The Prisoner in Room 19

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com; July 14, 2020)

I must preface this essay with this acknowledgement: In preparing my visit with my 92-year-old mother, the staff at the Western Home’s Windhaven Assisted Living residence in Cedar Falls, Iowa, could not have been friendlier or more accommodating given the extraordinary circumstances.

I bitched. I moaned. I complained about every rule they imposed on the visit — particularly the disallowing of my mother’s 14-year-old grandson to stand with me behind a Plexiglas barrier that protected her from me.

As it was over 90 degrees in Windhaven’s outside courtyard — where the visit took place — my time with my mother was limited to 30 minutes (though the nurses aide appeared willing to let us go longer, had we requested).

The control measures seemed excessive then; and, in retrospect, they still feel that way.

Even so, I accepted the Western Home’s restrictions (What choice did I have?). As a nurses aide tried to ease my disappointment, she told me, “We can’t take any chances. You understand.”

I understood. I have no complaints with the Western Home. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Considering that over 40 percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths are linked to nursing homes, the Western Home had few options. It is easier to protect people from the coronavirus than it is to isolate and eradicate the coronavirus itself. Epidemiologists say, even with a vaccine, the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and its mutation offspring may be with us forever.

When the books are finally written about the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, a large part of the story will be how the U.S. failed its senior citizens, and the blame will cross party lines.

And first in line for criticism should be New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who, in the last minute, inserted into New York’s final budget bill (passed in late March) a provision that “shielded nursing homes from many lawsuits over their failure to protect residents from death or sickness caused by the coronavirus.”

Sadly, New York is not the only state where the nursing home lobby has successfully pressed for legal protections that make it harder for families to sue over negligent COVID-19-related deaths.

If you are wondering why CNN or MSNBC aren’t covering this nursing home liability story more tenaciously, most likely it is because they can’t blame it on Donald Trump. The coronavirus has been so completely politicized by the news media — conservative podcaster Steve Deace perceptively refers to media coverage of the pandemic as ‘panic porn’ — the public is worse off for consuming it. Once more, complicity for this politicization crosses the ideological spectrum.

Western Home’s Windhaven Assisted Living Residence in Cedar Falls, Iowa (Photo by Kent R. Kroeger)

 

As for my visit with my mother, my biggest regret is that I didn’t lie about my son’s age (he’s 14 and only people aged 18 and older can visit Western Home residents right now).

The visit itself was mostly a positive experience, though its strict limitations were frustrating. Through the inch-thick glass barrier, I could barely hear my mother’s voice (and vice versa). To compensate, we were yelling most of the time. In the end, the 30 minutes I had with my mother on that hot July afternoon felt more like a prison visit.

“Mom, maybe with good behavior they’ll let you out on parole?”

“I’m innocent,” she pleaded back. “I was framed.”

Having raised three boys, my mom has a battle-tested sense of humor.

But, as my visit ended and I began drive away from Windhaven, my wife and son (who had been waiting in the car) begged if they could at least wave at my mother through her apartment window.

I didn’t know her apartment number.

I asked one of the attendants if that would be possible. I could tell he was supposed to say “No,” but he paused for a moment, went into the facility’s office, and soon returned.

“Room 19. North Wing. First level, looking towards the parking lot,” he said. “I’ll let her know.”

My mother looking out her apartment window (Photo by Kent R. Kroeger)

 

Despite years of clean living and an uncompromising daily exercise routine, my mother’s body has ultimately betrayed her. Osteoporosis has left her wheelchair-bound. A woman that once started every day to either Tae Bo or Sweating to Richard Simmons and the Oldies, can no longer walk. Aging can be cruel enough, but add to that a pandemic-related quarantine and the result is demoralizing for my mother and her family.

The healing power of touch is well-documented in medical science. There must be a better way to protect our seniors from dangerous pathogens without denying the physical contact they need (and their families need) for a decent quality of life.

I don’t know what the solution is, I just know I left the Windhaven nursing home feeling more sad than happy.

It didn’t need to be that way.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Or tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1

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Now some good coronavirus news: Case fatality rates in US are decreasing.

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 30, 2020)

Yes, there is good news in the midst of the current resurgence of the coronavirus in the southern half of the U.S.

Wave 2 of this virus has been discouraging for everyone who believed this pandemic peaked in mid-April in the U.S.

It hasn’t peaked.

But, in the midst of this, there is some positive news not being widely reported: Case fatality rates in the U.S. (i.e., the ratio of coronavirus-related deaths to the number of confirmed cases) have been in decline since mid-May.

Figure 1: Cumulative COVID-19 Case fatality rate in the U.S. over time

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE)

The cause of this decline is disputable.

Here are just a few theories as to why this decline is occurring:

(1) It could be a function of increased testing. With more consistent testing nationwide, the denominator in the case fatality rate — the number of confirmed coronavirus cases — is growing more rapidly than the number who are dying. Hence, the case fatality rate is dropping over time.

(2) As time progresses, medical professionals are learning more about how to minimize the lethality of the coronavirus.

“It really does appear that doctors have gotten better at treating the disease,” summarized Salt Lake Tribune’s Andy Larsen in his investigative report on the coronavirus’ declining case fatality rate. “It is better to be a coronavirus patient in June than it was in March.”

(3) Has the coronavirus become less lethal? Virologists don’t seem to be on the side of this argument, but it remains possible that the coronavirus spreading at present through the lower half of the U.S. is not as dangerous as the one that passed through the northeast U.S. in March and April.

While epidemiologists know that viruses can mutate, the contention that the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has already mutated at least once during this pandemic has elicited some healthy skepticism from Dr. Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, and Dr. Richard Neher, a biologist and physicist at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

The reported mutation of SARS-CoV-2 “is most likely a statistical artifact,” says Neher. And to determine if SAR-CoV-2 has mutated will require “a nontrivial amount of effort and sometimes takes years to complete,” according to Grubuagh.

As of now, the evidence appears to support Cause #1 (increased testing) and Cause #2 (improved treatments) as the most likely explanations for the dropping U.S. case fatality rate.

The drug remdesivir in particular has shown its utility in mitigating the effects of the coronavirus in infected patients, even as many in the medical community do not view this drug as the ultimate treatment.

Gilead Sciences, the private sector pharmaceutical company responsible for producing the drug, is showing confidence in the antiviral drug’s future by setting its market price at $3,120 (per treatment) for U.S. patients under private insurance and at $2,340 for patients under Medicaid.

Epidemiologists also warn that recent declines in case fatality rates could reverse as deaths are a lagging indicator of the virus’ spread.

A Poisson regression model for daily coronavirus deaths (DELTA_DEATHS) using lagged values of new daily cases (LAG5_DELTA_POSITIVE, LAG6_DELTA_POSITIVE) found that a surge in new cases on Day 1 is followed by a surge in deaths five to six days later (see Figures 2. 3 and 4).

Figure 2: Relationship between U.S. daily coronavirus deaths (at time t) with new daily cases at minus 5 days.

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

Figure 3: Relationship between U.S. daily coronavirus deaths (at time t) with new daily cases at minus 6 days.

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

Figure 4: Poisson regression model of daily coronavirus deaths as a function of new daily cases at time lags of 5 and 6 days.

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

The Poisson regression model in Figure 4 explained approximately 84 percent of the variance in daily coronavirus deaths.

[Note: The current surge in U.S. coronavirus cases peaked on June 26th, at least for now. If the above model is useful, we should expect a surge in coronavirus deaths from July 1st to 2nd.]

Whatever the cause of the declining U.S. case fatality rates, health professionals on the pandemic’s front lines worldwide are noticing, since May, something has changed in a good way with this virus.

Alberto Zangrillo, head of San Raffaele Hospital in Milan (Italy), told the Washington Post in early June that “we cannot demonstrate that the virus has mutated, but we cannot ignore that our clinical findings have dramatically improved.”

Finally, some good news.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments and questions to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Or tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1

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Politics explain little in state-level differences in new COVID-19 cases and deaths

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 23, 2020)

A state’s population density differentiate states on COVID-19

In reality, the dominant factor associated with the past month’s increases in new U.S. COVID-19 cases remains a state’s population density (see Figure 1 and the standardized coefficient column). That factor has been behind the state-level variations in coronavirus cases since the beginning of this pandemic and it is not something any governor or state legislature can control — which may be why the news media seems to ignore its role. It’s hard to blame Donald Trump for a state’s population density.

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Data Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE)
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE)
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE)
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE)

We should care most about the relative number of COVID-19 deaths

It is understandable that the media focuses on the number of new COVID-19 cases since states have loosened their lockdown policies (if they existed at all).

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Data Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

Arizona is the real anomaly in new COVID-19 cases since May 15th

The linear models summarized in Figures 1 and 3 allow us to identify states that don’t seem to fit the data very well. Number one on that short list is Arizona (see Figure 7) where our new COVID-19 cases model predicts the state should have seen 1,662 new cases (per 1 million people), but instead saw 5,687 new cases (per 1 million people) in the period between May 15 and June 21st.

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Data Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Data Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)
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The greatest conservative anthems of all time

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 19, 2020)

“Freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,” Martin Luther King, Jr. replied when asked by a reporter during a march in Georgia why singing was so prominent. “They give the people new courage and a sense of unity.”

King considered songs the “soul of the (civil rights) movement.”

And as he prepared to attend a rally for Memphis black sanitation workers striking for equal pay — only minutes before he was assassinated — King would request the song Precious Lord, Take My Hand be played at that rally.

Take My Hand, Precious Lord is universally considered the most popular, most beloved gospel song of all time,” writes Baylor University journalism professor Robert Darden. “It is simple, emotional, direct and profound.”

Every progressive movement from the 19th-century abolitionists (Oh Freedom), through the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 50s and 60s (Come by HereGive Peace a Chance), to today’s ongoing George Floyd/Black Lives Matter marches (Tupac’s Changes) has put songs in the center of the message.

The songs become iconic —programmed into our source code — so subconsciously that we often know the melodies and lyrics without always knowing their origins or meaning.

But who recalls songs featured in politically conservative protests and rallies? Admittedly, the largest protest marches in U.S. history have been almost exclusively progressive in nature — but not all.

There have been massive conservative-led protest movements in U.S. history that included well-attended marches and rallies: anti-suffragism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the pro-life movement, the 1978 anti-tax rallies in California, the 2009–10 Tea Party protests, Glenn Beck’s 2010 Restoring Honor rally at the Lincoln Memorial (I attended that one), and the more recent anti-lockdown protests in select state capital cities. And don’t forget every Memorial Day and Fourth of July parade across America which is arguably a conservative, pro-military march and rally.

Yet, we don’t have a strong sense of the songs sung at those marches and rallies. I do recall a particularly beautiful performance at the Restoring Honor rally by Jo Dee Messina of Heaven Was Needing A Hero, but beyond that song and the ubiquitous presence Amazing Grace, I don’t remember the music from that day.

And the more I contemplate conservative protest songs and anthems, the more I realize the effort is fruitless. There are no conservative protest anthems because, throughout American history, the conservatives have almost always been in control — certainly economic conservatives. Why would you protest if you are in charge? You don’t. To this day, the two major parties are controlled by these economic conservatives and if you’ve ever known an economic conservative (pretty much my entire family), most aren’t into meaningful sacrifices for the dispossessed in our society. If, however, you require superficial virtue-signalling with no significant policy consequences, they can spin you at light-speed.

The rallying songs for conservatives are not going to be heard in million-person marches. Instead, they are heard on the radio, on TV, and during Fourth of July parades. They are songs that either celebrate the status quo or bemoan the encroachment of progressives ideas into their daily lives.

I am not putting down conservatives here. I am one. To the contrary, I seek to highlight some of the great music conservatives almost universally embrace, even if they don’t need a protest march to group-sing them.

Therefore, here is my list of the Top 10 conservative anthems…

Number 10: Battle Hymn of the Republic

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, is the first line in this timeless masterpiece.

With the words of abolitionist Julia Ward Howe and the music of William Steffe, this song has been the anthem for movements on both the left and right. The music, simple and memorable, combined with its bible-inspired lyrics, this song is the rallying cry of the righteous. If you are uncertain about your cause’s virtue, this is not the song for you.

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

These lyrics don’t encourage mercy on the wicked. This is an aggressive, militaristic anthem that in contemporary society best aligns with conservative attitudes on war and peace.

Number 9: Father and Son

Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), not exactly a darling of American conservatives, wrote one of the most beautiful elegies to military service ever written. It still makes me cry.

The song was about a boy who wanted to join the (1917) Russian revolution against the wishes of his conservative father, who couldn’t understand why his son needed to risk his life just to seek his own destiny.

It is a timeless story many parents face when their children choose military service over other (safer) options.

For that reason, plus the fact the song is the poignant backdrop to the final movie scene in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2this song represents one of conservative America’s most important anthems.

And its a wonderful song.

Number 8: God Bless America

This 1918 song has become more divisive with time, largely due to its overt religious tone. Written by one of America’s most iconic songwriters, Irving Berlin, God Bless America combines Christian sentimentality with American chauvinism like few others:

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above

From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home

This song in particular drives atheists nuts and that’s why its number 8 on my list.

Number 7: Jesus, Take the Wheel

I can’t think of a song that gets a more positive reaction from my conservatives friends than this one. Written by Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson, and recorded by Carrie Underwood, the song tells the story of a woman seeking help from Jesus after she survives a car crash.

This song is so basic to human experience, had it taken out the ‘Jesus’ part, it would have been embraced across all political ideologies.

But that would be like taking ‘Jesus’ out of the New Testament, which would turn it into a bad Netflix-produced drama series. What do you have left without the Son of God and eternal salvation?

Not much.

Number 6: In America

If I asked my 50-years-old and older liberal friends (of which I have many) to name one band from their adolescent years that most offended their political instincts, one band would rise to the top: The Charlie Daniels Band.

Oh my God. That band is the anti-Christ of modern social liberalism. And their song — In Americawritten during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis — encapsulates everything liberals hate about conservatives: airtight unity and working-class patriotism.

Well the eagle’s been flyin’ slow
And the flag’s been flyin’ low
And a lotta people sayin’ that America’s
fixin’ to fall.

Well speakin’ just for me
And some people from Tennessee
We’ve got a thing or two to tell you all
This lady may have stumbled
But she ain’t never fell.

And if the Russians don’t believe that
They can all go straight to hell
We’re gonna put her feet back
On the path of righteousness and then
God bless America again.

Establishment Democrats sometimes fake their love for this song, but it was never written for them and they know it. Bill Clinton was never invited to this party.

This song is red-blooded, anti-liberal loathing in the key of E.

Number 5: Sweet Home Alabama

This is a song liberals often pretend to like, because liking it makes them feel open-minded and working class. For conservatives, its one of the few songs played at weddings they think they can actually dance to.

Along with being an extremely catchy song, the Lynyrd Skynrd hit was also the title of a forgettable movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Josh Lucas (who?).

But its historical importance is that it was a hit at a time when conservatives were on their heals over Watergate and the Vietnam War (the song peaked at #8 on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1974).

Along with questioning the importance of Watergate, the song’s second verse took direct aim at uber-progressive Neil Young’s song “Southern Man,” which was an uncloaked attack on southern racists (specifically those living in Alabama).

Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol’ Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow

With its release in June 1974, Sweet Home Alabama immediately sparked the 70s version of a Twitter feud. Or, at least, people assumed there was a bitter row going on between Young and the band.

As is often the case, the reality was very different. Neil Young loved the song and openly admired Lynyrd Skynrd and its front man Ronnie Van Zant (who tragically died in an airplane crash, along with other band members, in 1977). Soon after Van Zant’s death, Young publicly demonstrated that respect by performing Sweet Home Alabama during a concert in November 1977.

Neil Young is many things, but he is no phony. And his respect for Sweet Home Alabama reflects an acknowledgment of the song’s anthem-level quality.

It’s a helluva song.

Number 4: Taxman

Now I go off the reservation a little bit. The Beatles are rarely described as representatives of a status quo, bourgeois ideology, but any rational interpretation of their most biographical lyrics demands at least consideration of that viewpoint.

George Harrison’s Taxman stands as Exhibit №1 in that argument, a song that was played more than once during the Tea Party rallies from 2009 to 2011 — its lyrics making any small-government libertarian squeal in delight:

Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, nineteen for me
’Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Should five per cent appear too small
Be thankful I don’t take it all
’Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet

’Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman

Grover Norquist himself couldn’t have written a more direct anti-tax song.

And the song’s lyrics are as relevant today as they were in 1966.

Number 3: Revolution

Since I’m on The Beatles, I am putting John Lennon’s Revolution in the number three position.

“John Lennon?!”He’s not even a conservative!

True, but throughout his life Lennon’s working class instincts repeatedly put him at odds with liberal activists and celebrities.

The song Revolution was written specifically by Lennon as an anti-revolution response to anti-Vietnam War groups trying to separate him from his Beatle-millions. Like Harrison, Lennon was not one to suffer self-righteous (often hypocritical) activists mooching off of him.

You say you want a revolution…

…But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out…

…You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re doing what we can

But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
Don’t you know it’s gonna be
All right, all right, all right

Did William F. Buckley help Lennon with those lyrics? Seriously, those are not the words of some dewy-eyed peace activist. Lennon was a bourgeois pragmatist at his core. He may have complained about the strictness of his Aunt Mimi, but he didn’t stray that far from her working class, Liverpool politics.

Take Lennon’s reaction in 1971 to a question from a Dick Cavett Show audience member about over-population — which at the time was the crisis du jour among young liberals. Was Lennon worried about it? Here’s his response:

Lennon: I think it’s a bit of a joke the way people have made this over-population thing into kind of a myth. I don’t really believe it, you know. I think that whatever happens will balance itself out and work itself out. It’s all right for us living to say, “Well, there’s enough of us so we won’t have any more, don’t let anyone else live.” I don’t believe in that. I think we have enough food and money to feed everybody, and I think the natural balance, even though all people will be able to last longer. There’s enough room for us and some of us will go to the moon and live.

Cavett: You mean you think there’s enough for human existence?

Lennon: Yeah, I don’t believe in over-population. I think that’s kind of a myth the government has thrown out to keep your mind off Vietnam, Ireland and all the important subjects.

Cavett: Oh, I think you’re wrong about that.

Lennon: Oh, I don’t care. [Audience laughs.]

Of course, history proved Lennon correct and Cavett wrong.

Conservatives aren’t about to embrace Lennon as one of their own (and if Lennon were alive he wouldn’t accept the invitation) or start playing Revolution over the loudspeakers at the next Republican National Convention. But if they listened to the lyrics on Revolution, they’d realize its reactionary political sentiments are inescapable.

Number 2: This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag

I could fill this entire Top 10 list with Charlie Daniels Band songs. And while I put Daniels’ In America about the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis in the number six slot, I easily could have justified it at number two.

Instead, I chose another event-inspired Daniels song — This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flagperhaps his most timely and poignant song, written immediately after the 9/11 attacks and released on a live album compilation in November 2011. And while it was only a minor hit (reaching #33 on the Billboard Country Chart), I heard at every Republican Party of Virginia rally (RPV) I attended after 9/11 and it is a standard crowd pleaser at Donald Trump rallies today.

This ain’t no rag, it’s a flag
And we don’t wear it on our heads
It’s a symbol of the land where the good guys live
Are you listening to what I said
You’re a coward and a fool
And you broke all of the rules
And you wounded our American pride
And now we’re coming with a gun
And we know you’re gonna run
But you can’t find no place to hide
We’re gonna hunt you down like a mad dog hound
Make you pay for the lives you stole
We’re all through talking and a messing around
And now it’s time to rock and roll

This song doesn’t have hidden messages. You don’t need biblical scholars to interpret its intent. Charlies Daniels, as he often does, just sings it like he sees it.

And with a self-titled band stretching back over 40 years, Charlie Daniels is an icon among conservatives of all ages.

And for good reason, he’s a true conservative.

Honorable Mentions

I tried to avoid including song standards on this list — God Bless America and The Battle of the Hymn of the Republic the exceptions — as they generally attract listeners from all political perspectives. And no song fits that description better than John Newton’s Amazing Grace, its words written in 1772, with the music added in 1779. The song was prevalent throughout the 19-century abolitionist movement and the 20th-century civil rights movements, and has become so popular and secularized, its cultural appropriation ranges from The Simpsons to the Hare Krishnas.

Similarly, America the Beautiful, lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates and music by Samuel A. Ward, is an American music standard rivaling God Bless America in popularityHowever, in contrast to Berlin’s song, America the Beautiful eschews heavy-handed American exceptionalism for a more gentle, introspective form of patriotism. Rather than bless us, God chooses to “shed his grace on thee” and “mend thine every flaw.” When I do hear patriotic songs at my Unitarian Church, its usually America the Beautiful.

Among more contemporary songs I considered for this list were Charlie Daniels’ Simple Man and Leonard Cohen’s metaphorical, King David-inspired Hallelujah — two songs I heard more than once at 2016 Trump rallies in Iowa. And not coincidentally, Daniels and Cohen, both of whom were comfortable incorporating religious allegory into their lyrics, occasionally recorded together and remained good friends until Cohen’s death in 2016.

Number 1: God Bless the USA

I’ve never done a Top 10 list where the number one pick was this easy. No song makes liberal heads explode faster than Lee Greenwood’s 1984 hit God Bless the USA. It pushes (or, rather, punches) all their buttons.

The song starts innocently enough…

If tomorrow all the things were gone
I worked for all my life
And I had to start again
With just my children and my wife

Who would argue with that? But then the song starts to roll — though still not overly provocative…

I thank my lucky stars
To be living here today
’Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away

While I’m not sure who ‘they’ are — I’m gonna guess Greenwood was talking about the Russians and/or the Iranians — its the next verse where this Reagan-era song gets its well-earned reputation as a liberal repellent…

And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I’d gladly stand up next to you
And defend Her still today
’Cause there ain’t no doubt
I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.

If I had to narrow it down to one line that drives liberals bonkers over this song, its that fourth line suggesting the U.S. military gave us our freedom. Its quibbling, I suppose, but it was our Founding Fathers who established our democracy (i.e., gave it to us) and our military has, most directly in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, defended us from threats to that freedom.

Yes, I would have wordsmithed Greenwood’s song a tad had he asked.

But I respect this song over all other conservative anthems, not for its attention to democratic theory, but because it so cleanly delineates liberals from conservatives and Democrats from Republicans. I’ve watched liberals try to enjoy this song at Fourth of July picnics and it generally doesn’t end well. The song just was not written for them.

Every red-white-and-blue-blooded conservative can recite its lyrics and sing its melody on demand and that is why it is my number one conservative anthem.

God Bless the U-S-A and the U.S. military for giving us our freedom.

[My wife just plunged her head into our kitchen wall.]

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

or Tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1

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Why have Americans and the news media lost interest in the coronavirus pandemic?

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 15, 2020)

Declining media and public interest in the coronavirus pandemic

Source: GDELT Project
Source: GDELT Project
Source: GDELT Project
Source: Google Trends

Possible Reason #1: People have shorter attention spans

Possible Reason #2: More compelling events (e.g., the 2020 Election, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter) have replaced the pandemic in people’s minds

Possible Reason #3: Public interest follows the news media’s interest

Possible Reason #4: The coronavirus pandemic is in decline

Source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE)

Possible Reason #5: Americans are weary of negative news

The coronavirus pandemic has produced an unprecedented level of public interest, even if that interest has since softened

Source: Google Trends

Source: Google Trends

Final thoughts

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COVID-19 and the Great Convergence

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 12, 2020)

I’ll rip my ear hairs out if I read one more article about how islands have been so effective at controlling COVID-19.

New Zealand, Hawaii, Iceland, Singapore and South Korea (which is effectively an island given its infrequently crossed land border with North Korea) did a great job defeating COVID-19.

So, if I understand the lesson, when the next pandemic hits, policy step number one is to live on an island.

Got it.

For the rest of us, we need real information on how to defend against the coronavirus and its genetic cousins to follow.

Unfortunately, the U.S. mainstream media deals only in canned narratives when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic — its either: (1) the Republicans are a bunch of anti-lockdown, anti-science bumpkins who put their 401ks ahead of human lives, or (2) the Democrats are fear-mongering proglodytes using the pandemic to advance the oppressive power of their postmodern Menshevik state.

What these two narratives miss is reality, even as some aspects within each are true — which is precisely why both are seductive and dangerous.

They can’t tell you the truth because, frankly, it wouldn’t attract an audience in today’s hyper-partisan landscape. The ongoing rampage of the Mean Orange Man is one (perhaps only) reason The New York Times and CNN are profitable in today’s over-crowded, highly-competitive entertainment milieu. On the other side of the dung heap, coverage of the existential threat of leftofascists to our God-endorsed democracy and Jesus’ two-thousand-year reign on Earth has been Fox News’ golden goose for over 20 years now. They aren’t going to change their news chyron because I believe objective, non-partisan journalism has an audience.

Given the narrow motivations of today’s news media, why wouldn’t their news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic be full dramatic but marginally relevant info-twaddle?

At this point, most of the American news audience is too conditioned to accept anything else.

The Great Convergence

But there is one feature of the coronavirus in the U.S. that has received sparse attention, even though it may represent the most important characteristic of the virus’ spread within the country.

The biggest story of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. may be that its daily rate of spread is converging across all 50 states (and the District of Columbia), with little regard for the specific state-level policies implemented to suppress and mitigate its advance.

In other words, most of the states will eventually catch up with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts in terms of cases and deaths per capita (after adjusting for population density).

New York, New Jersey , Connecticut and Massachusetts took a devastating hit from the coronavirus early despite implementing some of the strictest lockdown measures in the country, suggesting that the virus was already distributed through those populations before the lockdowns. While states such as Florida, Georgia, Texas and California have benefited from a much slower (“flatter”) spread of the virus despite implementing their lockdowns late (California being an important exception).

The good news for New York and the other densely-populated Northeast Atlantic states is that the virus may have already passed through their most vulnerable populations. The bad news for California and the other warm, lower latitude states may be that this has not yet happened.

Of course, these relationships are subject to change as this pandemic progresses.

Convergence is inevitable, but how each state gets there isn’t

Figure 1 (below) is derived from the coronavirus database at the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University and shows the day-to-day changes (per capita) in new coronavirus cases for the eight most populous U.S. states.

These eight states represent 48 percent of the U.S. total population. In terms of coronavirus policy differences, three of those states (Florida, Georgia, and Texas) were relatively slow to impose statewide lockdowns and relatively quick to ease them once the peak of the health crisis appeared over in mid-May.

At first glance, the chart’s most striking feature is New York’s dramatic rise in coronavirus cases from mid-March to mid-April (and dramatic fall in new cases thereafter). Equally interesting (to me at least) is the relatively slow climb for the other seven large U.S. states — which is probably a function of the population density of states along the northeast Atlantic corridor.

Figure 1: Number of daily new COVID-19 cases per 100k people for the 8 most populous U.S. states (through June 10, 2020)

Data from Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University; Chart by Kent R. Kroeger; Data covers period from February 21, 2020 to June 10, 2020.

However, another takeaway from Figure 1 is the convergence of the new COVID-19 case rates over time. At the end of April, the average number of new cases per day for every 100K people ranged from 2.3 (Florida) to 24.1 (New York). By June 10th, the average number of new cases per day for every 100K people ranged from 2.8 (Ohio) to 6.3 (Illinois).

You don’t need to be a statistician or an epidemiologist to see that new case rates have become more the same than different since the start of this health crisis.

Yes, there are still substantive state-level differences which can (and will) have a meaningful impact on the final coronavirus case and death rates. And variations in public policies in response to this health crisis likely will be needed to explain those outcome differences. And it is also critical to note that California, Florida, Georgia and Texas are still at or near their peak in daily new COVID-19 cases.

This health crisis is far from over.

In the larger scheme of things, despite substantively divergent coronavirus policies across the eight states in Figure 1 (Florida, Georgia and Texas being regularly chastised in the media for not being more aggressive in stopping the virus), all eight states are becoming more alike than different over time.

I call it the Great Convergence.

Isn’t that convergence inevitable — and therefore uninteresting — given that all the 50 states (plus D.C.) will reach zero new cases-per-day at some point?

Yes, in the long run, all the states will converge towards zero new cases per day. But how states get there is important. Specifically, how many people will die by the time the states stop registering new cases?

As of today, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania (three states with aggressive coronavirus suppression and mitigation responses) exceed the other five most populous states in COVID-19 deaths per capita by a factor of two or more.

However, there is evidence that the states are becoming more homogeneous over time in COVID-19 case and death rates. While few states will ever match New York’s approximately 1,600 COVID-19 deaths (per 1 million people), Figure 2 shows that the standard deviations across states in their case and death rates have been going down since April 1st.

Figure 2: The Slow Decline of Standard Deviations in State’s COVID-19 Case and Death Rates

Data Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University; Chart by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

Considering the percentage of coronavirus news coverage dedicated to promoting (or dismissing, if you are Fox News) the aggressive lockdown policies recommended by most epidemiologists and public health experts, heretofore, those mitigation measures have not repaid the effort, particularly in terms of COVID-19 deaths per capita.

Some final thoughts

Remember the “flatten the curve” graph (Figure 3) often shown in the media at the beginning of the pandemic?

Figure 3: “Flattening the Curve”

Epidemiologists generally agree that the value of virus protective measures (e.g., lockdowns, social distancing) is to distribute the number of new cases more evenly over time, thereby putting less pressure on the healthcare system and saving lives. “Flattening the curve” also gives researchers more time to develop effective treatments and vaccines.

Recall Figure 1 (above) where New York’s distribution of new cases over time looks much more like the “without protective measures” curve in Figure 3, while the other seven states have much flatter curves. California and New York were two of the first states to issue statewide lockdown orders (March 19th and 20th, respectively); yet, New York’s new case curve has a much higher, more narrowly-shaped peak, while California’s is much flatter. More importantly, California’s COVID-19 death rate per capita is significantly lower than New York’s (128 deaths per 1 million people versus New York’s 1,587).

What happened? Why were epidemiologists accurate for California, but not so much for New York? Three possible (and preliminary) explanations include: (a) the coronavirus prevalent on the U.S. East Coast may have been more contagious and lethal than the version prevalent on the West Coast, (b) the virus was embedded earlier and deeper on the East Coast than previously thought, and (c) the population densities on the East Coast were more favorable for hosting and spreading the coronavirus.

But even if those disadvantages faced by New York are true, California’s case and death rates may yet approach New York’s when this pandemic is finally over.

Similarly, the current surge in new coronavirus cases in states that had previously lagged in its growth (e.g., Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas) may be less a function of poor policy responses by those states and more the result of their advantages over the Northeast Atlantic states as well as the characteristics of the virus itself.

As we often are reminded during this pandemic, the coronavirus is more in charge than politicians and experts care to admit.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: kroeger98@yahoo.com

Or tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1

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It’s beaches, more than protests or ending lockdowns, driving up coronavirus cases in the U.S.

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 11, 2020)

“More than a dozen states and Puerto Rico are recording their highest seven-day average of new cases since the pandemic began, hospitalizations in at least nine states have been on the rise since Memorial Day,” says The Washington Post. “In Texas, North and South Carolina, California, Oregon, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah and Arizona, there are an increasing number of patients under supervised care since the holiday weekend because of covid-19 infections.”

“While the recent mass protests could exacerbate its spread, the incubation period of the (corona)virus means this latest rise in cases can more likely be traced to a loosening of lockdown restrictions around Memorial Day weekend late last month,” writes The Guardian’s Tim Walker.

Given the evidence — both in terms of new cases and hospitalizations — its an easy conclusion to draw.

Unfortunately, most news accounts of the recent rise of coronavirus cases in some (mostly southern) U.S. states misses the bigger story.

According to the following analysis of Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering’s daily coronavirus data, the recent rise in coronavirus cases is connected more to the opening of warm, sunny beaches along America’s coastlines — particularly the Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches where those states are also among the earliest to loosen lockdown restrictions (see Figure 1). But the increase is also evident in California where beaches were opened for the Memorial Day weekend, despite the state maintaining its general statewide lockdown.

Figure 1: New COVID-19 cases in U.S. Coastal States (7-day moving average)

Data source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Graph by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

 

In terms of sheer numbers, California, Florida and Texas have experienced the largest increases in daily new COVID-19 cases since the Memorial Day weekend (May 23–25). As of June 9th, California’s 7-day moving average of new cases each day is around 2,750 — its highest levels ever.

Likewise, Texas is at an all-time high at around 1,500 new cases each day (7-day moving average) and Florida is near its all-time high at 1,250 per day (7-day moving average).

However, a serious question remains as to precisely why these states (including other states such as North Carolina and South Carolina) are witnessing new highs but not others.

The easy suspect is the loosening of lockdown policies across the country, especially in Southern states where the summer vacation season is in full-swing.

Ballotpedia offers a summary of the lockdown policies for all 50 states (plus D.C.). Using their data, combined with the John Hopkins coronavirus data, I break out the 7-day moving average trends in new coronavirus cases for states in each of three lockdown categories: (1) states that continue to have a statewide lockdown in place, (2) states that began to loosen their lockdown policies after the start of the Memorial Day weekend (May 23 to 25), and (3) states that began to loosen lockdown restrictions before the Memorial Day weekend.

Figure 2 shows the trends for all three lockdown categories.

Figure 2: Comparing New COVID-19 cases by Lockdown Categories (7-day moving average)

Data source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Graph by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

 

Looking at the total U.S. trend in Figure 1, there has been a clear downward movement in new coronavirus cases since the first week of April. However, there is a small upward bump occurring soon after the Memorial Day weekend and before any possible impact by the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests, which began on May 26th (in Minneapolis) and increased steadily across the country through the first week of June.

That is evidence of a modest Memorial Day effect.

[Note: A large spike of 5,500 new coronavirus cases in Michigan on June 5th appears to be the function of a backlog in test results and not an actual spike in new cases in and around that day. Removing this spike does not significantly change the nominal shape of the U.S. totals in Figure 1.]

More interesting than the total U.S. trends, however, are the changes for the three lockdown categories.

For the six states that have not significantly loosened their lockdowns (California, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York and Oregon), the trend in new cases has been consistently downward since early April — though, this encouraging trend has plateaued since mid-May.

For the 10 states that began opening up for normal business after May 23rd (Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington), the downward trend in new cases did not begin until early May, but has continued consistently since.

Finally, those 27 states that began easing restrictions before May 23rd, the evidence is mixed. On one hand, there has been no sustained rend up or down in new COVID-19 cases since early April. However, these states appear to be the drivers behind the U.S. total uptick in new COVID-19 cases after Memorial Day, suggesting some of the states in this group are the likely culprits behind the national increase.

But what states and why?

Figure 3 breaks out the 50 states (and D.C.) by whether or not they are Coastal states within the warmer half of the country (i.e., states entirely or partially below 40° latitude; shown in Figure 1).

We have found the malefactors responsible for recent increases in coronavirus cases and it is not based solely on a state having loosened their lockdown restrictions. There are states that loosened their lockdowns before May 23rd and yet have not experienced a significant rise in COVID-19 cases (Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wyoming).

Something else is driving up coronavirus cases and I believe Figure 3 has found the prime suspect: warm, sunny beaches where documentary evidence has shown in the past few weeks that beach goers are not routinely practicing sound social distancing methods (e.g., facial masks and 6-ft personal spaces).

Figure 3: Comparing New COVID-19 cases in U.S. Overall and Coastal States (7-day moving average)

Data source: Johns Hopkins University (CSSE); Graph by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

 

The New York Times interviewed Memorial Day weekend vacationers in Ocean City, Maryland who said very few people practicing proper social distancing methods.

“We expected 50/50,” said one Ocean City, MD beach visitor about the prevalence of facial masks during the Memorial Day weekend. “But this is like 10 percent, maybe.”

Similar accounts have been reported on beaches throughout the country since the first warm days of April.

As seen in Figure 3, Coastal states (which include California, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas) have seen their COVID-19 cases rise persistently since mid-April — the peak of the spring break beach crowds and the start of the regular vacation season.

There are exceptions to this rule: (1) Lousiana has not seen a large rise in new cases (but neither is Louisiana a prime beach location), (2) New Jersey (where I live) saw its beaches begin to fill in late May and, yet, has not witnessed a surge in new COVID-19 cases, and (3) Arizona — which has experienced a large increase in new COVID-19 cases since Memorial Day — has no apparent ocean beaches.

Yet, the data is showing a strong connection between warm Coastal beach states and the recent spike in new COVID-19 cases.

Far more people will go to the beach this weekend than march in protests. In a typical year, 64 percent of Americans spend at least one summer weekend away from home and the most frequent destination is a beach (or about 13 million people during each of the summer weekends). From 2016 to 2018, only one-in-five Americans participated in at least one protest — a time period which includes the Women’s Marches around Donald Trump’s inauguration — and the recent mass protests for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter (BLM), while likely larger and more widespread, probably has not exceed 10 million in total (based on my analysis of the recent BLM marches listed here).

None of the findings here suggests mass protests can’t spread the coronavirus or that states where lockdown restrictions have loosened too fast or recklessly won’t experience a spike in new cases. Both are likely sources of some of the newest COVID-19 cases.

Still, the evidence is stronger that recent increases of COVID-19 in the U.S. are a function of the specific social distancing behaviors of Americans (or lack thereof) when they are relaxing along our nation’s many warm beaches.

To anyone I might see on one of the New Jersey beaches this weekend: Please wear masks and keep your distance from me and my family. No offense intended.

  • K.R.K.

The dataset and statistical code used for this analysis can be requested at: kroeger98@yahoo.com

 

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Will any state catch New York’s coronavirus per capita death rate?

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 8, 2020)

Appendix

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Economics explain high number of new COVID-19 cases in some states

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 5, 2020)

A Quick and Dirty State-level Model

Final Thoughts

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Joe Biden’s criminal justice legacy is more than just the 1994 Crime Bill

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, June 3, 2020)

Is Trump culpable in Floyd’s death? No, but…

Any discussion on Joe Biden and crime law must start with Reagan

The 1994 Crime Bill in context

Did the 1994 Crime Bill work?

The US incarceration rate under state and federal jurisdiction per 100,000 population 1925–2008 (omits local jail inmates). Graph by Smallman12q (talk)

Timeline of total number of inmates in U.S. prisons and jails. From 1920 to 2008. War on Drugs (1971). Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (mandatory minimum sentencing). Graph by The November Coalition.

Biden’s criminal justice record is more than the 1994 Crime Bill

APPENDIX

 

 

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Coronavirus update: Beach states may be the new hot spots

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 28, 2020)

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University — CSSE

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University — CSSE

New COVID-19 Path Model (updated through 25 May 2020)

Data Source: Johns Hopkins University — CSSE; Data Analysis by Kent R. Kroeger (NuQum.com)

Final Thoughts

APPENDIX: Path Model Output and Diagnostics

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Our law enforcement officers need new rules of engagement for minor crimes

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 26, 2020)

 

The Context

Source: The Gallup Poll

A use-of-force continuous scale developed by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

How do we get to the desired final outcome without the violence?

Vehicle Safety Laws Are Important

 

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Why I am not voting for president in 2020

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 26, 2020)

Ending America’s Forever Wars

Decreasing Income Inequality

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Universal Health Care

It’s a two-party system, but is it my civic duty to pick sides?

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Using sewage for real-time tracking of surges and declines in the coronavirus

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By Kent R. Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, May 25, 2020)

Graphic by Christian G.Daughton

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