What Bill Gates Does With His Billions

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Posted on : 5/15/2020 10:32:00 PM | By : Dann

It should be common knowledge at this point that Bill Gates is using his retirement years to improve living conditions for some of the most impoverished people on the planet.  The foundation that he and his wife, Melinda, operate looks to make a difference in the world on a variety of fronts.

One of those areas is in spreading of vaccines so that people will not catch some of the more commonly preventable diseases.  As a result, Bill Gates has known for years that the random mutation of a nasty bug could significantly impact humanity.  He has been campaigning for awareness and preparedness for years if not decades.

How much does he spend on otherwise underfunded viruses?  A lot.

A recent Wall Street Journal article included a graphic showing the leading sources of spending for neglected infectious diseases.  You will need to scroll about 2/3s the way down to see the bar chart.  It looked to me like his foundation was about fourth in terms of the amount of money spent.

The data came from the Policy Cures Research organization out of Australia.  I thought the bar chart was interesting, but I wanted to see the data.  A short bit of DuckDuckGo-ing later and I was on the Policy Cures Research website and had found this executive summary of their report on research for neglected diseases.  Effectively diseases that are treatable, but for which such treatments are not currently well funded.

The following image came from that report.  These are the top twelve sources of funding for R&D dealing with neglected diseases.  Those twelve sources provide 90% of the funding for neglected diseases.

Click to Embiggen

Take a close look.  Of the top twelve sources, three come from the US government; US NIH at #1, USAID at #7, and the US DOD at #8.  Taken together, the United States provides roughly 43% of the funding for research on these diseases (1.589 Billion US$)

Second place is funding provided by the health care industry.  Private companies donating their research money are the second-largest source of funding into preventing these neglected diseases.  That money comes out of their profits. (694 Million US$)

The thing about those profits is that health care providers to generate them to any significant amount where countries have nationalized health care systems.  Those systems cap payments to providers at slightly above the cost of production.  That cost of production does not include the cost of research and development.

Healthcare profits are disproportionately derived from sales in the United States.  When it comes to funding healthcare R&D, it is the US healthcare consumer (or their insurance company) that is the largest source of funding. 

The healthcare industry would not have enough money to be the second leading provider of research funding in the area of neglected diseases were it not for our comparatively free market and the profits that it generates.

The third leading source of funding for neglected diseases is the Gates Foundation.    In fact, the Gates Foundation donates more money than almost all of the non-US based sources in the rest of the top 12.  (585 Million US$)

Now the population of Europe is over 2.5 times that of the United States.  Yet while the US provides 43% of the funding for neglected disease R&D, the EC provides only 3.3% of the funding.  They can't even be bothered to beat the Gates Foundation that provides 14% of such funding.

Quite frankly, Europeans are not paying their fair share when it comes to funding any healthcare-related research and development.  But it is shocking to see exactly how little they care for the rest of humanity. 

When the private efforts of the healthcare industry and those of a single individual dwarf the contributions of an entire continent, the only reasonable conclusion is that the people of that continent greedily place their own position above that of the rest of humanity.  The people that are most at risk from these neglected diseases are living in poverty in third world nations.

When people like me point out that Europeans are not paying their fair share (healthcare research, their defense, etc.), situations like this one are what informs that opinion.

I'm glad that Bill Gates and his wife are investing their immense wealth in improving the world.  If we left it to the "democratic socialist" nations of Europe, such work would never be funded.

Loving Data In The Time Of Covid

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Posted on : 5/02/2020 11:16:00 PM | By : Dann

I've been having discussions in various social media about the impact of the Covid-19 virus on the US.  My interlocutors have been pointing out that the total number of Covid-19 deaths in the United States as indicative of gross incompetence by the Trump administration.  My response was to suggest that the US has (thus far) done about as well as Europe.  That conclusion was based on some rough calculations...

...that were wrong!  Specifically, I had used a population for Europe that was grossly below the actual population count.  I looked at the European population on several sites and came up with different answers as it all depends on what one counts as being "Europe".  Sometimes Russia is included.  Sometimes it isn't.  Sometimes only part of Russia is included.

Regardless of how one defines the population of Europe, my estimate was way low.  This was a significant deficiency in my response.

So I set out to correct that deficiency.  The Covid data that follows came from https://ncov2019.live/data/europe and the NYC health department.   The population data came from Wikipedia entries for each nation in the database presented by ncov2019.live.  All data was as of 5/1/2020.

To restate, I was of the opinion that simply looking at the gross number of deaths in the US was an inadequate measure of the administration's response to the Covid pandemic.  A better way of judging the government's response is to compare our experience with that of other, comparable nations.

And the only way to make that comparison is to look at those deaths as a percentage of the population.  We have had over 60,000 deaths while Belgium has had over 7,700 deaths.  Simply looking at those raw numbers would suggest that the US government is failing badly.

Yet the deaths in Belgium have been 0.0669% of their total population while in the US, the deaths have only been 0.0196% of our population.  Covid deaths in Belgium are three times as high as that of the US when measured as a percentage of the population.

The ncov2019.live dataset indicates 50 nations as being in Europe.  I omitted the Vatican City data as they have less than 1000 citizens and they have managed to have a negative death to do Covid.  Being the Vatican, I'm assuming that Lazarus is involved in some way.  Omitting 1000 citizens out of a population of over 832 million isn't liable to alter the statistical result.

I added the US data as that is the comparison that I'm trying to make.  I also added New York City as a separate entity and added a line for US data with the NYC data removed.  While New York City is definitely part of America, they are also having a pretty unique experience with the Covid virus.  I also added a line for all of Europe.

Here's the data for Europe and the US.  Note that there are several modern nations in Europe that have had a much higher death rate than what has occurred in the United States.  Also note that when the data from NYC is removed, the average experience of the rest of the United States is almost identical to that of all of Europe.

[Click Images to Embiggen]



While this isn't evidence of stellar performance by the administration, it also isn't exactly proof of malfeasance.

Another way of looking at the data is with respect to the confirmed cases.  The number of confirmed cases is a bit fraught as we have been behind the curve on mass testing.  Here is the data.


New York City isn't the only outlier in the dataset.  Russia is another one.  They have only recently acknowledged that they have failed to halt the spread of Covid in their country.  So the data from Russia is likely to change pretty dramatically over the next couple of weeks.  As a result, I then added a line for Europe with the data from Russia removed.

Note that while the US without NYC is about the same as all of Europe, including Russia, Europe without Russia is worse than all of the US, including NYC.



One of the people with whom I was conversing suggested that the ratio between the percentage of confirmed cases to the percentage of deceased cases indicates something ominous about the lack of testing.  Essentially, the lower that ratio, the fewer people have been tested, and thus the great the odds for future deaths.

If the ratio of the percentage of confirmed cases to the percentage of deceased is meaningful in any way, then Europe is doing half as well as the United States.


There were a couple of good conclusions to be drawn from the data.

The first one is to be more careful with the data.  My estimate of the population of Europe was pretty low.  I was not including Russia in my estimate.  Nor was I counting nations such as Kazakhstan or a host of other former Soviet satellite states.  That was an obvious error on my part.

The second conclusion is that despite the error in my estimates of the European population, my impression that the impact of Covid-19 on the United States has been on par with the impact on Europe is largely correct based on the data that is available today.

While there are several points in our response to Covid where the administration has clearly fallen short, the net result is not significantly different from other, comparable nations.  Suggestions that the administration's performance is defined by gross incompetence and/or malfeasance are not justified by the data.

My perspective remains unchanged.  The US is a big country.  We should expect a large number of infections & deaths.  The US Covid experience is reasonably comparable with Europe when viewed on a percentage basis.

People that focus solely on the total number of cases and/or deaths while ignoring the relative size of our population are not seeking to educate and inform.  They are looking to wave "the bloody shirt" and whip up people's passions.

Passionate and uneducated people rarely make wise decisions.


Re-Visiting Those Damned Cold Equations

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Posted on : 4/17/2020 03:40:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Fans of science fiction will generally be aware of the short story "The Cold Equations" written by Tom Godwin and first published in Astounding Magazine in 1954.  A super short summary of the plot is that a young girl has stowed away on an emergency rocket that is being sent to a planet with a serum needed to save the people on the planet.  The rocket is designed to make the trip with only the pilot aboard...barely.  The additional weight of the stowaway is sufficient to cause the rocket to miss its destination.  The story frames the choice as between killing the girl so that the rocket can reach its destination, or letting the people on the planet die of some lethal illness.

The story was first published in the 1950s when science fiction frequently framed issues as binary choices.  While stories from that period might feature a clever protagonist to discover a third path, it was just as likely that poor choices would result in predictable disaster.  The best criticism that I have read is that the rocket did not have a large enough safety factor.

There is a forthcoming anthology of rebuttals to The Cold Equations.  I expect many essayists to add elements that are not present in the original story to reach their own preferred conclusions.  Rather than address the story as written, they will probably add in a factor that is not otherwise evident as a lever to be used against the main purpose of the story.

Rather than discussing the merits and criticism of the story, I'm first going to travel to Texas, rhetorically.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick implied that he was willing to die to ensure the survival of his children and grandchildren.  He went on to suggest that lots of grandparents would make the same choice.  The context of his comments was the "choice" between maintaining our self-quarantine that is significantly damaging our economy or resuming normal social habits at the demonstrable risk of killing off a substantial number of our elderly.

"No one reached out to me and said, as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all Americans love for your children and grandchildren?" Patrick, 70, told host Tucker Carlson. "And if that's the exchange, I'm all in."
Dan Patrick is a former radio talk show host.  Like other media personalities that have been elected to public office, Mr. Patrick needs to recall that people in his current position need to exhibit a bit more discretion when they speak.

That's the polite version of "Dan Patrick decided to be an idiot for a few minutes".

We are not currently at the point where we need to be deciding who lives and who dies.  We are most certainly not at the point where we need to risk the lives of senior citizens by prematurely restarting the economy.

That being said, we do have to make choices; sometimes hard choices.  The decision to build an interstate highway can spell success or destruction for a small town.  The decision to raise or lower taxes can result in a change in mortality and life expectancy that is measured in real lives but experienced so diffusely that you can never truly identify a single life specifically cut short as a result.  The decision to regulate how medicine is practiced and funded might save tens of thousands of lives in the next year, but cost tens millions of more lives in the coming centuries by altering how new medicines and procedures are developed and deployed.

We are currently rushing to produce more ventilators.  Manufacturers are repurposing their facilities to meet the current demand.  The race pits innovation and ingenuity against literal death.  Innovation and ingenuity might well lose the race in a big way.  Unlike literature, there is no deus ex machina to save the day.

The fact is that we all have to make choices based on what we hope is the best of information.  We are all learning now about the importance of certain types of medical and personal protective equipment.  We are learning that we had manufacturing and import capacity to cover the usual needs of society, but not enough to cover our needs during a pandemic.  We are learning that we had stockpiles sufficient to cover a few significant regional calamities, but such stockpiles were entirely insufficient for a larger catastrophe.

What comes next?  Will we have a nationally organized database of manufacturers that are pre-qualified/pre-positioned to shift manufacturing for these critical items?  Will the design of those critical items be periodically updated? 

And of course, there will be new calls for a nationalized health care system in the US.  The most common indictment of the US system is that it rations care based on income.  Will those critics evaluate the other methods of health care rationing used in nationalized health care systems?  In the US, almost all get some level of health care and some get more than others.  In most nationalized systems, all get some level of health care and sometimes all get none when it comes to modern treatments.  Will we have a full and rational discussion or will there be more of the usual propaganda?

Will the critics of The Cold Equations pause in their rush to suggest alternative conclusions to acknowledge the practical limitations, however ham-handedly presented, that were in play?

The utility of science fiction is that it allows us to take an issue out of the pressing moment and twist it and test it and look at it in a different way.  Are the principles in play appropriate?  Is the design sufficient to the task at hand or is the safety margin to low to ensure success?  Do we sometimes have to make do with what is available now rather than wishing for a perfect solution to arrive too late to be of any value?

Science fiction allows us to ask the hard questions, to examine the cold equations, so that we can craft a rational response to real problems.  The other option is to emotionally demand that we unquestionably cherish the old and infirm as if we possessed unlimited resources.

Loving a senior in the age of Covid-19 certainly means doing our level best to prevent them from being infected and that, once infected, they get the very best of care that is available.  In the age of Covid-19, there may not be care available.  The doctors and nurses may have to choose between using a ventilator for a senior or using for someone in their 20s.  How does an emotional plea to cherish the elderly help resolve that choice?  The same doctors and nurses may have to choose between using chloroquine (or a similar drug) for a senior or reserving it for a person using it to address a long term autoimmune problem.  How does an emotional plea to cherish the elderly inform help to resolve that choice?

The single greatest flaw in The Cold Equations is that it does not explore any alternative solutions.  It does not examine why the safety margins had to be so slim that the mass of a single stowaway was sufficient to lethally undermine the purpose of the rocket.  Tom Godwin simply establishes a binary choice that is to be made and then allows time to elapse.  The Cold Equations presents the emotional mirror of cherishing those at the greatest risk from Covid-19 without examining the reality of the limited resources that are available in that moment.

What The Cold Equations does do quite effectively is cause the reader to confront that situation where the fuel cell is empty.  Where the tank of air has been depleted.  Where the last morsel of food has been divided and consumed.

We are ill-served by those that pretend that hard choices do not exist.

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There are other works that deal more effectively with issues surrounding questions of survival and the utilization of available resources.

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven

An asteroid crashes into earth causing massive tidal waves, earthquakes and throws the earth's climate into a far cooler range of temperatures.  Modern technology is...largely....gone.

The White Plague by Frank Herbert

After an Irish terrorist kills a scientist's wife, the scientist cooks up a bug designed to kill all human women.  He lets it loose on the island of Ireland after notifying the world of the need to quarantine the island.  The world does not listen.  Things go...poorly.

The women that survive find themselves with a tremendous amount of power and influence due to their unique...ummm...resources.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Another "large body crashes into the Earth" story.  This time it is the moon or at least pieces of it.  The race is on to get humanity off of the Earth in a way that allows them to survive and perhaps thrive. 

The Last Dance (The Near-Earth Mysteries, #1) by Martin L. Shoemaker

The Earth isn't under attack.  But in this story, humans explore the deadly reaches of our solar system; pretty much anywhere that isn't firmly on terra firma.  The main protagonist is a spaceship captain who built his career on identifying and minimizing risks.  His planning and engineering necessarily mean making tradeoffs and planning for tragedy.  He imparts that sensibility on his crew at every turn.  There is also a whodunnit mystery and a lot of astrophysics involved.  This was one of my best novel nominees for the Hugo Awards for 2020.

Review: The Wolf

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Posted on : 4/12/2020 12:11:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

The Wolf The Wolf by Leo Carew
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 4-star review. That is a barely accurate estimate of my experience.

The people from the south invade the people in the northlands. The people from the south are a prototypical pre-industrial western civilization bent on conquest. The people from the north are supposedly "barbarians" who train for battle, are somewhat larger in stature, and who live in concert with nature; think North American First Peoples but with buildings. They have no written record; everything is recalled by memory with people specifically being tasked with that purpose.

The wily northerners eventually win the day and toss the southerners back across the river to their well-ordered cities and farms.

This was an interesting book full of a broad range of interesting characters. The world-building was good but not great. The northerners had to devote a ton of manpower into maintaining a record of their history. Historians are charged with remembering small bits of history. The number of fighters seems outsize compared with the number of tradespeople needed to support a civilization. There are just too many elements that don't fit together.

Added to those features is the presentation of the northerners as being a moral and just people because they "live with nature".

A final criticism is that this is obviously the first book in a series. The story is intended to extend into multiple volumes and what you get in Book 1 is really just the first chapter of the larger story.

From my perspective, a reader should be able to walk away from book 1 and feel like they have had a complete experience. If it was good enough, then book 2 will get read. But there should be enough closure that a reader can walk away after book 1 and not feel like anything was missing.

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Review: Kings of Paradise

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Posted on : 4/12/2020 11:46:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Kings of Paradise Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rated at 4 stars.  A 3.5-star rating is closer to my experience.  Detailed characters.  Check.  Broad world-building.  Check.  Interesting premise.  Check.

I still spent the last third of this book debating my rating and whether or not I would finish it.  By that point, this had become just another first book in a fantasy series.  It was good enough that I pushed through to the finish.

Magic is intimated in the first half of the book, but it doesn't really exist until the last half of the book.  And then it is just one character.  There is a matriarchal society which is a nice change of pace, but the justifications for it run a little thin by the end of the book.

We jump around between characters quite a bit.  We also jump through time quite a bit.  The combination is a bit more complicated than I wanted in a reading experience.

My recommendation is that you try the free section of the ebook first to see if it connects with you.  Otherwise, move on to something else.

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Review: Neon Leviathan

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Posted on : 4/12/2020 11:45:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Neon Leviathan Neon Leviathan by T.R. Napper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a 5-star review only because a 6-star review isn't possible. Read this collection. It is fantastic.

The author takes on the future from an Asian/Australian perspective. China has risen and is slowly eating up the region. Social ratings are in play as are bio-warfare and computer warfare.

One of the stories is the novella-length "The Weight of the Air, The Weight of the World" that echoes George Orwell and Philip K Dick.  The story eventually revolves around the nature of memory when the government has the ability to change it, and how such a power might be abused.
 This novella is on my Hugo nomination shortlist for 2021.

The author takes on class issues, race, immigration, and concepts around individual liberty. The perspectives run a broad range as do the narratives. One story involves the difficulties around separating virtual reality from actual reality; lethal consequences ensue when one is mistaken for the other.

This collection is a tour-de-force for any sci-fi fan.

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A Quilt for Aedan

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Posted on : 3/30/2020 04:43:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

I'm still getting caught up on photos of my various quilting projects.  It turns out that I've had to ask for photos from various recipients because I forgot to take/keep photos on my own.

It looks like 2016 was in the middle of my time off from quilting.  The only quilt that I could find from 2016 was for young Aedan.  Here he is a few years on with his brother Liam holding up the quilt for all to see.



And here is his brother, Liam, way back in the day claiming the quilt as a matter of older brother's privilege.  I'm given to understand that such a maneuver is a bit harder to complete these days.

Review: Snowbound

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Posted on : 3/02/2020 02:49:00 PM | By : Dann | In : ,

Snowbound Snowbound by Blake Crouch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-star review. At best it is a 1.5 star book.

The premise is straightforward. A wife/mother is abducted. The police fail to execute a proper investigation. A shadowy law enforcement figure shows up claiming to have "the facts".

The reality is that the young womany was taken for her looks to serve as a sex slave at a posh Alaskan wilderness retreat. Rich men pay lots of money to visit and rape the women. A rescue ensues.

The plot is riddled with more holes than a wheel of Swiss cheese. The Alaskan resort is massive, remote, and unknown. It is highly unlikely that such a structure would ever be built/exist undetected.

The resort is visited by lots of men and there are many men involved in the abduction and maintenance of the slaves/women. There is zero possibility that such a secret operation could remain a secret for long given the number of people involved.

Then there is the cardboard characterizations. The more prominent patrons are all Texas oilmen or their close friends.

The first half/two-thirds of the story is a pretty good investigation/pursuit story. It's only when the location of the story shifts to Alaska where flimsy storytelling rears its ugly head.

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Review: Rocks Fall. Everyone Dies.

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Posted on : 2/26/2020 12:08:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , , ,

Rocks Fall. Everyone Dies. Rocks Fall. Everyone Dies. by Eddie Skelson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is a 1-star review. That is more stars than it is worth.

The author is in dire need of a copyeditor and needs to retake 8th grade English/grammar.

I read less than a dozen pages before I was consumed with the urge to hurl this book across the room, Dorothy Parker style. Sadly, it was an electronic copy.

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