Discussion thread

August 1, 2021 • 9:15 am

Once again there’s nothing I see that stimulates me to write; am I running dry, is there no news of note, or is everything happening just a reprisal of what I’ve commented on before? At any rate, there’s no need for me to write when I am not compelled to say something, so perhaps we can have a discussion instead. (I’ll put up a photo-and-video post of Botany Pond’s ducks and turtles later.) But there are things we can discuss.

Here are a few subjects, but you needn’t limit yourself to these.

A lot of people, and not just right-wingers, are complaining about the rapid changes in recommendations by the CDC about how to behave during the pandemic. While the vaccination recommendation remains strong and in place, lockdown and especially mask recommendations seem to change daily. Is this just what happens when what we know about the new variants and about science changes over time, or is the CDC itself conflicted about what to do and say, perhaps because there’s a conflict between their medical opinions and how Americans would react against more restrictions? On the NBC Evening News yesterday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky was asked if she thought there should be the “government should mandate the vaccine on a federal level”.  They were asking her opinion, but she punted, saying that the administration was looking into it, and later issued the following “clarification”:

Even so, I don’t know what she’s talking about. My own view is to act like I did last year and earlier this year: wear masks indoors, stay 6 feet away from people who I don’t know are vaccinated, and wash my hands a lot. And I’ll get a booster. I am less fearful than I was last year, as we know the vaccine strongly protects you against death or hospitalization. But all over America, people are resistant to new lockdowns. Given the data on the delta variant, and the claim that it can accumulate in the nasal passages of those who have been fully vaccinated, and that those people can infect other people—even other vaccinated people—is the federal government acting properly? (I assume people will agree that some state governments have their heads in the sand.)

After missing a vault and falling on her back in practice, gymnast Simone Biles has apparently pulled out of all team and individual events. This is surely wise, as she seems to have lost either her confidence or sense of where she was in the air. She said she had the “twisties”. Apparently this is not uncommon among gymnasts. As Time Magazine reports:

And every gymnast can relate. Biles has since said that the combination of mental stress and pressure leading up to the Olympics have affected her confidence. But, more importantly, she felt a disconnect between her mind and body; her body was no longer doing what she wanted it to. Whatever the trigger, gymnasts call this the “twisties.”

“If you say ‘twisties’ every gymnast knows what you’re talking about,” says Jordyn Wieber, member of the 2012 Olympics gold medal team and now head women’s gymnastics coach at the University of Arkansas. “It’s something all gymnasts experience at one time or another.”

. . .What causes the twisties varies from gymnast to gymnast—sometimes, they can be triggered if the gymnast is training different twisting skills at the same time, for instance going back and forth between double twisting elements, one-and-a-half twists, and triples. Stress could contribute to them. Or they can just descend out of the blue for no reason.

For Biles, they occurred on the world’s biggest stage, and the look of concern everyone saw on her face makes sense. “She is doing some of the most difficult skills in the entire world, and if you’re not mentally in a great place, or have the twisties, then that can be a matter or life or death,” says Wieber. “One wrong landing, or landing on your neck, could be really, really dangerous.” Biles has four skills named after her on the vault, floor and beam, including the daring triple-twisting double back flip on floor exercise.

Biles has been answering questions on Instagram about the twisties, and it’s clear she is experiencing the classic signs. “Literally cannot tell up from down. It’s the craziest feeling ever, not having an inch of control over your body,” she wrote. “what’s even scarier is since I have no idea where I am in the air, I also have NO idea how I’m going to land. or what I’m going to land on. Head/hands/feet/back…”

It’s clearly laudable that Biles pulled out of competition, as gymnasts with the “twisties” who haven’t done so have wound up as quadraplegics. And her personal behavior has been exemplary, supporting her teammates down the line. Likewise with her coaches and teammates, who fully support her decision and have shown her a lot of affection.

What worries me is not Biles’s or her teammates’ behavior, but the reporting that has analogized the “twisties” with serious mental illness: the kind of depression, for example, that still affects swimmer Michael Phelps and perhaps Naomi Ozaka. Biles in fact seems to be receiving support for going public with being mentally ill, something that she hasn’t done!

What’s good about the Phelps/Ozaka cases is that they’ve led to the de-stigmatization of mental illness and the recognition that it’s more frequent than people think. But is there a downside with conflating nerves, “twisties”, or a loss or proficiency with mental illness? I think so, but want to hear from readers.

Finally, speaking of the Olympics, is there too much jingoism evinced in the coverage? Every night on the reports, nearly all the coverage is about Americans, with the inevitable chart showing how the countries rank in terms of medals, like this one:

I know you can’t get rid of patriotism completely, but it seems that this concentration on countries is inimical to the spirit of the Olympics, where politics isn’t supposed to matter. And I suspect there are a lot of fantastic athletes from other countries with stories as compelling as, or more so, than those of athletes like Katie Ledecky and Sunisa Lee. Where are their stories?

Well, those are three suggestions, but any topic is open. As always, I regard such discussions as failures if we get fewer than fifty comments (it’s a peccadillo of mine), so weigh in.

119 thoughts on “Discussion thread

  1. I’m double jabbed as we say over here. I’ve had both doses of the vaccine that are required. The worrying thing is that you can still get infected. Andrew Marr who runs a Sunday Morning political interview show on the BBC is double jabbed and he got a nasty dose of the Delta Variant. Nobody knows about the risk of Long Covid. The worrying thing is two reports in this week about the disease affecting IQ ( in the Lancet) and bringing on Alzheimer’s. Not nice. There is also a report today that we may be reaching herd immunity with 87% of the population being immune either through vaccination or infection. The twitterati have dubbed the Delta Variant the Johnson Variant after Boris Johnson who let it in from India by not acting quickly enough. Oh and his new wife is expecting a new kid. We don’t know how many that will mean he has because he consistently refuses to tell. In once case a woman he slept with went to court about their child so we know about that one. but we just don’t know if there are others.

    1. We are starting to finally learn about long Covid in breakthrough cases, but unfortunately it isn’t looking good. See my other comment here, which discusses this at length.

      The only saving grace about the IQ drop is that it will mostly be occurring in people for whom IQ doesn’t seem like a major attribute anyhow. Snarky, I know, but after seeing a deadly pandemic unnecessarily prolonged and worsened by the ignorance of anti-masking, anti-vaccination morons, I feel like a little bit of snark is called for.

          1. Several years back I had a 20-something kid come out to replace a rock-damaged windshield. I don’t know how, but small talk turned to archery, and the kid practices with a small crossbow. “Like the one on The Walking Dead?” I asked. He explained that real life zombies exist, and it’s good to be prepared. Yet when I expressed skepticism he didn’t try to shout me down, the-end-of days, or even the Bible.

            He remained very respectful, polite, and did an expert job of replacing my windshield. Can’t see how this current crop of crazies even manage to get dressed and out of bed in the morning.

            1. I get the feeling he was only respectful and polite because he perceived you not to be a zombie. On a different day and/or different lighting, who knows? Sounds like he was a bomb waiting to go off.

    2. I can’t cite the source other than in one of probably the last 20 TWiV episodes, but vaccination of long-COVID patients apparently has a beneficial effect on memory issues in a sizeable % of them.

    3. Re IQ results, I have not read the paper, but the obvious explanation would seem to be oxygen starvation. Any situation that puts you on a ventilator probably involves some time with low enough blood oxygen to cause slight brain damage. If anyone did read the paper, could they clearly separate this from the hypothesis that (say) the virus just knocks a few points off many people for whom it’s no worse than the flu?

    4. I don’t wish to downplay this, but Andrew Marr did include the following in his report:

      “…yes, the vaccine seems it does protect very well against admission to hospital – at no point did I have difficulty breathing.”

      My feeling right now is that there is an over-pessimism in a number of things in the last few days on this non-blog. But we shall see. Maybe I’m over-optimistic. Maybe some are ‘over-expecting’ what a vaccine can do. Certainly the vaccine ignorami are putting us all in unnecessary danger.

      Covid is a very bad thing. But science has so far made it into something much less bad than it would have been.

      And if we’re lucky, 10 or 20 years from now, maybe sooner, there will be other quite striking advances in the fight against disease, ones which are at least partially traceable to the great efforts of medical science in the last 18 months (and of course to Darwin-Mendel-Crick-Watson-Franklin-etc.)

      1. A long time ago I was reading about efforts to develop preventative treatments where one does an inhaler or nasal spray that could help block the virus for a time. I have not heard anything on that front for a long time though.

        1. If you’re going to spray something effective into your nose, it needs to have a biochemically active component in it. In this context, that would mean interfering with the virus entering human cells, and we know more or less how the virus does that.
          Can one of the more biochemically or biologically astute remind us what the normal purpose of the ACE2 molecule on cell surfaces is, to which the SARS-COV-2 “spike protein” binds prior to effecting entry into the cell?
          AIUI, if you want to interfere with the virus getting into the body, you need to interfere with the expression of that protein (ACE) on cell surfaces. At which point, knowing what the purpose of the protein is, becomes rather important. What I can get from Wikipedia is that it is involved in blood pressure regulation, maybe in sugar (glucose) level control. Both of which are things you want to think tree times before messing with. But like everything biochemical, there a fifty-seven varieties of other interactions, most of which I struggle to pronounce.

  2. Like you, Jerry, I’m MIFFED at our media’s insistence on focusing so firmly on USA scores! I want to know the stories of athletes from small nations, who have managed to get themselves to Tokyo and to participate. What a thrill that would be and how inspiring..and how in keeping with the original idea of just getting together with people you don’t know but with whom you have so much in common.

    Shame on our media!

    1. Especially for you: in the women’s 100m sprint final all three medals went to the small country of Jamaica. Thompson-Herah won gold, as she did in 2016, silver went to Fraser-Pryce who did the same in 2016, and who won gold in 2008 and 2012. Jackson won thge Bronze, her first olympic medal I think our host posted a detailed analysis of the race.
      In fact Jamaica did the same in 2008 (winning all 3 medals), while in 2012 and 2016 the US squeezed out a silver medal. It means of the last 12 medals 10 were won by Jamaica.
      I’m pleased to say that although muscular, none of them are trans-men or even look like men.

      1. GOOD FOR JAMAICA! I’m old enough to remember watching the Olympics on a tiny black/white screen as the Russian ”women” swept the track/field events. Later, these ”women” were disqualified after genetic testing revealed they’d undoubtedly never had a menstrual period! This wasn’t a ”transgender” issue…it was simple fraud for propaganda issues.

    2. I’m halfway through Abigail Shrier’s book ‘Irreversible Damage’, and as yet not a glimpse of trans-phobia.
      Although I’m only halfway, it appears her main thesis is that sudden onset gender dysphoria (SOGD), is a kind of fad, a way for insecure puberty aged girls with diminished social contacts (due to smart-phones among other things), to gain a kind of hero status, and not a real, life long gender dysphoria.
      (I write this now, before I finished the book, because of the occasion: a discussion thread)

      1. I’m in the middle on that whole fracas since I think we just need more data. There should be mounting numbers of people who get early treatments but then regret them, but I have not heard of that happening. Yes, there are some, but nothing like an epidemic. Otoh it could be those who who later regret getting hormonal therapy are keeping a low profile.

  3. Similar Olympic jingoism here in the UK, although of course the focus is on the British competitors. Doubtless every country focuses on its own medal hopes. The BBC’s commentators have been going a little OTT in their blatant partiality in my opinion.

    Aside from bias, some of the Beeb’s introductory pieces have been very gimmicky and annoying – I presume that they are supposed to appeal to a younger audience, but if my kids’ reactions are anything to go by the strategy isn’t working!

    1. Part of the problem is that the Beeb had to settle for a limited coverage because Discovery picked up the IOC contract to cover all the sports. The BBC is required to provide free-to-air coverage of the Olympics, but it couldn’t afford to pay to cover everything (and would have been slagged off if it had tried).

      It is said that the BBC settled for this sub-optimal deal in return for getting a guaranteed deal for the next two Olympics. Fair enough; although the French seem to have got a better deal for no more dosh. That might be because the next Olympics are in Paris, however.

      The BBC evening round-up does at least give some airtime to non-Brit achievements, eg today’s men’s high jump, with an Italian and a Qatari agreeing to share the gold medal. Now that’s truly in the Olympic spirit!

      1. Indeed, the Beeb does have some access problems and it does have some coverage of non-British competitors. The men’s high jump winners made a great decision under the circumstances:

        Both had three failures as they attempted to match the Olympic record of 2.39m and, with error-free records on countback, could have fought for sole possession of the title. Instead, they made history – it was the first joint Olympic podium in athletics since 1912.

        Also, the number of mixed-sex relays – from swimming to the triathlon – is an interesting new development for the Olympics.

  4. In the Olympics, there could be team events with participants from different countries. But when the patriotism and national anthems go, then so goes a lot of the interest and advertising dollars.

  5. Disappointing news from Greenland in the past week, where enough ice melted on Tuesday alone (8.5bn tons) to cover the whole of Florida in two inches of water. A slightly lower amount (8.4bn tons) melted on Thursday, too. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/30/greenland-ice-sheet-florida-water-climate-crisis

    We really need COP26 in Glasgow later this year to agree to serious and urgent action – although it increasingly looks like it is in danger of being too late.

    1. Dispirited me says it’s too late. We must now turn our attention from prevention of climate disaster to its remediation as it happens. This includes planning for potable water shortages and for mass migrations of people currently living in areas that will soon be under water. As a case in point, witness what’s happening in Bangladesh: https://reut.rs/3rGCBGp

    2. enough ice melted on Tuesday alone (8.5bn tons) to cover the whole of Florida in two inches of water.

      Any way to get the water localized to Mar-a-Lago? 😉

  6. There is no chance that the olympics is anything but a political/national event. It has always been so and the object is always to get the most gold metals. The network coverage is from this country so it is naturally going to be mostly about our people. If anyone is looking for an international love fest they need to look for something besides sports contests. Every country has its best area for competition and ours has always been swimming & track and field. See who won most of the metals in judo. Not Americans. I believe they need to overcome this virus before going for more olympics. I had the virus back in January, seems like years ago. Then i got vaccinated so I am pretty sure I am done with it. If another shot becomes available, I will get it. Having had the virus, i do not want to get it again, regardless of how serious the illness can get. I always get all the vaccines necessary, for the flu, shingles whatever. To not do this is simply stupid. So I would say to all the media out there, stop talking about it and just get vaccinated.

  7. My take on the CDC’s messaging is that they’ve been unclear at times but also our understanding of the virus has changed over time. I don’t really blame them though as it must be hard to get it precisely right. Interviewers ask them questions and they answer as best they can but it is hard to account on the fly for how the message is going to be understood by all segments of the audience.

    In my opinion, the main problem is that such a large part of the population views those in charge of the COVID response in such a harsh light. Ideally, people should feel that we are all on the same team. People seem to alternate their reactions to the authorities’ messaging between “Tell us what we need to do to stay healthy” and “Stop telling us what to do when you aren’t sure.”

    As far as mandating vaccinations at the federal level is concerned, the Biden administration has obviously decided that they probably can’t do it legally and, even if they could, the blowback would be tremendous. Instead of causing more people to be vaccinated, it might harden resistance to it. And they would be handing the Republicans a hammer with which to beat them in the 2022 elections. They have the right to demand that the military and other federal employees get vaccinated but they are moving pretty slow on that, gauging response as they go. I suspect they hope that private industry starts mandating vaccinations for employees and customers where appropriate but that hasn’t happened as much as it should. I’m afraid we’ll be stuck with COVID for a long time.

    1. “Stop telling us what to do when you aren’t sure.” The problem is that a large number of the population (including politicians have very little understanding of the nature of science. Scientists are never “sure.” This is so for any science. Nobody is sure about the structure of black holes, whether gravity is Newtonian or not, and of course, of all aspects of the Covid virus. But one thing any government official should know is that viruses mutate, and that you give them time, new, more efficient variants will appear. That is why governments should not relax measures while a critical amount of the virus is still around, and make sure that vaccination is mandatory. Relaxing measures is as absurd as allowing people to drive on the right or left sides of roads.

      1. You nailed it. Anyone with any authority, even a CDC scientist, is viewed as suspect if they admit any uncertainty. Often wrong, never in doubt – that’s how we like ’em here in ‘Merica.

      2. Your point is a good one. But I cannot help noting that

        “.. Nobody is sure …. whether gravity is Newtonian or not..”

        is fundamentally incorrect. Right from his discovery of the right way to do General Relativity, Einstein has this story of how, when he had calculated the precession of Mercury’s orbit, and got it exactly right (relative to the Newtonian calculation known to be seriously wrong) and got some heart palpitations from that, it became more clear than ever that the latter with the mythical planet Vulcan nearby not only so far couldn’t be made to work, but never would be, quite apart from the failure to observe Vulcan. And it never will be observed of course.

        So gravity’s not Newtonian with 100% certainty. But neither is GR, though it’s much much more accurate. Its replacement of Newtonian is definitely necessary for GPS to work accurately.

        Quantum gravity, when discovered in future (I refuse to blab that absolutely stupid phrase ‘going forward’!), will be even more accurate, and likely even more difficult to do most calculations with.

        My “exactly right” above is with respect to how accurately one could observe Mercury, and may still be the case in 2021.

        I think that the subtlety of the ‘never perfect’ re science really has to be explained as much as possible, especially to young students once they are ready to absorb it.

        1. I mentioned the problem with stars circling a massive object observed in a number of galaxies. These stars move at higher velocity than expected from the gravity of this central mass, so one can assume that they also circle a large amount of mass that we cannot see directly-dark matter. Now the speed of the stars orbiting the central mass does not allow astronomers to decide how much dark matter inside the star’s orbit is causing the excessive velocity of stars, or if there is another effect, such as modified Newtonian gravity, proposed initially by Mordehai Milgrom.

          1. Milgrom’s concept is better known as “MOND”, which stands for “MOdified Newtonian Dynamics.”

    2. Yes, we’ll be “stuck” with COVID forever IMO. And that’s sort of a long time. Hell, we’ve been stuck with colds and flu and cancer and and and forever. This is another forever. Ready for the booster I think.

  8. NBC’s coverage of the Olympics has been pretty bad, IMHO. As usual, the focus is on Americans winning. I don’t mind a little of that but there’s always too much. The Olympics are an opportunity to honor human athletic performance and bring people together. Instead, they turn it into a battle between countries.

    On a technical level, their use of streaming services is abysmal. Their websites suck in so many ways that I’m not going to even start here. Instead of being a handy center for information on all things Olympic, it’s just a dumping ground for video content with minimal indexing. The Olympic Committee needs to address this in future OIympics.

    1. I’ve always thought Olympic coverage was dismal. I would have thought with the advent of cable and streaming that they should be able to manage less spotty coverage. Is it too much in this day and age to just have continuous coverage of gymnastics or track & field or other sports? I’ve always been frustrated by the way they jump around. How many times have you tried to follow a sport, and when they get to the finals been “Where did these people come from?”

      1. I would really love to follow the equestrian events, but seems to be more and more impossible each time. I stream only, and have paid for a month Hulu to be able to watch what I can. I would be willing to pay to be able to follow that sport exclusively. Seems to me that that should be possible in some way.

      2. Coverage wasn’t bad in the late 60’s/early 70’s with ABC and Jim McKay.

        A few mornings ago I saw Michael Phelps on NBC. Was blessed with the knowledge that he has a foundation. The person interviewing him said he’d be back in a few minutes to (among other pearls of wisdom) words-to-the-effect give his “message” to Simone Biles, as if from Mount Olympus. Ah, but the message wouldn’t be just for her, eh? It apparently wouldn’t suffice for him to have a personal, private conversation with her and say nothing to anyone else about it.

      3. I think there are a lot of people who are interested enough in various sports that we would happily watch every single moment of that Olympic event, from qualifying to finals. What we get instead of that is pretty unsatisfying. They certainly could provide such coverage through streaming services.
        For me personally, it is cycling and sailing, although I would watch every bit of the gymnastics as well, if only to watch them do what still seems impossible to me.

    2. Yeah, that’s my experience, too. I have tried signing up to stream the Olympics, but it has been frustratingly bad. I’ve been reduced to catching the highlights on YouTube.

    3. On September 11, 2001, I was able to watch the live events of that day better on my Windows 95 PC connected via dialup than I would likely be now. Streaming and networking technology has progressed, of course, but the invisible hand of the market has choked the life out of it.

      1. I suspect that the problem is that the Olympic Committee does have requirements that the broadcaster must meet but they are outdated and don’t have much to do with our experience. They largely assume that it is in the broadcaster’s advantage to address viewers’ needs. Unfortunately, the broadcaster’s goal is to sell ad time. Of course, they do place ads in the streaming content but the relatively small number of people who consume it there (and/or their demographics) leads them to focus on broadcast TV episodes.

        It will be interesting to see how this plays out over time. It seems clear to me that a lot more people would spend more time watching if they could access their favorite sports, athletes, countries more easily. On the other hand, perhaps broadcasters have looked at that and decided it’s not the case. People prefer the spoon-fed content. Of course, they could do a good job on both and that might maximize their profits. The dull truth is probably that NBC is run by old broadcast fogeys who don’t understand or value streaming in their gut. Time will deal with them.

  9. Speaking of such things as websites. The best comic of today in the Sunday paper was Dilbert. He told the boss he invented a technology that will manipulate people’s brains for our profit. The boss thought that was great. Finally he ask what is this miracle technology? Social Media

  10. As I don’t watch t.v. I don’t see what you’re all talking about. But I did we a couple reports of women finally getting their gumption to wear comfortable clothes. Maybe.

  11. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in Simone Biles position. The constant attention, and having a cameraman literally in your face while out on the floor in front of the world. Every misstep which is committed in minute fractions of a second are being tallied as a mistake that takes you further away from your expected gold medal. That would really suck.

  12. I was surprized that the decision of the european court that allows business to ban religious signs if they want – if they judge that it is not compatible with their image – wasn’t commented here. It happened 2 weeks ago if I remember well.

    1. I support the European Court’s ruling. Too often, being religious is treated as granting believers special privileges that others don’t have. This conflicts with the basic doctrine of equal citizenship for all. If an employer can ban, say, emblems supporting a favourite football team, for customer-facing staff, then they should be able to ban emblems and clothing identifying with a favourite religion.

      1. In the US, such a ban, if imposed by governmental employers, might well raise issues under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

        1. Though, if they held to a proper understanding of “free exercise”, as enunciated by Scalia in Employment Division vs Smith, they would hold that being religious does not grant one additional rights, and that an employer could prescribe a dress code if they were doing it for secular reasons.

          Scalia et al declared: Respondents urge us to hold, quite simply, that when otherwise prohibitable conduct is accompanied by religious convictions, not only the convictions but the conduct itself must be free from governmental regulation. We have never held that, and decline to do so now..

          Of course I wouldn’t rely on the current Supreme Court ruling in line with Employment Division vs Smith.

          Out of interest, as a lawyer, would you say that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is constitutional? I don’t think it is (as I argued here).

          1. In a case decided at the end of this past term, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, five justices — Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett — made clear that they are prepared to overrule Smith. And even since Smith, the Court has struck down some generally applicable laws on Free Exercise grounds. (Frankly, SCOTUS’s Free Exercise jurisprudence has long been something of a dog’s breakfast.)

            My own view is that, as a policy matter, the free exercise of religion should be subsumed into a broader freedom of conscience, available to believers and non-believers alike, under the Free Speech Clause. Unfortunately, however, that is not an interpretation that squares with the First Amendment’s text.

  13. Jerry, I am a definitely-not-rightwinger who has done my share of complaining about Biden’s CDC. I still find him many times better than the former guy and would happily vote for him again. But Dr. Rochelle Walensky has not proved to be one of his better picks. Her short-sighted invitation to ditch the masks back in May and her downplaying the issue of vaccine breakthrough infections is doing tremendous damage to public health in the U.S. right now.

    I don’t think anybody tuned in to the literature on vaccine efficacy two months ago was convinced that breakthrough infections would be as rare as Walkensky, Fauci, et al. were making them out to be. They would always talk about efficacy “against hospitalizations and death” like it was all that matters, and in fact said that it was many times. So many times I grew sick of hearing that phrase and the misinformation it represents. The efficacy against infection wasn’t great, which is why they didn’t focus on it. You had about 10% as much risk of being infected as an unvaccinated person with the same level of exposure.

    Now, with the Delta variant, that relative risk has gone up to at least 20%, a statistic backed up by one of the slides in the CDC’s leaked PowerPoint. And then they acknowledge (to each other, only belatedly to us unwashed masses) that we vaccinated folks are as likely to transmit the virus as an unvaccinated person. Oops. I guess hospitalizations and deaths are not in fact all that matters with a virus having an R0 greater than that of the 1918 influenza or even smallpox.

    There’s another issue with the whole “hospitalizations and deaths are all that matter” thing: The very real danger of long-term symptoms from a breakthrough infection. I have wondered for months how much that danger was attenuated by the virus. Plenty of experts offered reassuring noises about how it just wouldn’t happen because the immune system is primed now, etc. etc., but I’ve sadly learned to disregard expert opinion and just read the literature myself. Unlike most other areas of academic output, most of the papers are free outside a university library account, and searchable at the NIH website. And what little I could find on long-term symptoms (literally just two non-peer reviewed papers) wasn’t reassuring at all. It appeared to me that the numbers of study participants reporting long Covid symptoms after vaccination wasn’t all that much lower than those who hadn’t been vaccinated.

    Then came a paper last week in the New England Journal of Medicine showing long Covid symptoms in 19% of those in the study who had gotten breakthrough infections (“Covid-19 Breakthrough Infections in Vaccinated Health Care Workers,” https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa2109072?articleTools=true):

    “At 6 weeks after their diagnosis, 19% reported having ‘long Covid-19’ symptoms, which includ-ed a prolonged loss of smell, persistent cough, fatigue, weakness, dyspnea, or myalgia. Nine workers (23%) took a leave of absence from work beyond the 10 days of required quarantine; of these workers, 4 returned to work within 2 weeks. One worker had not yet returned after 6 weeks.”

    That figure of 19% is right in the ballpark for the consensus estimate of long Covid prevalence in any case of Covid-19. A little higher, in fact! So we now have a study published in a respected medical journal acknowledging (with data if not emphasis) that yes, getting long Covid after vaccination is very much a thing.

    That was confirmed by this little paragraph in the “Short Report on Long Covid” recently put out by the UK Office of National Statistics. It has this bizarrely upbeat tone that I’ve seen in the few papers mentioning findings about long Covid in breakthrough cases: “In all age groups the odds of experiencing symptoms for more than 28 days after post-vaccination infection was approximately halved by two vaccinations. Given that vaccinated individuals have a reduced risk of infection overall, this suggests that risk of Long COVID is substantially reduced in individuals who have received double vaccination.”

    This is hardly good news. You have more than 20% as much chance of getting infected with SARS-CoV-2 as an unvaccinated person now, given the same level of exposure to the Delta variant that is now over 90% of the lineage of that virus in the U.S. now. And that chance of infection, with nobody wearing masks anymore and what Walensky acknowledges to be one of the most transmissible human-pathogenic viruses of all time, is not particularly small.

    Please continue to be careful. Right now it appears to me (not an expert, but they don’t seem to know all that much more than I do about this) that you have about one tenth the risk of getting long Covid from a given amount of exposure as an unvaccinated person. That’s too much for me; I’m back to living like it’s 2020 again for a while.

    1. Apologies to our host for this long reply but I hope maybe this is helpful to contribute. If the length is not appropriate I hope Jerry will just delete the comment.

      I read that NEJM paper too but I don’t find it as alarming as others might. Yes, delta sucks because it is more infectious. And yes it can infect fully-vaccinated adults. But that NEJM study does not give an accurate or precise estimate of that risk of breakthrough infection for the vaccinated population.

      Although the study is as big as one could hope for in a single-centre study (a large hospital in Israel), it is still relatively small for estimating relative risks. That’s because, as bad as COVID is, the large majority of people still have not been infected by it, so the sample of infected people in a prospective study is small. The researchers followed 1497 people for whom they had RT-PCR data (to prospectively survey for infection); 39 of those individuals developed breakthrough infections (about 2.6%). Remember these infections occurred in January–April 2021, at the same time as the third and largest wave of COVID in Israel, and the sample included front-line nurses and doctors who work with a lot of sick people and are at very high risk for infection.

      Yes, the report says 19% of vaccinated people who developed a breakthrough infection “had persisted symptoms (>6 weeks).” But that’s not what journalists and advocates mean when they say “long covid”, which usually refers to a suite of severe symptoms. The NEJM report says “Of all the workers with breakthrough infection, 26 (67%) had mild symptoms at some stage, and none required hospitalization. The remaining 13 workers (33% of all cases) were asymptomatic during the duration of infection.” The next paragraph of the report refers to “‘long Covid-19’ symptoms, which included a prolonged loss of smell, persistent cough, fatigue, weakness, dyspnea, or myalgia”, but these are all self-reports not physician diagnoses, and again none required hospitalization. A few individuals took extra time off work following the quarantine period.

      Most important, the 19% with persistent symptoms is based on a small sample of people who got breakthrough infections (39 out of 1497); 19% of 39 is 7 individuals! That estimate based on a tiny sample is consistent with many different values of the true underlying rate of persistent symptoms, including some much higher rates (higher than the frequency of persistent symptoms from first infections in the unvaccinated population, which seems unlikely) or some very much lower rates (close to zero). If the study had surveyed for breakthrough infections in 150,000 people, found 3900 of them with breakthrough infections, and seen 700 of them with persistent long-term symptoms, that would be a more believable estimate of the risk of long-term symptoms in breakthrough infections (and again these are *mild* long-term symptoms none of which lead to hospitalization). I’m not saying the risk is zero, but we don’t know what it is, so I think we should judge our own risk of developing long-term symptoms after a breakthrough infection accordingly.

      Finally, the study notes there were no secondary infections among the 39 individuals who developed a breakthrough infection. Those people did not pass the virus along to anyone else. And in all 37 breakthroughs where the infection source could be traced, the breakthrough was caused by transmission from an unvaccinated person (of course). So vaccinated people pass the virus along to others at some very low rate (zero in this study, possibly non-zero but very low), in particular they don’t pass it along to other vaccinated people. One could argue that this is too small a sample to judge the rate of retransmission from those with breakthrough infections to others, but that argument applies to all of the estimates in the study (including those that are somewhat reassuring, and those that might be a source of concern).

      For me, these are reasons for cautious optimism. Being fully vaccinated protects against severe illness, and contributes to slowing the spread of the virus to people who can’t be vaccinated. Relative to the social and economic costs of partying like it’s 2020 all over again, I’m ready to embrace the remaining modest risks, and to treat SARS-CoV-2 more like influenza (unavoidable, but manageable, with an annual booster shot). YMMV.

        1. I apologize. Will try to emulate Coel, who posted most of the same ideas at about the same time but <10% of my word count.

    2. Walensky’s comments occasionally bother me too but she’s mostly ok. IMHO, she was a better Biden pick than Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General. He is the worst communicator of the bunch. He is so afraid of making a false statement that he makes everything he says as bland and uncontroversial as popular. If asked if everyone should take the vaccine, I imagine him saying something like “Yes. That’s probably a good idea.” Biden knew that whoever he put in this position would have to convince people that the administration knows what it’s doing on COVID. He couldn’t have picked much worse.

    3. Hmmm, though that Israeli study says that overall numbers with long-covid symptoms were low.

      Over a 14-week period (at a time when covid was at its peak in Israel), of 1497 fully-vaccinated health-care workers, 39 got covid, none was hospitalised, and 7 had long-covid symptoms lasting over 6 weeks.

        1. Yes, 85% of the cases that were tested for a variant of concern were alpha (the UK variant). The delta variant increased in frequency in Israel after the end of the study in April.

    4. Good information in there, but the risks stated for vaccinated people to get break-through infections, and for those to become long Covid are still a helluva lot better than not being vaccinated.
      Try to put yourself in the shoes of a CDC spokesperson. If you provide the facts and figures as stated, much of your audience will become lost. The vaccine resistors will also twist what you say to bolster their excuses to not bother to get vaccinated.

    5. I had a bad case of flu once and it took me more than six weeks to completely recover – more like eight weeks as I remember it. I’ll be more worried about long covid if it we see it persisting longer than two months.

      1. Oh that happened to me to in the past. In fact, the issues that I have now with chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic migraines I think were the direct cause of two horrendous flus I had in 1999 and in 2000 after Christmas in both cases. I was bed ridden for at least a week where I could barely get up to use the washroom and I remember thinking that if the flu did not improve, I would go to the hospital. It took months to recover and then after I was never the same.

    6. I agree with what you lay out here, especially the part about the premature removing of masks indoors. Thankfully, in my province we have not removed this mandate and our vaccination rates are on par if not having surpassed the US. A friend of mine sent this article to me today that I found interesting and somewhat related to what you are talking about. I have been moaning about the miscommunication to parents about the likelihood of children getting ill, leading parents to conclude that children are not vulnerable to Covid. https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/cognitive-illusions-and-how-not-to-write-about-covid-19-and-children/

  14. My view is that the CDC’s messaging has been a bit unclear, partly because they have to walk on eggshells. If they act on imperfect data, they are attacked. It they wait too long to act, they are excoriated. Choose your poison. I can accept imperfect clarity because I was trained as a scientist. It comes with the territory.

    The one thing that annoys me no end, however, is how (most of) the media is characterizing new masking recommendations as “backtracking,” “walking back,” and “reversing.” These recommendations are nothing of the sort. They are new cautions based on new (albeit imperfect) information. The other characterizations are not at all helpful. They are not valid and, worse, they can only serve to discredit science and call experts into question. This will only exacerbate the problem.

  15. I feel very sorry for Biles. I don’t know what to think about her situation. The pressure must be extraordinary, both externally and that which she places on herself. As outsiders we can never know everything she is going through. At the end of the day I just hope she doesn’t regret her decision.

    1. Yes, I feel sorry for Biles too. You train for years, so much so that you don’t have to think about your body position and movement, and suddenly you have lost the automatism. It is as if you are a beginner again.
      Very dangerous for gymniasts, as pointed out. And very sad too. I agree with Jerry it is very different from depression or mental illness. We only hope she will recover quickly.
      Of course she will regret missing the Olympics, but I guess she will not regret not being a paraplegic.
      I think she was pretty courageous to make the right decision.

  16. I have been wondering about Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling ice cream in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” (but not Israel!) as a protest of the Israeli occupation. How does denying the Palestinians access to their ice cream serve that cause?

    1. Beats me! On a slightly tangential note, according to The Guardian

      There has been a serious and systemic failure to tackle antisemitism across the five biggest social media platforms, resulting in a “safe space for racists”, according to a new report.

      Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok failed to act on 84% of posts spreading anti-Jewish hatred and propaganda reported via the platforms’ official complaints system.


    2. I suspect but don’t know that Ben & Jerry’s sell ice cream in Iran, where homosexual acts are capital crimes and women are oppressed. They certainly sell it in Palestine, where homosexuals are demonized, where women are oppressed, where Jews aren’t allowed to live, and where the country commits war crimes by firing missiles at innocent civilians, by paying off the families of terrorists who kill innocent civilians, and using Palestinian civilians as human shields. All of that is apparently fine with Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry.

      “We’re Ben and Jerry: Men of Ice Cream, Men of Hypocrisy.”

      1. B&J does not sell in Iran, at least according to Wikipedia. The countries it sells in all seem upstanding enough. It stopped selling in Russia, Hong Kong and, now, Palestine. To stop selling in Palestine because it is “occupied” by Israel just seems strange. You stop selling in a place because you disapprove of what it does, not because you disapprove of what another country does. I just don’t get what message it is sending. If it stopped selling in Israel I would disapprove but at least I would understand the message it was sending.

  17. When and why did everything historically significant, important, famous, and the like become “Iconic”?

    1. I like a lot of what he says in these cases but I really wish he’d learn about science. He says such stupid things about the pandemic, immune systems, and vaccination.

  18. The Olympics reminds us that life might be about competition whilst wasting energy on meaningless tasks to show off who has the best genes. The medal count gives us the illusion of a gene-pool-ranking.

    And it works very well. I’m always happy when I see my country above he competition (me, passive active, fighting the second law of thermodynamics by lying on my couch drinking a cold beer).

    Currently the only other animals allowed to compete are horses; that’s a bit strange because horses are much faster and stronger than us. To mitigate this problem we put additional and unnecessary weight on their backs so we humans look not too bad.

    At the 1900 Olympics there was a sport involving another kind of animal: pigeon shooting. Only 300 pigeons where killed, so probably they had a sporting chance because a human participant was eliminated once they missed two birds. Those were the days.

    1. I think I’m a deadly mix of Gen-X and Canadian because I get annoyed when CBC keeps sending “breaking news” announcements about another Canadian medal winner. Who cares, tell me when there is pandemic news I need to panic about or if the presidential dog bit someone else (just because it amuses me and I can live vicariously through the dog).

  19. On mandates and the “dangers” of vaccination: Washington in 1777, during the Revolutionary War ordered all his troops vaccinated against smallpox. This used a nasty, invasive and sometimes fatal method called “variolation.” A doctor would cut an incision in the flesh of the person being inoculated and implant a thread laced with live pustular matter into the wound.

    1. I have my “I’m old” smallpox vaccination scar but at least I didn’t have to have a thread placed in my arm.

  20. As an American who has lived in Sweden and has some knowledge of the language, I tend to follow Swedish behavior in regard to viruses: with no need for a government directive, we (Swedes and me) always automatically stay 6 feet away from anyone we have not been introduced to. On the subject of international gymnastics competitions: I have informed the Olympics authorities not to count on me. On cultural appropriation: if I cook in a saucepan, I am careful to avoid the word “sauté”. [On the other hand, “fry” also comes from an old French word (frire), so what is a soul to do?]

    1. I live in France and my wife is Swedish. Believe me, the French are much less docile about these things than Swedes. That explains the thousands of people who have been demonstrating against the government’s enforcing of masks and covid “passports” — documents showing you either have been vaccinated or have had the disease and got over it. There are better and worse ways of dealing with the problem..

    2. The Sweden deaths per million from Covid is approximately 10 times worse than Norway’s. Does that give you any pause?

    3. I would have made a great Swede. I don’t like getting very close to people either and I don’t want to touch anyone, especially people I don’t know. You can test this with me by stepping closer; I subconsciously step back further. I probably am only alive today because I had ancestors that had large personal boundaries as well, which enabled them to survive plagues. Hopefully, I’ll survive this one.

  21. I don’t deny that Simone Biles was under a lot of pressure at the Olympics but so are other competitors and I always thought that the mental side and dealing with the pressure was part of the job, especially if you are the GOAT. For whatever reason, Simone Biles didn’t have the mental side together at the biggest competition in last 5 years. In sporting parlance, she choked or bottled it. It has happened to many sports stars: a golfer might have played on and carded an 85; a tennis player might have finished the match and taken a hammering; but I am happy to accept that the danger of serious injury meant that it was the right decision to withdraw. I’m not inclined to condemn her but I also find it hard to see it as a heroic decision to prioritize her mental health. Isn’t it more like a “bad day at the office” (as sports stars like to say) ?

    1. While she was under a lot of pressure to deliver, she’s evidently suffering from the “twisties”. I guess we’ll have to take the word of gymnasts that this is a real affliction but it sounds like one. Anyone who has developed a physical skill requiring many hours of practice, has experienced times when the skill seems to vanish or fail. Biles is evidently going through a period where her physical expertise is failing, perhaps temporarily. In her sport, failure is life- or career-threatening. Couple that with the intense pressure from the public to perform, it isn’t so surprising that she’s dropped out. She really has no choice.

      1. I know very little about gymnastics and had never heard of the twisties but was happy to accept that she had to pull out given that she was suffering from them. That said, if you read this NPR article reporting what she said in the press conference afterwards, there is no mention of the twisties. She does mention the risk of injury but she also says the following:

        “ I was like, I think the girls need to do the rest of the competition without me. And they [her coaches] were like, ‘I promise you, you’re fine. We watched you warm up.’ And I said, ‘No. I know I’m going to be fine, but I can’t risk a medal for the team, so I need to call it.’

        And you usually don’t hear me say things like that, because I’ll usually persevere and push through things — but not to cost the team a medal. So they were like, ‘OK, well, if Simone says this, then we need to take a pretty serious.’ So I had the correct people around me to do that.”

        So was it the twisties? Or was it the risk of costing her team a medal? If it were the latter, it might still be the right decision but that is a different discussion.


        1. We’ll probably never know what’s going on perfectly as a lot depends on what she’s experiencing and we only have her word on that. Still, as I said, the twisties makes a lot of sense. Also, I saw a video clip of her doing some sort of somersault and landing flat on her back. I’m not sure how long ago that video was shot but, if recent, it may be relevant.

        2. In 2018, Biles qualified for the World Championships while competing with a broken toe, and won six medals at the competition while suffering from a kidney stone, so whatever the issue is, it isn’t a lack of character, as some assholes have been saying. See also here.

          1. Yeah and really who cares? She didn’t want to do it so she didn’t. She doesn’t owe anyone an explanation. Though I do want to acknowledge that back in my day everyone would’ve laughed at and stigmatized someone who withdrew for mental health reasons. There would have been comedy skit after comedy skit calling her “crazy” and portraying her as unhinged so let’s just give ourselves all a pat on the back for not being complete assholes even though some assholes remain among us.

        3. As someone who can go down a stairway and think there is one less step than there really is, I am amazed how jarring that can be, so I support Bile’s decision. And I’m not even twenty feet up and inverted when it happens.

      2. I think Biles was being perfectly sensible in pulling out once she felt that her intentions and plans were not in sync with what her body was up to doing. There are parallels in other sports: a trivial example might be a golfer getting a chronic attack of the ‘yips’.

        But I do have a problem with all such issues being medicalised, and turned into a form of ‘mental illness’. Biles needs – and, as far as I can see, wants – to get mind and body working together again. She should be perfectly capable of this without having to resort to shrinks or worse.

        1. I haven’t followed this closely. I’m basing this on hearing about Biles on the evening news so I’m no authority. My impression was that Biles simply said that the problem was in her head rather than something physical (ie, muscles or joints). This prompted the media to talk about mental illness. This somewhat mistaken analysis is what led Biles, or some other gymnast, to explain “twisties” to us.

          1. I’ve read in several places that the “twisties”, “yips” etc might be related to a more general motor disorder called “focal dystonia”, where a highly learned and coordinated skill can be lost- the body seems to just forget the learned skill. In that case there’s nothing “mental” about it, except the fear and frustration that comes with a skill someone has devoted their lifetime to learning suddenly (or over time) becomes unlearned. There are musical dystonias such as “violinist’s cramp”, “pianist’s cramp”, more prosaic ailments such as “writer’s cramp”, etc. Obviously these disorders end up changing an otherwise highly accomplished person’s life for the worse.

            I have some personal experience with this- I well remember the afternoon as a graduate student when my right hand seemed to forget how to write. It didn’t happen all at once, but it was though an effort to write one letter would be supressed, another would be exaggerated, and I had to devote more and more attention to controlling the pencil rather than to the ideas I was trying to develop on paper. Over the years the condition worsened so that I have been effectively unable to write most of my adult life.

            If this is related to Bile’s affliction, it is sad indeed, and nothing at all to sneeze at or criticize about.

    2. The thing about gymnastics, unlike most sports, is that the super critical critical moments come and go in fractions of a second. You don’t have time to think of it and if you try to think along the way you can really mess up.
      She just pushed things too far (for her) because she had the talent and the skill to take it to the next level, and I think she was reaching the limit of what a body can do. Meanwhile the media put her on a pedestal b/c we want a super human. But she isn’t.

  22. Reading news reports here and there about the prospect of various government, business and education entities making Covid vaccines mandatory, mention is made of exemptions being made due to medical reasons and religious reasons. This reporting somehow manages to avoid addressing by what standard the latter will be decided. What if one simply states “for religious reasons” without specifying those reasons? Who is any entity to dispute that? Isn’t anything so because someone says so? (sarcasm) Also, regardless of whether one subscribes to a religious world view, why can’t one also offer “personal philosopy” as a reason no less legitimate than religion?

    1. Let me try this one. We must have separation of church and state. So if the state says get the shot the religion cannot overrule this.

  23. Late info on Covid-19. F1 driver, Hamilton said after the race today that he believes he is still suffering long term affects of the virus. Dizzy and fatigue are 2 of the things he has and his virus was many months ago. Last year I think.

  24. Didn’t think I was one for patriotism, but I have found I’ve watch more events where Australia is involved to see what happens, and feel happy when an Australian wins even on sports I don’t care about. (BMX freestyle gold?! Hooray!)

    1. Only the men’s BMX freestyle tho ‘ 😉. (The Beeb’s jingoistic coverage isn’t really rubbing off on me – I’m very happy to admit that despite the Brits winning two of the four BMX gold medals, plus a silver and a bronze, the Aussies are ahead in the overall medal table.)

  25. I just realized that McDonald’s isn’t doing it’s Olympic promotion this year. No wonder no one is excited about the games!

  26. The US COVID policy has been so politicized and poorly communicated and inconsistent (even by the CDC) that few can make much sense of it. I got double jabbed as soon as possible in May. What I intend to do is never wear a mask outside ever again (unless I’m in a large crowd or a new lethal variant arises). I won’t mask indoors either unless in high human trafficked areas (e.g. a large grocery store). Am I worried about getting delta? No. The purpose of the vaccines are not to prevent people from ever being infected, it’s from getting significant symptoms and certainly to prevent hospitalization or death and these vaccines are among the most efficacious ever developed. Further, if I did get delta, my antibody levels should still be relatively high so my protection strong and symptoms mild and it wouldn’t a bad thing to get it now to renew my immunity for this fall/winter before I’m likely to become eligible for the booster once it becomes available. I refuse to live my life partially isolated or perpetually masked unless conditions change dramatically. Masking for some in the state of Massachusetts appears to have become virtue signaling of a kind by the left in an effort to demonstrate compassion for the vulnerable (in addition to self-protection) but I also see it as a perverse adherence to the precautionary principle.

    What about the vunerable? The unvaccinated? I don’t much care at this point. I self-isolated, masked, did all the right things for over a year while the US unvaccinated mostly didn’t. I know the cases of delta are about to go ballistic and 1/3 of the country remains unvaccinated but frankly, that’s on them. They can get vaccinated or they can wear a mask…or they can take their chances. We can’t easily force citizens to get vaccinated just like we can’t force them to wear a seatbelt or not text while driving over 40 mph. But they assume that risk and must accept the consequences. More than 613,000 US dead (which will surely exceed the est. casualties from the 1918 flu) is a pretty unambiguous stat to me.

    What about the other vunerable people such as the immunocompromised? Sorry but the world can’t (and hasn’t been expected to) mask up indefinitely to protect them so it is they who must live cautiously like someone with a peanut allergy (and I would mask up for any individual who asked me to in their home). The vunerable may get it, 99% will recover, and 1% or so won’t. One way or another, we’re on an accelerated path to herd immunity which is a good thing because the longer COVID circulates in large numbers of people globally, the more likely the chance of highly virulent strains emerging that may truly break through the protection conferred by the vaccines or show much higher overall mortality or severely affect young people and then we’re all screwed. What about me being selfish and at risk of being a carrier who infects others? It’s not really selfish, it is the unvaccinated who are, and it’s time for them to step up or else assume responsibility for their bad, irresponsible behavior and willful ignorance. We’ll treat them in the ER then.

    Ethically, if we end up with overwhelmed hospitals this winter without enough ventilators to go around, ask yourself: should those who cannot take the COVID vaccine due to underlying medical conditions or those who did get vaccinated but become hospitalized with severe COVID and in need if ventilation be in line ahead of the unvaccinated? That may be an illegitimate way of framing it or deciding eligibility for life-saving intervention but at the risk of sounding callous, I would be OK with it.

  27. Pollster Frank Luntz thinks Fauci should step aside as medical spokesperson, as he alienates the right by his mere presence. I agree, as it nothing to do with him, and he neither deserved or wanted to be the hero/villain of a pandemic.

    The GOP has to have one target to blame in each category, it just makes it easier for their followers. Fauci has become the Hillary of covid– everything he says is suspect and can be dismissed.

    1. I hope you’re not serious. The problems with your plan is that (a) we lose Fauci as an adviser and (b) the GOP learns that they can get rid of anyone they want simply by demonizing them.

      1. Not get rid of him! Just don’t have him always be the public face. The GOP will always try to get rid of anyone, but they cant. They settle for demonizing them.

  28. Required number of posts met, but adding anyway: Nobody , is a cat-themed movie, which seems to attempt to do for cats what John Wick did for d*gs.

    I’m only a third of the way through, but it starts with home invaders inadvertently stealing his daughter’s kitty cat bracelet, which is impetus for him embarking on an extremely violent revenge course of action. And we do know at the end, he comes home with a tiny Siamese kitten for the daughter, which he manages to smuggle it into the police interrogation room.

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