Monday Morning: Taking out the Garbage

Most of the time, I’m here in Michigan and I’m taking out the garbage every Monday. — Bob Seger

Morning-after blues now set in, feeling the weight of too much beer and cheese, doing the Walk of Shame, reeking of regret. Gotta’ love American excess in all things, including sports.

Take out last night’s garbage, pour yourself an herbal tea or a detox smoothie, and let’s get back at it. Speaking of garbage…

VW expected to make appetizing offer to U.S. passenger diesel owners — BUT…

The German car maker has still not decided whether vehicle owners will be offered cash, car buy-backs, repairs or replacement cars, Kenneth Feinberg told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

In other words, everything compensation manager Kenneth Feinberg said on behalf of VW for a German media outlet is vaporware. Best to keep in mind Feinberg has previously represented shining examples of corporate ethics like BP after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Zika, Zika, Zika…
The virus is now driving some people mad — and they’re not even infected. Like Republican presidential candidates who believe persons traveling to the U.S. should be quarantined if they come to the U.S. from Brazil (Christie), or could be quarantined if they have been infected (Carson). Or scientists pushing to kill all the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, without much thought for what removal of a species of insects will do to the rest of the ecological system which they’ve made home. Viruses are opportunistic; lose one host and they’ll hop to another. Are scientists modeling that next likely host?

Electronic toy maker VTech offers to buy LeapFrog
LeapFrog was popular with my kids 10 years ago; their line of educational toys helped my kids’ grades with spelling test games. But LeapFrog made a strategic error leaving the smaller handheld games for children’s tablets, and is now limping along. VTech has its own problems with technology, like the recent breach of user data, exposing millions of children and their families. Perhaps LeapFrog’s information technology will help shore up VTech’s through this acquisition.

Death from outer space
A bus driver in India may have been the first recorded casualty of a meteorite this weekend. Three others were injured when the meteorite exploded, leaving a small crater and broken windows.

Gong Xi Fa Cai or Gong Hey Fat Choy to you, depending on whether you speak Mandarin or Cantonese, as we enter the Year of the Monkey. Oops, perhaps you shouldn’t take out the trash just yet, especially if it requires sweeping. It’s bad luck to do so on the first new moon of the year — you might sweep your good luck out the door! Oh, your team lost last night? Sweep away. Best wishes for a prosperous new year!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.
28 replies
  1. scribe says:

    Ah. VW. What you’re forgetting, or omitting, is that Feinberg’s comments may have been intended more for the domestic German audience than the American. The reason?
    .
    VW’s market standing was cratering anew when it became common knowledge (I saw it, and the reaction, reported in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, Munich’s analog to, say, the Boston Globe) that while American VW owners were going to get $1000 or so – cash – from VW as a part of their settlement, the German owners would be getting … a free loaner car while their VW was getting updated.
    .
    No cash.
    .
    No nothin’ else for the home crowd.
    .
    The German customers were, as they say, “entsetzt”.
    .
    So, telling the Germans they might be getting cash is more a way to settle them down than do anything fair. Pure PR.

  2. Rayne says:

    bloopie2 (7:57) — As I said last week, U.S. will not be made whole. Just like the BP settlement did nothing to fix the mess in the Gulf of Mexico, likely causing tumors on turtles and killing baby dolphins. VW could do the right thing by fixing the damned technology so that it actually works as billed, along with funding green initiative like reforestation projects, but no.

    scribe (8:02) — I was well aware Feinberg was speaking to German audience, as I noted the ‘appetizing offer’ would be made to U.S. owners. I don’t think he thought that through whatsoever, because there’s no fricking way VW can afford to offer an acceptable settlement anywhere close to that to Germans as in U.S. without serious economic impact in Germany, and the offer to U.S. will do next to nothing for demand in EU. I think if anything this was a feint in wake of DOJ’s filing last week, as well as EU’s first stab at punitive action against future emissions controls fraud (recall the EU suggested damages of $25-30K per failed vehicle). I do agree this is pure PR, though. Vapor, hot air, as most damage control PR is.

    • bloopie2 says:

      “VW could do the right thing by fixing the damned technology so that it actually works as billed”. Sorry, I didn’t realize that was technically possible — they can rework all the affected cars worldwide to meet the emissions standards they were originally supposed to meet? Second question, would that put the company under?
      .
      Love this daily reporting of yours, by the way. Thanks.

  3. lefty665 says:

    Zika hysteria may be a little overblown. There are some skeptics suggesting that the links between Zika and microcephaly may be more coincidence than causality.

  4. Rayne says:

    lefty665 (9:14) — Hmm. The explosion of microcephaly demands more than skepticism, and pronto. The number of cases in Brazil is just mind-boggling.

    • haarmeyer says:

      Gongxi Facai. In re Chris Christie’s attitude, during New Year, it’s also auspicious to have guests from afar.

      The connection between Zika virus and microcephaly hasn’t been established yet, scientifically, and the difference between 150 cases and 440 cases (the number of confirmed cases of microcephaly, as opposed to the number of reports) is not an explosion, and is not confirmation — there is something in epidemiology called the awareness bias, and it and many other things have yet to be ruled out.

      An indication of what a Tulip mania/witch trial the thing is right now is that in 3 different and nearby countries, they are reporting different morbidities. Brazil is reporting microcephaly, Venezuela is reporting Gullian-Barre, and Colombia is reporting deaths. Interestingly, Colombia is reporting zero microcephalies in 3100 confirmed contractions of Zika by pregnant women.

      CDC wants to do all the final testing for U.S. cases. That’s because there is no direct test for Zika, since the RT-PCR test for it will also respond positively if the tested person has ever had dengue fever, for instance.

      • orionATL says:

        re #6 and #13:

        thanks.

        i appreciate the information and leanness of these two comments. i learned specific facts and info on a matter i am ignorant of but skeptical about. epidemiology is where it’s all at on this particular media-induced zika panic.

        to be clear, i am not criticising raising or talking about the issue. i am saying there is a discipline, epidemiology, which haarmeyer invokes that is very good at rooting out causes for “diseases” like microencephaly and any relationship to a vector like mosquitos and a virus.

        i am also saying that the media all rushing to the same side of the boat to report any situation almost guarantees another type of pathological condition – countrywide or worldwide misleading media info. the long-running vacination-causes-autism media-hyped controversy provides an example.

  5. Rayne says:

    haarmeyer (9:45) — Microcephaly isn’t like Aspergers or autism, where diagnostics can be years out after birth and fuzzy. It’s obvious, makes confirmation bias much less likely. Let me point back to the Discover piece I first linked 06-JAN-2016:

    As of December 22nd, there have been 2782 cases of microcephaly this year in children born to Brazilian women that report having symptoms of a Zika-like infection early in the first trimester. There have also been 80 cases of stillborns and premature neonatal deaths among pregnant women testing positive for Zika virus. These numbers represent an astonishing departure from the statistics for last year, in which only 150 cases of microcephalic babies were recorded in the country.

    But the Brazilian government is just overreacting when it warned women against getting pregnant. And WHO is overreacting by declaring a global emergency.

    I hear climate change denial pays better than Zika denial.

    • haarmeyer says:

      The figures I gave for confirmed microcephaly as opposed to reported microcephaly are not in dispute as far as I know. You should do better research. The discrepancy has nothing to do with spectrum psychological diagnoses.
      .
      WHO declares a global emergency, which translates for the U.S. as a CDC-HAN advisory (that’s one up from an update and one down from an alert), when it needs to act out of an abundance of caution, not because there is a confirmed causality.
      .
      The journalists — Discover, NYT, everybody else — are working very hard to “prove” the causality in absence of the epidemiologists saying so because they believe that they and not epidemiologists are the better researchers. They are wrong, but lots of generalist professions from journalism to law to advocacy to business administration always believe they are better at science than scientists. No change from the usual.
      .
      You have zero scientific basis for saying there is no case for awareness bias. It can’t be ruled out by how many articles have been written, or what the WHO issues for warnings. It’s proven or disproven by science, not by number of hits on a search engine.
      .
      Comparing me to a climate change denier doesn’t do it either. As I said before, pretty sure on one of your columns, I understand the science behind the global warming predictions, and have understood them since ~1983, better than most people, having both the fluid dynamics and dynamical systems background to understand the technical papers and the simulations for that neck of the woods. Besides, it’s the scientists who are all on board with that, and it isn’t the epidemiologists who are all on board with Zika claims. Maybe you need to actually understand how such things are done yourself, so you don’t confuse pop-science culture with peer reviewed scientific publications?
      .
      Nobody is saying that any of the abundance of caution coming out of the public health organizations is wrong. What is true is that there is no proven link between Zika and either microcephaly or Guillian-Barre, and such a proof shows up in journals, not in Discover. Nature maybe, it’s a journal, and has some pop-science appeal. Having done so, I can attest that even if it’s rushed, it takes some time to publish there. Peer review takes time, writing experimental results up properly takes time.
      .
      In the interim, abundance of caution is the right move, just as abundance of preparation was the right move for the Super Bowl. But no journalist or blogger is going to establish causality before the scientists do. It doesn’t work that way. And our local public health department was on alert, no time off status the last week for the Super Bowl, not for Zika.

    • lefty665 says:

      rayne @9 The relationship has not been established yet. Yes, microcephaly is explicitly diagnosable but Zika is not. Further, microcephaly is not always correctly diagnosed. For example, when the Brazilian govt looked at reported cases of microcephaly they found that only around 1/3 of the ones they tested were actually microcephaly. Also, the numbers you quote are from women with self reported Zika, not actual diagnosed cases. That number could vary greatly simply from describing mild and common symptoms experienced by many women and concluding it is Zika. These were not lab tests. Finally, there is no denominator in the number. How many cases of microcephaly are there in all, is the change really material?
      .
      I’m not suggesting that there is conclusively no relationship, just that it has not been established. Microcephaly has many causes stemming from a variety of early pregnancy brain insults, Zika may in some cases turn out to be one of them.
      .
      In the meantime coincidence does not equal causality, As I said originally, the hysteria may be a little overblown. Another example, back in the D.C. sniper reign of terror the cops were on the lookout for white work trucks because they were reported near all the shootings. Turned out they were completely innocent, there are just a lot of white work trucks, they’re everywhere. There’s a lot of Zika in the world too.

  6. bloopie2 says:

    Here’s a good one: The German government wants to be able to know, every time you spend big bucks. “German plan to impose limit on cash transactions met with fierce resistance. Proposals to ban payments above €5,000 have been condemned in country where 79% of transactions are in cash.” Sure, it may combat terrorism financing, but it also puts all your spending under stricter scrutiny by the government. I vote “no”. (Of course, we do have cash transaction reporting requirements here, but still … .)

  7. RUKidding says:

    Zika appears to be 2016’s Ebola. Definitely must be studied, etc, and pregnant women should be duly advised about potential travel concerns. That said, all of a sudden Zika is the new Ebola, and all US citizens must get duly FREAKED OUT about it. Comin’ to GIT ya!
    *
    Sheesh. Nifty distraction. Thanks, Obama! (aka, I’m sure Zika, microcephaly, VW, etc, is all his fault).

  8. Rayne says:

    bloopie2 (11:01) — Yeah, VW can produce a diesel which emits less NOX and other particulate emissions. But the cars will have ridiculously bad mileage, and the cost will be equally ridiculous. That’s why they never produced one to begin with. And if VW won’t navigate these two barriers, they’ll never make one for their own much larger market.

    • Bardi says:

      “VW can produce a diesel which emits less NOX and other particulate emissions. But the cars will have ridiculously bad mileage, and the cost will be equally ridiculous. ”

      Not so certain that is true.

      In my limited understanding, the NOx is controlled after the engine, now, with, urea. Other than using (much) more urea, it should not impact the mileage all that much.

      The fix could be software, only. In fact, bypassing the smog test vs normal use should be fairly easy, allowing the vehicle to run as if under a smog test all the time.

      The real problem is abuse of the DCMA, that part that preserves privacy for corporate publications, which includes software, especially from governments.

      • lefty665 says:

        VW was able to pass smog control testing by diddling with engine settings. If it had been as simple as more piss in the converter it seems likely they’d have done that.
        .
        To go from compliance to 14x compliance for NOX is a big number. The hit on mileage and performance from compliance seem highly likely to be profound or VW wouldn’t have risked it.
        .
        I think you’re right, the ‘fix’ could be a very simple software change from “if emissions testing then do right” to “do right”. But the howling from outraged consumers about crappy mileage and cars that wouldn’t get out of their own way might be even louder than the govts. Don’t think even VW could sell bringing back the performance of a ’67 Microbus.

        • P J Evans says:

          Having lived with a VW pickup that was build well before 1967 – that underpowered engine was a big part of the lack of performance, for the gas-powered versions. (My father put a Corvair engine in it: 80HP, and could go uphill with a load.)

            • P J Evans says:

              It didn’t quite fit in the compartment; the door was open about an inch at the bottom. It wasn’t all that unusual a thing to do: look up ‘Volksvair’. (VWs at that time had a 40HP engine. It was fine as long as you lived someplace flat.)

  9. P J Evans says:

    Or scientists pushing to kill all the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes,

    That caught my eye, also. Are they aware of how damned difficult that would be, since they inhabit a very large part of the world?
    (A mosquito-netting/window-and-door screen project that covers all of the affected area would be effective and a lot less expensive.)

  10. Rayne says:

    lefty665 (12:38) — Correct, the relationship between Zika and microcephaly has not been proven conclusively, and the women are self-reporting Zika exposure.

    BUT…I trust women to remember if they were sick or not during their pregnancy, and that’s a start. Women who get sick during pregnancy worry a lot about the health of their child; it’s not like recalling a cold one had last winter, it’s recalling a bug one had AND then worrying about it for the duration of one’s pregnancy. The problem is timing: did the women who self-reported recall Zika because they knew they were pregnant? Did a percentage not recall because they didn’t know they were pregnant at the time?

    Let’s say 20% of the 2782 cases were incorrectly linked to Zika — a swag number of cases where Zika may/may not have happened during pregnancy. Jeebus fricking cripes! We’re still looking at +15 times greater number of microcephaly cases inside a single year when microcephaly is a fairly constant occurrence across human populations — and the one single variable in Brazil this past year was an estimated +1M cases of Zika. This is why WHO declared a *global emergency,* because the rate of microcephaly alone is extreme. I’m not even looking at Guillain-Barre cases which grew dramatically inside a single year.

    I’m going to say it again: The U.S. average incidence of microcephaly is 1 in 6200 to 8500 births, or 634 to 470 total cases in 3.932M births per year. Brazil’s annual births are about 3M or 75% of US (its overall population is ~64% of the U.S. — birth rate is higher in Brazil). For previous year, 150 cases of microcephaly is much lower than U.S. rate, but 2782 cases in one year is 4-6 times U.S. rate with a 36% larger population. This is reason to be very concerned, especially if the only obvious variable is a virus approaching pandemic Phase 5-6.

    But maybe, just maybe it was the World Cup 2014, the one other remarkable, unusual event in Summer 2014. God help us, maybe futbol was the key factor in a large percentage of expectant women who delivered microcephalics. Too bad it can’t account for 30-50% of the cases.

    And as for hysteria? We can’t even get a state or federal government to replace the water lines for a city of 100,000 where children are permanently damaged by lead and other toxins thanks to the government. You think they’ll cough up money for another couple thousand infants a year with microcephaly, who’ll need aid for a lifetime? We should be far more concerned right now when we can take preventive measures, more concerned than we were with West Nile Virus. The long-term impact could be far greater than WNV.

    • haarmeyer says:

      Rayne, the problem with your analysis on the determination of Zika by self-reporting is that it’s so indeterminate even when physician reported that the CDC guidelines we’ve been issued is to err on the side of caution and never give any of those suspected of Zika virus aspirin or ibuprofen for their headaches.

      The reason for that is that if they (the treating physicians) are wrong about it being Zika, and they give NSAIDs and it turns out that it wasn’t Zika but rather dengue, there is too high a risk of provoking hemorrhage.

      If the public health people don’t even trust physicians to make that determination (keep in mind that if someone has had dengue before, their antibodies will generate a false positive in the RT-PCR test for Zika) why is it that you think the patients are so trustworthy to self-report?

      We go on from there. Most cases of reported microcephaly turn out not to be, it turns out. So combining all that together, your belief that all the self-reporting is probably accurate with 20% or less total error is probably something that needs to be proven, not assumed.

  11. Rayne says:

    Bardi (12:59) — The problem of NOX needs more than either software or urea. VW and Mercedes both use urea (VW=AdBlue, Mercedes=Bluetec) for reduction of NOX in their passenger diesel engines. The amount of urea is regulated by software in the engine control unit, the same device which has been “hacked” by VW.

    Urea poses several challenges for NOX reduction: physical restriction on exhaust flow, frequent service for urea replenishment and removal of any salts/particulates clogging the reduction system/exhaust, and avoiding freezing temps (preheaters may be needed). Uncatalyzed urea is also a pollutant, though not as noxious as NOX.

  12. Rayne says:

    haarmeyer (8:05) — It’s the fact we do not have adequate, accurate tests — and it’s the ZIKA cases, not the microcephaly, which cannot be accurately counted — which deserves immediate attention and investment.

    Prescribing aspirin for any unknown virus? Hello, Reye’s Syndrome? It doesn’t even matter if there is a remote suspicion of dengue. Aspirin is not appropriate.

    Prescribing NSAIDS for any woman who may be pregnant, let alone ill with an unknown virus? NSAIDS are NOT recommended during pregnancy, especially late in pregnancy.

    When you don’t even ken this much about NSAIDS including aspirin use in generally while parsing around dengue, I tend not to pay attention to the rest of your comments.

    • haarmeyer says:

      Your comments about Reye’s and about NSAIDs to pregnant women are irrelevant to the warning. The warning is directed at medical doctors and others who prescribe to their own patients, not at OTC users. Reye’s syndrome is generally applied in the field as a caution against giving aspirin to children. NSAIDs can and do get prescribed to pregnant women. You’re grasping at straws.

  13. lefty665 says:

    “Researchers have been looking at 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly reported since October. On Wednesday, officials said they had done a more intense analysis of more than 700 of those cases, confirming 270 cases and ruling out 462 others.” http://www.sfgate.com/news/medical/article/Brazil-270-of-4-120-suspected-microcephaly-cases-6787928.php
    .
    If that sample finding holds up over the whole 4,180 cases of microcephaly that will net about 1,600 cases which puts Brazil roughly in line with the US incidence where there has been no Zika. Brazil has not been able to correctly report microcephaly. The large increase in Brazil is both mostly fiction and exaggerated in comparison to prior year under reporting.

    The medical community in Brazil can’t successfully diagnose microcephaly, a condition with objective criteria. How the hell can we expect accurate self diagnosis and self reporting by medically untrained women of a disease with common generally mild symptoms which show up in only a portion of people infected? Low fever, rash and joint pain, those are certainly unique to Zika, isn’t it wonderful they’re so explicitly diagnostic?
    .
    My initial comment was far too conservative, the Zika hysteria is not mildly overblown, it’s Donald Trump hugely overblown. Haarmeyer’s got it right and with far better epidemiological data than I have access too.

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