You say it’s your birthday

Is there any significance to sharing birthdays? Astrologers would say yes. If you share your birthday with someone you admire, you might be tempted to say yes in hopes something rubs off on you.

Today (November 29) there are a number of people who share a birthday. John Mayall, who is credited as a parent of the British Blues Revival, is 88 today. Among the guitarists who passed through his band, The Bluesbreakers, were Eric Clapton (hailed as “god” by fans in the 60s), Peter Green (who replaced Clapton and about whom B.B. King said “He was the only guitarist who made me sweat” and when someone asked what happened to Clapton, Mayall said “Don’t worry – we’ve got someone better”) and Mick Taylor (who went on to play with the Rolling Stones).

In this case, Mayall does not stand in the background and showcase one of his brilliant guitarists.

Felix Cavalieri (organ and vocals with The Young Rascals) is 79 today.

Joel Coen (of the filmmaking Coen Brothers) is 67. One shot in their first film, “Blood Simple”, convinced me that I was going to follow these guys. Adude in Austin might appreciate this one.

The only light in this scene comes from the window, and then through a series of holes shot in the wall. It was the light through those holes that won me over. Screen shot from “Blood Simple” by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Actor Don Cheadle (“Devil in a Blue Dress”, “Hotel Rwanda”, “Ocean’s 11”, “Crash”) is 57.

The theoretical conception date for these men would have been March 8 – International Women’s Day.

Is there any significance in this? I don’t know. Time to go ride my bike.

Shredding a Life

Mortality is on my mind. So is storage space in my basement. I have a 3 drawer file cabinet that is hard to stuff more into. I decided it was time to make room.

I started with old check stubs and check registers. I had saved them forever. I had tax returns starting with the first year I paid taxes. I saved that one, but the rest of the last century (and some of this one) were not necessary.

Work and school-related stuff came next. I had course notes that I’ve never looked at. In round one I saved my Anatomy and Physiology drawings because they were the first evidence that I could draw something representational. (They got tossed today.) Anybody need a bunch of 3-ring binders? I don’t plan to be working much longer so a lot of work stuff went; much of it was outdated anyway.

I found reference letters people wrote for a job I didn’t get 25+ years ago. Reading them brought a tear to my eye and made me wonder how anyone could not hire that guy. I found the Strong Interest Survey that I completed during a job search 30 years ago. It told me I had very little in common with people who chose careers in sales or the military. Was I surprised?

There is stuff from an organization I helped start nearly 50 years ago. I already lent it to them to scan on their 40th anniversary, so the original paper may not be necessary. I trimmed that file but couldn’t part with all of it.

Bonus! Shredded paper is compostable. If your compost is mostly vegetable scraps, paper adds needed carbon. Compostable materials are thought of as green (e.g. vegetable scraps) and brown (e.g. dried and shredded leaves). Most of us have too much green in our compost. Paper adds some brown.

Doing this helps me let go of my identity as a worker. I can admit that I will be retiring soon and don’t need that stuff. It helps me realize that life is unpredictable. Any of us can die at any time. None of us are getting younger, so the probability of death increases. Do I want to make my kids sort through this? Might what I choose to save have meaning to them?

On the other hand, I found my book of county road maps, useful for planning bike rides. It is old, but town roads and county highways tend not to change much. I kept it. I have route maps and cue sheets for dozens of bike rides. I didn’t try to cull those.

Since we were talking about mortality, I received an indirect death threat for a recent COVID-19 post. I had already blocked the commenter, so the comment went to my trash file, but it warned me to delete this blog “before the villagers with pitchforks and torches head towards your house.” I thought that was all I as going to say about that. I was wrong. Hang onto your hats…

Stroke Week

Since we raised the topic, let’s talk about COVID-19. Many of you read these posts before the comments appear so won’t have seen the exchange I had with the person who calls themself “covidpilot”. They referred to the vaccine as the “COVID clotshot”. Ironic, then, that my move from the ICU back to the intermediate and general care COVID units this week brought me face-to-face with a bunch of young (as in, young enough to be my children) people with strokes.

Mostly, the COVID posts herein have been to highlight the personal experience of working with the COVID-19 population. Since misinformation in the name of “following the science” has reared its ugly head here, we will delve a little more deeply into the literature. (For each journal article I have noted the source and year of publication. Full citations available on request. Since this is not a scholarly article, I don’t want to take up a lot of space with citations.)

Strokes in people that young aren’t unheard of, and the journal Stroke (2020) lists a number of risk factors for stroke in the young. Stroke occurs in about 0.01% of the population under 40 in the US (Vascular Health Risk Management, 2015). So it could be merely coincidental that I saw several young people with strokes this week, way more than I ever saw when I worked on a neurology unit regularly. But I don’t think so.

“Just the facts, ma’am”

The International Journal of Stroke (2021) published a meta-analysis of 61 studies of COVID and stroke. The articles were all before the advent of the Delta variant, which has, at least anecdotally, affected younger people more than the earlier variants. Even before the Delta variant, the meta-analysis concluded that “individuals with COVID-19 who developed stroke were significantly younger” [than non-COVID patients with stroke]. [Emphasis added] They found that “pooled results…suggest a particular profile of COVID-19-associated strokes, characterized clinically by severe NIHSS [National Institutes of Health Stroke Score] and poor outcome and radiologically by large artery occlusion and multiple arterial territory involvement. ” In plain English, COVID patients are younger and have more severe strokes than non-COVID patients. It cannot be conclusively proven, at this time, that COVID caused the strokes, but the high correlation “suggests a causal relationship.”

covidpilot referred to the vaccine as the “COVID clotshot”. A search of PubMed for data re: risk of clotting after vaccination vs after infection revealed “The risks of most of these events were substantially higher and more prolonged after SARS-CoV-2 infection than after vaccination in the same population.” [Emphasis added] (BMJ, 2020). The European Medicines Agency (referenced in Saudi Medical Journal, 2021) found “the number of observed thromboembolic events in vaccinated patients are much lower than expected as calculated in comparison to the incidence of events in general population.” [Emphasis added] In other words, while some people had strokes after the vaccine, the numbers are lower than would be expected in the general population – so the vaccine does not appear to be a factor. Taquet, et al (2021) looked at the relative risk of clot after: 1) COVID infection, 2) mRNA COVID vaccination, and 3) influenza infection. They examined over 500,000 cases and found the chances of serious clotting (they looked at CVT – cerebral venous thrombosis – as this is one of the adverse vaccine effects that has been reported anecdotally, and PVT – portal vein thrombosis) were 6.67 times greater from the disease than from the vaccine (for CVT) and 7.4 times greater from the disease than from the vaccine (for PVT). Patone, et al in Nature Medicine (2021) found: “In summary, although we find an increased risk of neurological complications in those who received COVID-19 vaccines, the risk of these complications is greater following a positive SARS-CoV-2 test.” [Emphasis added]

So yes, covidpilot is correct that there are reports of neurological and clotting complications following COVID vaccination. Most of the papers reporting those complications are case reports – reports of a single person having a complication temporally related to the vaccine. No causal relationship is demonstrated, though occasionally implied, and sometimes claimed (though more often by readers than writers). The papers claiming increased risk showed a much greater risk from the Astra-Zeneca vaccine than from the mRNA vaccines more common in the US. The papers which compare the relative risks from the vaccine vs the infection universally find that the illness carries greater risk of complication than the vaccine.

For those who missed the prior exchange, here it is:

In the news…Covid clotshot kills covid cult cardiologist who said that he would shed no tears for the selfish unvaccinated at their funerals. Poignant irony

I follow the science, not the pharma narrative. Antwerp ICU covid patients are all vaccinated.

Not sure where you’re going with this. It appears that you are calling the vaccine the “COVID clotshot”, while also claiming (in your next comment) to “follow the science”. If you can show us science that shows risk of death from the vaccine to be greater than the risk of death from the virus (even if you limit it to the relative risk of death from clotting disorders) I would be more inclined to take you seriously.

if you could show good science that the risk of death from the virus is greater than the risk of death from the clotshot, I might stop needling you. Of course, then you’d have to actually have some autopsy sampling of VAERS covid vaccine death reports by the CDC, but they don’t seem very interested in doing actual science that might question their narrative that vaccines are “safe and effective.”Hence, we don’t know much about the actual risk of clotshots. It looks like VAERS reports are the best science we have. Accordingly, we should use it.It looks like adverse event underreporting runs about 30x actual reports (1). Let’s use the CDC figure of 9,367 covid vaccine VAERS death reports. So it looks like there have been about 270,000 covid vaccine deaths, which is a small fraction of total vaccinations.As of now, the risk of death from covid is tiny for two reasons. First, it looks like we may have achieved herd immunity in the US. Second, the risk of death is small when antiviral treatment is used–20% of baseline. So my plan requires that early antiviral be given to high risk patients. Maybe 1% of the US population is actually at high risk from covid. But probably 90% of that group has some sort of immunity to covid. So we are talking 0.1% of the US population being seriously at risk. But antiviral cocktails given early–yes, I am assuming early treatment–will reduce covid mortality by 80%. So that looks like maybe 25,000 deaths from covid per year, which is in the range of flu. The clotshot so far this year has racked up 270,000 deaths, based on our estimates.It looks like continual boosters would be required if we followed your plan–with the undiminished risk for each booster–resulting in continual, straight-line vaccine deaths in all age groups.So, now, the risk from vaccination looks to be far higher than the risk from covid–especially for younger cohorts.(1)

To thecovidpilot:Your “science” is lacking. First, the VAERS system is notoriously unreliable. In their own words: “Reports may include incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental and unverified information. The number of reports alone cannot be interpreted or used to reach conclusions about the existence, severity, frequency, or rates of problems associated with vaccines.”

Second, the citation you offer does not support your conclusion of underreporting by a factor of 30, nor do the underlying articles cited in that source.

Third, even the data you cite are not specific to your assertion that the risk of death from clotting disorder is greater from the vaccine than from the disease.

Fourth, correlation does not equal causation. In randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, adverse reactions to the placebo are reported routinely.

Fifth, the article you cite is from before the COVID vaccine. There are clearly political factors at play here that were not at play during the period studied. There is a large and vocal anti-vaccine group, much more so than with any single prior vaccine. That group has a vested interest in reporting adverse effects. One could assert that there are those with an interest in falsifying reports of adverse effects for political gain. One cannot ignore that public health officials have received death threats for their work.

Sixth, as Stephen Wright told us, “42.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.” I have seen no evidence to support your dual assertions that only 1% of the US population is at high risk and that 90% of that group has “some sort of immunity” to COVID. This leads to your next false assertion.

Seventh, you assert (due to your “calculation” above) that 0.1% of the US population is “seriously at risk” from COVID-19, though the death rate to date is already 2.5 times that.

Eighth, Johns Hopkins has confirmed 762,972 deaths from COVID-19 in the US as of 11/13/2021. They have confirmed 47,050,502 cases of COVID, for a death rate of 1.62% The reported (unconfirmed, and subject to the biases VAERS cites) deaths attributed to the vaccine total 7793, while 439,034,461 doses of the vaccine have been administered. This yields a death rate of 0.002%. Even if you limit the count to those fully vaccinated (which would eliminate anyone allegedly killed by the first dose and anyone who chose not to get the second dose due to an alleged adverse reaction to the first dose), the death rate is 0.004%. Thus the risk of dying from the virus is at least 400 times greater than that of dying from the vaccine, and probably considerably higher than that. [emphasis added]

Ninth, since this is my blog, this is the end of this discussion. If you would like to continue to spread misinformation, disinformation, or misleading conclusions from incomplete information, you are free to do so on your own site.

I left out a few points from that exchange. covidpilot asserts that we “may have achieved herd immunity”, yet still expects 25,000 deaths per year into the future. cp wrongly equates this to the number of deaths from influenza, a disease for which no one asserts we have herd immunity. covidpilot has a “plan” to give early antiviral treatment to high risk patients, though their own numbers show that all high risk patients are already dead two and a half times over.

Since the people I have seen the past two weeks have not been in cp’s “high risk” category (unless the anti-vaccine covidpilot considers unvaccinated people to be high risk) they would not qualify for cp’s early intervention. Since the set of people who oppose the vaccine and the set of people who don’t take this disease seriously appear to have a high degree of overlap, and have historically avoided presenting to hospitals until near death (or post-stroke), the proposed “early treatment” would likely not reach those people.

Nonetheless, I have decided to give covidpilot the last word. Here is their last message, the one that I blocked:

“You might want to shut down your blog before the villagers with pitchforks and torches head towards your house. People are VERY angry about all this and they are waking up.

Do unto others

what you fear they may do unto you, isn’t that it? I think we learned something about legal precedent last week.

In the narrowest sense, we learned that it is now okay for white people to kill other white people, as long as the people killed were protesting with, or on behalf of, a Black person or persons. Before this, white people could only kill Black people and get away with it [with certain exceptions, e.g. it has always been okay to kill bicyclists as long as you use a car].

In the broader sense, it appears that it is now okay to kill anyone, as long as you are afraid. Bear with me for a moment. Suppose I carry a firearm at all times because I fear for my life. Now suppose I kill someone with said weapon, but I testify that I was afraid that they were going to kill me. We used to call that paranoia but now, it seems, we call it self-defense. At least that’s what a jury in Kenosha, WI appears to have decided last week.

The defendant testified that he was afraid – afraid of what, one might ask? After all, he carried a semi-automatic rifle to a street demonstration, where his “attacker” was armed with a plastic bag. Testimony presented indicates that the bag contained socks, papers, deodorant, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Nonetheless, he was afraid. He killed the person who had been armed with said plastic bag. (He was no longer so armed, as he had thrown it.) How could the shooter help it? He was carrying a Smith & Wesson M&P 15, which the manufacturer tells us is “easy to accessorize, but hard to put down.” It’s especially hard to put down when it is strapped to your body and you carry it with your finger on the trigger. (I accessorize it with a low-heeled pump and a smart tactical vest to carry extra high-capacity magazines, but that’s just me.)

Finger sure looks like it’s on the trigger and ready for action to me. ABC News photo.

The next person he killed was armed with a skateboard. He killed that person because he was afraid again.

I just completed a series of trainings at work. One was on active shooters. The defendant was certainly one of those before he shot his second and third victims. We were taught to “get out, call out, hide out, take out”. Step one is to get away, if possible. Don’t get caught in an enclosed space. The demonstrators were already outside on the street. Where were they to go? Step two is that, once you have gotten to a safe place, call 9-1-1. That option is limited when the police have already said to the soon-to-be killer, “We appreciate you guys”. [From a video recording, quoted by Reuters and many other sources, and seen and heard by this writer, who also saw and heard the pre-killing interview in which the defendant said, “We don’t have non-lethal”. I have no evidence that the victims heard these statements, but that certainly sounds as though he came equipped and prepared to kill people.]

If you can’t do steps one and two, hide out. Get someplace where it is hard for the shooter to get to you, and barricade yourself inside, if possible. The first person killed that night was said to have hidden behind a parked car. The defense interpreted this as “a classic ambush”; also not an easy place to build a barricade. I guess he did it wrong – an offense punishable by death. Step four was “take out”. If you can’t escape or hide in a safe place, you are instructed to “take out” the active shooter. The advice we were given was to plan in secret, distract, and attack in a planned and coordinated fashion. The man with the skateboard didn’t do it “correctly”. For this he was killed and then maligned in court for trying to “separate the head from the body”. I don’t know about you, but if I were trying to separate a head from a body, I would use a tool sharper than a skateboard.

The broad view of all this is that as long as I shoot first and kill you because I was afraid that you might kill me, then my actions are justified – especially if I was afraid that you might take my gun away. Apparently you are more dangerous if unarmed, as the defendant killed the unarmed people and only wounded the one person who approached him armed (though under-armed, one might argue).

This is why I should be proud to be an American?

Ground Zero

The Cuban Missile Crisis was 59 years ago (October 16-28, 1962). For those of you who weren’t around or don’t remember, it is generally considered the closest we have come to world annihilation.

On August 6, 1945, the United States unleashed upon the world the most terrible WMD we have ever known. We’ve since invented worse weapons, but we don’t know them in the way we knew that bomb. We don’t know how many people died that day, as there is nothing left of them. The BBC estimates that we killed 40% of Hiroshima’s population. Others died in the aftermath – burns, radiation sickness, cancers…

The US was engaged in a “cold war” with the Soviet Union, its most powerful ally in WW II. “Cold” meant that we weren’t actively shooting at each other. This war brought us new terms and new weapons. We measured the destructive force of these weapons in megatons, meaning the number of millions of tons of TNT it would take to equal their explosive force. We didn’t measure the force of their delayed killing via radiation burns and sickness, or via famine from making farmland worthless for generations. When fission bombs weren’t powerful enough for us, we developed fusion bombs.

We invented the term “Mutual Assured Destruction” – meaning that the weapons we had on hand would guarantee that, if used, the US and the Soviet Union would destroy each other. This was supposed to comfort us. We didn’t talk about the fact that we would also assure the destruction of everyone else. Fittingly, the acronym is MAD.

We had “fail-safe” devices to prevent accidental nuclear annihilation and a “dead man’s switch” to ensure MAD in the case of a devastating first strike by the other side. In October 1964, the Sidney Lumet-directed film “Fail Safe”, starring Henry Fonda was released. With a screenplay by Walter Bernstein (based on the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler), it wondered aloud what would happen if that system failed. A gripping thriller, it required the President (Henry Fonda) to make some tough decisions under heavy pressure.

In January of 1964, the Stanley Kubrick-directed “Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” was released. With a screenplay by Kubrick and Terry Southern (from the novel “Red Alert” by Peter George ), it took a darkly comedic look at the same events, with Peter Sellers starring in three roles. The film acknowledged our use of scientists who formerly worked for Nazi Germany to develop our missile capacity.

The two films are best seen back-to-back, or close to it. The source novel for Dr Strangelove (highly adapted) was written in 1957 and the source for Fail Safe in 1962 . Due to the strong similarities, a lawsuit ensued and, as part of the settlement, Columbia Pictures (which produced Dr Strangelove) gained the rights to Fail Safe and released it later in the same year. They are, essentially, the same film, or one film and its funhouse mirror image- one a comedy and the other a drama.

We measured our weaponry by the number of times we could kill every human on earth. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, we were at one time able to do that 690 times. We had WW I and WW II that dragged on for years (though nothing like the Hundred Years War). WW III, with the promise of total annihilation, might be a war with a duration measured in hours. Tom Lehrer considered that possibility:

Lehrer also acknowledged the contributions of former Nazis to US missile development:

Darkly comedic views of nuclear annihilation didn’t end in the 1960s. In 1986, Timbuk 3 released their debut album featuring Pat MacDonald’s “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades”. MacDonald was known for his obscure sense of humor – a previous song, “Einstein at the Pool Hall“, was about Albert Einstein’s growing reputation and his resultant failures as a student. (You can imagine a physicist would know a thing or two about vectors, which might be useful when shooting pool. For those who don’t like jokes being explained, I apologize, but even Apple engineers, who ought to be smart people, sometimes can’t understand a joke.)

“The Future’s So Bright” was about the absurdity of wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from the flash of a nuclear weapon. While it was a pop hit, many heard its bouncy rhythm and assumed it was as optimistic as its sound. (Sort of like when Ronald Reagan thought Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was just the song for his campaign.) I went to an Apple Computer company picnic that year and one work group had matching t-shirts proclaiming “Our future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades.” They wore them without irony – and probably without paying Timbuk 3 for use of the slogan. I didn’t have the heart to explain it to them.

Against the background of the Cold War came the Cuban Missile Crisis. On January 1, 1959, a Fidel Castro-led resistance overthrew the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Batista’s Cuba was a playground for the US idle rich – they could make the quick jaunt down there, gamble in their casinos, stay in their luxury hotels, and maybe evade some US taxes while they were at it. It was also a handy place for the Mafia to launder funds.

A country no longer in our pocket was bad for business, so the US immediately set to work to overthrow the new government and, particularly, to assassinate its leader. We hatched many plots, from the macabre to the ridiculous. They included sex workers, exploding cigars, poison, Mafia hitmen, and invasion (April, 1961).

With the US clearly no longer an ally (having tried to wipe out Cuban crops to destabilize the economy in addition to assassination and invasion), the new government turned to the Soviet Union for assistance. The Soviets wanted to install missiles in Cuba, aimed at the US. Since the US was used to fighting “world wars” on other continents (mainly Europe), the idea of fighting that close to home was abhorrent. We did, by the way, have missiles in Turkey, which shared a border with the USSR.

During the crisis, we were (not) prepared to jump out of bed at a moment’s notice in case of attack. Would we go to the basement? Head for the nearest public shelter? Do nothing? For a fortnight we were unsure if we would wake up the next morning. I was scared. The US blockaded Cuba to physically stop the Soviet ships. Would the ships ram the US fleet (or vice versa)? Would someone get nervous and open fire? Ultimately the Soviets agreed to turn their ships around and the US agreed not to invade Cuba.

The Cold War brought the principle of “Duck and Cover” to US schools. Students were taught that, in the event of nuclear attack, they should duck under their school desks and cover their heads with their hands. I don’t recall learning “Duck and Cover” in elementary school, but I was taught to tell my parents to build a fallout shelter. We lacked clarity about the difference between a bomb shelter (to protect against the immediate blast) and a fallout shelter (with air filters and stored supplies to hide out for a long time.) I went home and told my parents we needed a fallout shelter. They let me know that wasn’t going to happen.

The alternative was to reinforce a portion of the house. I told my mom that we needed to get sandbags and be prepared to cover the kitchen floor with them. I chose the kitchen because the pantry was directly below. We would then go the basement where we stored canned goods. We’d also be by the laundry tub so we’d have access to water. I wasn’t thinking about the loss of infrastructure and the low likelihood that opening the tap would provide potable water – but the water heater was also there, so we at least had those 30 or 40 gallons. She didn’t seem to take me very seriously.

Others did. I remember going to the Parade of Homes, where every home featured a fallout shelter – a sub-basement with water storage tanks, shelving for food, filtered air ducts, and a generator. I don’t remember about toilet facilities. Rod Serling wondered what would happen if some of us took that threat seriously and built shelters, while others did not. “The Shelter” was released in September of 1961. Think “The Grasshopper and the Ants: Nuclear War Version.”

Condensed version.

It was about 1967. I was studying computer programming in a summer course – learning to write FORTRAN to program an IBM 1620. For a special treat, we programmed in FORTRAN IV to run on an IBM System 360.

IBM 1620 from IBM archives. Neither of these machines could match the computing power of your smart phone. To use them required a separate keypunch machine (not shown) to produce the cards to feed instructions to the machine.
IBM System 360 from IBM archives. The machine I worked on had additional tape drives and took up much more space than this. It had a raised floor with cables underneath to connect the components. The room was kept cold to counteract the large heat output of the components.

Our class went on a field trip to the SAGE (Semi-Automated Ground Environment) building. We entered a concrete bunker. The walls, we were told, were three feet thick and hardened to protect against direct bombing. In that bunker was a massive computer (AN/FSQ-7 Combat Direction Central) belonging to NORAD (North American Air Defense Command). The computer’s size could be measured in tons, or square feet of floor space required. It contained thousands of vacuum tubes. We were told that there was a maintenance person with the job of replacing tubes. He would begin at one end of the machine and work to the other, then start over. It was actually two machines in one, so that it could be operational 24/7 while still undergoing maintenance.

A computer big enough to walk through. Image from Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communication, and Computation.
Image from Pinterest. Still inside of the computer. These images are brightly lit. I remember feeling like I was in a cavern. The lights were dim to avoid generating excess heat.

Since this was the brain of our cold war missile defense (remember that the War Department was renamed the Department of Defense after WW II, so defense was a euphemism), we were at Ground Zero. If the Soviet Union wanted to defeat the US in an all-out war, taking out this system would be an important first step. Since my father worked on that base, maybe he knew this. Maybe that was why my parents never took my defense preparation instructions seriously. The best instruction we could receive would not be to duck and cover, but to bend over, put your head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye.

[Thanks, Martha. Your mention of UNIVAC led to this…I thought the SAGE computer was a UNIVAC. I remembered wrongly.]