Omicron question of the day: What is the point of travel restrictions?

Following up on Omicron Question of the Day: What good is PCR testing that takes 2-3 days for a result?

A repeat of an earlier question asked here: What is the point of our travel restrictions?

Knowing that current testing technology will flag perhaps at most half of those who are infected with SARS-CoV-2, we insist that people can’t come to the U.S. from abroad unless they’ve tested negative. This means that we’ve slightly cut the number of people who arrive into a country with 108,000+ “new cases” per day among those who are already here. NYT:

Our restrictions on documented travelers have proven useless in preventing a new variant from arriving in the U.S. and then spreading (see “Before Even Receiving a Name, Omicron Could Have Spread in New York and the Country” (NYT, 12/5)). The undocumented, of course, continue to cross the southern border without going through the testing and vaccine papers checks.

It would seem that we’ve had sufficient data to declare failure. If we want to keep people with COVID-19 out of the U.S. we have to close the borders to the documented and also somehow close the southern border to the undocumented. Or we could decide that, for whatever reason, we need open borders and we won’t bother hassling the documented travelers with demands for medical test results. But the current system seems irrational (especially closing the borders to people coming from certain African countries because we say that they’re likely to have a variant of COVID that is already in the U.S. and Europe and spreading in both places).

I know that we are #FollowingTheScience so obviously there is something I’m missing… but what is the explanation for keeping the current system after we have direct evidence of failure? The current system can’t be denting the number of infected people in the U.S. because there aren’t all that many documented travelers showing up compared to the 108,000+ daily positive tests here. The current system can’t be discouraging participation in the global COVID variant pool because the Omicron variant was first reported to WHO on November 24 with a first sample dated Nov. 9; it arrived in the U.S. no later than November 22 (CDC).

In case the testing hassles are discouraging you from going to Italy, a recent photo from Naples, Florida:

A friend just returned from Europe with the following report:

No Americans anywhere! … Rental cars in Italy were practically free as were hotels. Italians and Germans seem to have accepted their permanent masked fates with zero drama. They tend to wear inside and out, all ages. Everyone thinks Sweden is nuts and that the world has ended in America. Most I met with think the travel restrictions to the US are insane.

Rapid testing is everywhere, although on way home no one at any airport asked to see my test result, just vax status.

The systems in the EU all were digitally linked so a scan of their vax cards loads everything up everywhere. They thought my vax card was fake.


Full post, including comments

Cultural decline due to overpopulation and governing elites demanding too much from the governed

Edwin Barnhart‘s 22nd lecture in Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed explains that ancient cultures in Central America and Mexico collapsed due to overpopulation combined with governing elites demanding too much from the common people.

Teotihuacan (flourished from 100 BC through 550 AD; photographed 2003):

Also from 2003 (Mexico City), for young folks who think that they’re the first to wave the rainbow flag:

Full post, including comments

Omicron Question of the Day: What good is PCR testing that takes 2-3 days for a result?

One thing I love about SARS-CoV-2 is that the inevitable mutations enable me to ask the same questions over and over.

Suppose that Johnny starts feeling unwell after Art Basel. It takes him/her/zir/them a day or two to decide that it might be COVID and it is time to get tested. In a lot of states it might take at least one more day to arrange a test. After that, 2-3 days to get a result from the PCR toaster oven. Assuming a positive test, that puts Johnny 4-6 days after his/her/zir/their symptoms began when he/she/ze/they goes into isolation.

Let’s compare that to #Science. “COVID-19 Is Most Transmissible 2 Days Before, 3 DaysAfter Symptoms Appear” (Boston University/JAMA):

Each wave of the pandemic has underscored just how gravely contagious COVID-19 is, but there is less clarity among experts on exactly when—and to what extent—infected individuals are most likely to spread the virus.

Now, a new study co-led by a School of Public Health researcher has found that individuals infected with the virus are most contagious two days before, and three days after, they develop symptoms.

(They forgot to write “global pandemic”.)

In other words, by the time Johnny gets the PCR result, he/she/ze/they is mostly past the contagious phase. Wouldn’t the world have been far safer if we had a rule that anyone who is sick in any way has to be isolated (or, if unvaccinated, euthanized)?

I recently parked in a garage in Florida that has been converted into the world’s loneliest drive-through COVID-19 testing facility (there is hardly any COVID left in Florida).

After $10 trillion in COVID-related federal spending, how long to get a result in a state with hardly anyone infected? “Two to three days,” said the helpful lady who was checking the non-existent customers in. (I went back and forth to the car a few times and never saw anyone come in to be tested; about 6 people seemed to be working at this facility.)

Readers: Please explain to me under what circumstance this kind of PCR test has a practical value.

Full post, including comments

Massachusetts is a 50-year-old Cessna with updated panel; Florida is a new Cirrus

One thing that I didn’t count on when we contemplated our move from Maskachusetts to the Florida Free State was the difference in “the built environment” (as architects put it).

If you’re a middle class or richer person in our corner of Florida you essentially never touch anything that is more than 25 years old. The Target that you walk into is new and is a Platonic ideal Form of a Target. The road that you drove on to get to said Target could be an example from a road system engineering textbook. You never turn left except from a dedicated left turn lane with a dedicated left turn signal. You never turn right except from a dedicated right turn lane. If you’re going straight, consequently, you never wait for someone turning left or right. When you return home to walk the dog, you’re on a perfect sidewalk. If a child is with you on the sidewalk riding a bike, there is always a brand new curb cut exactly where needed/wanted. If you are a little sloppy parking, the curb is never so high or jagged that it will tear up the car’s wheels. Gas, water, sewer, and power grid are all new and reliably functional.

Our corner of Massachusetts was super rich, fattened by a 60-year flow of taxpayer cash into health care, pharma, and higher education. Everything that was practical to improve had been improved. Nonetheless, the results were often poor quality. The capacity of the road network was perhaps 1/3rd of what has been achieved in Florida. One person choosing to make a left turn could cause a 1-mile backup. The (old) gas lines near our old house always leaked slightly, giving parts of the neighborhood a consistent ethyl mercaptan smell. Power failures lasting 3-50 hours were routine.

It occurred to me that Massachusetts is like an old Cessna airframe that has been lavishly maintained. The bones are old, but the avionics in the panel are new. In theory, it should be just as good as a new airplane.

Florida, on the other hand, is like a brand new Cirrus, engineered to the latest standards (seats that will crush on impact; parachute if things are truly going badly, ideal shape from a composite mold, thought-out ergonomics, etc.).

An experienced aircraft mechanic, when I would ask him for advice regarding the merits of a new part or a remanufactured/rebuilt one that should be just as good and/or why someone would spend 2-3X on a factory-new Bonanza compared to a perfect-condition older one. “New is new,” was often his response (in favor of the new part or aircraft!).

I’m not sure that the analogy holds up in all areas of Florida, e.g., Miami, but it seems like a useful shorthand for explaining MA vs. FL to general aviation pilots at least!

A hangar at KSUA featuring a classic Cessna 170 taildragger (no newer than 1956) and a brand new C8 Corvette (both owned by the same dentist):

Full post, including comments

What’s the house price inflation rate in neighborhoods that are actually desirable?

We’re told that house prices across the U.S. are up by 20 percent compared to a year ago (see Inflation would be 10 percent per year if house prices were included). Yet in our neighborhood here in the Florida Free State, both prices and rents are up closer to 50 percent. A community built for middle class (town houses) and upper middle class (single-family homes) now has single-family homes listed for more than $2 million (would have been $1 million two years ago).

Vast areas of the U.S. are blighted and undesirable, yet one could still buy a house in those areas and those house prices presumably feed into the statistics. What if we looked at areas that have at least some of the following characteristics:

  • good public schools
  • convenient to jobs
  • walkable
  • low crime
  • convenient to services for the middle class and above

Would the inflation rate still be only 20 percent?

Separately, maybe nominal prices don’t matter if one is sufficiently clever. “Long Island man dodges eviction for 20 years, living in house he doesn’t own” (New York Post):

A Long Island man who only ever made one mortgage payment has deftly used the courts to stay in the house for 23 years — for free, according to legal papers.

Guramrit Hanspal, 52, has filed four lawsuits and claimed bankruptcy seven times to avoid being booted from the 2,081-square-foot East Meadow home he “bought” for $290,000 in 1998.

So far, it’s worked: Two different banks and a real estate company have owned the three-bedroom, 2.5-bath home since Hanspal was foreclosed upon in 2000. But Hanspal remains.

Hanspal’s not the only occupant of the home leveraging the US Bankruptcy Code’s “automatic stay” rules, which give debtors a temporary reprieve from all collection efforts, harassment and foreclosures.

At least three other people listing the home at 2468 Kenmore St. as their address have also filed for bankruptcy in Brooklyn federal court, winning the “automatic stay,” only to have the claims eventually dismissed, court records show.

And a good deal: Hanspal, who had an initial 7.375 percent interest rate on the $232,000 adjustable-rate mortgage, likely saved himself upwards of $440,000 by not paying his bills.

Meanwhile, in 2004, Hanspal transferred the deed of the home to a friend, Rajender Pal, even though he had no legal right to do so, according to court papers. Pal, using the Kenmore Street address, filed for bankruptcy in 2005, staving off eviction yet again.

By May 2018, Chase unloaded the property to Diamond Ridge, which offered Hanspal $20,000 to leave. He didn’t take the deal, and instead, filed for bankruptcy again in 2019 and 2020. Another purported occupant of the house, Boss Chawla, filed bankruptcy four times in 2019, as did another resident — allegedly named John Smith — who filed once.

“The history of this case going on for approximately 20 years must come to an end,” Nassau District Judge Scott Fairgrieve wrote in a December 2019 housing court proceeding.

The last one is my favorite! The judge says “it must end”, but Messrs. Hanspal, Pal, and Chawla are still there two years later.

Loosely related… the happening downtown neighborhood of Delray Beach, Florida (I stopped there for dinner after teaching a class that ends at 9:20 pm):

Full post, including comments

Parking at Art Basel: the high school across the street (also some masketology)

If you’re going to Art Basel (today and tomorrow are the last two public days; the elites went on Tuesday and Wednesday), the pro move is to park at Miami Beach Senior High School, where the PTA opens the vast parking lot as soon as school closes (3:15 pm is the end of classes). Navigate to 2231 Prairie Avenue, Miami Beach, Florida 33139 and hand over $20, which will fund PCs, printers, and other classroom items. Ferraris, C8 Corvettes, and Lamborghinis are assigned to an “exotic area” in the grass where nobody can hit them with a door. (I wonder if Miami Beach during Art Basel has the world’s highest ratio of maximum theoretical car speed to actual car speed?)

The event closes at 7 pm and three hours is enough to see most of what you’d want to see. Reserve for dinner at Bella Cuba afterwards so that you skip most of the post-event traffic.

Remember that you need to show vaccine papers before the Art Basel folks will give you a “COVID-19 Certificate Checked” wristband. The good news for the unvaccinated is that you show a picture of your CDC card on your phone and therefore the name on the certificate is too small to be matched to your photo ID (not that there is any serious attempt to do so).

Here’s the vaccine papers check tent:

And the precious result:

(Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler if the U.S. adopted Philip’s RFID chip-in-the-neck idea?)

A couple of hours, a mid-career artist at a party said, “You’re not going to get a grant unless your work is about BLM or LGBTQ.” If she is right, here’s an artist on track for a grant:

Masks are required inside and, since it is Florida and people can’t be expected to carry masks, they’re handed out by official Mask Karens. Not everyone can be reached by #Science, however…

Here’s one of the official Mask Karens demonstrating proper under-nose mask position:

Given the international crowd and the near-certainty of being exposed to the Omicron variant (state-sponsored media reassures us by quoting an innumerate 79-year-old who reminds us not to panic), did a lot of folks choose to use a fresh N95 respirator combined with hand-washing, hand-sanitizing, and never touching the mask? No. Cloth masks, which have been proven useless in a randomized controlled trial, were by far the most popular choice. These had been pulled from purses and pockets and therefore were pre-soaked with whatever bacteria and viruses can thrive on a moist face rag. A lady walking in front of me did not notice that she’d dropped her cloth mask on the sidewalk while getting something else from her purse. I picked it up (by the loops) and handed it to her, confident that the sidewalk germs will eventually be on her lips in addition to Omicron.

The people who are there to transact business (I didn’t hear of anything for sale at less than $220,000) were generally unmasked. In other words, those most likely to have come off multi-hour flights from plague centers were the least likely to be masked. Example:

Overall, I would say that the COVID-related aspects of the affair were handled exactly as well as you’d expect in a country that has to import all of its LCD and OLED displays and most of its integrated circuits (“chips”) from more detail-oriented nations. When it comes to COVID-19 vigilance, Yoda reminds us “There is No Try” (title of the 2020 work below by Tom Sachs):

Do. Or do not. But also, it is okay to do sometimes and sort of. And make sure to vaccinate The Child (Grogu, not to be confused with MIT’s Grogo).

Full post, including comments

Immigrant comments on the Alice Sebold/Anthony Broadwater situation

Why we need the Daily Mail:

What other news outlet would highlight the inequality of the situation? (The liar enjoys freedom (well, until the lockdowns) and a $6 million house, paid for partly from the profits of writing about the lie; the person who tells the truth goes to prison for 16 years and then tries to live and work as a convicted felon and sex offender.)

An immigrant friend sent a photo to our chat group from within this article:

The immigrant’s take on the situation?

I love this. Mask outside, reusable bag, San Francisco. So many markers of virtue. Except for putting an innocent black man in prison.

A native-born friend in Maskachusetts responded:

Saw a woman biking today with a mask on. On a rural road.

Full post, including comments

Karen’s workaround to a ban on checking vaccine papers

If you read the news, you might think that Floridians are protected from demands to show medical records, such as vaccine papers. A November 18 story about a new law (passed by the actual Legislature; unlike other states, Florida is not simply ruled by executive order under emergency powers):

  • Private Employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates are prohibited.
  • Government entities may not require COVID-19 vaccinations of anyone, including employees.
  • Educational institutions may not require students to be COVID-19 vaccinated.
  • School districts may not have school face mask policies.
  • School districts may not quarantine healthy students.

How can Karen work around the spirit of this law? From the Baker art museum in Naples, FL:

  • Guests ages 12 and over must provide proof of a professionally administered rapid antigen test taken no more than 24 hours prior to the performance date or a professionally administered negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours prior to the performance date.
  • In lieu of a negative COVID-19 test, voluntary proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may be presented.
  • In all cases, a valid matching photo ID must also be presented.
  • Ticket holders who do not comply with these policies will not be allowed into The Baker Museum or events on the cultural campus and may be required to leave.

So you need to bring part of your medical record (recent COVID test) or show a different part of your medical record (vaccine card). Either way, it is all voluntary.

On the other coast, the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach:

  • The health and safety of our guests is a top priority for the Norton Museum. Beginning October 1, 2021, guests (ages 12+) visiting the Norton Museum of Art will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 professionally administered PCR test taken within 72 hours; or a negative COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test conducted within 24 hours; OR voluntarily show proof of COVID-19 vaccination (together with a valid photo ID for ages 18+).
  • Masks are required at all times regardless of negative tests or vaccination status,

How about the pop-up Art Basel at the city-government-owned Miami Beach Convention Center?

  • Every visitor age 12 and older will be required to provide proof of a negative, lab-administered COVID-19 test in order to gain access to the halls. Alternatively, visitors may opt to voluntarily provide proof of a completed COVID-19 vaccination or documentation of recent recovery from COVID-19 – issued by a licensed healthcare provider or facility – to gain entry.
  • In compliance with the Art Basel Miami Beach policy and safety regulations, wearing a mask covering mouth and nose will be mandatory inside the venue for anyone age 2 and older, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Some photos from a 2018 visit to Art Basel (mask-free and no medical records check):

And, for Joe Biden:

(The Leader of the Righteous: “Unless we do something about [busing for desegregation], my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point. We have got to make some move on this.”)

Speaking of the Biden family, I wonder how many of Hunter Biden’s $500,000 paintings will be shown at Art Basel. It would be worth showing one’s vaccine papers to get a close look at these. Considering gallery fees and taxes, if Hunter Biden can sell only 20 works at $500,000 each, he will have recovered the $2.5 million that his child support plaintiff earned.

Maybe the requirements are looser back in Maskachusetts, since Covid has been controlled via universal vaccination, indoor mask orders for adults, school mask requirements for kids, and after-school sports mask requirements? (only 2,500 cases per day currently, compared to 2,400 in April 2020) From MassMoCA:

The plague-carrying unvaccinated cannot even think of entering, no matter how high the stack of PCR tests. Harvard has a similar policy for its museums, which were entirely closed for 1.5 years:

  • All visitors age 2 or older, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a face covering.
  • All visitors age 12 and older are required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Visitors age 17 and older must also present a valid driver’s license or government-issued form of ID, such as a passport.
  • Vaccination documentation must be authentic and reflect that visitors are fully vaccinated, having received their final dose at least two weeks prior to the day of their visit. Acceptable proof of vaccination includes a CDC COVID-19 vaccination card and vaccination records of COVID -19 World Health Organization-approved vaccines. We will accept photo of the card records or a digital vaccine record (such as may be displayed through an app like Bindle or a digital medical record like MyChart).

Some screen shots capturing this most epic of web pages:

I am longing for the day when every American will be able to get the purely voluntary RFID chip in his/her/zir/their neck so that vaccine status can be checked efficiently and contact tracing can be performed after a variant outbreak is discovered. Nobody will be required to get a chip, of course, but the “chip-hesitant” person will find that he/she/ze/they cannot go to restaurants, museums, airports, etc. Or maybe a chip-hesitant American will have to wait in a 45-minute line for a paper document check if he/she/ze/they wants to do anything outside his/her/zir/their home.

Full post, including comments

Evaluating a great philosopher after 40 years

One of America’s greatest poet-philosophers, Merle Haggard, released “Are the Good Times Really Over” 40 years ago. Now that we’re in the last month of 2021, it seems like a good time to see how things panned out.

I wish a buck was still silver
And it was back when country was strong
Back before Elvis and before Viet Nam war came along
Before the Beatles and “Yesterday”
When a man could still work and still would
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
And are the good times really over for good?

That buck that Haggard sang about in 1981 is now worth about 30 cents. Silver cost $10.50 in 1981 and was about $28 in mid-2021. So, actually Haggard was correct in thinking that a silver dollar would hold a roughly constant value.

Did we recover from our loss in the Vietnam War and become strong again? Not strong enough to defeat a peasant army in Afghanistan.

“When a man could still work and still would”? I don’t think Haggard envisioned that the term “man” would become undefined. Can someone who identifies as a “man” still work? Yes. Would a “man” work? The Richmond Fed, based on BLS data, says “no” (male labor force participation rate down from 80 percent (1970) to 69 percent (just before coronapanic) to somewhere south of 69 percent today:

What about the “best of the free life”? For those in means-tested public housing, getting health care via Medicaid, and shopping with SNAP/EBT, the free life is better than ever. But maybe Professor Haggard meant free as in “liberty”. In that case, we’re free to follow governors’ and the president’s orders to get vaccinated (and inject children as well, so that they don’t die from a pernicious killer of 82-year-olds), wear a mask, refrain from gathering, etc.

Are we rollin’ down hill like a snowball headed for hell
With no kind of chance for the flag or the Liberty Bell
I wish a Ford and a Chevy would still last ten years

Fords and Chevys are way better than they were in 1981, so his wishes were granted! What about his wish for the flag? As long as he wanted rainbow flags to have a chance, that wish was also granted.

Before microwave ovens
When a girl could still cook
And still would

So many issues with the above that I won’t even comment!

Happy December to friends who are still in the frozen north!

Full post, including comments