Tuesday, September 29, 2020

COVID-19 vs. Seasonal Influenza - Which is the Bigger Killer?

In a recent posting, I took a brief look at how government data clearly shows the real story behind the COVID-19 pandemic.  In this posting, I will take a look at government data, in this case, from Canada, and compare deaths from seasonal influenza (2018 season) to deaths from COVID-19 by age range.  Given the penchant of the mainstream media andn its over exuberance to propagate fear, the real, unreported data may surprise you.

Here is a graph showing the number of deaths from seasonal influenza and pneumonia as reported by Statistics Canada which you can find at this link:

Here is a graph showing the number of deaths from COVID-19 current to September 24, 2020 as reported by on the Canadian government Public Health Infobase which you can find at this link:

Here is a graph showing the difference between the number of deaths due to seasonal influenza and pneumonia (2018) and COVID-19:

In total, to this point, 706 more people have died from COVID-19 than died during the 2018 influenza season and 636 of those deaths took place in people that were aged 70 and older, an indictment of the federal and provincial governments' treatment of its most vulnerable seniors rather than a reflection of the threat of the virus to human life.

So, to recap, we have to ask ourselves; was all of this worth the massive economic shutdown and the $350 billion plus addition to the national debt, an issue that will face generations into the distant future?  While each death, no matter what the cause, is a private tragedy, the overreaction by government since March 2020 begs the question; are we all part of some massive scheme to remake society particularly given that the number of COVID-19 deaths in Canada has done this:

Monday, September 28, 2020

Tracking Your Health Data in the COVID-19 Era

 As though the technoplutocracy doesn't already know enough about us, tracking our moves online and in the real world, one of the most pervasive technology companies is promoting a product that uses our health data "so that people can enjoy healthier lives".  


Here is the lead in page of Verily's website:

Verily believes that...

"...change in healthcare must happen from the inside. So we're forging deep collaborations across the entire healthcare ecosystem, from academic research institutions to life sciences companies to hospitals and health systems."


Verily has partnered with other "like-minded industry experts" to create solutions which will impact health outcomes through their investments in both science and public health initiatives.  Here are some of their partner companies and organizations which reads like a who's who of Big Pharma and Big Medicine:


Back in April 2020, Verily announced the following:

The goal of the California community-based testing program was to rapidly screen and test high-risk individuals who do not need immediate medical attention, including frontline healthcare workers and first responders who may have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Verily notes that, while public health care departments have systems to track positive tests, regional information across counties and health care systems is lacking.  Verily notes that its technology can assist local and state health authorities through the aggregation of testing data, helping these authorities to make decisions about social distancing and other measures including adjusting COVID-19 test screening criteria so that people who need testing will get tested in a timely fashion.

With this in mind, Verily has developed a Community Based Testing Guide as outlined here:

Not only has Verily developed technology for COVID-19 data, it has also developed its Team Healthy program as shown here:


Healthy at Work and Healthy at School will "...make going back to work and school safer by combining testing, symptom tracking, data analytics and the latest guidance from the CDC and other public health authorities".  Users will create an account and will log in daily and record whether they have any symptoms of COVID-19 or if they have been exposed to anyone that has COVID-19.  They will also be required to get tested when required by employers or schools, and, most importantly, will stay at home when ordered to by the Healthy at Work or Healthy at School tools.  This is all being done in the name of protecting the user and those around them.  Users will be forced to log their daily symptomology by states and municipalities who are using the Healthy at Work and Healthy at School programs in order to return to work or school.  Verily clearly states that, as of now, it is unknown how long users will have to continue to log in daily to report their health status.


My first question about this system involves privacy.  Verily states that:


"Healthy at Work and Healthy at School were designed with the privacy and security of your personal health information at the forefront. Data is stored in secure systems, as detailed in the Privacy Policy."

While your information may be stored on a secure server somewhere, Verily clearly states that:

"We collect, use, and disclose your information as described in this Healthy at Work Website Privacy Policy. We provide services to your university and/or employer to make your campus and/or workplace safer from COVID-19. To this end, we may use your information for purposes such as to determine whether you should be referred for COVID-19 testing as part of our testing program, to assess your COVID-19 infection risk, to communicate any test results and your COVID-19 infection risk to your university and/or employer as applicable, to assess your eligibility to be physically present at work and/or campus based on rules and guidelines set by your university and/or employer, to continuously improve the algorithms and procedures we use to assess and attempt to reduce COVID-19 risk, and for any other purposes required by your university and/or employer. In addition to using your data for these purposes, we may use your data to create statistics that do not identify you personally and may be used for improving the testing program, for research, and for public health purposes."


While your data may not necessarily identify you, it is important to understand the scope of the data that Verily requires.  Verily will ask for your home address, date of birth, sex at birth, email address, phone number, demographic information, recent travel history, current health status and known contacts with other individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 (another way of saying contact tracing whether or not these individuals are users of Verily).  Verily will also ask for your health insurance information including policy number, group identification number, primary insured's name, address, phone number and date of birth.  If you are tested for COVID-19, Verily will receive your test results from your testing site, health care professional and clinical laboratories and then share those results with your employer.


All of this strikes me as highly invasive, but, not terribly shocking given people's willingness to share pretty much everything with everyone.


Let's close this posting with a screen capture showing which company has created Healthy at Work and Healthy at School:


That's right, Alphabet aka Google.  Are you surprised?   I'm not.  Just think of the personal data that Alphabet can glean from its Verily database!


Friday, September 25, 2020

Early Cancer Detection - A New Approach

Lost in the overload of coronavirus news was a significant medical discovery that was announced on the nature Communications website in July 2020.  The article entitled "Non-invasive early detection of cancer four years before conventional diagnosis using a blood test" by Xingdong Chen et al would appear to be a very significant development for all of us, particularly those, who like me, are predisposed to certain types of cancer.

Those of us that have had family members and friends die from late stage cancers that were detected at a stage where effective treatments were not available may now have some hope given that this research suggests that early detection is possible.  As we know, survival rates from most cancers improves significantly when that cancer is identified at early stages, offering the options of surgical removal or treatment with milder forms of chemotherapy.  The average five-year survival rate when cancer is discovered at an early stage is 91 percent, dropping to only 26 percent when cancers are discovered in late stage.  While there are some screening measures available for a few types of cancers, some involve invasive procedures (think colonoscopy) and some are not terribly effective.  


As background, the Taizhou Longitudinal Study began in July 2007 with the goal of recruiting at least 100,000 people in the city of Taizhou in China for a health study, following the participants for at least 40 years.  Here is a map showing the location of Taizhou which is located at the mouth of the Jiaojiang River along the shore of the East China Sea:


The Taizhou study was designed to explore the roles of many important environmental factors, particularly those related to the economic transformation in China, in common chronic diseases both genetic and non genetic.  DNA was extracted from participants as well as buccal mucosal cells and blood specimens.  Each participant was subjected to an interviewer-administered questionnaire and their anthropometric measurements were taken (height, weigh etcetera). Only healthy subjects ranging in age from 30 to 80 years were eligible to participate in the study.    A follow-up survey was conducted every three years to obtain information on the occcurance of diseases as well as information on lifestyle exposures.  A total of 123,115 individuals were voluntarily recruited and, at this point, the average follow-up time is 8.1 years.  

In Taizhou, the incidence of digestive cancers is quite high with esophageal, gastric and liver cancers being quite common in comparison to the rest of China.  According to statistics from 2010, the cancer mortality rate for residents of Taizhou was 154.05 per 100,000 person-years, nearly twice the mean incidence rate for all of China.


In total, 1.6 million blood samples were taken from the volunteers, samples were then centrifuged and plasma was separated out and placed into long-term storage at -80 degrees Celsius or below.  The subjects were then monitored for the occurrence of cancer through the use of annual health checks.  


With this background, let’s now look at the study.  The researchers in the aforementioned study analyzed DNA samples isolated from collected samples of both fresh cancer and healthy tissue using their PanSeer assay which detects methylation patterns in DNA, a biological process that occurs when a methyl (CH3) group is added to DNA, modifying the function of the genes and affecting gene expression.  Past studies have shown that abnormal methylation can signal various types of cancer.  The PanSeer test isolates DNA from the blood sample and measures DNA methylation at 477 regions that are cancer-specific.  A machined-learning algorithm then compiles the findings into a score which indicates a person's likelihood of developing one of five specific types of cancer.


By the end of 2015, 575 initially healthy and asymptomatic subjects were diagnosed with one of five common cancer types; stomach, esophagus, colorectal, lung and liver within 4 years of the initial blood sample.  Researchers tested blood samples from 191 of these cancer subjects, paired with the same number healthy individuals and found that they were able to detect cancer up to four years before symptoms appeared with a 90 percent accuracy rate and a 5 percent false-positive rate.  Sensitivity ranged from 91 percent detection in esophageal cancer to 100 percent detection in liver cancer. 


This research could ultimately lead to the development of a commercially available test which can be used to screen for cancer.  Given that a comparatively small volume of DNA is needed from only a single tube of blood is necessary, PanSeer has the potential to be a front-line, inexpensive cancer screening tool.  Once PanSeer detects the potential presence of cancer, further pathological examination could confirm its presence.


The only "fly in the ointment" could be Big Pharma.  If this method becomes commercially available and is able to detect cancers before they become life-threatening, how will Big Pharma be able to sell their massively overpriced cancer drugs to desperate patients who are willing to pay just about any amount to prolong their lives?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

How Governments are Handling the "Second Wave" - Tiptoeing Toward Totalitarianism

Sometimes, governments are their own worst enemies.  Now that many of our so-called leaders are either threatening or making good on their threats to lock us down again, a brief look at data, sourced from government databanks is in order.  For the purposes of this posting, I will look at the data as provided by the United Kingdom on their Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK website.

Here are four pertinent graphs:

As you can see, while the number of positive COVID-19 daily tests has risen to nearly the level that they hit back in April, May and June, the number of deaths has remained muted as shown on this graphic which breaks down the number of deaths within 28 days of positive tests for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland:

In fact, if we look at the cumulative number of deaths within 28 days of positive COVID-19 tests, the line looks very, very flat:

Looking at the raw data, back on April 8, 2020, 975 people died in England, 4 people died in Northern Ireland, 52 people died in Scotland and 42 people died in Wales for a grand total of 1073 COVID-19 deaths in one day.  Since data is not always completely up-to-date, let's look at the number of people that died in these three nations on September 15, 2020; on that day, 15 people died in England, 1 person died in Northern Ireland, no people died in Scotland and 1 person died in Wales for a grand total of 17 COVID-19 deaths in one day or 1.6 percent of the deaths that occurred back in early April 2020.  This, despite the fact that the number of daily tests which has risen from 14,419 on April 8, 2020 to 207,718 on September 15, 2020 as shown here:

 Now, let's look at very recent news from the United Kingdom:

The new measures included masks in more settings, tougher enforcement of the rules and, according to Boris Johnson, the potential used of the military to help "free up the police" who presumably will be busy handing out tickets to those Brits daring enough to flaunt the rules.   

Here is Johnson's ministerial broadcast to his subjects:

Interestingly, despite his alarmist comments on the state of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, his own government's statistics would show that there is relatively little cause for alarm.  That said, I do like the "early closing for bars and pubs" as though the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn't become active until after 10 pm daily.  God help us all if we happen to find ourselves in a British pub at 10:01 pm!

Here are the "new rules":

Note that the government expects that these measures will be in place until March 2021.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on the United Kingdom given that it has the highest official COVID-19 death toll in Europe, however, despite the release of new modelling showing that up to 50,000 U.K. citizens could test positive for COVID-19 by October, the current data from the very government clearly shows that the "herd has already been culled" with the most vulnerable having already died as a result of the virus.  There are only two things that can explain the rising number of positive test results and the falling number of deaths:

1.) The "culling of the herd" has already taken place with the most vulnerable (i.e. the elderly and those with serious comorbidities).

2.) The rising number of tests.

Let's close with this video showing what St. Petersburg Russia looks like now:

And Russia is supposed represent subjugation and the United Kingdom is supposed to represent freedom?

While many would say that those of us who live outside the United Kingdom shouldn't worry about this clampdown on U.K. citizens, the fact of the matter is that, among Western leaders, there are very few original thinkers and that it is quite often a case of "monkey see, monkey do".  Once one leader has tiptoed toward totalitarianism, many of the rest of the "monkeys" are certain to follow.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Assessing American Military Spending

While Main Street America was distracted with all things COVID, in June 2020, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its Defense Acquisition Annual Assessment to Congress.  In this report, the GAO looks at the investments that the Department of Defense plans to make as it acquires new major weapons systems including aircraft, ships, satellites and increased investments in information technology.  Given the ramping up of the Cold War Part II with Russia and China, it is interesting to see how much Washington is willing to spend on defending the homeland from what it sees as a multipolar threat.


Let's open this posting with a definition.  Major Defense Acquisition Programs or MDAPs are generally programs designated by the Secretary of Defense as such or that are estimated to require eventual total expenditure for research, development, test and evaluation of more than $480 million or for procurement of more than $2.79 billion in fiscal year 2014 constant dollars.


Now, let's look at the GAO assessment.  The assessment summarizes the costs and scheduling measures for 121 weapons and information technology programs as shown here:



The report notes that Major Defense Acquisition Programs which account for the vast majority of the combined portfolio of weapons and IT programs have stabilized non-quantity-related cost growth but that they continue to proceed with limited knowledge and inconsistent software development approaches and cybersecurity practises.


Here is a graphic showing the number and cost of Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAP) from 2008 to 2019 (in billions of 2020 dollars):


On a year-over-year basis, the Department of Defense has invested $44 billion more in funding to its 2019 MDAP portfolio, up significantly from the $19 billion increase between 2017 and 2018.  Between 2018 and 2019, total acquisition cost estimates for DoD's 85 current MDAPs grew by $64 billion  (a 4 percent increase) that was driven by decisions to increase quantities of some weapons systems including a doubling of the number of missiles it plans to acquire through the Air Force's Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile program.  Over the one year period, on average, deliverability schedules increased by just over one month (a one percent increase).  That said, it is key to note that since their initial or first cost estimates, these 85 MDAPs have accumulated over $628 billion in total cost growth (a 54 percent increase) and deliverability schedules increased by more than 2 years (a 29 percent increase).


Here is a table showing the cost changes to the DoD's 2019 portfolio of 85 MDAPs over the past year:


In total, portfolio acquisition costs have increased by $63.8 billion (a 3.7 percent increase) over the past year, in part due to quantity increases ($49.3 billion in total).  This includes increased procurement costs of $49.33 billion (a 3.5 percent increase) and increased research and development costs of $14.69 billion (a 4.6 percent increase).  Of the 85 MDAPs, nine programs increased their total costs by 25 percent, accounting for more than $43 billion in total increased costs.


Here is a table showing the MDAPs with the highest increases in cost from the first full estimate:


It is important to note that, in some cases, program inefficiencies have led the DoD to reduce quantities.  In the case of the Navy's DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class Destroyer, development cost growth led the Navy to reduced quantities from 32 ships to three ships which, in turn, pushed up the average per-unit procurement costs.  Here is a breakdown of the Zumwalt issues showing that the Navy still won't have operational testing of the lead ship until September 2021 and delivery of a ship with its combat system in place until September 2022:


Let's close with this quote from the analysis:


"Among MDAPs we surveyed, we found that programs continue to move forward without the benefit of knowledge at key acquisition points, while future MDAPs reported plans to modestly increase the implementation of knowledge practices. These practices are key because we have found a statistically significant correlation between implementation of certain knowledge-based practices and improved cost and schedule performance. We also found, among the MDAPs we surveyed, inconsistent implementation of leading software development approaches and cybersecurity practices. This included longer than expected delivery times for software and delays completing statute-based cybersecurity vulnerability evaluations."


The American defense industry would like to thank American taxpayers for their unfettered generosity, even during the COVID-19 era.


Friday, September 18, 2020

Weaponized Narratives - The Future of War

With Washington continuously ramping up the rhetoric against both China and Russia, a physical conflict between the world's superpowers could well be in the offing.  As you will see from this posting, the first and possibly most important phase of the "war" is already being undertaken.

The Center on the Future of War at Arizona State University looks at the "social, political, economic and cultural implications of the changing nature of war and conflict".  One of the Center's focuses is on the  "Weaponized Narrative Initiative":

A weaponized narrative is defined as follows:

"A weaponized narrative is an attack that seeks to undermine an opponent's civilization, intensity and will.  By generating confusion, complexity and political and social schism, it confounds response on the par of the defender."

The Center outlines how a weaponized narrative works:

"A fast-moving information deluge is the ideal battleground for this kind of warfare – for guerrillas and terrorists as well as adversary states. A firehose of narrative attacks gives the targeted populace little time to process and evaluate. It is cognitively disorienting and confusing – especially if the opponents barely realize what’s hitting them. Opportunities abound for emotional manipulation undermining the opponent’s will to resist."

Ironically, the Center states that Weaponized Narratives are being used by enemy states including both Russia and the Islamic State in their battle against the United States:

"Efforts by Russia to meddle in the elections of Western democracies – including France and Germany as well as the United States – are in the news. The Islamic State’s weaponized narrative has been highly effective. Even political movements have caught on, as one can see in the rise of the alt-right in the United States and Europe. In short, many different types of adversaries have found weaponized narratives advantageous in this battlespace. Additional recent targets have included Ukraine, Brexit, NATO, the Baltics, and even the Pope."

In a book entitled Narrative Warfare, author Ajit Mann states the following:

"Weaponized narrative represents a deep threat to national and international security and cooperation - a threat that our advanced kinetic capacity, and those of our partner nations, cannot address alone.  When narratives are weaponized, they can undermine homeland security by shaking the faith of citizens in democratic institutions and the rule of law causing civil unrest...This form of warfare is all about influence.  But this is not information warfare; this is warfare over the meaning of the information.  Information consists of facts - raw data.  Narratives do not tell the facts.  Narratives tell the meaning of the facts.  This is narrative warfare, and our adversaries are beating our brawn with their brains."

The most important part of a narrative is its credibility.  The narrator of the narrative must be viewed as a credible source of information and is viewed by the target audience as most crucible if they are part of the targeted group and reflect the experiences of the targeted group.  It is also important that the narrative be shared by civilians rather than just representatives of the government or military. 

If you wish to read a more in-depth analysis of weaponized narratives, please follow this link to a White Paper on the  by a collection of authors affiliated with the Center on the Future of War in which they state that "weaponized narrative us realm and ut us a vert effective form of asymmetric warfare when directed against the West.  It presents challenges not just to military and security organizations but to civil society and to democratic principles and institutions.

All that I can say in response to the accusations that Russia and China are purveyors of weaponized narratives to "defeat" the United States, it certainly is a good thing that Washington doesn't use its powers of weaponized narratives against these nations....except through its funding of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which you can read more about here (sarcasm intended).

Let's close this posting with a quote from Sun Tzu in the Art of War:

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." 

Given how rapidly the world has accepted the current government-created narrative about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, it shouldn't surprise any of us how gullible the vast majority of people are when it comes to governments' use of narratives to change public opinion.  As P.T. Barnum/David Hannum put it, "There's a sucker born every minute."

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Protecting the 2020 Election - The Role of America's Technoplutocracy

Since the 2016 election, Americans have been subjected to a repeated diet of electoral interference by "outside bad actors", suggesting that significant steps need to be taken to control the spread of false information and narratives during the 2020 presidential election in particular.  While it receives almost no attention from the mainstream media, 


Let's open by looking at a quote from Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, during his September 2020 State of the Homeland address:

"We are identifying and preventing malign foreign actors and nation states from interfering in our elections and protecting our election infrastructure....

Our newest component – the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency  (or CISA) – is at the forefront guarding against nation-state actors’ cyber-enabled espionage and malicious influence activity aimed at all levels of government and industry.


As we approach the 2020 election, we remain steadfast in protecting this essential American process. 


CISA has doubled down both on their efforts across the federal government and in partnering with local election leaders across the country to make sure our elections are safe and secure.


Elections are a bedrock of our Constitutional republic, and securing them is paramount to accurately expressing the will of the American people.


To protect the integrity of our representative government, our ultimate goal must be to ensure that American voters decide American elections.


In light of new levels of organized efforts by Russia in 2016 to disrupt and deceive, the Department strengthened U.S. efforts to rebuff the aggressive and meddlesome behavior of any nefarious state actor.


Signed into law by President Trump, CISA has made extraordinary and rapid strides bolstering the security of this most sacred democratic process.


CISA leveraged unique cybersecurity technical services by funding the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (or EI-ISAC) that deploys and monitors intrusion detection systems on election infrastructure across all 50 states.


The results were historic - 2018 was the most secure election in the modern era.


Not resting on its laurels, CISA has only increased its protection in scope and impact as it pursues the goal of an ever-more secure election in 2020."


Let's take a closer look at EI-ISAC, the Department of Homeland Security's frontline shield against electoral interference in the United States.  Here is the front page of EI-ISAC's website as found on the Center for Internet Security website (noting that CIS is the operator of EI-ISAC):


According to CIS, EI-ISAC is "supporting the rapidly changing cybersecurity needs of U.S. elections offices."


EI-ISAC provides the following cybersecurity tools and training resources to "help elections officials protect their systems and data":


Joining EI-ISAC is free for U.S. elections organizations as shown here:


Now, let's look at one of the products being used by EI-ISAC to protect American elections.  Here is the lead page of Protect Your Elections website:


Here is an introductory video about Protect Your Elections: 


Here is how Protect Your Election can help with the election process:


Here are the tools that Protect Your Election offers to protect the electoral process against digital attacks:



Most importantly in this age of censorship, here is how Protect Your Election can prevent the spread of false narratives and information during elections:


If you read carefully through the screen captures, you may have noticed this:


That's right, America's technoplutocracy is hard at work, protecting your election!


With the above information in mind, let's close this posting with some key information from Open Secrets.  Here are the 2020 and previous elections campaign contributions from affiliates of Alphabet Inc. (i.e. Google), noting that organization themselves cannot contribute to candidates and party committees:


Here is a further breakdown of how these funds were designated by political party:


As shown here, the top 25 recipients of these campaign contributions are all Democrats:


By way of comparison, the top Republican recipient, Donald Trump, has received a rather measly $29,021.  Given this donation information, do you really think that Protect Your Election is really going to provide a balanced product, particularly when it comes to fact-checking?


While companies like Google and its technoplutocracy sector peers are publicly stating that they are in the business of protecting America's democracy from the hostile disinformation tactics being used by America's enemies for the benefit of the sweaty masses, I think that we can pretty much assume that at least some of the most influential players are in it, to win it for their chosen party, the Democrats.  At the very least, we should make the assumption that products that are being touted by the technology tyrants to protect democracy are highly vulnerable to political bias.