All Cause Mortality

Update: I’ve got a post with the most recent data (through April 3, 2021) here.


I previously wrote about finding All-Cause Mortality Data for the USA. Since I’m seeing hits for that, and the post is somewhat old, I figured I’d make an updated post with the latest information. (As before, you can get the data here.)

And to zoom in a bit on the last year of data:

As before, disregard the blue bar all the way on the right. That data is only 10 days only, and it only starts getting close to complete at about 17 days old (i.e. after being on this chart for two updates. It isn’t fully complete until it’s two months old, though as I’ve been watching it, it tends to change very little after about 24 days (i.e. after the week has been on this chart for three updates). That said, with Christmas and New Years happening so close together, it wouldn’t surprise me if the data took a little longer to come in than usual, which would mean the most recent few weeks might be a bit under-represented.

The orange line is the “excess death” line, which is a statistical threshold that indicates when deaths (from any cause) exceed what we’d expect within normal variation, and there is probably something going on. (That said, there was a cluster of excess deaths around January 2018, and I don’t know that there was any specific cause ever found for that.) It is not constant because there tend to be more deaths in winter and fewer in summer; its exact value isn’t overly meaningful, but it works fairly well as a trend line.

As you can see, there have been three distinct waves of excess mortality, which correspond to the arrival of COVID-19, air conditioning season in the south, and winter. Whether that’s actually the cause of it, the data itself does not say, of course, though they are at least reasonable suggestions. It is also interesting to note that the magnitude of the waves is not equal; the all-cause mortality was highest in the first wave.

As I mentioned in my first post on the subject, all-cause mortality data is so important because it does not involve interpretation. Whether someone with COPD who caught COVID-19 and died was killed by COPD or COVID-19 is a matter of interpretation, and there are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides. Whether they’re dead is not a matter of interpretation. It is thus a number one can look at without having to do great research into it, and further it’s a number that can directly be compared across medical systems, countries, etc. The trade-off is, of course, that it is very limited in what it tells us. In this case it does clearly tell us that something has been going on because mortality has been elevated relative to previous years, and moreover elevated in three distinct waves. It also tells us that mortality has not been very elevated, and that the severity of the waves is not getting worse, and may even be a little bit better.

Update: I pulled down the CSV of the data and graphed just the excess deaths, to make the three waves more directly comparable.

(As in the graphs above, ignore the right-most week as the data is almost certainly significantly incomplete.)

This makes it much clearer that the third wave is, so far, a little bigger than the first. With the last week being almost certainly incomplete, there is, at present, no reason to suppose it’s over, from this graph. As I said in my previous post on the subject, I think it’s too early to make predictions. It is not, however, too early to rule out some predictions that people have made. There are certainly more than enough contradictory predictions that some of them have to be proven wrong, by now.

The Poirot Short Stories Are Interesting

A few weeks ago I bought a book of the complete Poirot short stories. I’m not through it; there are a lot of them. I’ve made a lot of progress, though.

Interestingly, the short stories are in three major groups. The first is a series of short stories written for The Sketch magazine. This comprises possibly the majority of short stories, by number, since it was a weekly magazine. The next grouping consists of various short stories that came out as one-offs. A good example of this is the short story How Does Your Garden Grow, which was originally published in Ladies’ Home Journal, and was, so far as I know, the only Poirot story ever published there. (To be fair, that was in America; it was published in Strand magazine in the UK a few months later.) Finally there was the collection of twelve short stories which made up the collection The Labours of Hercules. Each of these bore a tenuous relationship to one of the twelve labors of Hercules from Greek mythology.

(There was a series of short stories right after the ones in The Sketch magazine which then formed the novel The Big Four, but they’re a connected series of short stories rather than traditional, independent, short stories, so I’m not counting them. They’re closer to a novel first being published in serialized form than true short stories.)

One of the things I’ve found interesting about the Poirot short stories is how often they are not fair play mysteries; in many cases they’re not even so much mysteries as they are tales of something interesting. They are told in a mystery format. In The Nemean Lion, for example, (spoiler alert) the reader has no real way to guess that one of the lady’s companions has a trained Pekingese dog which gets substituted for the real one and is trained, once its leash is cut, to run home. Frankly, there was no need for such a solution; if the Lady’s Companion was in on it, a confederate to walk the Pekingese home would have worked just as well. Further, that Poirot’s client was poisoning his wife in order to be able to marry his secretary was justified by what was said, but was a shot in the dark even for Poirot. It was an entertaining story to read, but mostly because of the revelations and not because of any sort of detection. It was interesting to find out the unusual criminal enterprise and the revelation that the apparently dumb Lady’s companion—who herself complained about being untrained and unskilled—was an organizational criminal genius.

I find this sort of short story curious because I had been used to thinking of short stories as being primarily about setting up complex puzzles with ingenious solutions. On the other hand, The Labours of Hercules dates from 1939 through 1947 (though most were published in 1940), and short stories were probably changing by then. It would be a while before the market for short stories fell out, but tastes were undoubtedly changing, especially as we’re getting into early World War II, here.

To some degree this is just a historical curiosity. I think that the market for short stories is never coming back. It’s moved into television and the streaming that is replacing television. It’s interesting to look at short stories, though, since they were so influential in the early development of the mystery genre.

Progress!

So, I’ve finally begun work on the text of the third chronicle of Brother Thomas. Up til now, I’ve been working on what really happened, developing characters, working out plot elements, etc. Now, I’ve finally begun work on the part that people will actually read (God willing). My working title for it had been He Didn’t Drown in the Lake, but I’m now leaning more towards The Corpse in Crystal Lake. Both are tentative titles, so we’ll see what I decide on when I’m done with the novel. Here’s the first paragraph:

It began, as so many things do for small businesses, with a referral, made on the morning of the thirtieth day of June, in the year of our Lord 2015. Properly speaking, the Franciscan Brothers of Investigation did not a run a business, for they did not charge their clients, but then it was no ordinary referral, either. It would be some time before Brother Thomas would learn of the referral, but the effects of it he learned within the hour.

This is, of course, a first draft, and everything is subject to change.

By the way, if anyone is interested in being a test reader for me and reading chapters as I finish the first draft of them, let me know. (Having read my previous Brother Thomas novels is not a requirement for this.)

It’s been a difficult year for getting writing work done. Overall I’ve been doing extremely well, considering. My family is in good health and my job hasn’t been affected by COVID. The big problem is really that my children haven’t been able to go anywhere, so they’ve needed me quite a lot. Perhaps it’s ironic, but I’m an introvert who has had almost no time alone since COVID-19 hit. Things could be wildly worse, but it’s been very hard to muster up creative energy, or perhaps it’s creative focus I’ve found difficult. Anyway, between things stabilizing out a bit and I’ve been figuring out how to get my ideas in order on shorter notice and with less contiguous writing time available. This has the potential to mean that more editing time will be needed, but I’m trying to help that with more careful planning before I start. Now I’ve got so many files with notes in them that flipping between them is starting to take time!

There’s always something, isn’t there?