Don’t Panic, Pt. 6: Swedish factor

The days are all running together, but apparently we had Passover this week, and the Israeli government took the opportunity to temporarily but fully lock down the nation. I know that this is economically, psychologically, emotionally straining (I think the vernacular is “it’s a sh*tshow”), but for now I’m still okay with these extreme measures. The reason I’m okay is Sweden.

I’m trying to scroll less and take news breaks. I find the site that interests me most is featured on The Times of Israel related to the coronavirus.

9pm

9pm, Saturday night

See the Coronvirus Worldmeter? That’s my go-to site.

This week, I saw a little clip about Sweden’s policy of not closing down the nation and allowing people to “use their common sense.” Culturally, Swedes are quite fine with working from home, they aren’t overly social, they don’t have multiple generations living together. It’s not exactly a “herd immunity” argument, but it does suggest that healthy, younger, less-vulnerable people can go about their business as usual while vulnerable people should be isolated.

Sweden is of interest to me because they have a similar population to Israel: Sweden, 10.1 million; Israel, 8.6 million.

**Note: I’m not a statistician or an epidemiologist, and I know the comparisons below are not scientific.**

Israel and Sweden have a similar number of confirmed coronavirus cases. I tend not to follow that number because it’s based on testing capacity. You can see on the site that Israel is testing twice as much as Sweden is.

I follow the number of deaths (no, not because I’m morbid). This number is also a bit flawed. What if someone died but didn’t get tested for coronavirus? If they died of regular flu or pneumonia or didn’t get treatment in the ICU because it was crowded, is it counted in the corona deaths? I don’t think so, but these are the numbers we have.

Ready?

As of this writing: Israel has a total of 97 deaths. Sweden has a total of 887.

Now one might argue that Scandinavia in general has more deaths. Nope. Finland has 49. Norway has 117. Denmark has 260. Lock down nations all, and their populations range from 5.4 to 5.7 million.

The main “herd immunity” experiment was in the UK (67.8 million people). They have since walked it back and locked down (mostly). They even had their prime minister in the ICU this week. How are they doing? 9,875 total deaths with around 900 per day most of this week.

Israel’s first death was March 20, and the “closed case” statistic is 93% recover, 7% die.

Sweden’s first death was March 11, and the “closed case” statistic is 30% recover, 70% die. I can’t even begin to speculate why there is such a huge difference.

Sweden’s death graph tends to be up and down (it’s reality, not a projection, after all). Most of this week saw 75-114 deaths per day, but only 17 so far today. It remains to be seen if in the long term Sweden’s strategy will work.

Israel was ranked number 1 in COVID-19 safety by Deep Knowledge Group. So even though we are going through something resembling a science fiction/dystopian future movie, I feel pretty good about how Israel is doing.

But I have some complaints.

  1. Families around the nation were forbidden from meeting or traveling to other cities and even shut in their homes on the evening of the Seder, and yet somehow our president and prime minister managed to meet with their adult children. Way to lead by example, guys! At a minimum, they should be fined 5,000 NIS like others have been.
  2. Flights were bringing Israelis home from around the world and passengers were not checked for the virus or put in quarantine. They just took taxis home. Way to be organized, guys! So Netanyahu cancelled all flights to Israel.
  3.  The government is not yet formed, and there is no exit strategy for the lock down. Way to put egos aside for the good of the country, guys!
  4. I keep saying “guys,” not because I’m sloppily generalizing, I’m saying it because it’s mostly men in charge of this sh*tshow.

***

Even so, there are still glimmers of light in the darkness.

One of my best scrolling experiences this week comes from the Facebook group View from my window. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it’s beautiful, inspiring, and reminds us that we are all in this together.

Speaking of sh*tshows, this is the meme that made me laugh the hardest this week (from The Language Nerds on Facebook).

meme

Stay healthy! Stay home!

Stay sane! Stay safe! 

 

Hey, is that an elephant in the room?

With all the fuss about William Barr’s 4-page summary of the Mueller report, I decided it might be worthwhile to read it.

The line that caught my attention and the line that no one seems to be talking about is:

The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.

 

Russian meddling is not alleged or suspected. It is a verifiable fact.

Since I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere, I thought, “How often does a foreign power interfere with elections?” There’s a Wikipedia page about it.

There we find that in the 2016 US election, Russia intervened, Ukraine tried, and there’s some suspicion about Saudi Arabia.

Guess who interferes in elections more than any other government in the world, and by a large margin too?

The. United. States.

One study indicated that the country intervening in most foreign elections is the United States with 81 interventions, followed by Russia (including the former Soviet Union) with 36 interventions from 1946 to 2000 – an average of once in every nine competitive elections.

This study was done by Dov Levin, an Israeli scholar who started his academic career at Haifa University.

His research shows that the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia use covert or overt “partisan election interventions.” Influence tends to swing the vote by 2 to 3 percent. Sometimes that’s enough, sometimes not. (He published his academic article in February 2016.)

He notes that two things need to happen in order for intervention to take place – he calls them motive and opportunity – “a great power must perceive its interests as being endangered by a certain candidate or party within a democratic target … a significant domestic actor must consent to, and willingly cooperate with, a proposed electoral intervention by the great power.” The willing actor need not be the candidate.

In September 2016, Levin published an article in the Washington Post giving a synopsis of his research and said that the Soviet Union/Russia had meddled unsuccessfully in US elections two times previously (1948 and 1984). At the time, he said that Russian interference would likely be ineffective as the United States is a “hard target,” but Putin’s end goal would be “anyone but Hillary.”

In December 2018, Levin published an article stating that it would be unlikely for Mueller to prove that Trump colluded with Russia.

if possible collusion between the Trump camp and Russia occurred along the lines of past cases, the number of people who would know or who were involved in the collusion in the Trump campaign is probably quite small. Many senior members of the Trump campaign, including some of those personnel with ties to Russia, would likely have had no clue of such collusion going on. It may well be possible that even Trump was kept in the dark by those in his campaign who might have conspired with Russia.

Another obvious difficulty is that colluders are not taking notes and keeping records of their activities. Anyone who has seen even one episode of Law & Order knows that you can’t prosecute without hard evidence.

And then I started wondering about the numbers in the 2016 election. Did Russian meddling have an effect?

I’m not a statistician, but here are a few things I found interesting.

  • The trend in the 2016 election was for most states to shift toward the Republican side.
  • In many cases, the shift was not enough to swing a blue state to a red state.
  • In 4 states, the margin of victory was less than 1 percent. Together they equal 50 Electoral College votes (or enough to change the election result).
    • Michigan
    • New Hampshire
    • Pennsylvania
    • Wisconsin
  • Compared with the 2012 election, only 1 state (29 EC votes) had a margin of victory of less than 1 percent, and in the 2008 election, it was 2 states (26 EC votes). In neither case was it enough to change the outcome of the election.
  • Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were blue states in the 2012 election, all shifted toward red, but only New Hampshire (4 EC votes) stayed blue.

Then I took an even closer look.

State Clinton Trump Other parties
Michigan 47.27% 47.5% 5.46%
Pennsylvania 47.46% 48.18% 5.08%
Wisconsin 46.45% 47.22% 7.09%

Neither major party got 50 percent of the vote, and the non-major parties got more than 3 percent of the vote (the number of votes Levin says a foreign power can influence). If Levin is correct and Putin wanted “anyone but Hillary” in office, these numbers seem to suggest that.

Let me add a few more statistics for comparison. These are popular vote percentages (due to rounding, they don’t always add up to exactly 100 percent).

Election Year Democrat Republican Other
2016 48.18% 46.09% 5.73%
2012 51.06% 47.2% 1.73%
2008 52.93% 45.65% 1.45%
2000 (Gore v. G.W. Bush) 47.87% 48.38% 3.75%
1992 (Clinton v. G.H.W. Bush v. Perot) 43.01% 37.45% 19.54%

I added the 2000 and 1992 elections to show that 3rd party candidates can have an influence on the elections – in 2000 in favor of the Republicans and in 1992 in favor of the Democrats, when a viable 3rd party candidate broke the Republican party.

What does all this mean?

  • I’m bothered that foreign interference in a sovereign country’s elections is treated as “business as usual.”
  • I wonder if the interference caused enough Americans to reject both parties, and it was a tossup whether it would favor the Democrats or the Republicans. In any case, the voting statistics show a divided nation with more people considering 3rd party candidates.
  • Maybe the strategy to determine how to tip the Electoral College was suggested by an entity that had a preferred outcome.
  • Did the United States get a taste of its own medicine in 2016? Is this a harbinger of a new world order?
  • We may never know everyone who colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, or at least we may not have enough solid evidence, but we do know Russia interfered and Putin got the result he wanted.
  • Israel’s election is coming up on April 9 and I’m feeling more cynical than ever.

Goodbye 2018!

~~ My computer is back! ~~

It’s good to take a minute and look back over the year.

My goals for this blog were to write about life in Israel and make a practice of showing up to the page. I can count this year as a success for both those goals. I wrote fewer words overall than in years past and fewer blog posts, but I hope that means my writing is becoming sharper and more concise (probably not always…).

People visited my page from 54 countries!

2018 map

Leaving aside the United States (#1) and Israel (#2), the top 10 countries were:

Germany
Finland
Canada
United Kingdom
Australia
India
Japan
Italy
China
Ireland

Surprises further down the list:

Six people from United Arab Emirates visited.

Four people from Pakistan stopped by.

One person each came from Bangladesh, Gibraltar, and Fiji.

Overall, I had more visitors this year than in years past and I had the most visitors in September.

I’m hesitant to write resolutions for 2019 for this blog, but my hopes are to write about different things (life in Israel will still be the main topic), try some experimental posts (I’m not sure about this yet), and write more reviews of things I’m listening to, reading, and watching (I’ve had a lot of fun with those posts this year).

I know. Hopes won’t get you anywhere unless you have a plan. I’m working on it.

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all good things for 2019!

May it be the best year yet!

#100

Drum roll please!

This is the 100th post on my blog.

When I started, I’m not sure that I imagined that I would consistently post every week and eventually get to a 3-digit number.  But here we are!

People from 50 different countries have visited my blog (and thank you very much for dropping by!).

World Map

It’s no surprise that most of my visitors come from Israel and the US (in that order).  Countries on the list that surprised me are Kenya, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan.

The top 10 countries are:

  1. Israel
  2. US
  3. France
  4. UK
  5. Germany
  6. Romania
  7. Poland
  8. Canada
  9. New Zealand
  10. Japan

My most popular post was the one I wrote about Tai Chi in Israel.  It was popular because my Tai Chi school posted it on their site and it got a lot of attention (compared to my other posts).  It had 305 views from around the world.

The 100th post is a milestone that made me think about what I want to do with this site.  Perhaps I should just close it.  After all, I don’t get a lot of readership and I just write for myself really.  But that line of thought didn’t feel right.  I don’t want to get famous and have a viral blog.  I do want to try to commit to writing more and about different things.  So far this blog has been about life in Israel, but I have many other interests and I want to explore writing about those.

In honor of my 100th post and to symbolize my increased commitment, I’ve upgraded my blog to a WordPress “personal” blog, so that I could have my own domain name.

Welcome to

thewriteplaceforme.com!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll consider what it is that I want to accomplish with the next 100 posts and where I’d like to be at #200.

This blog started with emails to my friends and family about life in Israel and that primary mission won’t change, but I do want to expand my content a bit.

I have even considered going back and rewriting a few posts – although that may be just a writing exercise for myself and those revisions won’t show up here.

I have a lot to think about.  The first step was just making the commitment and I’ve done it.