Thursday, August 13, 2020

Some questions in search of sound answers re: COVID-19

 by Don Keith

Once more, I'll veer slightly away from rapid technological change for a bit. But not really. Technology is racing along yet seemingly unable to give us much reassurance when it comes to the one thing most on our minds these days.

We are now...what?...six months into this pandemic. I'd say we've spent billions fighting and studying it. (Somebody is making money, by the way. They aren't burning that currency in barrels somewhere to scare away the Chinese bug with thick smoke. It's going into somebody's bank account.) We've allowed it to radically alter our lives and economy. We have armies of people who supposedly know what they are doing performing both those functions--studying and fighting--and yet as much as I try to follow developments, I still see so many questions going unanswered. Or incorrectly answered. Or politicized by all sides.

1) Are we really still considering all positive tests as "cases" and, if so, is that a good measure? What is the error rate of the more commonly used tests? I personally know more people who tested positive and then tested negative...sometimes multiple times...than I do those who actually had symptoms of COVID-19. I know others who had symptoms of something, tested negative for COVID, but still got counted positive because of lung congestion and cough. There are other viruses out there, folks. And they didn't run and hide just because the new guy came along.

2) Do we still count as a COVID-19 hospitalization and/or death those who present with something else entirely...even heart attacks or accidental injury...then test positive for the virus?

3) I saw a study this morning that teens who vape have a 5- to 7-times greater likelihood of contracting the virus as do those with good who choose not to vape. Do we have any idea at all of the number of infections by those of all ages who smoke or vape--smoke anything, including pot, but good luck getting that number--who catch coronavirus compared to those with good who do not. Seems that would be a good stat to know when we start isolating and protecting folks most likely to get the virus. Simple question: what percentage of cases and deaths are/were regular smokers? Please tell me we are asking that question. And reporting it to some central repository of data. And using it to fight and study.

4) Could we not settle on one standard way of counting cases, positive tests, negative tests, symptomatic individuals tested who are negative AND positive, non-symptomatic individuals tested who are negative AND positive, positive tests that were later negative, hospitalizations, intubations, ICU cases, and deaths? How can we come up with accurate data if every hospital, local health department, national agency, media outlet, Facebook user, and politician counts and interprets these crucial numbers differently? Often based on his, her or its own agenda. Then throws them into one big, scary pot. Or is that the idea, counting anything possible as a "case" and "death" to scare us into wearing masks and staying the heck at home?

5) And finally, can we please, please, please have somebody reporting these data in a clear, consistent, understandable way on a regular basis, along with what they mean and what we are doing to make things better? Somebody we can trust? Not somebody whose funding, grants, career advancement, personal popularity, media ratings or website clicks, or political party and/or career depends on the spin placed upon such data?

By the way, the media ain't the answer to this last question. They have done a huge disservice throughout this thing so far. Example: one local TV station starts every newscast with, "Our state now has XXXX cases of COVID-19, setting a new record for infections." "XXXX" is the total number of positive tests since the end of February. Far as I can tell, every single one of those either recovered (more than 98%), died, or turned out to be false positives...or will. There certainly are not that many active cases right this red hot minute. And if there is one new case today, yes, it sets a new record. One more case/positive test tomorrow breaks the record again. It only takes one to set a new record! And they and other media continue to show us that cumulative graph which starts at zero cases in February and frighteningly climbs to XXXX today over there on the right-hand side. And if they format the graph just right, it is an almost vertical climb. What is the purpose of such a misleading and useless graph other than to make us look and come back tomorrow to look again? Incidentally, it may eventually flatten out.Unlikely since we will likely always have a few new cases of this virus, just as we do with just about every other virus that has come along. It will NEVER go down. That I can assure you.

Just asking...

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Questions that I would like to see answered

by Don Keith

Really, I'm not trying to cause trouble here. I know COVID-19 is one bad bug and we should mitigate as requested to help prevent its spread. That makes sense even in a normal cold and flu season. But please, help me find the answers to some questions the media seem to have forgotten to answer:

1- Why do media insist on showing us that "Total number of cases" line graph? Of course it is a steadily rising curve and will continue to get higher...unless we suddenly have NO new cases. The data are cumulative! With number of cases on the x axis and time on the y, the graph will get fatter as time goes on. Or until there are zero new cases. Or until time stops.

2- Corollary to that question: Why does the total number of cases since the beginning not equal the number of people who have recovered, the number of active cases currently, and the total number of deaths from the corona virus? You've either recovered, have it now, or died from it, right? Those numbers are not even close to each other. What happened to all those folks not accounted for?

3- Is it true that anyone presenting to a hospital with viral pneumonia is automatically classified as suffering from COVID-19? I've heard this from more than one reliable source. Even though there are many, many other causes of viral pneumonia besides corona. And if someone is tested, say, six times and is positive three times and negative three times, does that count as three more cases of COVID-19? I know people who have tested four times with two negatives and two positives. And each is still without symptoms.We've all heard those stories of test people submitting unused swabs that came back positive. Or that swabbed a peach that apparently has a raging case of COVID-19. I have no verification of those kinds of things.

4- How come we don't know why there has been a surge of new cases in many states over the last month that had previously been relatively unscathed? We've been studying this virus for six months now, and similar ones for years, and we apparently don't have a clue. You can't blame it all on the bars, the beaches, or the political party of the governors can you?

5- Corollary question to #4 above: Is it possible that this surge could be related to dramatically increased testing? See this article about accuracy of the current tests being done.

6- That, of course, would not explain the increase in hospitalizations and deaths. Something is going on. Surely the vast, well-funded communicable disease bureaucracy can tell us what's up and suggest ways to fix it. Besides everybody going into a bunker, I hope. I do hear phrases in the media like, "...deadliest day yet..." and "...record-breaking new cases..." But I do note that these are coming in states and areas where positive tests and deaths were very low before, so records are not that hard to break if there is an increase in either. And with far fewer cases in the past, that leaves a much bigger group with no immunity, right? Or am I way off base here?

7- And then there is that big grab bag of rumors, guesses, wishes, and naysaying. Do kids carry the bug and infect us old folks while they stay well? Are we killing more people by using porous,filthy, germ-saturated, carbon dioxide-trapping face masks than we are saving with them? Does the virus remain alive on an elevator button for about two seconds, two minutes, two hours or two days? (I've heard all four!) Does your blood type, diet, IQ, blood alcohol content, or sign of the zodiac have anything to do with your likelihood of catching this mess? Is stress really a factor? Do the meds we've been hearing about for months really help, and if so, why is nobody talking about it in the media? Has the death rate eased or not? And why, if a six-year-old comes down with COVID-19, is it "Dancing With the Stars"-program-interrupting breaking news? But if a thousand recovered people in the country are dismissed from the hospital today, we never get the word? Just the shots of somebody who looks like death warmed over being wheeled out, barely able to manage a weak wave to the cheering medical professionals lining the hallways, as if to say, "Well, we pulled one through, I guess."

Again, we're pretty far along with this thing now and we're spending billions worldwide, but either nobody is telling us what we really need to know...or I've been so busy living and writing and laughing and growing tomatoes in flower pots in the backyard that I've missed the answers to these questions.

More reading: this article contains some arithmetic. But dive in anyway. It will still make sense to most of you. And hopefully cause you to ask your own questions.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

News you may have missed while engaged on social media

by Don Keith

THEY TELL ME 95% OF YOU GET 100% OF YOUR NEWS FROM SOCIAL MEDIA these days…so I thought I’d bring you up to date on a few stories you may have missed.

You may have heard from others that both the Washington Redskins NFL team and the Cleveland Indians MLB team are considering new names because the ones they’ve used for most of a century are now offensive and causing considerable offense and psychic pain to some folks. But you may have missed these similar breaking stories:

The Dallas Cowboys are also coming under pressure to change their name. We’ve all seen those John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns in which the cowboys brutally shot indigenous Native Americans right out of the saddle. Plus, in some circles, the word “boy” is considered a racist term while also being sexist and discriminatory to members of the LGBTQ community, who are offended by any such crass, hurtful designation of gender. And environmentalists assure us that cow flatulence is destroying the planet while vegans are quite upset that we glorify beef in this or any other way. Some of the latter are proponents of renaming the Cowboys as “The Rutabagas.” They maintain the time has finally come when we should use names of prominent root vegetables for our athletic teams. (Remember, too, that Clint Eastwood, of “spaghetti western” fame, came right out in public and addressed the Republican National Convention several years ago, acting as if there was nothing at all evil in doing such a thing. Or at least he addressed an empty chair there on the dais. That, alone, should be sufficient reason to discard the “cowboy” moniker!)

Similar actions are imminent for the Oakland Raiders, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. You surely know the atrocities committed by those similarly-named, lawless brigands not so long ago in our country’s history. Maybe you don’t, because you studied history in college, and most of it has been properly expunged—note that very soon, the American history textbook will be a pamphlet, as it should be!—but trust me, those were some bad thieving, killing, ship-sinking dudes. Or, I should say, misguided individuals who would have benefited from self-awareness therapy and anger management intervention by a qualified professional counselor. But that was before we recognized the value of re-directing taxpayer dollars from the police to such far better solutions for combatting crime. Yes, the pirates mostly robbed, pillaged and killed European explorers, which is no reason for criticism against them. As we now know, those imperialists were only interested in bringing the rule of their royalty, their religion, and their syphilis to the so-called New World. But the bandits also did some bad stuff to the indigenous people of the Caribbean, including burying chests of plunder and allowing the dead bodies of European imperialists to wash up on their pristine beaches, creating early pollution issues. Even worse than a plastic straw up the nose is having a dead European stuck to the snout of a struggling sea turtle.

Finally, I note that the San Diego Chargers will have to change both their names this fall, first because they are no longer located anywhere near San Diego, so it makes no sense to tie them to that city (don’t get me started on the San Diego Padres, whose name insults people everywhere who are hoping to remove any designation of gender in the words we use to describe each other, as well as that horrid name doing so much to crush the feelings of atheists, who prefer their tobacco-chewing, crotch-scratching athletes not be saddled with such a painful and Catholic title). But the real reason so many are having their feelings bruised by the name “Chargers” is because their team name shows a lack of respect for those who are being crushed by credit card debt and mammoth student-loan obligations. A number of truly woke organizations note that the team’s slavish devotion to the evils of capitalism should not be celebrated. And since free college tuition is absolutely a birthright (another strike against the old white men who wrote that silly constitution under which we continue to operate a nation), a four-quarter reminder every Sunday afternoon and again on the scoreboard/highlight shows of the economic evils promulgated upon us by greedy billionaires is simply not acceptable.

Okay, those are some of the top stories you may have missed while busy on social media perusing pictures of people’s cats and culinary dishes you could never make yourself in a million years (but still posted the picture from the recipe web site, hoping somebody might think you cooked it and took the photo). Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Some recent news stories you may have missed

By Don Keith

Several related stories in the news today you may have missed:
1) Citing the presence of a small number of racist or violent police officers on their forces, state legislatures and city governments in several areas have begun the process of defunding or eliminating entirely the police departments over which they have jurisdiction. Most will allocate the money previously allotted for police to social service and drug intervention programs, maintaining such interdiction programs will eliminate all crime and that armed police will no longer be necessary.

2) Noting that a small percentage of all major league baseball players perennially have a batting average below .100, the League will dismantle professional baseball in this country entirely, eliminating the personal suffering of and constant pressure on these vulnerable players. Money that would have gone to MLB will now be used to build batting cages in centrally-located areas and to pay instructors to teach kids how to hit the curve ball.
3) Because almost 40,000 people die in auto accidents each year on highways in the USA, the NTSB has begun a multi-billion-dollar program to bulldoze every single mile of roadway in the country. The original plan was to use any leftover funds to provide every man, woman and child in the country a bicycle, However, it was learned that almost 800 people die in bicycle accidents each year. Although practically all of those fatalities were from autos hitting cyclists, the NTSB said, "Even one person dying on a bicycle is too many."
They will, instead, outlaw bicycles and provide every man, woman and child in America a walking stick, pending accurate statistics on how many non-traffic-related walking fatalities occur each year. There was some discussion about simply ordering everyone to stay home, but since that policy is already in effect, it would have little impact on the problem.
4) Because a percentage of all elected and appointed government officials--including those serving in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, state legislatures, and city governments--are corrupt, dim-witted or certifiably insane, it has been determined that every single one of them will be removed from office, just to be sure the right ones are gone and can do no more damage. Since that is cited as the reason to get rid of all police officers just to eliminate the bad ones, it should work just fine for all politicians, too.
Elections will be scheduled for some future date...or not. The consensus is that the media has all the answers anyway and should be able to step in and run the government just fine until we get around to elections.One suggestion is that elections not be held until some scientific way is developed to determine if a candidate has at least some modicum of common sense. The problem there is that anyone who desires to run for political office is clearly devoid of common sense in the first place.
The decision of how to eventually re-elect a government will now rest with a panel of academics from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Malcom X University, representatives of several community organizing groups, and contributors to Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. The group has already announced that the committee to plan the agenda for the first agenda-planning committee meeting will begin discussions sometime in the near future at a location to be determined by the location-determination committee.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Next verse - same as the first

by Don Keith

(Blogger Note: I apologize for not having posted in a while. And give credit to COVID-19 that I'm finally socially isolated enough that I have time to do so now. My excuse is a good one: I've been busy as a supermarket hand soap re-stocker! We've completed post-production on the documentary "Colors of Character," trying to meet with various folks about distribution opportunities for the film (no thanks to CoronaVirus!), finishing up with George Wallace our next book in The Hunter Killer Series of military thrillers, and working on some other exciting movie projects. Plus the grandkids are out of school during the pandemic and we grandparents are official fallback for daycare. Still, media and technology rapidly change - and has done so since I started this long blogger note - so here's my latest observation. Your thoughts?)

My friends at InsideRadio (and I do have some good friends who work there) are out with an article about a recent research study that even this outlet sees as troubling for the over-the-air broadcast news source. See, InsideRadio typically looks for positive spin on anything pertaining to radio. But it's difficult to put any such lipstick on this pig.

The study by Edison Research reports that, of the people surveyed, 68% report having at least one radio in their homes. Not bad, huh? Well, consider that quite recently, that number approached 100% of all households.  As the article says, "That’s down from 79% in 2016, 90% in 2012 and 96% in 2008. The average home now has 1.5 radios, down from double that number in 2008." 

Again, I must state that I am pro-broadcast-radio. I spent many years of my life in the medium and still believe it can be one of the most powerful there is when it comes to offering entertainment, information, companionship, and advertising that reaches consumers closest to point-of-sale. But this trend is not only surprising but downright me, to broadcasters, to listeners, to advertisers. Especially when almost one-third of respondents report having NO radios in their homes.

I don't think I need to rehash why I think people are less and less likely to have radios (or to listen to the ones they do have). It's a natural effect of having multiple sources of streaming music and info available from myriad types of technology. And clearly those sources are offering folks what they want, when they want it, and by the means that they want to consume it. Even if traditional radio is still ubiquitous and relatively easy to access, all those other free or cheap sources of what people want to listen to have simply overwhelmed the medium. And for that, I blame two things: technology and broadcasters.

At a time when listeners have so many options, over-the-air broadcasters abdicated. They panicked. They chopped the very things that made them unique...entertaining personalities, local news, geographically curated music, community involvement, and more. Instead, they now do exactly what online music streamers do - offer "long sets of today's top songs" - but with many more commercials interrupting them and without the ability to program those music streams precisely to the listeners' taste.

News and information? We used to brag, "Read yesterday's news in today's newspaper. See today's news on TV tonight. Or hear the news now on WXXX!" Most news/talk stations now are better known for nationally-syndicated talk shows and not for covering local news stories. Even those news stations that employ a news staff of some kind still lag TV for instantaneous coverage of local events...with pictures. And TV stations that now offer many hours of local newscasts, each day, not just at 7 and 11. (There is an economic reason for that, too, you know. Local newscasts offer much more opportunity for insertion of all those commercials than "Ellen" or "The Price is Right" do. So putting on news makes more money than running syndicated or network shows. As with radio, with viewership/listenership down, and with commercials priced by how many people see or hear them, broadcasters can't add more minutes to the hour so they add more commercials.)

Is it too late for radio? If the trend continues - and I see no reason why it won't - soon less than half the households in the USA will even have a radio in their casa. And with almost every new car model about to come internet-ready and 5G compatible, why would we expect to have in-car listening to the radio go any way but south?  If I am streaming Spotify as I shave in the morning, and if, once I start my commute, my in-car choice is either continuing to hear MY songs or listen to some lame morning show or a stream of music that plays a very limited list of formatted music that may or may not fit what I really want to hear, which will I choose? And if Google tells me the weather and top news and Siri lets me know if there is a wreck on the freeway (I have to wait to hear that on my local radio station, and then it may be old and inaccurate info), what's my incentive to suffer through ten commercials and a trying-too-hard-to-make-me-laugh morning radio team (most of whom are voice-tracking a half dozen other shows on stations around the country when they leave the air locally, so they can make a living)?

And how long will it be before mega-station broadcasters like iHeart decide they really no longer need that tower on the hill or big transmitter and can rely on their online mechanism to reach people and sell advertising? It's happening already. Look at how many AM licenses are being surrendered voluntarily because they can't or won't pay the power bill to keep the stations on the air, or the property where the tower(s) is/are located is more valuable than their airtime is.

Please give me a reason to listen to that old-fashioned device on the shelf in the kitchen or in the middle of my car dash!  Please don't try to outstream the streamers! Please give me the companionship and entertainment value that only live, local radio can offer! That no mouse click or "Hey, Alexa.." can offer.

Please don't continue to try to cut your way to prosperity!

Friday, July 5, 2019

Are we so involved in chronicling our lives that we are missing living them?

By Don Keith

I often tell my wife that we watched our kids grow up through the viewfinder of this or that film or video camera. And it is not far from the truth. Then I receive this spot-on correspondence from Becky Robinson of the company Weaving Influence.

You may have noticed that earlier this week, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp had a glitch when it came to uploading and viewing images. A quick Google search for “Facebook image issues” resulted in a number of articles and tweets about the issue, along with calls to “stay tuned” for updates. And while I appreciate the frustration of not being able to share images - especially when it’s part of your job - I couldn’t help but think about how the world has changed!
What if, instead of fanatically following the progress of Facebook engineers to get images back online, we put our smartphones down and gazed out at the ocean instead? Rather than aiming to get the perfect shot to share, how about laying in the grass with our kids and enjoying the fireworks? What if we just ate the hotdog instead of Instagramming it?
In recent years, I’ve become less inclined to share via social media, despite coaching our clients to show up consistently, partly because I want to be more tuned in to what’s happening around me.
What if social media’s downtime is actually a reminder to us to unplug every once in a while as well? I’d say it’s something to consider.
"Well said, Becky!" I yell, even as I am making a post about her thoughts here on my blog...

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Amid all the celebrating on this July 4th...

By Don Keith

It is not boastful nationalism to call attention on this day to a bold, successful experiment that has actually made this planet far better than it would have been otherwise. History has been littered with brutal empires, despotic dictators, and corrupt royalties that dominated practically all of the world's people, and in the 1700s it appeared that would always be the case.

Then, a brave group of very bright men took ideas from the ancient Greeks and applied them to a "new world" that at the time was ruled by a distant king as part of a far-flung empire. After boldly declaring that men (and women) should live free and determine their own fate and fortune, that men and women were free to live, worship, and thrive as they desired so long as they did not infringe on the rights of others, and that this new country would employ a democratic form of government, governed by the people and not a "divinely-appointed" king or queen or a dictator, the United States of America was born...not to dominate the earth, not to build empires, not to threaten with its might but to offer other people across the globe a powerful, shining example of what could be. That experiment gave hope for freedom and prosperity through democracy and an economic system that, together, would raise the living standards, recognize individual rights, and provide an existence not then available to most of the world's people.

Yes, there have been rough spots and necessary change (slavery, civil war, women's rights, civil rights), but it was that very form of government and rule by the people that made those vital adjustments possible...if not always painless. It is true that democracy can be messy. Certainly a distant king or a brutal dictator or a socialist regime would have never allowed such. Government is decidedly neater and quieter under such iron-fist rule. And even as so many bemoan our "division" or our "economic inequality," we need to take a moment to reflect on how wonderful it is that we can even debate such points without being arrested or censored. But also remember that because of those brave men and our persistent form of democracy and thanks to our powerful free-enterprise system, we continue to raise the standard of living not only of our own citizens but of people around the planet. And that everyone can see that they, too, can demand their own rights be granted. Nobody is storming the borders of Venezuela or North Korea or Iran, trying to get into those countries.

And that's just another reason we should shoot our fireworks and eat our barbecue and celebrate this day with renewed vigor. Because this noble experiment continues to demonstrate the correctness of its ideals and the power of its ideas, We may never get it totally perfect, but it has certainly worked out well so far for our country and to those others around the world that emulate it. Even as we continue to try to get it even more perfect, we should acknowledge how great we have it. We should vow to better educate ourselves, be open to hearing opposing ideas, remain open-minded and fair, evaluate our representatives on ideas, not personality or promises, and do everything we can to continue the intent of those bright, brave men who started this whole thing. We can and we must. I'm confident we will.

To me, that is worth celebrating!