Cowles and Candidates

This Friday, May 15 at 4PM is the deadline for candidate filing with Spokane County Elections. There likely won’t be much news. One could have foreseen most state and county candidates by visiting the WA Public Disclosure Commission website ( Potential candidates are required to file with the PDC soon after they start raising campaign funds.   

The Spokesman weighed in recently on the topic of candidates. Most of my readers understand that the Editorial Board of the Spokesman Review now consists of one writer, Stacey Cowles, the publisher. That makes the publication of the following Editorial last Sunday, May 10, the more remarkable. I challenge my readers to find the misstatement contained in this originally published version copied and pasted below. Mr. Cowles’ title point in his article is no doubt true–and most of my readers likely share Mr. Cowles’ antipathy for Matt Shea (R, LD4, Spokane Valley north to Mt. Spokane)

Editorial: Don’t let incumbents run without challenge

Candidate filing week for this year’s local and state elections is here. So far it looks like too many incumbents will get a free pass to re-election. At least disgraced Rep. Matt Shea isn’t one of them.

Democracy works best if people step up and challenge the status quo. During a campaign, candidates vigorously debate issues, policies and priorities. Then, on Election Day, voters choose between competing visions. At least, they do if there’s a choice.

Sure, running as a challenger is hard. Incumbents typically enjoy greater name recognition and can run on their experience. They have more money, and districts often have a partisan lean. This election will be especially tough. Door-to-door canvassing, rallies and house parties are on hold for social distancing.

Yet, sometimes the person who thinks “I can do better” wins. It all starts with putting one’s name on the ballot this week.

File to run against so-far unopposed Spokane County Commission incumbents Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney. Challenge Republican Sen. Mike Padden, Democratic Rep. Timm Ormsby or anyone else with no general election opponent, let alone a primary one.

We’re not saying throw all the bums out. Kerns, Kuney, Padden, Ormsby and every other incumbent can make a good case for remaining in office for another term. But they should have to make that case to the voters, and they won’t if no one runs against them.

Candidates have until Friday to file with the county.

Rep. Matt Shea
Three challengers are running against our region’s most embarrassing and now least-effective lawmaker: Republican and former Rep. Leonard Christian will oppose Matt Shea in the Republican Primary, The winner would face Democrat Lori Feagan in November–though she, too, shouldn’t get a free pass in that party primary–and independent Ann Marie Danimus.

Shea lost his ability to represent the 4th District last year when Republicans threw him out of their House caucus and removed him from all committee assignments. He occupies a chair in Olympia and nothing more. He cannot advocate for his constituents’ needs because no one will listen to him. Leaders across the political spectrum have called for his resignation.

The GOP had good reason to disavow Shea. When he wasn’t deploying intimidation tactics and proposing violence against his political opponents, he was busy advocating secession, holy war and armed conflict against the federal government. An independent report documented it all and branded him a domestic terrorist.

Shea denies it all, of course. “They hate me, like they hate President Trump,” he wrote in a recent letter to supporters. “It is political assassination, plain and simple … followed by a label lynching.”

That someone who associates with white supremacists has the audacity to liken his deserved travails to the racist horrors of lynching disqualifies him from not just election but also civil company. In recent weeks, Shea has protested COVID-19 policies. There are plenty of legitimate questions to ask about how Gov. Jay Inslee has managed the crisis, but Shea doesn’t question, he spins shadowy plots against Washingtonians’ liberty.

Residents of Eastern Washington prize their independence. Pioneers came here to live free. That never meant living alone, though. In the public square, we exercise our inalienable rights, but we also share responsibility for each other. Living close together requires rules so that one person’s pursuit of happiness doesn’t impinge on another’s. Speed limits, zoning, growth management and social distancing are all part of that compact. They are solutions that keep a level playing field so everyone enjoys a physically safer, cost-effective environment. Closing businesses temporarily isn’t a nefarious plot; it’s a measure of respect for those who are vulnerable and for their families.

People who have lived here for decades will remember weeks spent wearing masks outdoors after Mount St. Helens erupted. This time it’s months and time indoors, too. That’s not invalidation of liberty. It’s preservation of lives and society.

The 4th District leans conservative. Voters can elect a conservative who can accomplish something in the Capitol. Or they can go another direction if they choose. They’re fortunate to have a choice.

Washington State has had a “top two” primary since March of 2008, after six years of initiatives and court decisions finally put to rest by a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. I have some sympathy for Mr. Cowles’ confusion. Each state setting its own voting rules (a role assigned by the U.S. Constitution) makes keeping track of those rules the province of seasoned party operatives scrapping for advantage in varied and arcane systems, a contest in which Republicans have recently had the upper hand. (See P.P.S below)

That Mr. Cowles, a man of considerable political involvement, is confused over such an important point as the mechanism of the Washington State Primary, that should give us pause. What chance does the average citizen have of keeping it all straight?

Next, let us look at the Matt Shea, Leonard Christian, Lori Feagan “top two” primary election contest for the LD4 Representative position Shea now holds and Mr. Cowles showcased. To me, this three-way primary race is an argument for Ranked Choice Voting. For all the reasons Mr. Cowles details, a vote either for Leonard Christian or Lori Feagan may, in part, be cast as a vote of no confidence in Matt Shea. That is, of the usual rather low turnout in a primary election there may well be, say, 60% of voters who will not cast a vote for Mr. Shea under any circumstance, but if Shea garners the other 40% of the primary vote and the other two split their joint 60%, Shea advances to the General anyway. In an RCV election the second preference voting of the 60% might well propel Christian and Feagan to November general election as the most palatable of the candidates for a majority of the electorate. Food for thought.

One other minor note. Mr. Cowles cites Leonard Christian (R) as a “former Rep.” Mr. Christian did serve as the State Representative from LD4–for less than a year. He was appointed by the Spokane County Commissioners in January of 2014 to fill the seat from which Larry Crouse retired. In the following August’s top two primary he was bested by two primary challengers, both Republicans. A decent, establishment Republican, Mr. Christian has never been elected to public office (unless you count an uncontested election as a precinct officer).

To come full circle, Friday is the deadline to sign in as a candidate for this year’s Washington state and county elections. I agree with Mr. Cowles in wishing for more candidates.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Here”s the correction note posted below the current, corrected online version of the Editorial after several readers caught the error: An earlier online version of this editorial incorrectly stated that political parties hold primary elections in Washington state. Washington state primary elections are ‘top two,’ in which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of their political party.

P.P.S. The reason we tend to think of elections as federally controlled probably stems from the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That Act reined in abuses in some (mostly southern) state voting regulations that were seen by the Court as contrary to constitutionally granted civil rights.  More recently, in 2013, with a conservative majority, the Supreme Court removed federal oversight of voting laws in nine states, returning greater discretion to those states to discriminatory regulations.

Feel Like a Bystander?

Two years ago at this time many of us were engaged in electoral politics, knocking on doors, encouraging people to vote, advocating for particular candidates in the hope of wresting various legislative bodies from Republican/Libertarian control. In Eastern Washington many of us volunteered enthusiastically for the Lisa Brown campaign. We overcame our dread of door-knocking. We went out and talked to people. Lisa Brown did not win, but we managed to draw Republican money, time, and effort away from other campaigns. Nationally, by dint of a huge volunteer effort, the House of Representatives flipped and the Libertarian federal legislative juggernaut slowed. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA, CD5) was relegated to a back bench in the House. She lost her position as chairperson of the House Republican Conference to Liz Cheney (R-WY).

What to do now? Feeling hopeless and frustrated as you read the news? Feeling like a bystander to history? We’re cooped up by Covid-19. Door-knocking is out of bounds, potentially dangerous, and un-American under current circumstances. We watch, feeling helpless, as Mitch McConnell brings the U.S. Senate back to Washington. D.C., not to consider legislation passed by the House of Representatives, but to force through more right wing Federalist Society endorsed judges for the federal bench. He licks his chops over the prospect that Ruth Bader Ginsburg might not last until January, 2021, having stonewalled the Merrick Garland nomination for months. 

While the Electoral College still allows Republican popular vote minorities to put people like Mr. Trump in the White House, neither Idaho nor Washington is much in play in this November’s presidential election. Unless something completely unforeseen occurs, Washington’s 12 electoral votes will go the Democratic nominee, and Idaho’s 4 electoral votes will go to Trump. Potential voters whose focus is only on the presidential race will see little reason to pay attention and bestir themselves to vote. “Why bother? It’s out of our hands.”

What to do? Engage. Elections this year are the most consequential elections of my lifetime. Outcomes of state level elections in many states will determine whether Republican computerized gerrymandering continues or is curtailed. (Redistricting, done by each state, happens next year based on 2020 Census results.) In many states these same elections will determine the fate of Republican efforts to suppress the vote. (Voting in this country is mostly a state issue.) On a federal level, Democrats must take majority control of the U.S. Senate (needing a net gain of four seats). Without a Senate Democratic majority, Mitch McConnell will continue his hyper-partisan reign of obstruction, hamstringing all attempts to pass legislation favored by a majority of American voters (see Control by the Minority). If McConnell remains as leader of a Republican Senate majority he will obstruct Democratic initiatives regardless of who wins the Presidency. That would include obstructing Supreme Court nominations by a Democratic President..

But what can we weak individuals do to avoid these depressing outcomes? Sitting in our homes, getting increasingly angry and talking only to like-minded individuals is not going to cut it. Have you ever watched ants re-build an ant mound? They are persistent and energized–and they are many. So, too, are we. If we sign on and dedicate a half hour a day we can make big things happen. Here are just two of the grassroots efforts either or both of which are worth your time:

1) If more people are motivated and empowered to vote more votes for Democratic candidates will be cast. Republicans know this. Voter suppression is a key Republican tactic. Witness the actions of the Republican majority legislature in Wisconsin last month that forced thousands to risk exposure to Covid-19 in order to vote. (The appointed State Supreme Court Justice they were trying to protect lost anyway, in part on account of efforts I’m about to describe.) In many states Republican have purged voters from the voting rolls using arbitrary cutoffs. The non-partisan Reclaim Our Vote Campaign seeks to alert voters in states like these to the importance of checking their voting status before showing up at the polls. A half hour a day spent hand writing postcards to a select group of voters in selected states has the potential to drive turnout, increase awareness, and change electoral results. I am aware of several groups in the Inland Northwest involved in this effort.
Email contact for a local coordinator in Spokane Valley:
Email contact for City of Spokane coordinator:
I am also aware of a north Idaho contact for this effort. If interested, click “Reply” to this email and I can help connect you.

2) Pick a battleground state and engage from your desk. For example, Mark Kelly is the Democratic candidate running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona against an appointed and vulnerable Republican, Senator McSally (see P.S. below). One key to Mark Kelly’s run is voter turnout in Arizona legislative district 20 (northern part of the Phoenix metropolitan area). Currently LD20 is held by two state representatives and a state senator who are all Republicans. Challenging for one of the AZ State House seats is Judy Schwiebert and for the AZ State Senate seat is Doug Ervin, both very credible, decent candidates with whom I have Zoomed. By supporting their efforts in Arizona we could help tip the majority in the Arizona House and the U.S. Senate at the same time. For starters, click on their names, read about, and “Like” their Facebook pages. There are local Spokane “Sister District” efforts to support these two and local Spokane dedicated volunteers working from home on these elections. 

Something closer to home? There is a strategy to help Steve Bullock, the Democratic governor of the State of Montana in his run to unseat Republican Senator Daines. Email contact for all of #2:

When I receive a postcard I pay a lot more attention to it if it is handwritten–and I don’t have any trouble telling which ones are machine printed. There are other non-postcard volunteer efforts also available. 

Get on board. Feel less helpless, less of bystander to history. and

Keep to the high ground,

P.S.  Mark Kelly is an astronaut. He is the husband of Gabby Giffords, who resigned from her U.S. House seat in 2012 after an assassination attempt that resulted in a severe brain injury. Mark Kelly is running against Martha McSally, who was appointed to John McCain’s former Senate seat. McSally tried–and was unsuccessful in a run for the the other of Arizona’s two U.S. Senate seats after Jeff Flake (Trump-critical R) resigned in 2018. (McSally lost 48%-50% to Kyrsten Sinema (D), whose term lasts another four years.) Arizona’s governor appointment of McSally to the John McCain’s old seat almost looks like a consolation prize. McSally would appear to be on thin ice in a state that could also flip its state’s house of representatives.

Protestation or Intimidation?

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich (R) has been warning us for years about Matt Shea (R, LD4, Spokane Valley north to Mt. Spokane) and the movement Shea leads. Leah Sotille, in her podcast series Bundyville and Bundyville the Remnant, laid out the doctrine and rise of the movement, its outward swagger about 2nd Amendment “rights”, its fundamentalist theology, its warped “Patriotism”, and its ties to white supremacy. Locally, Jay Pounder and Tanner Rowe have exposed documents from the inner workings of Shea’s local organization that detail preparations for an armed takeover. 

So what is brewing among these protesters/terrorists? First, any protester who carries an assault weapon to a protest is engaging in intimidation, not protest. Such intimidation is a political weapon–a threat of violence, the same purpose the Brownshirts served in another era. Matt Shea regularly speaks at rallies of assault-weapons-carrying intimidators at Franklin Park near Northtown in north Spokane. He rouses these military weapons carriers in support of his pet project, the “Liberty State,” and fosters the teaching of military tactics. His incumbent position in Washington State government encourages the tactics of intimidation of his followers, tactics supposedly based in their ideas of the sacredness that weds the 2nd Amendment to far right Christianity and theocratic government.

Intimidation tactics are on display here in Eastern Washington and northern Idaho as 2nd Amendment Fundamentalists gain a foothold in elected offices. We need to pay attention. Recent case in point: Most of my readers are familiar with the Festival at Sandpoint, a gathering that draws big names in music and thousands of audience members to this town of around ten thousand people every August, a gathering that puts millions of dollars into the local economy. The Festival (a private nonprofit) leases Memorial Field from the City of Sandpoint to hold the event. In the age of mass shootings, many performers require gun-free venues in consideration of their own safety.

Ah, but not that easy in Idaho, where the Bonner County Commissioner seats are held by 2nd Amendment Fundamentalists. These folks saw fit to file a suit, Bonner County v. City of Sandpoint, contesting the firearms ban, a suit that will cost local taxpayers of both the City and the County tens of thousands of dollars. (Bonner County is the second northernmost county of Idaho [south of Boundary County]. Sandpoint is the county seat of Bonner County.) The suit turns on a fine point of law, claiming it is unconstitutional for a private entity leasing city land in Idaho to prohibit weapons carriage. 

In a sane country and state that actually respected the rule of law, the suit, even as stupid a waste of time and money as it seems to many of us, would progress through the court system, a verdict would be reached and these two local governmental entities would abide by the ruling. 

But this is a area where Redoubt Radio issues a call to arms and a few hundred people come out in their camo jackets with their assault rifles to parade through town, folks who think it is their “patriotic” duty to appear and brandish their weapons.

So here is the part that’s frightening. Read this quote from the Bonner County Daily Bee from an article that appeared on April 30, entitled “County seeks firearms ban decision”:

“Counsel for Bonner County filed a motion for summary judgment to swiftly end the dispute, which officials contend has the potential to devolve into scenario not unlike the deadly clash at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

A large, armed protest is being planned if the prohibition against firearms during the Festival is allowed to stand. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Second Amendment advocates are expected to demonstrate if the ban is not lifted, according to county officials.

“This dispute creates a highly explosive and dangerous situation ripe for a public disaster,” Amy Clemmons, the county’s counsel, said in court documents filed on Tuesday.”

How does this quote (and the whole article in the Bee) read as anything but a threat of armed rebellion, a threat made by the very county officials who would call these folks out to protest? “A large armed protest is being planned…perhaps thousands…” Let that sink in. The Commissioners of Bonner County are threatening the City of Sandpoint with a potentially violent gathering–telling the City to give in or face the consequences. This is not subtle.

This is what we get when we fail to pay close attention to whom we elect to local public office. This is how we get a Matt Shea in Eastern Washington or a Dan McDonald (Bonner County Commissioner) or a Sheriff Daryl Wheeler (Bonner County) or a Heather Scott (ID State Rep and compatriot of Washington’s Matt Shea) in northern Idaho. This is getting real. It is time to pay attention.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Recently announced: The Festival at Sandpoint 2020 will not be held this year on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is postponed to 2021. At least there won’t be a bunch of bearded, camo-covered wannabe Patriarchs parading with assault weapons and intimidating Festival goers–at least not in 2020.

P.P.S. Where were the sensible people of the State of Idaho when Republican legislators passed a state law that “forbids the prohibition of firearms in public places” by local authorities? Now the Bonner County Redoubters are wasting taxpayer money and the judicial system to extend that prohibition to private entities renting city property. What’s next?

Numbers Gathering Misconceptions

Among the misguided  “Patriots” protesting with Matt Shea and far right religious leaders at the courthouse in Spokane last Friday was “…a group of young people holding signs claiming that COVID-19 death counts aren’t accurate and that the novel coronavirus is a hoax.” 

“Covid-19 death counts” aren’t perfectly accurate. Gathering death statistics is not just counting corpses. These young people are questioning the motivation of the numbers gathers, suspecting them of intent to deceive. In short, these sign carriers and their ilk are conspiracy theorists. They hold that in common with the conspiracy theorist in chief, Donald Trump, a man who started his run for office on the birther conspiracy, a man for whom the entire government is part of a “deep state” conspiracy against him personally.

Here is my starting place: Without quality data on the world in which we live we are lost, rudderless, unmoored (exactly the way some would like us to be). People in government and medicine tasked with assembling this data are doing their very best to get it right. What it takes to come close to the right number is an effort most of us don’t appreciate or understand. It is time to look.

Consider influenza statistics. How are they gathered? Does each corpse dead of influenza get a stamp on its forehead, “DIED OF THE FLU”? No. Most every corpse has a story of intercurrent chronic and acute illnesses, diabetes, coronary disease, alcoholism, dementia, any one of which, in the absence of positive gold-standard test for the influenza virus, might be labelled the cause of death by the individual responsible for filing out the death certificate. 

Each year good faith efforts are made by an army of honest workers in government and medicine to assemble the best estimate of deaths due to influenza. They examine a multitude of data. They hone their methods in conferences and academic arguments. Finally a number is published (typically two years later). It’s a completely non-political effort, but one that carries policy implications. (Check out this CDC website page for a glimpse at the complex methodology used to estimate “Influenza-Associated Deaths.”)

Doug Muder puts it this way (his whole article at that link is a good read):

The flu comparison is even less appropriate than the numbers make it sound. In Scientific American, Dr. Jeremy Samuel Faust concludes that the comparisons we hear about flu deaths vs. Covid-19 deaths are misguided.

When reports about the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 began circulating earlier this year and questions were being raised about how the illness it causes, COVID-19, compared to the flu, it occurred to me that, in four years of emergency medicine residency and over three and a half years as an attending physician, I had almost never seen anyone die of the flu. I could only remember one tragic pediatric case.

He began asking other emergency-medicine doctors, and found that their memories match his. They remember lots of opioid deaths, gun deaths, and traffic-accident deaths — which are supposed to happen in similar numbers — but not flu deaths. Flu death totals, he came to understand, are not counted deaths — deaths of particular people whose doctors write “influenza” on their death certificates — they’re extrapolations based on models. The models assume that many people die of the flu outside of hospitals, and aren’t officially counted.

In the last six flu seasons, the CDC’s reported number of actual confirmed flu deaths—that is, counting flu deaths the way we are currently counting deaths from the coronavirus—has ranged from 3,448 to 15,620, which [is] far lower than the numbers commonly repeated by public officials and even public health experts.

In other words, (and I [Doug Muder] am commenting here, not quoting or summarizing Dr. Faust) the flu death totals we usually hear are more comparable to the Covid-19 death totals we’re starting to get from excess-death demographic models — which show much higher numbers than the 65,000+ you commonly see reported. But if we compare counted Covid-19 deaths during the second week of April to counted flu deaths during the worst week of an outbreak “we find that the novel coronavirus killed between 9.5 and 44 times more people than seasonal flu”.
The young people in last Friday’s protest, with their claims that Covid-19 death counts are inaccurate and the novel coronavirus is a hoax, need a reality re-adjustment, a window into the complexities of honest efforts to gather information intended to provide the intellectual and scientific framework to deal with the pandemic. Instead, they parrot their parents’ and right wing media memes that they are the victims of some vast government conspiracy. They are the misbegotten descendants of a long Libertarian effort to discredit and shrink government, an effort that now threatens us all.

Covid-19 is not the flu. It is both more contagious and more deadly.

And these people are not Patriots. 

Keep to the high ground,

P,S. Fox News and Trump propaganda bellowed for weeks that Covid-19 was just “mild flu,” disingenuously citing the very highest of the CDC estimates, 61,000 from 2017-18 (the average over nine years is actually 37,000) using the number as though 61,000 were accurate and usual. Note that we blew past 61,000 in Covid-19 deaths nearly a week ago–and this number is almost certainly an undercount. 

P.P.S. Correction: I am indebted to Eric Johnson, retired statistician, accountant, and curious polymath, for taking seriously my request to “check my work” at the end of last Wednesday’s post Viruses–an Orientation. After all the assumptions I made to calculate the number of average-sized atoms that might fit into the 18nm wide, 300nm long cylinder of a tobacco mosaic virus, I neglected to multiply by pi at some point. The recalculation of number of atoms yields 97 million, not 24 million.

The Local Covid Come-Back–Brace Yourself

The most-read article in the Spokesman last Friday was “Hundreds protest stay-home order at courthouse, shout down politicians hoping to reopen economy.” Click on it, have a look, scroll through the photographs. (No paywall, it’s “COVID-19” coverage.) People standing shoulder to shoulder, not a mask in sight. 

On Saturday the Spokesman published “Idaho retailers welcome customers, as state’s four-stage rebound plan gets underway.” The lead photo shows a scene in Coeur d’Alene of rejoicing shoppers, none with masks. Brad Little, the Republican governor announced “stage 1” with “90 percent of businesses in the state will be allowed to reopen. This includes retail businesses, day camps, daycare facilities and places of worship.”

The Washington-Idaho border is no barrier to the spread of a respiratory virus. What happens in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane will wash both ways. All of us are about to become unwilling subjects of an epidemiological experiment to which we have not given our consent. How many of Matt Shea’s protesters in Spokane will bring the virus back to the Redoubt? On the Idaho side Governor Brad Little is trying to walk a middle road (for a Republican). After all, he was called a “Little Hitler” by Heather Scott, ID state Rep from the northernmost Idaho legislative district, darling of the Redoubt, and ally of Washington State extremist Rep. Matt Shea (who led the protest in Spokane last Friday). Governor Brad Little’s “Stage 1” (of four stages of two weeks each) calls for safeguards, including an instruction to practice social distancing. Masks are left to the discretion of the establishment and the patrons. 

Wake up, people. This is a respiratory virus. It is spread by coughing, sneezing, talking, singing, and, maybe, even breathing. It is spread by people who don’t even know they’re infected. One infected person shouting without a mask at the Matt Shea-led protest last Friday in Spokane could seed the Covid-19 virus among dozens of other shoulder-to-shoulder protesters. How many of these know-nothings will go shopping early this week in Coeur d’Alene without a mask? How many will transmit the disease to an elderly neighbor? 

I urge you to read the Spokesman article on the Spokane protest carefully. Take notes on the names. The article is a Who’s Who of the Inland Northwest’s religious extremists, science deniers, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and would-be revolutionaries. Chief among them is Matt Shea, prime promoter of his theocratic “Liberty State,” featured speaker at conspiracy theorist forums, podcaster, and incumbent Washington State Representative for Legislative District 4, Spokane Valley north to Mount Spokane. He faces two challengers, Leonard Christian and Lori Feagan, in the August 4th WA State Primary. Remember that. Matt Shea is a festering cancer in our body politic. He needs to be electorally excised.

The Covid Come-Back? We’ll see. It comes down to individual behavior, morality, and the quality of our leadership, not questions of law and prosecution. Leadership from the top, from Trump and Pence on down, needs to say it is patriotic, right, respectful, and decent to wear a mask. Friday’s Matt Shea-led Spokane protest is particularly discouraging. These folk have no respect for the lives of others. Their shoulder-to-shoulder spacing, lack of masks, and the fact that they even gathered speaks volumes of their ignorance–and it does not bode well for keeping Covid-19 at bay. 

Spokane County Sheriff Knezovich (R) and several other elected officials, including Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D, LD3, Spokane) endured the boos and catcalls of protesters in order to speak. Sheriff Knezovich “made the point that no one had been ticketed or arrested in Spokane County for violating the shutdown order from the governor and didn’t think there ever would be.” That’s a key fact that puts the lie to Shea’s incitements over “tyranny” and their twisted idea of “freedom.” In fact they are “free” to act in an ignorant fashion. They should be spotlighted, recognized for what they are, shunned, and, in Shea’s case, voted out of office.

Whether we succeed at safely opening up while avoiding a resurgence of Covid-19 will depend on personal compliance with reasonable recommendations. It’s not a legal issue. It is a moral issue. The moral high ground is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and wear a mask. 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. The level of sheer ignorance prevalent among the speakers and protesters in the Spokane crowd at the demonstration last Friday is amply documented in the article itself. Once again, I encourage you to read it carefully and take note of the names of the speakers and the groups represented. For me, the saddest quote illustrated how this ignorance is passed on: “Emilia McGuire, a 16-year-old from Deer Park, stood with a group of young people holding signs claiming that COVID-19 death counts aren’t accurate and that the novel coronavirus is a hoax.” 

Antibody Testing, Some Basics

This post is to highlight and direct you to a superb article by Caroline Chen, a health and science writer for ProPublica. It is entitled What Antibody Studies Can Tell You — and More Importantly, What They Can’t. I encourage you to click that link and read the article itself. This is some of the clearest writing on a complex topic that I’ve seen. To whet your appetite, here are the sub-headings of article:

Antibody studies can be used to answer more questions than you might think.

Setting up a sero-survey correctly means you need to test a random population — easier said than done.

Test accuracy can skew results in some pretty surprising ways.

Forget the headlines, your city is nowhere near herd immunity.

There are two types of death rates. Most people are mixing them up.

Stop comparing this to the flu. Without a coronavirus vaccine, we are far more vulnerable.

Antibody tests aren’t ready to be used to issue “immunity passports.”

Caroline Chen deserves a prize for the clarity and readability of her explanations of complex, nuanced material. You would not be wasting your time if you read it carefully–several times. A clear understanding of this material will equip you to cut through a whole lot of muddled, and sometimes needlessly sensationalist reporting and headlines.

When you’re done absorbing the first article I encourage you to carefully read an earlier work of Ms. Chen’s from April 2: What We Need to Understand About Asymptomatic Carriers if We’re Going to Beat Coronavirus. In that article she clearly addresses how scientific data is sifted and formed into public health recommendations. 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. A few musings on the topic of science and statistics:

People (and stock markets) crave certainty. People often rally around a leader who offers a certain future, even if, for example, the predicted future is a fixed date and description for the end of the world. In contrast, science might start with something that’s pretty certain, “Covid-19 kills some people” and then strive, by asking questions and analyzing data, to come up with the most reliable prediction of what’s going to happen. Science is messy. Watching the process science uses to seek truth can be confusing–but is a far better guide than a would-be leader blustering inanely about “bouncing back,” a “V-shaped recovery,” or touting unproven or dangerous treatments based on the last thing random thing he heard.

Scientists, and effective governments. run on numbers: gathering numbers, understanding numbers, analyzing numbers. (The Founders knew this. That’s why we have a Constitutionally mandated decadal census.) In this pandemic well-meaning (but sometimes not-so-bright) media folk bombard us with a bewildering array of statistics and ill-defined terms, e.g. case fatality ratios, infection fatality ratios, antibody prevalence, and even just the simple term “cases,” often without clarifying what the number means and how it was determined.

Questioning the importance and accuracy of any number is essential. Does the number actually represent a cross section of the population we’re trying to draw conclusions about, i.e. was enough data gathered or did the method of gathering of the sample bias the result? Questioning the data (formally that’s called “peer review”)–and then improving that data with more gathering and analysis–is an important way science works. Absolute certainty is always a little out of reach, but each step adds to what we know and the clarity with which we can look into the future. 

Read Caroline Chen’s articles. Arm yourself we a clearer understanding of the basics. Read the news with greater clarity.