and federal government.

Beneficiaries

It doesn’t make sense to say that people need to be vaccinated as a condition of employment and then to subsidize people who choose not to.  Want unemployment insurance? Take the jab. Want to defer your student loan payments? Get special covid renters assistance? Have help with your utility bills? Get your shot! It’s bad enough we all must pay for medical care for the unvaccinated (we do have to); but we don’t have to pay other COVID benefits to those who choose to put themselves and others at risk.

Exemption

The only exemption allowed should be medical – people who can’t get vaccinated without endangering their health. The First Amendment gives broad protection to religion; but doesn’t say that you don’t have to live with the consequences of your religious decisions. If your religion won’t let you get vaccinated, then it doesn’t let you have a job where you might infect other people or to attend public school.

Politics

Politics are the virus’ best friend. Before the election D’s said they didn’t trust a vaccine developed on Trump’s watch. After the election way too many R’s are resisting vaccination seemingly because they are being urged to vaccinate by a Democratic president. Operation Warp Speed and the successful vaccines which resulted are indubitably the greatest achievement of the Trump administration. Why Trump himself doesn’t claim that and urge all his supporters to take “his” beautiful vaccine is beyond me, especially if he wants them to be around to vote in the future. Biden might be more successful with some of the recalcitrant if he gave Trump some credit.

It defies belief that the Republican Governors of Florida and Texas, who call themselves conservatives, want to ban private companies from offering the public products at least some consumers want such as cruises for the vaccinated only and an airline which requires crew to be vaccinated.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around. The only semi-legitimate excuse for not getting vaccinated is the CDC’s incredible failure to give full approval to vaccines after what is probably the largest science experiment in the history of the planet. This is the kind of problem presidents must solve.

Freedom

After the Declaration of Independence and well before the Constitution, Gen. Washington required the troops under his command in Boston to get vaccinated. Vaccinations have been required for children to begin public school for at least the 73 years since I went to kindergarten. The middle of a pandemic is very strange time to get squeamish over vaccinations as a matter of conscience.

Generations of American men have been drafted. Thanks to those draftees, we’re free to complain about government mandates. The draft required them to put their lives and bodies at risk in a much more significant way than taking a well-tested vaccine. By the way, all us inductees, whether drafted or volunteering, got a battery of shots in the first days of basic training.

We are at war against COVID. Uncle Sam has a right – perhaps an obligation – to draft all of us for this war. If you are fully vaccinated, thank you for your service. If not, roll up your sleeve!

See also:

Walk the Vaccination Walk!

Should Vaccination be Required for Medical Professionals?

August 04, 2021

Is Political Correctness Putting Gay Americans at Risk?

The Provincetown outbreak may be a warning about Covid vaccine effectiveness in immunocompromised people.

According to the NYTimes, 965 recent cases of Covid have been traced to gatherings in Provincetown  and 75% of those cases were among vaccinated individuals. Does this mean the vaccine was ineffective? Not at all.  If 100% of individuals were vaccinated (I wish), there would still be breakthrough cases and 100% of them would be among vaccinated individuals.

But it is a surprisingly high number of cases none the less. What does it tell us? The Times dances around one possibility. The article points out that Provincetown is “a mecca for gay men”. It then says:

“So many gay men poured in for Circuit Party week, the first week of July, that people on social media started sharing photos of the lines outside clubs, snaking for blocks….

“By the end of the week, Mr. Katsurinis [Chair of the town Board of Health] was taking reports of positive coronavirus cases — all gay men, with an average age of 30 to 35, many of whom had seen a doctor for other reasons, like flu symptoms or sexually transmitted infections, not suspecting the coronavirus.”

Later the article points out that one of the people it interviewed is a HIV positive.

But the article never raises the obvious question. Is it possible that the vaccine is less effective – perhaps much less effective – in a community which has a high percentage of HIV positive individuals? The question must have occurred to the reporters since the story is full of references to the gay population and HIV. Why else is the sexual orientation of the infected relevant? Did the question get edited out of the story because it may have been taken as homophobic? Has political correctness brought us to the point that we’d put a population at risk rather than ask a question which could be misinterpreted?

Here’s a possible line of reasoning which may be completely wrong but needs investigation – and hopefully is being investigated by the CDC. But please do NOT take my speculation as an assertion; I do not have enough information to claim that vaccination is not as effective in a predominantly gay population as it is in the general population.

  1. As the Times points out Provincetown visitors are predominantly gay men for the historic reason that Provincetown was tolerant long before the rest of the country.
  2. In the US HIV rates are higher among gay men than the general population so it’s reasonable to assume (but needs verification) that a higher proportion of HIV-positive men were in the partying crowds than would be the case in other party towns.
  3. “People living with HIV should be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccination, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week, following the release of research at the 11th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2021) showing that people with HIV have an increased risk of being admitted to hospital with severe COVID-19 and of dying from COVID-19.”(link). Note that even if the vaccine has the same effectiveness in gay and non-gay populations, if WHO is right, the actual risk would remain higher in the gay population since vaccine only reduces risk proportionally from whatever the baseline is.
  4. A study by Dr. Dorry Segev, a John Hopkins transplant surgeon, shows that response to the Covid vaccine is greatly reduced in immunosuppressed people which indicates but doesn’t prove that the vaccine will be much less effective for them. Note that the people in Dr. Segev’s study were immunocompromised because they had transplant surgery, not because of HIV. However, the CDC says: “Examples of persons with weakened immune systems include those with HIV/AIDS; cancer and transplant patients who are taking certain immunosuppressive drugs; and those with inherited diseases that affect the immune system….”; and so the study results may well apply to those with HIV.
  5. It makes sense that some vaccines are less effective in immune-compromised people since vaccines stimulate the immune system to do the work of fighting the pathogen. If the immune system is weak, then it is liable to be less effective against infection even after vaccination than a fully functioning immune system.

So where does all this lead?

First it is urgent that the effectiveness of the vaccine in HIV-positive populations be studied. There should now be plenty of data to do that. If, as Provincetown may indicate, the vaccine is less effective for HIV-positive people, they need to know that their risk is higher, and it may be important to schedule them for a third shot. France is already urging boosters for the immunocompromised.

Second, the CDC should not over-react to the Provincetown cluster by appearing to downplay the effectiveness of vaccination against the Delta variant. As the Times keeps hinting at but never quite saying, this was not just any beach town.

It is bad for HIV-positive people (or any other cohort) not to tell them honestly what dangers they face. The CDC is not helping convince people to get vaccinated when it cites a cluster in an well-vaccinated but atypical reference population to get everyone to mask up again regardless of vaccination status.

Political correctness and government propagandizing are both hampering the fight against Covid.

See also:

Walk the Vaccination Walk!

Should Vaccination be Required for Medical Professionals?

July 26, 2021

Walk the Vaccination Walk!

The US government talks the talk about Covid vaccination but doesn’t walk the walk. The CDC and the FDA say “get vaccinated” but they don’t act as if they really believe in the efficacy of the shots.

You couldn’t be more pro Covid vaccination than me. I stayed up all night to make sure I could register for my shot the moment the Vermont computer would let me. After having both doses and waiting our two weeks, Mary and I joyfully broke our self-imposed quarantine and went on a six-week RV trip to get reacquainted with relatives and friends and then flew to Italy to meet our newest granddaughter.

Italy let us in without quarantine because we had vaccine certificates; they would also have let us in if we had negative Covid tests within 48 hours of our arrival. The US government didn’t care about our vaccinated status; instead they insisted on Covid tests three days before departure, which is a much less reliable indication of whether we were likely to bring the virus home. Italy’s actions encourage vaccination; the US doesn’t seem to think it’s important.

Canada says it is ready to let US citizens drive into their country with proof of vaccination. The US is neither wiling to reciprocate nor has it said that US citizens can use their vaccination status to drive home again. Canada is encouraging vaccination; the US doesn’t seem to think it’s important.

Colleges around the country including Vermont are requiring vaccination as a condition of returning in the fall. Good for them. But there isn’t even a US advisory which says that state and hospitals should make vaccination compulsory for health care workers.

It was entirely appropriate for the FDA to give “emergency approval” of the Covid vaccines when they did. It is, however, totally inappropriate that the vaccines have not now received final approval and that we have also not been told what the FDA is waiting for. Lack of final approval is an excuse – and not actually an unreasonable one – for people not to get vaccinated. Lack of information about what is required for final approval is a great way to stoke conspiracy theories. If Dr. Fauci and President Biden believe approval will come before the end of August as they have both said, they need to tell us why there isn’t final approval now. I suspect the reasons are bureaucratic but that’s no excuse for undermining public confidence in both the vaccines and the approval process.

According to the NYTimes, “In France, as of Aug. 1, anyone without a “health pass” showing they have been vaccinated or recently tested negative will not be admitted to restaurants, cafes or movie theaters, and they will not be able to travel long distances by train…”

More than 2.2 million people signed up to get vaccinated in the first 48 hours after French President Macron made this announcement. Note he is not saying vaccination is mandatory; French people who don’t want to get vaccinated but do want to travel or eat out, just need to get the very frequent Covid tests necessary to protect others from them. But he did say the tests will not remain free. Fair enough.

Instead of acting as if vaccinations matter, the US government spends its efforts trying to ban “bad information”. The way to stop bad information is to provide good information. The way to strengthen conspiracy theories is trying to ban any sort of speech.

Accelerating infections from the Delta variant are now causing some Americans to rethink their opposition to vaccination. A federal government which acts as if it thinks vaccination matters instead of just talking can still assure us a practical if not absolute end to the pandemic by fall.

July 19, 2021

Computing Clouds in Orbit – A Possible Roadmap

Last week, I predicted that much of the internet and most cloud datacenters will launch into space in the next ten years. Today the only part of the Internet in space is a very small amount of “bent-pipe” access: signals which go from a user to a satellite and bounce back down to a ground station which feeds them into the terrestrial internet where all processing is done and all queries answered by internet connected servers, many of them in cloud data centers. Responses follow a reverse path through a ground station, back to a satellite, and then to the user. Below is a possible roadmap to the orbital internet; reality will certainly vary.

  1. Starlink and Iridium prove the practicality of internet access service based on Low Earth Orbit Satellites (LEOS) - done

See The Internet and The Cloud Are Going into Space.

  1. Bent-pipe access via LEOS creates a huge market in orbit

On the supply side, Starlink will go from 1500 to at least 44,000 satellites. OneWeb, a European competitor, has launched 54 satellites and will go commercial this fall. Kuiper from Amazon will come online in the next couple of years. Starlink will get laser-based satellite-to-satellite working and be able to provide service in most of the world where it has no ground stations.

On the demand side, all users of obsolete slow-responding geocentric satellites are converting to LEOS as fast as they can. Even though fiber currently provides faster access than satellites, fiber is slow to deploy and perhaps never will get to the end of the road. Fiber can’t provide mobile access which is required both by people and the Internet of Things (IoT), which will soon include all cars. Iridium already provides mobile access and Starlink will soon. 5G is the main competitor for this market. For emergencies, no terrestrial solution is adequate for communication. Poles and towers are subject to the same catastrophes as the people who depend on them locally.

Starlink says it has contracts for backhaul from remote cell towers not on the fiber network to the internet backbone. This is the first but won’t be the last example of cellular acting as a concentrator and distributor of traffic which passes through LEOS.

Technology will increase the capability of LEOS service and competition will drive down the price.

  1. Caching for and in orbit

Caching in internet terms means storing replicas of frequently accessed information near the consumer of that information to speed response times and lower overall communication costs. Every time you click on a URL, a query goes to a domain name server (DNS) somewhere to lookup the physical address on the internet of the web site your query is headed for.  For example, google.com converts to 8.8.8.8. At least part of the DNS directory will quickly be cached in all ground stations. Large ISPs often host their own domain name servers to increase responsiveness; Starlink will not be an exception. I’ll be astonished if Starlink doesn’t start caching DNS directories in access satellites shortly. Users will experience great responsiveness and Starlink will save an exchange with a ground station for each truncated query.

Companies like Akamai and Cloudflare operate content delivery networks (CDNs). On behalf of content owners, the CDNs cache copies of fairly static content (movies, for example, but also many other types of web page) at locations around the internet This is a form of hosting which saves content owners from having to own huge data centers with huge pipes themselves and assures that the content is quickly accessible from all the world which each content owner cares about. Whether Starlink will operate its own CDN or partner remains to be seen; what is certain is that terabytes of content will move into space to be “near” users of satellite access. At this point we will see the first dedicated cache satellites. Access satellites will query them by laser.

  1. Smart routing in orbit

Once satellites can talk to each other, they become routers and can manage quality of service and optimize routing dynamically to some extent just as terrestrial routers do. If a query can be answered in space by a cache satellite, the query’ll go there and get a very fast response with no bouncing around in the terrestrial internet. If a query does need to go to earth, it might be routed with a satellite hop or two to a ground station collocated with a data center which can process some or all the request.

  1. LEOS gain a speed advantage

With smart routing, caching, and content delivery hubs in space and at ground stations, a query sent through LEOS will often get faster response than the same query sent through the terrestrial internet. All packets traverse a net of routers to get to their ultimate destination. Each router adds delay to the packet’s journey for processing and queuing time. Each satellite can get traffic to any other satellite with a maximum of four hops, usually less. If the packet is then served from a space-based cache or a data center with a download station collocated, which will be most data centers in a few years, there are less hops and more alternatives for dealing with congestion. The speed of light is also 50% faster in space than in fiber, but that is not as significant to response time as reducing the number of hops.

  1. Peering in orbit

Once competitive networks are firmly established in space, satellites from Starlink, Kuiper, OneWeb and other operators will start to exchange packets with each other via laser; this kind of traffic exchange, which is called peering. is already standard practice among terrestrial ISPs, even fierce competitors. They don’t do it to be nice; they peer because of Metcalfe’s Law: the value of a network is directly proportional to the square of the number of endpoints. The ISPs gain more by combining their networks than they do by keeping them separate. Same goes is space.

  1. Terrestrial aggregation

People like high frequency traders and very serious gamers, for whom every millisecond counts, will start to use LEOS for access even when they live in areas with fiber. Fiber operators will start to add routes directly to space from their networks.

Mobile applications (think automated cars) which need rapid response will be connected mainly by cellular networks unless space technology has evolved quickly enough for them to connect to LEOS (which is possible). Even cell towers located on fiber backbone will start talking directly to LEOS to better serve their traffic.

  1. Data centers in space – the cloud in orbit

Within five years (I usually underestimate time), there will be major data centers in space for simple economic reasons. Data center location depends on where the traffic is and the local price of energy to run the data center and its attendant air conditioning. Within five years a high percentage of queries will be passing through space; solar power is free once you’ve repaid the capital cost of solar panels and launch; a/c isn’t needed in space. The physical bulk of a data center without a/c and built for zero gravity will be relatively easy to lift into orbit.

Security concerns alone are enough to make governments and corporations want to replicate key command, control, and data out of the reach of terrestrial physical attack. Amazon is the biggest operator of data centers on earth; they will move quicky to orbit; cloud providers who don’t offer an orbital location will be at a significant disadvantage.

  1. Computers built for orbit

Currently computers are built to run on earth. Their speed is limited by how fast electricity can travel through their circuits; energy lost in transit becomes unwanted heat. A chip designed for use in space can be run at temperatures near absolute zero. At these temperatures many materials become superconducting; they provide almost no electrical resistance. The computers in an orbital data center will be faster than their terrestrial predecessors.

If there is still cyber-currency mining, it will be done in orbit where none of the energy used is polluting and calculations can be done faster than anywhere else.

Especially with stricter and stricter environmental controls, it will be hard to justify building another data center on earth!

  1. New backbone, when needed, is built in orbit, not under the ocean

With space-based caching, orbiting computer centers, and traffic relayed through space from mobile sources and aggregators as well as individuals, there won’t be growing demand for terrestrial backbone. Just as the highway network disrupted the railroads because of greater routing and dispatching flexibility, orbital routing and processing will shrink the demand for long haul fiber. Even where communication is between two terrestrial locations, the shortest and cheapest route will usually be through space. Sure, a New York to London flight is a good way to get traffic between these two cities; but, if you’re going Minneapolis to Birmingham, do you really want to connect twice in the hubs? Neither do your packets. Space is the realm of the most direct connections.

And in conclusion….

This roadmap is just to demonstrate that there is a credible way for the internet and cloud computing to become mainly orbital. It surely won’t happen in exactly this way and may not happen at all. Since each step above lowers the cost of computing and communications, each of these steps – at least the ones which actually occur – will present enormous opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurs.

See also:

The Internet and The Cloud Are Going into Space

As the Phone World Turns Part 3 – Metcalfe’s Law

Your DNS May be Leading You Astray

Starlink

July 13, 2021

The Internet and The Cloud Are Going into Space

Unlike Bezos and Branson, they’re going to stay there.

Today we have space-based internet access and a terrestrial internet; within ten years, we’ll have a space-based internet. Internet traffic will travel more miles in space than on terrestrial fiber. By that time the great cloud datacenters of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and their competitors and successors will mostly be in orbit as well. Five years from now this transition will be obvious, accepted, and well under way – or this will turn out to be the dumbest prediction I’ve ever made. Starlink is not the cause of the internet moving to space; it’s an early example of the technologies which are enabling the move.

The primer (nerds feel free to skip)

Today the components of space-based internet access are a user radio and an antenna which is usually but not always dish shaped, satellites, and ground stations with their own radios and dish antennas which provide access to the terrestrial internet backbone. Techies like to call the satellite link a “bent-pipe”. Your packets go through your radio to a satellite; they are sent back down to a ground station; they go to whatever their destination is on the internet; a reply comes back to a ground station, goes back up to a satellite, and finally back down to your radio and you. Note that even the simplest query takes four hops through space, and so the time space hops take is very important to how long it takes for you to get a reply. We call the time between query and reply “latency”. The time a space hop takes depends mostly on how far away the satellite is since radio signals travel at a constant 186,000 mile/second in a vacuum.

The first satellites used for internet access almost 20 years ago were geostationary (GEOS): 24 hours/day, 365.25 days/year they are at the same spot in the sky as seen from any spot on earth. Having them stationary means it’s possible to aim a dish antenna at them; a directional antenna like a dish is an energy-efficient way to communicate point-to-point. One big problem though: the laws of orbital mechanics say that GEOS must be 22,000 miles high. Four hops of 22,000 miles each require more than 0.5 seconds to complete even ignoring any delay in the satellite and on the ground. The human ear is sensitive to delays of more than 0.15 seconds. Zoom-like interactivity is essentially impossible although streaming, since it’s one way, works fine. Even web-browsing is very painful using GEOS because the typical web page takes many interactions to assemble itself.

Companies like WildBlue offered internet access using GEOS. HughesNet and Viasat still do in the US. Bandwidths have gone up since I wrote about my experience with WildBlue (Why Satellite Internet Access Sucks) but the latency problem with GEOS is incurable and the bandwidth of the technology they use makes the companies impose data caps which are unrealistically low by today’s standards. Users of GEOS are eager to convert to almost anything else (except possibly DSL); but they don’t usually have other options available where they live.

The solution to the latency problem is low earth orbit satellites (LEOS). These orbit only a few hundred miles above the earth so the travel time of each hop is negligible. However, being low, they orbit the earth in about 90 minutes and appear to zip across the sky. There’s no way to mechanically aim a dish at them. With a small non-directional antenna, the amount of data which can be exchanged without expending a huge amount of energy and frying objects in the immediate vicinity is small.

Nevertheless, Iridium, which has gone through bankruptcy once, has several very useful mobile applications based on a fleet of 66 LEOS in polar orbit which covers every spot on earth. They’ve improved since I wrote about them (Going Sailing) and were essential to a sail I took from Norway to Scotland and back.  Their LEOS, most of which were launched under contract by SpaceX – parent of Starlink, can communicate with each other so a packet may take several hops in space before finding a satellite which can see a ground station. The advantage of this approach is that they only need four ground stations and the service works even in countries which don’t allow ground stations to be built.

Only one of Iridium’s services is internet access strictly speaking. It is available with or without a fairly expensive but usable, voice service. The bandwidth is low – think dialup speeds; but, when you’re in the middle of an ocean and need a weather forecast or other info it’s far better than nothing. Iridium is packaged with products like Garmin’s InReach which leaves breadcrumbs on a website wherever you roam and can also be used for an SOS anywhere the sky is visible. A large number of devices with low but urgent data needs (the Internet of Things) take advantage of Iridium as do aircraft. The Iridium access devices have small, non-directional antennas which can connect with the LEOS which zip by. Because the antennas are non-directional and battery-operated radios are low-powered, Iridium is not suitable for high-bandwidth applications.

And now there’s Starlink with some 10,000 users as of February (a very small number), perhaps 500,000 people who’ve put down deposits and are waiting an indeterminate amount of time for service, still in beta but a proof of concept for delivering affordable high bandwidth to remote places with LEOS. Starlink antennas are dishes but they track satellites without moving the dish using an electronically shaped beam – an important breakthrough for high bandwidth. SpaceX has pioneered reusable rockets so they can launch swarms of satellites cheaply  - about 1500 are in service now with 120 or so new ones launched each month

Starlink has an agreement to collocate ground stations with Microsoft and Google cloud datacenters – a development not lost on Amazon which has received licenses to launch its own competitive satellite constellation called Kuiper and has started a space division.

Next

The next post in this series describes about how the competition between Starlink and Kuiper, Bezos and Musk, will lift the internet backbone and the cloud datacenters themselves into space.

see Starlink for more on that service.

fir how the internet is going into orbit see: Computing Clouds in Orbit – A Possible Roadmap

July 06, 2021

A Programmer’s Dilemma

Your life may depend on the answer.

Suppose you are a skilled artificial intelligence programmer working on the decision-making algorithm for a self-driving car. Most of the decisions are straight forward assuming the car has sufficient information. Stop for red lights. Stop rather than run over people, animals, or things. Accelerate to a safe (and legal?) speed at a rate which takes into account how well the tires are gripping the road. Turn the wheel in the direction of a skid. Pump the brakes when necessary.

Do you brake for deer? This one’s a little tougher. It depends on road conditions and assumptions about the ability of any car vehicle behind you to react to your braking. But the principle is clear; you do what’s best for the occupants of the car. You don’t hit a moose even if you have to brake suddenly because the moose’s barrel body will come through the windshield and kill someone.

Now the tough one. The car is on a narrow mountain road with a 3000 foot drop off to the left and a solid cliff on the right. It comes around a turn and there are four children unaccountably in the road. There is not enough space to stop or even slow down substantially. The car knows that. Going straight will kill the children. If the car turns into the cliff wall, it will careen off and still hit the children. The only way to save the children is to plunge off the road, which will almost surely kill the solo occupant (and owner of the car).  The car can’t just give control back to the owner; there’s obviously not enough time.

Is the first rule of robotic cars to protect occupants? Or is the first rule to protect human life in general so it’s got to go with the least number of fatalities? Does the owner get to set preferences for decisions like this one? That’s not completely unreasonable since human drivers get to make their own decisions. How would you like to have to choose from these alternatives when you first set up your car?

  1. always save the lives of those outside the car rather than protecting occupants.
  2. always save the lives of occupants rather than protecting those outside the car.
  3. always save the greatest number of human lives.
  4. protect certain listed occupants (perhaps your children) at all costs.
  5. protect the lives of those least at fault in setting up the situation.

Etc. And what are the liability consequences of setting these preferences?

Should an ethical programmer insist that a car sold with his or her code in it have mouse print that spells out whether or not the car thinks it has to protect its driver at all costs? With a lot of work, code could be written so you could interview your car by giving it scenarios and asking it what it would do in each circumstance.

I have no idea how these decisions are being made today. I am sure that there are programmers who are dealing with them. I do not think the answer is to ban self-driving cars; I believe they will soon save many lives overall by being better drivers than humans – even though they will kill some people.

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