Since 2000, over 40% of eligible voters have not voted. Here is some information about how big an issue non-voting is, why individuals don’t vote, and what we might do about it.
There’s a lot of advice about how to avoid writer’s block. You know what they are. Here are some things you might not have heard.
If you are a member of the blog site Medium, you get recommendations for articles to read based on the topics you say you’re interested in. For me, most of these recommendations fall flat. They don’t hold my interest. It’s not always the content (or lack thereof), or the voice, or any of the things blogs on writing tell you to do (or not do). It’s formatting and graphics. I find plain text to be mind-numbing.
How I Got So Out-Of-Whack
I grew up reading comic books thanks to Stan Lee and my very understanding parents. I certainly didn’t read them exclusively, but comics were way more engaging than anything I found in the library. My post high school education was in science (geology) and math (statistics). That gave me near-fatal damage points to start off with. I worked for 42 years, 16 for the federal government, writing technical reports that management never read. I told myself that that was OK since I still got paid. At my first job, I was lucky to have a mentor, Ed Saltzberg, who broke me of the bad habits I learned in school and sent me on a decades-long exploration of technical writing. I eventually published “How To Write Data Analysis Reports In Six Easy Lessons” to end my quest. I wrote a book too, but that’s another story.
During those years, I read mostly non-fiction—technical reports, text books, how-to books, coffee-table books, backs of cereal boxes, instructions for completing government forms, and the like. Formatting and graphics were everything. Blocks of text in even the most fascinating statistical report would cause me to check my eyelids for pinholes. Even today, two years from writing those hard-core technical reports, I still crave headings, and bullets, and images, and most of all, charts and graphs. While I love @Daylin Leach on Medium, even his captivating commentaries require me to take rest stops.
In the technical reports I wrote in the past, I followed the old admonition of Aristotle, Dale Carnegie, the military, and others, “tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em; then tell ’em what you told ’em.” I would first develop an outline that told the data’s story, assembled all the tables and graphics I needed, then did the writing. Once I found Word had a function to insert a Table of Contents, over a decade ago, I put one in all my reports. That encouraged logical and frequent headings.
My aim in writing those reports was to devote as much area to visuals as to text. I broke up text with lists, indents, and text boxes. Just as importantly, I tried to make each paragraph efficiently convey a coherent thought, or even connected thoughts, without rambling. I didn’t tell many personal stories because technical reports are about data stories. I also never used any dialog balloons although I thought of it at times.
What I Would Look For
If you read a lot of fiction, your blogs probably look like a novel even though they are likely to be non-fiction. They are a train of block paragraphs. Hopefully the blocks are different sizes and maybe even separated by headers but maybe not. It is, however, what you’re most familiar with know and what most blogging sites are set up for.
But, if I were to curate your Medium article, this is what I would look for:
- First Glance. In the first minute of my curation, I’d notice:
- Title. Is the title less than one line and engaging enough to make me want to read more?
- Length. Long is OK depending on the topic. I just need to get some coffee if there’ll be too much scrolling involved.
- Headings. Long blogs should be broken up with headers. My rule-of-thumb is a heading for every 300 words or so. The organizational breaks need to be somewhat uniform and make sense given the content.
- Visual Impact. This is my decision point. If it looks more like a comic book than a novel, I’ll keep reading.
- Writing. OK, now I actually have to read the article. This pisses me off. I’m retired; I should be watching Netflix. So, the article better be free of any more than an occasional typo. Grammatical errors get a strike; you’ll get three. Hopefully you’ll avoid all the shameful errors the grammar Nazis warn you about—to/too/two/tutu, your/you’re, their/there/they’re, its/it’s, assure/ensure/insure, who/that, which/that, and so on. Lead/led isn’t the same as read/read. For some reason, using less/fewer incorrectly really sets me off. Don’t do that. I’ll ignore the things I do wrong all the time. It’s OK to boldly split infinitives. Passive voice is used by many. Nobody gets who/whom right. And, I could go on forever about comma splices and run-on sentences.
- Content. My blood sugar is high so I’m already falling asleep. Now I have to concentrate on what you’ve written. This is irritating. The content has to be truly engaging. If it’s a data story, it better be logical, consistent, and complete. Jargon is OK if you tell me what you think it means. How-to articles have to have clearly delineated steps that actually work. Personal stories are fine if we have some common interests. I don’t want to hear about your dinner, or your vacation, or your kids. Pet stories get a pass even if I don’t read them.
- Graphics. This is where I would make most people hate me. For me, blog graphics are diamonds radiating their information from the dull groundmass of text. Photos are probably the most common graphic bloggers use, though they aren’t necessarily the best. Tables usually pack more information but they can cause mental overload. There are also: Visualizations involving plots, charts and graphs; Infographics with diagrams, flowcharts, and visualizations; Drawings, illustrations, schematics, clipart, comics, and memes; and Text Boxes with quotes or formulas. Make sure the graphics are attractive and add to the story.
- Formatting. I like interesting and sensible formatting to keep my interest. Unfortunately, Medium’s utility for writing blogs has limited formatting capabilities. You can’t indent, change typefaces, add highlighting and font art (except for drop caps), or use subscript, superscript, small caps, or strikethrough. You’re left with headings, drop caps, quotes, block enlarge and reduce, separators, bolding, italics, and links. Do what you can.
So, stop complaining about Medium’s curation. It would be much worse if I were a curator.
Medical testing is the foundation for any response to the Coronavirus crisis, on both an individual and a societal level. When you get a medical test, whether it’s for pregnancy, drugs, or Covid-19, there’s a chance that the results will be incorrect. It’s a matter of biochemistry and statistics. Without knowledge of the prevalence of the disease in the population, test results cannot be interpreted unambiguously. The ways our government and society have reacted to the infection has made the collection of quality data and their interpretation problematical if not impossible.
There are two general types of tests for Covid-19 — genetic tests and antibody tests. Genetic (AKA viral or molecular) tests detect active infections from nasal swabs. They cannot tell whether someone has had the infection and has since recovered. Antibody tests (AKA serological) detect antibodies in the blood from a past infection.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security reports that, as of June 2020, there are 37 antibody tests for Covid-19 that have been approved for diagnostic use in the United States, 18 tests that have been approved for diagnostic use in other countries, 29 tests that have been approved for research or surveillance purposes only, and 36 tests that are still in development. The U.S. has developed (or is developing) 27 of the antibody tests, including 2 with China and 1 with Switzerland. China has developed 7 tests on its own. Germany, Finland, and South Korea have also developed a test. Thirty companies have developed (or are developing) these tests. Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Inc. has six tests, and InBios International, Inc. and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co., Ltd. have two tests each.
Each of these tests has different performance characteristics. Genetic tests are highly capable of detecting an infection so long as the swab effectively collects the virus, however, they can indicate infections where there are none. Antibody tests may indicate an infection has not occurred when it actually has but it is unlikely to miss an infection that has occurred. Using both tests, in sequence, is considered an effective strategy. Patients who receive positive detections on genetic tests are retested with antibody tests to control the possibility of false results.
It is, of course, more complicated. If a test is done too early in the disease progression, there may not be enough of the virus or enough antibodies to be detected by a test. Furthermore, biological differences between individuals may influence the probability of a false result. Some individuals may be more likely than other individuals to have a false positive or false negative result. It’s the Harvard Law—under the most carefully controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and nutrition, a biological organism will do as it damn well pleases.
Why do we need 37 tests; shouldn’t just one suffice? That’s true in an ideal world, tests should be 100% accurate, but in the real world of complex biochemistries, they aren’t. No test is perfect. They all produce errors.
There are two concepts that characterize a test’s performance ability. Unfortunately, the concepts go by many terms:
- Ability of the test to detect an infection. This is called the test’s sensitivity or its True Positive Rate (TPR) or its probability of detection. It is the tests’ ability to avoid false positive results. The false positive rate (FPR)is the probability that the test will produce an incorrect positive result. Sensitivity equals 100%-false positive rate. TPRs tend to be above 90%; FPRs tend to be below 10%.
- Ability of the test to detect the absence of an infection. This is called the test’s specificity or its True Negative Rate (TNR) or its probability of nondetection. It is the tests’ ability to avoid false negative results. The false negative rate (FNR)is the probability that the test will produce an incorrect negative result. Specificity equals 100%-false negative rate. TNRs tend to be above 80%; FNRs tend to be below 20%.
Genetic tests tend to have high sensitivities but lower specificities. Antibody tests tend to have lower sensitivities but higher specificities. A test’s ability to avoid false positive errors and false negative errors, that is. the rate of correct test results, is called the test’s accuracy.
Sensitivity and specificity are statistics that characterize diagnostic tests. Predictive Value is a statistic that characterizes test results. It is based on test sensitivity and specificity, and incorporates the rate of infection in the population being tested. It is calculated using Bayesian statistics. Positive predictive value (PPV) is the probability that a positive test result really is positive. Negative predictive value (NPV) is the probability that a negative test result really is negative.
In traditional statistics (called frequentist because probabilities are based on frequencies), the probability that a positive test result is true is the sensitivity or TPR. Another way to interpret test results, though, is through Bayesian statistics. Bayesian statistics allow other knowledge of conditions to modify the frequentist estimate of probability. To interpret Covid-19 test results from a Bayesian perspective, you must know 3 things:
- The false positive rate for the test or the test’s sensitivity
- The false negative rate for the test or the test’s specificity.
- The percentage of people in the population who have the disease, called the prevalence.
The Bayesian probability that a positive test is correct (i.e., you have the infection and the test says so) is equal to:
The following chart shows the Bayesian probability that a positive test truly indicates the presence of an infection, for five combinations of sensitivity and specificity, over a range of prevalence rates in the population. In the chart, the vertical axis represents the calculated Bayesian probability that a positive test is correct, that is, the PPV. 100% on the vertical axis means all the tests are likely to be correct. The horizontal axis represents the prevalence of Covid-19 in the population (whatever the population might be). The prevalence axis ranges from 0% to 25%. One study found prevalence rates from 0.222% to 47%, mostly below 4%. The five curves represent tests with different sensitivities and specificities. The red line at the top of the plot represents a near-perfect test having a sensitivity and a specificity of 99.99%. The probability of such a test providing correct positive result would be 100% unless the prevalence was below about 2%. The yellow line at the bottom of the plot represents the test with the lowest sensitivity (84%) and specificity (64%) reported by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The probability that a positive result on this test is correct is only 10% if the prevalence is as high as 5%. The remaining three lines represent tests having sensitivities and specificities of 90%, 05%, and 98%.
What the plot shows is that even the best tests available, with sensitivity and selectivity over 98%, will provide incorrect positive results in almost 20% of cases if the prevalence of the infection in the population is less than 5%. Half of the positive test results will probably be false if the prevalence in the population is 1%. In general, the rarer the disease is in the population, the lower the probability that a positive result indicates a real infection, despite a test’s high sensitivity. This means that many people who test positive for Covid-19 may not have the infection after all. Stories of spontaneous recoveries after a positive test result may actually be a reflection of imperfect tests. On the other hand, if you are in a captive population where the prevalence is high—like a prison or nursing home—your positive results are likely to be correct.
And it gets even more convoluted.
Covid-19 tests are not readily available, unlike, say, pregnancy or drug tests. Not everyone who wants or needs a test can get one. People who have Covid-19 and people who don’t have Covid-19 are not equally likely to be tested. Consequently, data on the rate of infection in the population doesn’t apply to all the people in the country (or other demographic), but rather, applies only to the people who took a test. They constitute the population. Furthermore, another assumption is that the tests of the individuals in the population are independent of each other. This is certainly not true. Some individuals—politicians, celebrities, medical professionals, professional athletes, wealthy elites—are tested repeatedly. The prevalence in the population may actually be much different than is estimated because of the replicate testing. Without more complete data, there is no way to correct for these duplicate tests.
No Covid-19 test is perfect but most are pretty good, at least when their performance is evaluated under controlled conditions. Even under the most carefully controlled conditions, individuals present unique challenges to testing. This introduces uncontrolled variation into results. The lower the rate of infection in the population, the lower the probability that a positive result indicates a real infection. Consequently, it is essential to know the rate of infection is in the population. Testing resources are limited so they cannot be applied throughout the population when sought. This means the population being tested is not the same as the general population. Furthermore, tests are repeated on preferred individuals so that testing is neither unbiased nor independent. Therefore, statistics used to characterize results in the population may be misleading. This is a conundrum.
The first steps in solving any problem are to acknowledge it, define it, and understand the context in which it occurs. Most people don’t recognize that Covid-19 testing is problematical. Some do but don’t understand the details. Only a few recognize how the actions of government and society are exacerbating issues involving covid-19 testing, and as a consequence, the pandemic itself. At a time when there is so much information (and misinformation) available about the virus, it is paradoxical that our understand of issues involving testing, the very foundation of any solution to the pandemic, are so lacking.
You’ve heard of the Bermuda Triangle. Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Bennington Triangle, the Bridgewater Triangle, the Big Lick Triangle, the Lake Michigan Triangle, the Ossipee Triangle, the Nevada Triangle, and the Alaska Triangle. But, I’ll bet you’ve never heard of the Inexplicable Pentagon.
The Inexplicable Pentagon in the U.S. is so peculiar and so geographically and culturally disperse that it can’t be confined to a triangle. It is bordered approximately by Boston, MA, Miami, FL, Brownsville TX, Los Angeles, CA, and Seattle, WA. Here are a few examples:
- A bakery in Charleston SC wouldn’t put “Summa Cum Laude” on a graduation cake because they thought it was a sex thing.
- More than 5,800 Americans gave up their citizenship in the first six months of 2020 compared to the 2,072 Americans who renounced their citizenship in all of 2019, an increase attributed to the actions of President Donald Trump, how the coronavirus pandemic is being handled, and the political policies in the U.S.
- A Washington DC computer scientist analyzed more than 5,000 tweets to define the phrases “hot as balls” as 84 degrees and “cold as hell” as 48 degrees.
- “Exploding Whale Memorial Park” in Florence OR is named for the November 12, 1970 dynamiting of a beached 45-foot, 8-ton sperm whale.
- 85 people who visited a bar outside Michigan State University have tested positive for coronavirus.
- A Benton County WA woman received an Ancestry.com DNA result indicating her real father was her mother’s fertility doctor.
- A Washington, D.C. court clerk thought that New Mexico was a foreign country and refused to issue a marriage certificate to a groom who presented a New Mexico state ID.
- Paycheck Protection Program funds, which are supposed to enable businesses with ten or fewer employees to maintain their payrolls, have been given to members of Congress, billionaires, family members of executive branch officials, celebrities, and big businesses, thus depriving true small businesses of the resources.
- Not to be outdone by the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America declared bankruptcy after numerous cases of pedophilia were committed by Scout leaders.
- Massive swarms of Mayflies, big enough to be seen on radar, have been invading areas along the Mississippi River.
- Four St. Petersburg FL men were arrested for selling an industrial bleach solution as a Covid-19 cure in defiance of a prior court order.
- A Ventura County CA men who vandalized “Black Lives Matter” signs work for sheriff and DA.
- A Chicago IL dad posed as a referee to help son’s high school football team win playoff game.
- In 2018, the people of Hawaii got a false alarm emergency text alert saying “Ballistic missile threat inbound . . . this is not a drill.” Civil defense outdoor warning sirens were also sounded.
- Researchers at the University of Nevada Reno have found that individuals who claim knowledge of fake religious concepts are more supportive of religious aggression, while individuals with accurate religious knowledge are less supportive.
- 100 Goats, which escaped from a company that rents them for landscaping purposes, ate gardens and left droppings in a Boise ID neighborhood in 2018.
- 15 adults in AZ and NM were hospitalized for methanol poisoning after consuming hand sanitizers as a cure for Covid-19.
- A Portland OR writer who wrote a blog titled “How to Murder Your Husband” in 2011 was arrested in 2018 for murdering her husband.
- In 2018, a man shot himself in the groin at a Walmart near Phoenix AZ when the gun he was carrying in his waistband slipped into his pants.
- The average member of Congress spends less than 2% of their career working at any blue-collar job.
- Skittles are all the same flavor but they are scented to make us think they taste different.
- The National Park Service advised Americans not to run from bears, climb trees, or push slower friends down in an attempt to save yourself.
- A Christian Church near Pittsburgh PA has skirted state Covid-19 restrictions by meeting at Walmart.
- A man in Las Vegas was caught on video stealing 3-foot, 40-pound rubber dildo from adult entertainment store.
- Two Texas men were killed in 2019 when they attempted to jump the gap of the open Black Bayou Drawbridge in Lake Charles, LA.
- The U.S, military spent $22 million over five years ending in 2012 to study UFOs in their secret Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.
- Students in Tuscaloosa AL have been holding COVID-19 parties, the first person to catch the virus wins a pot of money.
- Five cars and a semi-truck got stuck for ten hours in a 30-foot-tall wall of tumbleweeds near Yakima, Washington.
- A Fort Myers FL mother, who took her 17-year-old, immunocompromised daughter to a church event where she contracted coronavirus, treated the girl at home with unproven drugs and therapies when she got sick.
- A naked Grand Rapids MI man was arrested for multiple home invasions, felony assault, and resisting a police officer.
- The cause of a 2018 Arizona wildfire was an explosion created at an illegal gender-reveal party on state land that resulted in $8 million in damages.
- As of May 1, 2020, it is legal to compost human remains in WA.
- Burger King made a sandwich with a green bun for Halloween and found that it increased customers chances of having nightmares.
- A family living near Houston were attacked in their backyard by a 12-foot, 600-pound alligator.
- A Roseville CA woman was arrested for urinating on the floor of a Verizon store after refusing to leave for not wearing a Covid-19 mask.
- A Hempfield PA man murdered his 92-year-old father because he believed his father was a vampire.
- Two men rob convenience store outside Richmond VA wearing watermelon rinds as disguises.
- The libertarian Ayn Rand Institute applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan of up to $1 million under the CARES Act despite their philosophy being that “the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.”
- Newport Oregon Police had to remind residents not to call 911 if they run out of toilet paper
- A woman was bitten twice by an octopus near Tacoma WA after she placed it on her face, causing a painful infection that sent her to the emergency room.
- A Florida man donned a “Grim Reaper” costume and walked along the state’s crowded beaches to warn beachgoers about COVID-19.
- A Philadelphia PA man was caught on video pouring a flammable liquid on a house and accidentally setting himself on fire.
- A Chattanooga TN lawyer was arrested for public intoxication when he showed up to court smelling of alcohol and acting erratically while representing a DUI defendant.
- The Trump administration is looking into having Trump’s face added to Mount Rushmore.
- A Starbucks in Philadelphia PA had two black businessmen arrested for trespassing as they waited for a colleague.
- Thousands of 10-Inch “Penis Fish” washed up on a beach near San Francisco CA in 2019.
- A 43-year-old Paragould AR man, who drove through a cemetery doing donuts, was arrested for causing in excess of $25,000 damage, leaving the scene of a crime, and driving on a suspended driver’s license.
- Man arrested for swimming in a 13,000 gallon indoor aquarium at a sporting goods store near Shreveport LA.
- A Houston TX man illegally used $1.6 million of Paycheck Protection Program funds to buy a Lamborghini Urus SUV, a 2020 Ford F-350 pickup truck, a Rolex watch, real estate, and visits to strip clubs.
- Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte was expected to be a flop when it did poorly with focus groups in 2003.
- The toilet of a woman in Fort Collins CO was found to be clogged by a four-foot corn snake. After the apartment complex maintenance man removed the snake, she adopted it.
- Portland OR police arrested a suspect fleeing in a stolen car after he crashed into an intoxicated woman driving another stolen car.
- Virginia Republican Denver Riggleman, who authored a book titled “Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him,” was elected to the House in 2018 by a 6.6% margin.
- The Kent District Library in Grand Rapids, MI has pleaded with patrons to stop microwaving its books as a method to prevent the spread of coronavirus
- Two West Palm Beach FL men were arrested for stealing 93 eggs from the nest of an endangered sea turtle.
- A Florida man dressed as Fred Flintstone and driving the car that he converted into a replica of Fred’s prehistoric vehicle, was pulled over for speeding and arrested for acting in an unruly manner.
- Full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S.
- South Central High School in Farina, Ill has a Drive-Your-Tractor-To-School-Day
- Ice volcanoes form on the shores of Lake Michigan where water shoots through holes in thin sheets of ice.
- An intoxicated 66-year-old black man who waved a gun with one hand and had a beer in the other as he walked along a road near Tampa FL was arrested by police without being shot.
- No Governor, Supreme Court Justice, or President has ever risen from the working class.
- A 2018 study by Ohio State University found a strong correlation between the number of an individual’s past partners and their mother’s.
- A rural ME man who installed booby traps around his property to deter intruders was shot and killed after he opened a door that he rigged to fire a handgun when it was opened.
- A Miami FL man illegally used $3.6 million of Paycheck Protection Program funds to buy a Lamborghini 2020 Huracan, merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue and Graff, and services at luxury resorts in Miami Beach.
- A traffic stop of two black men by Chicago Police for having an air freshener hanging in their car was ruled legitimate by the court.
- A Waukesha WI woman performed a spiritual ritual on a dead opossum in the road, then pulled out a Green Bay Packers lawn chair from her vehicle and urged the animal to “repent.”
- The Finance Director of Harrisburg PA, a former city councilman, resigned after being charged with three misdemeanors for naked gardening.
- Augusta ME Police arrested a man riding a lawnmower on city streets while intoxicated. This apparently is not uncommon.
There are at least ten reasons people give for not wearing masks. Research suggests that there are at least four root causes, psychological and biochemical, for these responses. Whatever the root cause of mask avoidance might be, it’s probably more complex than just ignorance or resistance to authority. Society should recognize that individuals have their own motivations for what they do and don’t do in their personal lives. Individuals should recognize that they are a member of a society and they are bound to follow the rules and necessary conventions of that society, particularly when their actions affect the well-being of others. Mask wearing is a clear case of “all for one and one for all.”
An addict will do anything he can to get his fix. He’ll take the easiest path to get it, often committing illegal acts in the process. His high is bliss. Then one day he’ll overdose so his friends will have to take him to the ER. He’ll be saved and his friends will convince him to go to rehab. He’ll go and get clean. Then he’ll get out and relapse. He’ll do this again and again. One day, he’ll overdose and be at the brink of death. He’ll recover, and when he gets out of the hospital, his friends will care of him, again. Ultimately, though, he’ll relapse and get high, again. The pattern repeats over and over.
Americans are addicted to political ignorance. They’ll do anything they can to avoid following politics. They’ll be too busy with their family, or their jobs, or their vacations and hobbies, to care. They’ll ignore the poverty, homelessness, and injustice all around them. Then a corrupt politician – a Nixon, a Bush, a Trump – will get elected and devastate the country. They’ll ignore him, even support him against their own best interests, just so they can stay ignorant. Ignorance is bliss. Then things go from bad to intolerable. They’ll pay attention for a moment to vote him out of office, but then, return to their ignorance until the next intolerable politician comes along. Life never gets appreciably better; it just cycles between bad and intolerable. The pattern repeats over and over.
The election of 2020 shouldn’t just be about going from intolerable to bad. All that will do is let everyone go back to their political ignorance while things stay bad. That’s what we’ve done for the last forty years. The cycle must be broken. That’s what I will vote for in November.