Okay, I couldn’t help myself…

“Make no mistake…I’m not posting this for debate. I don’t seek or need commentary. Unfollow or unfriend me if it makes you feel better.”

Not posting for debate? Give me a break. Plus, you should be seeking commentary because that’s how views and opinions evolve, and how you learn.

“Just consider this…when you think the President is a jerk; he is.”


“He’s a New Yorker. He’s crude and can be rude. He gets his feelings hurt and he’s a hot head. He hits back; harder. And he should Tweet less.”

Agreed. Not sure about the hitting back harder. Often seems a lot like flailing and tantrums to me.

“Let me tell you what else he is.”

Please do…

“He is a guy that demands performance.”

As long as you agree with him, and the performances he demands appear to be mostly to entertain him. He also seems to demand a lot from his accountants and lawyers to bail him out of bankruptcies and paying taxes.

“He is a guy that asks lots of questions.”

Because he doesn’t understand a lot of stuff which is not necessarily bad. Asking questions is good, but asking if we can test injecting people with disinfectants is not. The bigger problem is he doesn’t seem to pay any attention to the answer unless it agrees with him.

“The questions he asks aren’t cloaked in fancy “political” phrases; they are “why the hell…” questions.”

No, they are just cloaked in self-grandeur and boasting about how great he is.

“For decades the health industry has thrown away billions of face masks after one use. Trump asks, “why the hell are we throwing them away? Why not sterilize them and use them numerous times?””

There’s a simple answer to that. It’s cheaper and more cost-effective that way. It’s why almost all medical supplies are “single-use”. Sterilizing things regularly costs a lot. Why doesn’t he ask why we all don’t carry a nice straw with us instead of using a disposable one?

“He’s the guy that gets hospital ships readied in one week when it would have taken a bureaucrat weeks or months to get it done.”

That hospital ship had almost zero impact on the situation in New York. It was great symbolism and showmanship but very little real benefit.

“He’s the guy that gets temporary hospitals built in three days.”

How did HE do that? It seems like he left that up to states and their leadership.

“He’s the guy that gets auto industries to restructure to build ventilators in a business that’s highly regulated by agencies that move like sloths.”

After people kept pushing him to use his powers to do this. I also wonder how many ventilators the auto industry has built. Plus, they still need to be tested and certified. There’s a reason medical equipment is highly regulated. It needs to work!

“He’s the guy that asks “why aren’t we using drugs that might work on people that are dying; what the hell do we have to lose?””

Drugs have side effects and a limited supply. Injecting disinfectants “might” work also.

“He’s the guy that restricted travel from China when the Democrats and liberal media were screaming “xenophobia” and “racist.” Now they’re wanting to know why didn’t he react sooner?”

Do you know how many American businesspeople got stuck in China? He’s a selective xenophobe, much like Hitler was come to think of it.

“He’s the guy that campaigned on securing the border – protecting America – in the face of screaming Democrats and the liberal media. When he shut down borders in the midst of the coronavirus virus, they screamed louder. Then the rest of the world followed suit, including the European Union with travel between their member countries.”

The rest of the world was shutting things down too. Securing the border isn’t really protecting America. And from what I’ve seen he’s not done anything to actually do that. Why aren’t we securing our northern border? The thing is, immigration from Mexico, legal and illegal, has been declining for decades. The standard of living between there and here is still very different but not as different as it was 30 years ago. Do you personally know anyone that has lost their job to a Mexican?

“Has he made mistakes? Yes.”


“Everyone I know has and does.”

Also agreed.

“The “experts” wouldn’t and haven’t done any better.”

It depends on the “experts” you listen to and if they are really experts. Are they also trying to sell a book, promote their podcast, or get elected? Experts are experts because they’ve studied a field extensively and probably have a more informed opinion than non-experts. Do you listen to everything an auto mechanic tells you as gospel? Do you get second opinions? Experts disagree all the time, it’s what keeps fields advancing. Most experts are making educated guesses because things are complicated. I’d rather have an educated guess than a non-educated one.

“Trump is working harder than I’ve ever seen a President work. Twenty-four hour days. He isn’t hiding in his office; he’s outdoor front – Briefing – every day.”

He’s outdoors briefing because he’d rather be in front of the cameras than actually working. I’m not sure why him “briefing” reporters ever day is working. It seems like he spends an awful lot of time simply bragging about himself and his genius, tweeting, and watching TV.

“When he offers hope, he’s lying and when he’s straight forward, he should be hopeful. It’s a no win situation, but he’ll not be deterred.”

Sometimes we need a cheerleader and I think it wasn’t necessarily bad that he tried to calm fears at the beginning of this. However, as he saw the rapid exponential growth and problems it was causing he should have quit saying things like “the cases will be zero soon”. The thing is, he is lying, or bullshitting (there’s a difference) most of the time. There’s a way to calm fears and not lie. Politics is really by its very nature a no-win situation. Every politician deals with that. I think Trump does it very poorly because he’s simply too arrogant to listen to anyone.

“I’ll take this kind of leadership six days a week and twice on Sunday over a “polished, nice guy” politician who reads prepared speeches from a teleprompter and answers pre-scripted questions.”

Polished, nice guys are not great either. As George Carlin said about Bill Clinton, “The American people like their bullshit right up front, where they can get a good, strong whiff of it. Clinton might be full of shit, but at least he lets you know it. Dole tried to hide it, didn’t he? Dole kept saying, “I’m a plain and honest man.” Bullshit! People don’t believe that. What did Clinton say? He said, “Hi, folks! I’m completely full of shit, and how do you like that?” And the people said, “You know something? At least he’s honest!”” (https://www.youtube.com/watch…)

“He is my President.”


“Copy and share if you agree.”




I have updated the plots with the data up to May 24, 2020, and highlighted Wisconsin since people seem to be interested in what’s happening there.

While I haven’t lived in Michigan in 27 years, I still have many friends and family members that live there, and I go there fairly regularly.  It seems many people are upset with how their governor has handled the shutdown and enforced social distancing, although it appears from polls that the majority of people support her policies.

Besides simply being upset that small business owners are being hurt by this, it seems that many people are upset that they were/are not allowed to go to vacation properties that are usually located in rural areas of northern Michigan.  I suspect the thought here was that this was part of an overall limiting of travel.  I can understand this from a health perspective as it would keep the spread in areas where there are far more healthcare resources.  I can also understand that at a time when people are social distancing, they would like to be able to get away for a bit, and in many ways increase social distancing.

I have also heard many complaints about not being able to go out in boats, and I have to say I really do not understand the reasoning for this.  Maybe it’s to limit the number of people that need to monitor boating and/or needing to respond to emergencies.  While boating isn’t a huge thing in Pennsylvania, I don’t think there are any limitations here, and I’ve not heard of this in other states; but I may be wrong.

Finally, it seems people are particularly concerned with barbershops and salons.  I’m not sure what the particular concern is with these places other than that many are indeed small businesses.  However, there are all kinds of other small businesses that are also being hurt.  I can understand the government’s stance to keep them closed to enforce social distancing which is hard to do when you’re getting your hair cut.  If we’d have built up our testing capabilities faster, then maybe barbers and beauticians could be regularly tested and given some certificate to ensure customers of this.  It also seems like barbers and beauticians have made very public statements about their feelings.  However, it seems to me that there are just as many small gym owners and personal trainers as there are barbers and beauticians.  I don’t hear about them complaining, although I’m sure they are, at least privately.

So, let’s take a look at the data (with all the caveats attached) for Michigan.  First, let’s look at the ratio of day-to-day changes in the number of infected; this is often called R.  The plot below shows this for all states with four highlighted for comparison.  The points above 1.45 at the start that aren’t highlighted are from Missouri.  It’s clear that things started off in Michigan with the virus spreading very fast, and there’s plenty of speculation on why that was.

If we look at the new infections each day averaged over a week, we see that, as suggested by the plot above, the infections spread in Michigan very fast.  Sometime in the first half of April things changed dramatically, as they did in Louisiana.  New infections have now steadied for both states.  Note that Michigan’s population is about twice that of Louisiana’s and slightly more than New Jersey’s.  Although the infection rate seems to be increasing slightly in the last couple weeks, I suspect the attitude is from a healthcare perspective, “Whatever we’re doing is working, so let’s keep doing it.”  From an economic perspective it’s really hard to say, but it’s certainly realistic to think that there could be another explosion in the number of cases.  If there is one I suspect it’d be less severe than the first time because people are simply more away and taking precautions.  Illinois now has the most new infections of any state, and California is catching up to New York.

Linear scale
Logarithmic scale

Now let’s take a look at deaths each day, again average over a seven day period.  I think this is the one that got the Michigan government/governor very concerned.  While the number of daily new infections mirrored that of Louisiana closely, the number of deaths each day was more than double for many days.  It’s hard to determine why this was besides maybe an older and less healthy population.  Louisiana’s infections were concentrated around New Orleans like Michigan’s were concentrated around Detroit.  I doubt the medical care in the Detroit area is any better or worse than in the New Orleans area.  Likewise I would think that per capita the capacity would likely be the same.

Linear scale
Logarithmic scale

I have no idea if the actions Michigan’s governor took and is taking are the best strategy overall.  It certainly seems to be from a healthcare perspective.  The big questions that will never be answered are:  How many people would have died or gotten severely ill without the actions taken?  And, how much better would the economy be without those actions?  My personal feeling is that a couple thousand more people would have died and the economy would probably not be a whole lot better.  New data from Politico says that “…that Georgia now leads the country in terms of the proportion of its workforce applying for unemployment assistance. A staggering 40.3 percent of the state’s workers — two out of every five — has filed for unemployment insurance payments since the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread shutdowns in mid-March, a POLITICO review of Labor Department data shows.”

I’m not really sure of a good way to look at the life versus economy tradeoff.  Maybe the best way is to think that we (you) saved 2,000 lives but lost 2,000 small businesses.  That’s still a hard one to judge, but I would think many small business owners would trade their business for the life of a loved one.

There has been quite a bit of debate about the “dire” predictions that COVID-19 models have made and are making for infections and, especially, deaths, and how those predictions are being used to scare people.  I can say with a great deal of certainty that scientists making these models and doing the simulations are not intentionally trying to scare anyone.  (The only “scientists” I am skeptical of are the ones trying to sell books or market themselves for something.  The “Plandemic” woman is in this category.  She’s been peddling false hope to people with chronic illnesses for a long time.)  On the other hand, in the hands of the media and politicians the predictions can be used in many different ways.  I think many of the early models used a few different scenarios:  we do nothing, we socially distance and/or shutdown, we discover a vaccine, etc.  If you want to scare people, the predictions from the models in which we do nothing can certainly be used, and I believe that if we had done nothing we would be in a very serious situation.

I’ve spent most of the last 30 years developing and analyzing models, mostly trying to predict how physical systems will respond.  Physical system models are not hard to develop if you understand the physical laws that govern them (and the mathematics needed to study them).  There have been very few advances in modeling physical systems at scales visible to humans in nearly a century.  That is why physicists rightly say that most of what engineers do is classical physics.  One nice thing about physical systems is they are not alive to change their behaviors to something not included in the model.  (Note, “smart” materials on which I did a lot of research are not actually smart. [1])  Another nice thing is you can do controlled experiments to validate your model.  Finally, you have a lifetime of experience and intuition to use to see if the results make physical sense.  However, I think the best results are the ones that do not initially make intuitive sense and require you to adjust your intuition.  See footnote [2] for a great example of this and footnote [3] for my experience trying to get engineering students to use their intuition and common sense.

The basic model for disease spread is what’s called the SIR (susceptible/infected/recovered) model; there are many variations and extensions of this.  There are also many good explanations of this model online so I won’t go into details about it here.  I would recommend watching the YouTube video I’ve embedded at the end.  One thing to know about these models is that they are statistical and have many parameters that people can “tweak” and many “features” that can be added.  Being statistical, they will only give you an “average” sense of what might happen.  Likewise, you can adjust the parameters to get almost any prediction.  This is where so-called fitting comes in.  Scientists will tweak the parameters until they fit known cases and hope those parameters will predict what will happen in the future.  When scientists share these models they usually provide the parameters they’ve used and what “ingredients” have been included.  Although some people want to keep their models proprietary, and I would be skeptical of them.  The problem here is that by the time the predictions hit the media and politicians all those details have been stripped away to make it more digestible for the general public.

Statistical models have been used in physics for over a century, and from basically the time we realized matter was made of atoms but we could still measure properties of matter without having to keep track of every atom.  For example, the temperature of something basically measures on average the energy contained in the atoms/molecules comprising the material.  We don’t need to track every atom to get this average.  Likewise, the pressure from the air you feel is the forces of all the molecules in the air hitting you.  If the wind hits you from one side you notice a net force acting to push you in the direction the wind is blowing.  This is simply because more molecules are hitting you on one side than the other creating a net force that wants to move you.  Again, we do not need to keep track of every molecule/atom to determine what this force is.

Statistical models in physics (a subject called statistical mechanics) work extremely well and are used extensively.  Like SIR models statistical mechanics models can be more or less complicated by adding or removing ingredients.  For example, the “ideal gas law” that relates pressure, temperature, and volume was known long before we understood anything about atoms, and we now know that it can be completely derived by averaging the motion of atoms and molecules modeled as balls bouncing around.  However, there are cases when the ideal gas law doesn’t work well.  For example if the gas is made from molecules you can include the rotation of the molecule as an ingredient.  It turns out that under “normal” conditions this ingredient isn’t needed, but under extreme conditions it helps explain why the ideal gas law fails.  The other time statistical models don’t work well is when you don’t have enough particles (i.e. atoms or molecules) to average over.  If you only have, say, one thousand atoms bouncing around in a box, statistical averaging starts to not work so well.  Fortunately, with modern computing power, we can model billions of atoms moving around using molecular dynamic simulations.

One reason statistical models and molecular dynamic simulation work so well is that atoms do not have free will, i.e. under the same situation they will all act the same.  People on the other hand are very different.  It’s this behavior and the feedback causing that behavior that makes modeling populations so hard.  If you have millions of people you can try to estimate how the average person will behave and include that in a statistical model.  Most of the variations of the SIR are doing just that, but modeling behavior even on average is very difficult.  While we could theoretically model every person in the United States acting in an average way, we know this would provide the same results as the statistical model.  We could include some randomness in the every-person model, but again with enough people you’re still going to get the average result.  What an every-person model may help predict is how a very non-uniform population density plays a role.  However, SIR models can be adjusted for this too.

To help explain the SIR model, the creator of the two videos below basically does molecular dynamics simulations with people replacing the atoms and behaving in different random ways.  Note the Twitter screenshot he includes around the 2:14 mark with someone responding to him, “Im not a gas in a box :'(”  Because he is only using around one thousand people walking basically randomly he makes many runs and averages the results.  To try to model the variation in people’s behavior he uses various percentages and looks at how these percentages change the results.  For example, he varies the percentage of people infected that get quarantined or the percentage of people traveling from one community to another.

When you’re modeling things with algorithms instead of equations you can play around with all kinds of probable behaviors and actions.  Things can get extremely complicated and often you have no idea what the result might be.  There is actually a scientific/mathematical buzzword for this called “emergent behavior.”  According to Wikipedia, “emergence occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own.”  You can think of your body as the emergence of all the individual cells doing their own thing.  Scientists and mathematicians are enamored with emergent behavior because you often see very interesting and realistic behaviors emerge from very simple models of how the parts interact.

While I am certainly biased, I believe the scientific community is doing a great job simply trying to keep people informed.  Unfortunately, their messages can get distorted and used politically.  Plus, scientists usually avoid words like “never” and “always” so when someone asks them if it’s possible 10 million people will die, they’ll simply answer, “Yes.  It’s possible.”



[1]  Playing with a dielectric elastomer “smart” material water balloon in the lab of my former student Nakhiah Goulbourne at the University of Michigan during the summer of 2010.  What makes this material “smart” is a crazy-stupid 5,000V being applied across the membrane, although there is very little current so not much power.


Wrinkled mylar balloon.

[2] A great example of needing to adjust your intuition based on strange results from a model is a model/simulation I worked on with Elaine Serina when we were graduate students.  Elaine wanted to understand how forces on your fingertip get transferred to tension in the skin and stresses on the bone as part of a larger study on carpal tunnel syndrome.  As a simple first step, we decided to model the fingertip as an ellipsoid (think of a plain M&M) inflated by water and then compressed between two plates.  We wanted the initial inflation because there is usually tension in your skin (unless you’ve been soaking in water and are all “pruney”).  However, when Elaine took the equations I derived and wrote code to solve them she kept getting strange results that we were both convinced couldn’t be correct.  The simulations were showing that when you inflated the skin membrane you would get compressive stresses.  Our intuition said, “You can’t inflate something and get compression.”  We spent at least a month trying to figure out what was wrong with the model and/or the code to no avail.  After a meeting with our thesis adviser in which he concurred with our intuition that something must be wrong, we were walking back to our lab through the student union and noticed the inflated mylar balloons.  One of us (likely me because I was the one studying wrinkling caused by membrane compression) realized that all the mylar balloons were wrinkled around the edges, just where our model was predicting compressive stresses.  The only way you get wrinkles is when you have compressive stresses.  Thus, we realized our intuition was wrong!  As you inflate a mylar balloon the edges want to pull in towards the center.  This creates the compression.  If you have a rubber balloon of this shape, adding more pressure will eventually cause the wrinkles to disappear.  However, because mylar is so stiff you can’t pressurize it enough to remove the wrinkles without it rupturing.

[3] I was always a bit disheartened with how many mechanical engineering students did not seem to have this intuition when they got to the junior-level class I regularly taught.  To address this, part of every homework problem was a statement about why they felt their answer was correct or incorrect.  Early in the semester I would get answers like, “Because I followed all the steps and checked the math.”  I was constantly shocked at how many mechanical engineering students did not come into the class with the skill of looking at the result they got and evaluating if it made physical sense.  Every semester I talked a lot about “sanity checks.”  Plus, I wanted to know if they suspected their answer was not correct, as it’s much better in the real world to know a result is likely not correct than to think it is.

I think it’s good to summarize discussions so I’m going to summarize the one on mail-in voting. There are some random links at the end; I wasn’t good at saving them during my “research.” It seems to me like the main opposition to mail-in voting is voter fraud, and I understand the concern. Mail-in voting does open up some other avenues for voter fraud, but some states have had exclusive mail-in voting for some time. Oregon has been doing so since 1996 and watches closely for fraud and has not had a problem with it. It seems both parties (in Oregon) agree on that. However, some have noted that Oregon has had two decades to refine the system, but they had to start at some point.

I can certainly understand people’s concerns about voter fraud, and I can see how mail-in voting could open up some other avenues for it. Thus, the trade-off appears to be the risk of additional voter fraud versus making voting easier and increasing “turn out.” I suspect where you land on that trade-off depends greatly on how much of a problem you think voter fraud is. While there are certainly cases of voter fraud my research has shown that it occurs on both sides; there are zealots on both sides willing to risk a lot to make their voice count extra. However, every study I found suggested these zealots are very very rare.

There was also some discussion of voter fraud by the officials tasked with collecting and counting ballots. I suppose mail-in voting could give these officials more of an opportunity to destroy votes. However, we should have a pretty good system in place for preventing that by having representatives from all parties involved. We’ve had centuries of dealing with officials collecting votes and often counting them by hand.

The biggest concern seemed to be of dead people voting, and I’m sure there are people on both sides willing to risk doing this. However, it seems like this should be easy to catch simply by keeping voter registration databases up-to-date and cross-checking with databases of those that have died. There’s seems to be a lot of discussion about some voter registration databases including thousands of dead people because they have not been updated in years. I’m sure this is likely true, but there doesn’t seem to be any correlation with additional voter fraud in these precincts. When there have been systematic checks there are usually initially surprising numbers of dead people voting. However, in every case I saw, all of these were false positives with people having the same name, clerical error, or someone having mailed in a vote before they died.

There was also some worry of non-residents and “illegals” voting but they would have to do so in someone else’s name since they would not be in any voter registration database. It seems like where you stand on possibly allowing non-residents to vote depends on who you think they’ll vote for. There was also some discussion of Democrats pushing for non-residents being allowed to vote and there have been some places that have allowed this for local elections. There seems to be no explicit push from either side to allow non-residents to vote. An interesting fact I discovered doing a little research on this is that most state constitutions initially allowed non-residents to vote but, of course, did not allow women to vote. Many just required a man to simply have resided in the state for some period (usually a few months) to vote. Others simply said that any man wishing to become a resident could vote. I had not known this and it surprises me somewhat. However, thinking about it a little, I suspect that there was very much less animosity towards immigrants and non-residents at the time because so many people had themselves or close relatives been immigrants. This attitude shifted in the late 1800s and early 1900s and now no state (at least at a state level) allows non-residents to vote. Again, I suspect this has a lot to do with the majority of people during this period not having had themselves or close relatives immigrate to this county.

In the end, I think people’s stance depends on which side they think these fraudulent ballots will be cast, and who is being hampered from voting by having to go to a polling place. There’s no shortage of Republican politicians saying (admitting) that high voter turnout is not good for them. There is also no shortage of Democrats saying the opposite. It appears that the research and election results do strongly suggest this. I suspect no one is surprised by it. Thus, I think people should consider if the strength of their stance on mail-in voting has a lot to do with the party they want to win an election.

I feel that making it convenient to vote strongly outweighs whatever additional fraud might occur. I honestly think what little fraud there is probably has the same prevalence on both sides and likely cancels out in the end. However, I have to admit that I suspect that if the candidate I wanted to win was going to be hurt by mail-in voting I might feel differently.




I’m seeing this chart getting spread around a lot on Facebook and want to discuss it and the accompanying text a bit.
Here is the text:
“This is the TRUTH! Everything else is a lie! No matter what anyone says…death rate was, and will always be less than 1% chance! So we shut down economy for a virus with a 99.9% recovery rate? And it’s a known fact that a large amount of these deaths weren’t even from covid19. In fact, I still stand firm on no one under age of 19 dying from it! And no, don’t tell me about the 4 kids under age 19 that they claimed have died from covid…if you actually read the articles, you’ll see they aren’t from covid19. Have a great day people, and wake up please!!”
And the chart (which someone saved if a lossy file format, ugh):
First, I see nothing wrong with the actual numbers here. Someone obviously dumped things into a spreadsheet and did a few calculations. What is VERY wrong are some of the column labels especially the last one. That is the odds of not having died from COVID-19, YET. The percentage from which it was determined is the percentage of people that have already died from COVID-19. If you’re reading this you are 100% not in that category. We will not know the odds of dying from COVID-19 for decades.
Second, this is NOT the death rate or the survival rate, at least not how one would typically define them. If it were the survival rate, then the chances of surviving, say, setting a grenade off in your mouth would be very very high.
The real death rate is a very tricky thing to calculate even for things like pneumonia because not everyone that has it reports to someone that they do. What we know very clearly is that if you wind up going to the hospital with pneumonia you have about a 95% chance of surviving it (or a 5% chance of dying from it). From what I can calculate based on hospitalizations, the death/mortality rate of COVID-19 is higher than that of pneumonia, roughly twice that. But that’s if you go to the hospital. Maybe this is a virus that is devastating to some people and so the percentage of people that have it going to the hospital is much less than the percentage of people going to the hospital with pneumonia. We just don’t know.
If we were to take the data provided here, and let’s use Michigan (for fun) as the example. First you need to assume what percentage of the population will eventually get the virus. This will depend a lot on when a vaccine is available. However, let’s say 10% in the next, say, two years. If that is the case then about 1 million people will get it. So we take that total cases number and make it 1 million. Now it looks like about 10% of those in Michigan reported to have it have died. I’m guessing that number is more like 2% including all unreported cases. So, let’s say 2% of those 1 million people die. That comes out to be 20,000 people, or about 0.2% of the total population. You can look at that percentage as good or bad. But it’s a lot when you compare it to other ways of dying.

Disclaimer: All of these graphics rely on data from The New York Times published in their GitHub repository. Please visit there and especially read the section on Methodology and Definitions. I think it is a very honest account of the shortcomings of the data that everyone, from the CDC to Johns Hopkins University to The New York Times, is compiling.