BLUE SKILL LEVELS VERY LOW: No basic bungling left behind!


As seen in the New York Times: Skill levels within our own blue tribe are often extremely low. 

For one example, consider a guest essay which appeared in yesterday's New York Times, in the high-profile Sunday Review.

The essay was written by two Australian doctors. As published, and with headline included, their effort started like this:

Covid Zero Is No Longer Working for Australia

Australia was, until recently, heralded for its effective suppression of Covid-19; through strict border closures, prolonged lockdowns and its fortune as a remote island continent, the country was able to avoid a large-scale outbreak. The Delta variant has, however, turned that success upside down.

Despite more than half of Australia’s 25 million inhabitants living under very harsh restrictions—including overnight curfews, travel limits of only about three miles from home and limits on outdoor daily exercise to a couple of hours—cases have soared to more than 1,400 a day, the most since the pandemic began...

Compared to many developed nations, Australia had very low rates of infection and death during the pandemic's first few waves. 

This fact was widely noted. This relative success was sometimes attributed to Australia's stringent "Covid Zero" policies, policies which were sometimes described as "Fortress Australia."

Now, the Delta variant has "turned that success upside down"—or at least, so readers were told in yesterday's high-profile essay. Indeed, Australia's efforts at Covid suppression are "no longer working"—or so the Times headline said. 

Those statements are highly imprecise, but they're also very gloomy. As evidence for these characterizations, readers were offered this, and were offered this alone:

"Cases have soared to more than 1,400 a day, the most since the pandemic began."

Across Australia, there are now more than 1,400 new cases per day. That's the highest number of new cases since the pandemic began.

Obviously, it sounds like things have been moving in the wrong direction in Australia due to the Delta variant. Of course, that's true in many other nations, rather plainly including our own.

That said, are things really as bad in Australia as a suggestible reader might think from yesterday's essay? We decided to do what the New York Times didn't do. Out of basic curiosity, we decided to see how that number of new cases looks when adjusted for population, and when compared to current rates of new cases in other nations.

Fourteen hundred new cases a day—is that a lot or a little?  There's no way to make any such assessment from that raw number alone. 

But here's how Australia currently looks when compared to some other nations:

New cases per day, per million population
Seven-day rolling average, as of Sept. 10

United Kingdom: 573
United States: 439
France: 160
Germany:  129
Canada: 102
Japan: 90
Australia: 68
South Korea: 34

How about it? Has the emergence of the Delta variant "turned Australia's success upside down?" 

In fairness, the claim in question is so imprecise that it's virtually meaningless, except as a source of excitement. 

But after adjusting for population, Australia's rate of (reported) new cases is roughly one-seventh that of the United States—and it's roughly one-ninth that of the United Kingdom.

"Cases" is a relatively shaky statistic; case counts can turn on different degrees of testing in different nations. How about Covid deaths, which is likely a harder statistic?

Thank you for asking! When it comes to current Covid deaths, some numbers look like this:

Covid deaths per day, per million population
Seven-day rolling average, as of Sept. 11

United States: 5.0
United Kingdom: 2.1
European Union: 1.0
Australia: 0.3

At present, our own country's rate of Covid deaths is roughly seventeen times that of failing Australia.

At no point in yesterday's high profile essay was a statistical comparison offered between Australia and other comparable nations. The only statistic readers were offered was the hard count of news cases per day—a statistic which is wholly meaningless absent statistical context.

(We're told it's the highest number in Australia yet. But the number itself tells us nothing.)

Question! Has Australia's previous (relative) success really been "turned upside down" by the Delta variant? As any modestly skilled journalist would understand, the exciting claim is so imprecise that it's virtually meaningless.

With that obvious fact in mind, we'll pose a different question:

Should the New York Times have published an essay which offered only one statistic—a statistic which, on its own, is completely meaningless? We'll say that the answer is no.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our skill levels remain quite low here in our human towns. That's even true within our blue tribe, here in our failing blue towns. 

Blue skill levels are very low! We'll be discussing this point all week, with Wittgenstein relegated to posts in the afternoons.

Tomorrow: In the New York Times Sunday magazine, a grossly misleading statistic about a terrible state of affairs


  1. Lord Thy Liberal God COVID XIX still loveth Australians! This is such a relief. Praise the Lord, dear Bob, and pass the syringe.

    1. It is a big joke, ha ha ha, when people get very sick and some die.

    2. Mao's a Republican, which is a death cult.

    3. Mao's a Russian, which is both a life cult and a death cult.

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  2. Somerby is a moron. You cannot compare Australia -- an isolated thinly populated country, with no land borders and only a few aerial routes, with other countries. That's why the doctors didn't so, and why the statistic is not meaningless.

    Somerby uses this as an attempt to bash 'his' blue tribe. But of course, the doctors may not have any political affiliations. And the NYT's editors were perfectly justified in publishing an article, not in regular news, but in review pointing this out.

    Somerby demonstrates once again that he is ignorant of basic thinking, and is an idiot. In short, he is a Trumptard.

    1. To be clear, that's why the individual statistic of Australia is not meaningless, and comparing to other countries is not useful.

      The only failure here is in Somerby's few remaining brain cells, as his descent into moronic Trumptardism becomes even more obvious.

    2. "At no point in yesterday's high profile essay was a statistical comparison offered between Australia and other comparable nations. "

      There is no implicit comparison against a baseline of zero cases that arises from the name Covid Zero, which the headline says is no longer working.

      Cases per million is a ridiculous measure designed only to minimize the number of people affected which Somerby has been trying to do all along, like a good Trumptard.

    3. Correction: There IS an implicit comparison... sorry.

    4. Australia deaths per million 42
      Alaska deaths per million 602

      Only an idiot would claim that Australia is more isolated and thinly populated, or has fewer aerial routes with other countries, or attracted fewer Chinese tourist than Alaska. So how do you explain this, oh wise one?

    5. ...comparing to other countries is not useful.
      Because Australia has no large densely populated urban centers. Oh, wait, it does: Sidney, Melbourne!

    6. Lord Thy Liberal God COVID don't wanna hurt no kangaroo.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. @gloucon and @ilya
      The essay was written by Australian doctors. Somerby chastises (the paper? The doctors?) for not comparing Australia’s numbers to other random countries.

      Why should they have done that? Their Covid numbers are rising sharply. And that is their point.

    9. 'Only an idiot would claim that Australia is more isolated and thinly populated, or has fewer aerial routes with other countries, or attracted fewer Chinese tourist than Alaska.'

      Yes, I mean it's not like Alaska has 49 other states from which people can travel to it. Only a moron would claim that

    10. 'Because Australia has no large densely populated urban centers. Oh, wait, it does: Sidney, Melbourne!'

      Sydney (not Sidney) and Melbourne have far lower population densities than US megapolises. I've been to both, and the mass transit in Sydney at least is far less crowded than in say NYC.

      Beyond that, the article in question is about Australia and it's experience with COVID. It's an Opinion article. Somerby only bitches about it because he's an ignorant Trumptard.

    11. Yes, Sydney and Melbourne are not as densely populated as NYC, Chicago, or a few other bigger metro areas in the US. They are much more densely populated than Wyoming, North Dakota, and a whole slew of other places.
      I haven't seen any Covid statistics that are normalized per density of population; seems like that would be very indicative of how successful various locales are at controlling the spread of Covid.
      However, I don't see the doctor' concerns as misplaced; a spike in cases, even if seemingly insignificant, portends of worse news to come.

    12. When you compare areas of similar population and density the top 8 worst places are states in America, a direct result of Trump's incompetence and apathy. But don't worry, God has a plan.

      "normalized per density of population" does not parse real well, whatever, we get your drift. "seemingly insignificant" is also odd and inappropriate, but nobody cares

    13. "seemingly insignificant"...all that means is that the Australians are right to be concerned. Not sure what other possible drift you can discern.

  3. "As seen in the New York Times: Skill levels within our own blue tribe are often extremely low."

    This is patently absurd. The skill level of both the blue and red wings of the corporate-owned mass media is extremely high. Did they not recently succeed in talking the country into accepting wasteful wars in the Middle East that cost the country trillions of dollars while enriching their friends in the military-industrial complex? Over the last four decades, they've succeeded in convincing the people to accept the vicious class war waged against them by the wealthy and the corporate sector. The result has been a transfer of trillions of dollars of wealth from workers to them! Both tribes of corporate mass media stooges know exactly what they are doing, and they have been highly successful.

    Of course, they're going to distort reality on Covid response just as they do on every other issue. Their goal is to defend the corporate-owned US's horrible response to the pandemic. Denigrating and lying about countries that have good public health systems is a way to do this. Distortion of reality on all issues in favor of corporate domination is the game plan. Only someone as obtuse as Somerby would continue to expect truth from these self-serving corporate entities.

    1. Fundamental to the Republican Party is racism, a weapon that has reaped rewards far in excess of the impact of corporate media, but you die on that hill, fine by me.

  4. The point is that the current rolling 7-day average of new cases in Australia is more than three times higher than it was at its previous peak in August of 2020 (around 508 on or about 8/6/2020).

    The Australian doctors are not comparing their numbers to other countries in order to decide things are really ok after all in Australia; Somerby is the one doing that.

    Any reputable doctor would be alarmed at a more than threefold increase in cases.

    As far as Somerby’s death statistic for Australia, what about the term ‘rolling’ does he not understand? Deaths lag number of new cases. Currently, the rolling 7-day average number of deaths in Australia is on the upswing, after being close to zero for a long time.

    In fact, prior to last year’s peak, that number was 9 (8/6/2020), which is close to the current value, rising to a peak of around 25 on or about 9/4/2020. (Note the lag between high daily case numbers and deaths from the 2020 data).

    And it isn’t legitimate to hand wave the number of deaths away by calculating it per capita. It is still moving in the wrong direction.

    Did someone say statistics are hard?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Lots of countries don't view themselves as always in competition with others. Where conditions are different, such comparisons make little sense. In this case, it strikes me as morbid to compete over death stats or cases of a horrible disease.

      But Somerby has no real interest in Australia. He only wants to bash the press. Why? God only knows.

    2. 'But Somerby has no real interest in Australia. He only wants to bash the press. Why? God only knows.'

      Actually, it's obvious. He wants to bash the NYT/Wapo etc. because they aren't like him and don't spend their time defending Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, DJT, Devin Nunes, because they aren't Trumptards like him.

  6. Other important items from the essay:

    “only 8 percent of eligible Australians were fully vaccinated by July 2021.”


    “hospitals are reaching capacity with Covid-19 patients, and Australia’s delayed vaccination program is only beginning to gain momentum.”

    Does Somerby want to downplay the lack of vaccinations as a contributing factor to the increase in cases by trying to trivialize the cases and deaths as tiny per capita numbers, or less than in other countries?

    Why does he ignore hospitalization, which is an important factor in its own right, and prioritize deaths?

  7. "Pope Francis on Monday voiced "shame" over the massacre of more than 100,000 Slovak Jews in the Holocaust, condemning World War II's "frenzy of hatred" and lingering anti-Semitism."

    The pope didn't personally hurt Jews during the Holocaust, but his acknowledgement of the church's wrongdoing is important. It is important for white people to similarly acknowledge the wrongs against targets of racism.

  8. "I suppose it was inevitable that the anti-maskvaxers would decide that hospitals are murdering resisters in the hospitals:

    Lin Wood and others announced that anti-mask/vaccine activist Veronica Wolski died early this morning. 10 people showed up at the hospital last night demanding she be released to their care. Here is one telling supporters to stop calling in death threats to the hospital."

    In ICUs all over the country, antivaxxers' families are interfering with medical staff and trying to dictate treatment. There are lawsuits against hospitals, but also nurses are not being permitted to do their jobs and a great deal of physician time is being diverted to arguing with family. This affects morale and weakens staff ability to treat all patients. As hospitals get fed up, I expect they will start making rules that may further inflame tensions.

    These patients and their families are crazy. Some insist they do not have covid and die in denial. Some families refuse ventilators because they think they cause death. There is no reasoning with them. They are preventing staff from saving them in some cases.

  9. “Covid deaths per day, per million population
    Seven-day rolling average, as of Sept. 11
    United States: 5.0”

    Let’s see: 5 per million in a nation with approximately 330,000,000 people, means that that “5 per million” adds up to 1,650 people.

    “5” sure does sound insignificant.

    Somehow those low-sounding per million numbers added up to over 678,125 people dead.

    Funny thing, statistics.

  10. The New York Times is not blue. It is deeply red, with just barely a tinge of blue.

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