Tag: analysis

Reaction to John Broderick’s “Make no mistake. America is broken.”

A good friend sent me an opinion piece “Make no mistake. America is broken.” written by John Broderick. [1]  The article provoked several layers of reaction for me.

Gut Reaction

Broderick opens with:
“Make no mistake. America is broken. The entire idea behind democratic rule is subverted every day by a minority of our population who distrust any government they don’t control, ignore science they don’t understand yet don’t like while callously putting others at risk, disparage and restrict voters of a color different than their own and despise immigrants striving to be free.”[1] 

Broderick writes to provoke a gut reaction from the reader. My quick reaction to the first section: the author is dead wrong! I read the rest of the piece rather quickly and my initial reaction was confirmed. Next, my mind flashed to the two systems of mind: System 1 and System 2. Here’s a brief description by by psychologist Daniel Kahneman:
“I describe System 1 as effortlessly originating impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. The automatic operations of System 1 generate surprisingly complex patterns of ideas, but only the slower System 2 can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps.”[2]

 Broderick invoked my fast System 1 thinking.  The article struck me as an emotional appeal; an “argumentum ad passiones. I spent about a week doing a System 2 analysis for the first two paragraphs of the opinion piece. Readers be warned: this was a detailed dissection by an engineer. Let me proceed with some observations and facts.

Analysis of First  Paragraph

Why did I analyze the first two paragraphs in detail? Broderick starts with his main point: “America is broken.”  He doesn’t define his subject in the first two paragraphs yet this is more than 60% of the piece  (see Appendix A for details).  Instead, he alludes to  “a minority of our population.” The subject in most of the sentences in the first two paragraphs are mainly “They.”  Why not define the subject early? In the third paragraph and beyond, it’s clear that Republicans are the subject of the piece. For me, clarity speaks louder than allusion.

The first two paragraphs are complex. After a punchy start, the third sentence contains six accusations against an unstated minority who : 

  1. Subvert democracy.
  2. Don’t trust the government.
  3. Ignore science.
  4. Put others at risk.
  5. Restrict voters due to race..
  6. Despise immigrants..
    The accusations keep flowing…:
  7. Constitutional views are incorrect.
  8. They live in a different world with the wrong social values.
  9. They don’t honor the sacrifice of other Americans.
  10. They believe the “Big Lie” – Joe Biden’s victory wasn’t legitimate.

I found elements of truth and falsehood in most of the accusations. I started with a detailed, bottom up analysis. I started with a detailed, bottom up analysis; see the addendum. Here’s a summary of my detailed analysis of the first paragraph: 

  •  “The entire idea behind democratic rule is subverted every day…”[1]  
    A majority of one political party is in power for a period of time doesn’t imply that the actions of the minority constitute daily subversion.
  • …by a minority of our population ,…”[1]  
    Assume that Broderick’s undefined use of  “ minority of our population”  and” They” represents Republicans who have voted for members of their party to represent them in Congress and President in 2020. 
  • distrust any government they don’t control,...”[1]
    This is  true for most of the history of our Republic. 
  • ignore science they don’t understand yet don’t like while callously putting others at risk…” [1]
    To echo Richard Feynman: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.​” and “there is a considerable amount of intellectual tyranny in the name of science.”
  • disparage and restrict voters of a color different than their own…”[1] 
    States can pass voting laws, courts must ensure that requirements of the Constitution and/or Federal law are met. Unsaid is that white Republicans are the disparagers.
  • … and despise immigrants striving to be free.” [1]
    Most  Americans don’t Americans despise immigrants. They do want us to follow our immigration laws and processes.
  • Their view of our Constitution is most often fanciful, contradictory and uninformed and their idea of freedom is twisted and self-absorbed.”[1]
    Ad Hominem argument to attack the views of a group of Americans regarding the Constitution.
  • They live in a self-interested, imaginary world with no social compact and no reciprocal responsibilities.”[1]
     There are both Republicans (‘They”) and Democrats who might fit this description. 
  • They support the Big Lie with zero proof; a Lie that any rational American would reject.”[1]
    “Big Lie” is an emotionally charged term that refers to at least three separate efforts by President Trump and supporters to dispute the 2020 election results. Two efforts were unpopular but legal: election litigation  and objections in Congress to some state returns. Finally, there was illegal rioting at  the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.
  •  “Every federal judge found no evidence because there was none.”[1]
    No evidence isn’t measurable; it’s true Federal judges (69% Republican) voted against election litigation. Also, ignores state election litigation.
  • It is the same Big Lie that even President Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General William Barr disowned.”[1]
    True that Barr didn’t support the election litigation 
  • Incredibly, according to some recent polls, sixty percent of Republicans still believe that the election was stolen, too. They have zero proof as well. Do facts matter anymore? Is truth too inconvenient to be honored? [1]
    The assertion is partially correct.  December, 2021 polling  indicates 46% of Republicans believe that Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was definitely not legitimate.   
  • For an increasing number of Americans, facts don’t exist or at least facts that don’t serve their ends.”[1]
    Comparing polls between April. 2021 l and December, 2021 – a decreasing not increasing) number of Americans believed that Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was not legitimate.

The terms used are emotionally charged; for example: callously, fanciful, twisted, self-absorbed, self-interested. He  also uses  absolute claims: “entire idea behind democratic rule”, “no reciprocal responsibilities”, and “zero proof” are examples. Such language won’t help a reader understand the author’s logic and wisdom. Instead, you are either with Broderick or against him.

The author uses long sentences to make claims. Why do long sentences matter?  They reduce readability. I calculated the Flesch Reading Ease Score [22] for or the six longest sentences. (Details Appendix A: Word Count Analysis)  These sentences range from “Difficult to read” to ‘Extremely difficult to read”  The entire piece also graded out as “Difficult to read”.

Broderick uses charged, hard to read, partly true claims for a purpose.  He wants to convince readers that Republicans are deplorable.  As he states: “Too many Americans live in a conspiracy-laden echo chamber of their own creation”. Echo chambers exist for both Republican and Democratic Americans. He’s fueling  an echo chamber of the opposite polarity.

Analysis of Second  Paragraph

The second paragraph discusses the events of the Jan. 6  U. S. Capitol riots.  Broderick finishes with: “Actions speak louder than words.”  I have to agree. More than 700 rioters have been arrested and 150 have pleaded guilty. 270 rioters face felony charges. [21]  Rioters are being prosecuted, convicted and sentenced. These actions tell me that our judicial system is working. It’s worth noting that 700 criminals out of more than 74 million Republican voters is about 1 in 100,000. Are the crimes of a few to tarnish the millions?

A few salient  points from the second paragraph: 

  • “… and embrace the American flag …. support the police 100 percent. [1]
    Agree with Broderick’s sentiment. It’s terrible to see the US flag misused in riots at the capitol (or the federal courthouse in Portland)
  •  Many of those people presented with clear and graphic proof that misguided Trump supporters attacked our government on January 6th have concocted the bizarre notion that the FBI or Antifa were behind the insurrection.”[1]
    In a poll of Republicans assessing  responsibility for the Jan. 6  Capitol riots, ranked responses by Republicans were 30% Democratic party, 24% U.S. Capitol police, 20% Antifa.
    (Details in Addendum)   

Mr. Broderick asks three important questions in the second paragraph: “How far have we fallen? How dangerous is our descent?  How much destructive nonsense, ill-will and subversive conduct can we tolerate and still sustain democratic rule in America?    I struggle with how to answer. When I look at the degree of polarization, I see that we need to do a lot of work to understand the driving forces between such disconnects.

Some data exists to quantify: How far we have fallen? But first, we might ask: From what have we fallen?  Our republic is never united for long. There are certain events where we come together: World War 2 and 9/11 come to mind. Now, I think our country has fallen into a canyon of polarization and  factionalism. What is a faction? James Madison defines: 

 “By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” [23] and Appendix B – Factionalism and  Federalist Papers No. 10

We have been in a deep abyss of factionalism before. Look back from 1967 to 1973: race riots, assassinations, the Vietnam War, Watergate, lack of jobs, inflation all spring to mind. Less factionalism would be better. So, what  can we do? Follow the Constitution and our laws. As James Madison states:

“The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. …. In the extent and proper structure of the Union, therefore, we behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.” [23] and Appendix B – Factionalism and  Federalist Papers No. 10

Analysis of Third Paragraph

My analysis of the remainder of Broderick’s piece is less detailed. I used more System 1 thinking and less System 2 for the remainder of this reaction.

In his third paragraph, Broderick finds a target:

It seems “They” equals Republicans, a point of clarity. Broderick told us before that: “They support the Big Lie with zero proof; a Lie that any rational American would reject.”[1] So, I looked at the electoral  vote counting on 6-7 January, 2021. Objections could be raised; these needed to be presented by both a House Representative and a Senator. Representatives raised objections to electoral votes in six states.  Two senators supported objections for two states: Arizona and Pennsylvania, A simple majority of the joint House and Senate would allow the objection to be sustained.[24]

How did it go?   Congress voted on the Arizona objection: 396 voted No, that is to reject the objection. 127 members voted Yes and 7 didn’t vote. It’s interesting to see that 49.2% of Republicans voted No, while 48.8% voted Yes and 1.9% didn’t vote. [Appendix C]

For the Pennsylvania objection: 374 voted No, that is to reject the objection. 145 members voted Yes and 11 didn’t vote.   For the  Republicans: 41.5% voted No, while 55.8% voted Yes and 2.7% didn’t vote. [Appendix C]

Thus, based on the votes during the troubling times of 6th January Capitol riots, most Republicans senators and many representatives didn’t remain silent. The Republican Vice-President Pence certified the election results on 7 January 2021. There was no autocratic rule. Our republic stands.

Analysis of Fourth Paragraph

Broderick asks us: 

“Where have all the statesmen gone? When did truth die? When was finding out who organized and funded the January 6th assault on our free elections a petty partisan exercise to be disparaged by virtually every elected Congressional Republican?”  

To me, leaders are people that speak truth to power. Most Republicans follow the party line. Most Democrats follow the party line too. The House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack started with a fight over who could serve. It started as a political duel between Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy. [25][26] Two Republicans took a risk: Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. When did truth die? Probably when we ended with a lopsided committee of 2 Republicans and 8 Democrats.

I do see some other leaders on Capitol Hill. The bipartisan group that came up with alternative infrastructure proposal spring to mind. Five Republicans and five Democrats. Here they are: Senators Cassidy, Collins, Manchin, Murkowski, Portman, Romney, Shaheen, Sinema, Tester and Warner. In August, 2021 Democrats and Republicans voted 69-30)  to pass the bill.  After a series of stalling tactics in the House, it was passed in November, 2021 and signed into law by President Biden. So, there’s some proof that there’s leadership on Capitol Hill.[27]

Closing

Broderick states: “Putin must be smiling in Moscow.” I must agree and would add that Xi Jinping is probably dancing a jig in Peking. Our country is in turmoil. Broderick is correct that we need leadership. My biggest disagreement is that we need bipartisan leadership that can break through the current silo mentality.

Let me close by saying thanks to John Broderick, He made me think deeply about our country as we enter 2022. I don’t agree when Broderick states: “Make no mistake. America is broken.” I do think our country is faltering. Here’s my opinion: 

America has run for a long time through some epic challenges. We have almost always had a two party system; think of one party as the left leg and the other as the right leg. You won;t get very far hopping on one leg. To be effective, both legs have to work in harmony.

 Our country has won many  races against strong competitors.  Today, we have stress fracture injuries in both legs. We are hobbling. The race is painful.  We have some hard choices. We can recover from our injuries or press on.  

 We know how to heal, recover and emerge strong. We have done this before. We came back strong after the Civil War, World Wars, the Great Depression, and Vietnam. We went on to win some races.

Another choice is to ignore our injuries.  We can hobble into the future. We will soon stop running. We will stumble and fall. We will  lose  races to our strong competitors.

It’s our choice to make.

John Brew 10 January 2022

Supporting Pages

Addendum with supporting analysis

Appendix A: Word Count Analysis

Appendix B – Factionalism and  Federalist Papers No. 10

Appendix C – Counting of electoral votes and confirmation of the 2020 Presidential election

Notes and Sources

COVID-19 infection rate is slowing down in King and Snohomish county

Here’s some reasonably good news, the rate of spread of COVID-19 is decreasing significantly in King and Snohomish County, Washington. Here’s a plot that illustrates the reduction in spread based on new cases.

Figure 1: Logarithm of cumulative COVID-19 infections in King and Snohomish County, Washington versus time (11 March, 2020) to 7 April, 2020

The yellow, circular data points are a count of the actual cases as reported by King and Snohomish County Department of Health. The blue, red and green lines with constant slopes represent the exponential increase in COVID-19 infections predicted using an exponential model with doubling times that were altered to estimate the effectiveness of social distancing.

The blue (baseline) slope predicts the number of infections based on a doubling rate of 6.2 days; this is the case if no social distancing methods were employed. The actual cases (yellow) closely tracked the blue slope from 11 to 17 March, 2020. In the next week interval (18-24 March, 2020) the slope of the actual cases deviated from the blue line towards the red line which was an estimate of social distancing becoming more effective; that is manifest as a 25% increase in the doubling time to spread the virus.

In the last few days (28-30 March, 2020), the number of actual cases appears to be flattening out again. If that trend continues, that’s very good new for King and Snohomish County as it indicates significant reduction in the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Update 31 March 2020

Here’s a different way to look at the data, suggested to me by my colleague Luis. This visualization based on a a trajectory method developed by Aatish Bhatia and Henry Reich using average weekly data plotted against cumulative data. [3] This is a lagging indicator, so I expect it to be delayed in signaling a downturn. That said, it’s likely to be a strong, positive signal.

Notes and References

[1] I derived my simple model as described in my post https://brewbooks.blog/2020/03/25/social-distancing-is-reducing-covid-19-burden-in-king-and-snohomish-counties/ using results originally developed by a team from the Institute for Disease Modeling with some partners: Klein, D., Hagedorn, B., Cliff Kerr, H. H., Bedford, T., & Famulare, M. (2020). Working paper – model-based estimates of COVID19 burden in King and Snohomish counties through April 7, 2020Institute for Disease Modeling.

[2] Here’s a link to the underlying data and model I am using. Updated Covid19 Data SnoKing J Brew I will be updating this daily until 7 April 2020

[3] I encourage listening to Henry Reich’s Minutephysic’s YouTube video

and Aatish Bhatia’s website https://aatishb.com/covidtrends/

Measuring social distancing effects in reducing COVID-19 spread

Governor Jay Inslee said on 26 March 2020 that our state has shown a “modest improvement” in stemming the COVID-19 infection rate. [1] As a young engineer I learned: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”[2]

This graph is my attempt to measure the effectiveness of our current social distancing measures are using the daily count of COVID-19 cases in King and Snohomish county. I am comparing the actual cases (in yellow, labeled First Diff Actual) to an exponential model I used to project the spread of infection. [3] The solid blue, red and green lines are projected increases in daily new COVID-19 cases for three scenarios starting on 10 March: baseline (no social distancing- red line, 25% reduction due to social distancing – blue line , and 50% reduction due to social distancing – green line. Our modest improvement (the yellow data falling in between the read and blue lines) seems to track the effects of 25% reduction in COVID-19 spread due to social distancing. What does this mean for King and Snohomish county in the near future?

The figure below shows three possible scenarios. The red line projects about 10,000 COVID-19 cases on 7 April. This seems to be our current trajectory. This is a large improvement over the baseline blue line of 25,000 COVID-19 cases on 7 April if we had done nothing.

As a colleague pointed out to me, the cumulative data is easier to visualize using a logarithmic plot as follows:

Have we done enough? That’s a question each of us need to address. Our leaders, like Governor Inslee, have provided us the framework to follow, it’s up to us to follow as best we can. I will also suggest listening to an excellent TED talk from Bill Gates

I suggest listening to an excellent TED talk from Bill Gates on other ways to respond to our pandemic, he discusses isolation , testing and the future.

Notes and References

[1] Coronavirus daily news updates, March 27: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the nation https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/coronavirus-daily-news-updates-march-27-what-to-know-today-about-covid-19-in-the-seattle-area-washington-state-and-the-nation/ accessed 27 March 2020

[2] attributed to Peter Drucker, drilled into my from multiple bosses

[3] I derived my simple model as described in my post https://brewbooks.blog/2020/03/25/social-distancing-is-reducing-covid-19-burden-in-king-and-snohomish-counties/ using results originally developed by a team from the Institute for Disease Modeling with some partners: Klein, D., Hagedorn, B., Cliff Kerr, H. H., Bedford, T., & Famulare, M. (2020). Working paper – model-based estimates of COVID19 burden in King and Snohomish counties through April 7, 2020Institute for Disease Modeling.

[4] Here’s a link to the underlying data and model I am using. Updated Covid19 Data SnoKing J Brew I will be updating this daily until 7 April 2020

Social distancing is reducing Covid-19 burden in King and Snohomish counties

There’s a plot that has been stuck in my brain for about 10 days:

Part of Figure 1. Scenarios for the possible cumulative burden of COVID-19 infection in King and Snohomish counties. (Klein et. al.. 2020)

The plot is based on an infection model that was published by a team of researchers in the Seattle area who projected future Covid-19 cumulative infections for King and Snohomish (I’ll use the term Sno-King) over a four week interval commencing on 11 March. (Klein et. al., 2020) [1] I wanted to understand how our communities are doing in the struggle to slow the rate of new infections.

We do not yet know which scenario best represents current conditions in King and Snohomish counties, but previous experience in the region with weather-related social distancing and in other countries suggests to us that current efforts will likely land between baseline and 25% reduction scenarios.

(Klein et. al., 2020) on 11 March 2020

I believe there’s enough data (as of 25 March 2020) to claim that the Sno-King population has achieved the 25% reduction level due to social distancing. That’s certainly an improvement over two weeks but there’s still more work to be done. I’ll present some results from a very simple model I made and then discuss how I made this model, what its limitations are and suggest some improvements.

In Figure 1 below, the blue curve is a projection using an exponential model of the baseline for new infections for 28 days ending on 7 April 2020. The red curve is a projection of a 25% reduction in infection rate. The intent of these curves was to reproduce the model curves of Klein et. al. Finally, the yellow curves plots the number of cases in Sno-King. The underlying data, model and plots are available on a Google Sheet I created.

Figure 1: Cumulative Covid-19 infections, Exponential model
King and Snohomish Counties, updated 25 March 2020

Now, I realize that it’s difficult to see much from this curve. I looked at the change in new daily infections, I believe that’s a better metric to visualize how we are improving. Figure 2 provides this visualization with the yellow data points show the daily increase in new cases compared to the baseline (blue) and 25% reduction (red) lines. I realize that there’s not very much data yet but we are seeing new data being published daily (and I will update this analysis sheet daily). Still, this made me realize that we are likely achieving 25% reduction level due to social distancing in Sno-King!

Figure 2: Daily increase in Covid-19 infections, Exponential model
King and Snohomish Counties, updated 25 March 2020

Building the Exponential Model

Since I’m an engineer, the first thing I did was build my own model and then start feeding in data to measure how we are doing.Of course, the devil is in the details, and I’m not an epidemiologist. What I did was reproduce the results of Klein et. al.. 2020 using the facts they provided: a doubling time for the epidemic of 6.2 days, one large transmission cluster, four week duration, and less than 1% (25,000 of the 3 million infected at the end of the four weeks.

Let me explain the simple, deterministic model I used. To follow along, you may find it helpful to look at the underlying Google Sheet I developed. I am including underlying cell references in parentheses. I used an exponential increasing model that starts with 267 infections (cell L2) at day zero. For a time series of 28 days (cells F2:F30), I calculated the total number of infections using a baseline doubling rate parameter of 6.2 days (cell L3). For the entire 28 days, the baseline I calculated was 24,425 cumulative cases (cell G30). For comparison, the multiple simulations performed by Klein et. al. estimated 25,000 cumulative cases. Thus, my baseline model estimate is about 2% lower than Klein et. al.

For the the social distancing intervention representing a 25% reduction, I increased the baseline doubling rate parameter by a factor of 1.25 to 7.8 days (cell L4) For the 25% reduction case, I calculated was 9,899 cumulative cases (cell H30). For comparison, the multiple simulations performed by Klein et. al. estimated 9,700 cumulative cases. Thus, my model estimate is about 2% higher than Klein et. al. in the the 25% reduction case.

Next, I used the graphic “COVID-19 in Washington State” published daily by the Seattle Times to determine the cumulative number of cases in King (C3:C16) and Snohomish (D3:D16) county for each day and then computed the Sno-King total cases (E3:E16). I have included a tab labeled “DataSource” that lists the URL for each day’s data. Some days, the actual case data is suspect, for example, there was disagreement between King County and Washington State regarding cases on 17 March 2020. The cumulative infections are plotted for the baseline, 25% reduction, and actual cases in the chart labeled “Cumul25March”

I computed the first order difference in infections, the change in number of daily infections, for each condition: baseline (cells J3:J16), 25% reduction (cells K3:K16) and actual cases (cells I3:I16). The change in number of daily infections are plotted for the baseline, 25% reduction, and actual cases in the chart labeled “1stDiff25March”

Limitations and Utility of this Model

This is a very simple model of a complex epidemic. I don’t think it will have much validity beyond 7 April 2020. At that point, a more rigorous model that models the underlying epidemic using ordinary differential equations is in order. Also, the underlying parameters will be better understood. Finally, once more than 1% of the Sno-King population is infected, the simple exponential model will become less accurate.

I think this model will be a useful way for people to visualize the impact of social distancing efforts in the short-term. There’s enough data here to say that social distancing is making an impact. Also, in a small way, this simple model and analysis confirms that our current effort will result in 25% reduction due to social distancing. Maybe the next two weeks will show additional improvement?

Thanks to the Seattle Times and Klein et. al. making me think and look at the data. Also, hats are off to all the essential workers in government, grocery stores, pharmacies and the news media for keeping us safe, healthy and informed.

I welcome suggestions for improvement, corrections and any words of wisdom from anyone reading this. Stay safe.