Friday, August 27, 2021

Press Release for Festival of Books in the Alleghenies





Local Author Selected For Regional Festival

(Ebensburg, PA) This year, Ebensburg will be host to The Festival of Books in the Alleghenies which will be held on Saturday, September 18, 2021 from 9AM until 4PM in Historic Ebensburg. This 4th annual regional festival is free to attend and will feature about 50 authors, local music, a children's area, writing workshops and storytellers. Proceeds from the festival will benefit county literacy initiatives. The Festival is a fund under the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies.

Local author, Paul Ricci, has been selected to be one of the authors at this year’s event. Ricci is a statistician who was born and lives in Johnstown, PA. He tracks coronavirus numbers for Cambria County, loves bicycling, and teaches at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College. He also blogs on statistics and a wide variety of issues at CSI without Dead Bodies ( The title is a pun on the TV Show CSI.


For more information visit the event webpage at



Hope to see you all on Sept. 18

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Debacle in Afghanistan was Bound to Happen No Matter How Long We Stayed

We are hearing a chorus of shock at how fast the Taliban took control of Afghanistan a few weeks after the US withdrew its combat forces.  By contrast, it took almost 2 years for the South Vietnamese government to fall after the US withdrew.  In both cases, we had no understanding of their culture and were propping up an unpopular puppet government.  

An argument was made that the invasion of Afghanistan was more justified than the Vietnam war was because the Taliban harbored al Qaida when they attacked us on 9/11.  The Taliban did offer to hand Osama bin Laden et al. over in return for showing them the evidence of their involvement in the attack.  It was rejected out of hand by the Bush administration.  We will never know sincere this offer was.  If Bush had complied with the request and the Taliban had reciprocated, thousands of lives and trillions of dollars could have been saved.

Polls have shown that the average Afghan never heard of the 9/11 attacks.  They only knew that we were attacking them 12 years after we supported them against the Soviet Union.  After we launched our invasion in 2001, the Taliban melted away just as quickly as they retook the country.  In the meantime, we launched our invasion of Iraq and turned it into yet another breeding ground for terrorism.  The Afghanistan papers discussed above showed many of the same private doubts by U.S. political and military leaders that they had in Vietnam but they kept pushing ahead in both cases and lied to the public.

Vietnam should have taught us the limits of US military power.  It is meaningless without popular legitimacy.  The Vietnamese and the Afghans used many of the same tactics against us that we used against the British in the American Revolution.

Concerns about how women will be treated there are legitimate.  We should remember that it was only 101 years ago that women won the right to vote in this country after many years of disappointment and struggle.  In the Victorian era it was considered obscene for a woman to expose here ankles.  These things were eventually changed without dropping bombs on people.  There are far fewer hard feelings when it works out that way.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The Pandemic's 5th Wave

There have been many news reports on Coronavirus surges in the U.S. recently, especially among the unvaccinated in the south.  The graph above shows that Cambria County is experiencing its 5th surge in COVID-19 cases.  The first surge was in the Spring of 2020.  The second was from late July to early August of last year.  The third was after Donald Trump's visits to the area (by Jr and Sr) from October to December and was by far the worst.  The fourth occurred from mid March to mid April of this year.  


We are now seeing a 5th surge following super-spreader events such as Thunder in the Valley.  The surge began on July 10 when there was a 7 day new case average of 0.71 cases per day to an average of 10.14 cases per day as of this writing.  The last death in the county was reported on July 1.  There have been 35 straight days with no new reported deaths since then.  The above graph shows that the number of cases hospitalized have decreased to a low of 3 on July 19 but has since risen to 12 as of this writing. As of yet there has been no corresponding increase in the number of cases on a ventilator.   

The graph at the left shows that a similar pattern is occurring in the state of Pennsylvania in the number of new cases.  The graph below shows that there has not yet been a corresponding increase in the number of deaths.  If the rise in the number of cases continues to accelerate, this luck will eventually run out. 

The vaccine rollout being given to the most vulnerable populations first makes it unlikely that the surge in cases and deaths will reach the awful levels seen last fall and winter. The slowing vaccination rate means that smaller surges can happen.  I have no information on how many new cases are due to the delta variant in the county.  The delta variant is not resistant to the vaccines.  The nightmare scenario is that a new variant could evolve that is resistant to the vaccines.  This would put us back to where we started with the pandemic.  Get the shots.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Cuba a Failed State?

The news media has recently reported on President Biden's calling Cuba a failed state.  There have been demonstrations there due to the corona virus pandemic.  The Cuban president responded by pointing out that the 60 year embargo of Cuba has exacerbated shortages of medical supplies and other basic resources.  I thought I would compare how Cuba is faring compared to surrounding island nations Jamaica and Haiti and to the U.S.

The graph above is from the Gapminder Institute showing income and life expectancy for the four countries.  We see that while per capita income is much higher in the U.S. than Cuba, life expectancy in years is virtually the same in both countries with Jamaica and Haiti lagging behind.  Infant mortality rates (an indication of the health of the infant and the mother) is actually 40% lower in Cuba (4/1,000 births) than the U.S. (5.6/1,000), as seen in the table below, followed by the Jamaica (13.5/1,000) and Haiti (52.2/1,0000).  

Income per capita

Life Expectancy (years)

Infant Mortality per 1,000 births

COVID Case Mortality %

Covid deaths per 100,000

























The life expectancy and infant mortality data are from the World Health Organization from 2018 before the pandemic.  Johns-Hopkins University has been tracking mortality and cases for each nation from the Coronavirus.  The case mortality is 2.6 times higher for COVID in the U.S. (1.8%) compared to Cuba (0.7%) with higher rates in Jamaica (2.3) and Haiti (2.6).  The population adjusted death rate from COVID is more than 10 times higher in the US (185.61) than Cuba (17.35).  Haiti so far has a low death rate due to a low case rate.

Some may want to dismiss these numbers from the WHO and Johns-Hopkins due to their political beliefs.  The CIA (hardly a radical leftwing organization) also does estimates of life expectancy for each country in the world.  They estimate Cuba's life expectancy to be 79.41 years.  Haiti's is estimated to be 65.61 years. Jamaica's is estimated to be 73.71 years.  U.S.'s is estimated to be 80.43 years.

You can say what you want about the political system in Cuba, the mortality data do not indicate poorer outcomes there relative to their Caribbean neighbors and the U.S.  The U.S. embargo has given the Cuban government a convenient scapegoat for their problems,  the U.S.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Higher COVID-19 Case Rates Outside of Johnstown: Even When Excluding Prisons

Coronavirus cases have slowed over the 4th of July holiday so I thought I would take a look at how they are now distributed throughout Cambria County.  This is what the distribution of cases in the county looked like in the image below on Dec 13 when the rise in cases and deaths was at its height.

Below the image at the right is the image from the PA Dept of Health website from today.  There, we see some darker colors in the central part of the Cambria County.  (I wish blogger would let me put the images side by side.)  The graph at the top shows the testing, positivity and case rates for each of the zip codes in Johnstown (15901-15909), Ebensburg (where the county jail is located), Loretto (where a federal prison is located), the county as a whole and the state.  

In the graph, there is a high positivity and case rate for the 15940 zip code (Loretto) while the testing rate is not especially high there.  A Federal Correctional Institution is located there called FCI Loretto as well as St. Francis University.  Only active cases are reported by the federal department of corrections on their website.  FCI Loretto reached its height in active cases on December 12.


Testing Rate

Positive rate


% change pos

% Change in cases

Total Johnstown






Outside Johnstown






Outside Johnstown & Ebensburg






Outside Johnstown, Ebensburg, & Loretto






Cambria Total






In the table above, I compared the rates of infection and the positivity rates for the city of Johnstown (zip codes 15901-15909) to the rest of the county, the rest of the county outside of Ebensburg and Johnstown, the rest of the county outside of Ebensburg, Johnstown, and Loretto, and Cambria County as a whole.  We see that the rates for Johnstown are 23% lower than the rest of the county for the positivity rate and likewise we see a 50% difference in the population adjusted case rates.  When we exclude Ebensburg and Johnstown from the county totals we we an additional 1% increase in the positivity rate and a 7% increase in the case rate.  When we exclude Ebensburg, Johnstown, and Loretto from the county totals, we see a 6% decrease in the positive rate and a 13% decrease in the case rate.  The case rate in the area outside of Johnstown, Ebensburg and Loretto is still 13% higher than the overall county rate.  The positivity rate is 3% higher for for this area compared to the rest of the county.

The testing rates for the three partitions of Cambria County are higher than the Johnstown rate.  Does this mean that there needs to be more testing inside of the six zip codes that make up Johnstown?  More testing is usually done when someone presents with symptoms.  I do not have vaccination or mortality data at the zip code level so some questions I cannot answer.

Hopefully on a lighter note, I remind you all that I will be having a discussion of my book at Classic Elements this Saturday at 1PM.  You are all welcome.  They are located at 314 Main St. in Johnstown, PA 15901.

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Friday, June 25, 2021

100 COVID-19 Deaths in Cambria County Since the Candlelight Vigil

I couldn't stay away from the Coronavirus pandemic in the area for long.  On January 19, In This Together: Cambria County held a candlelight vigil next to the Stone Bridge in Johnstown in honor of the 340 who died from the virus since the pandemic began here on March 23.  There was one candle for each of the deceased.  As of today, June 25, the death toll in the county reached 440, an increase of 100.  

The graph below shows the trend in deaths in the county since the first case was reported.  The first death occurred on April 7 of 2020.  Since the awful months of November through January, the number of deaths has decreased but have not ceased.  The 7 day average has hovered between 0.14 per day and 1 per day since April 8.  April 8 was the last day the 7 day death rate reached zero.


This is not to say that there are no encouraging signs of progress in the battle against the virus.  The 7 day average for new cases (2.29/day) is now at its lowest level since Sept 17 of last year (2.14/day).  Likewise, the number of patients on a ventilator (1) in the county is at its lowest level since November 7.  

The graph above shows that the new cases have decreased while the vaccination rates have increased, there are still areas of concern.  Vaccination rates have slowed from 891.1 full vaccinations per day on April 17th to 148.4 per day today.  Currently, 41.25% of the county is fully vaccinated. 40.3% of vaccine eligible Caucasians are fully vaccinated in the county while 18.4% of African Americans are.

With Thunder in the Valley coming to town there is the potential for another super spreader event like the Trump rallies last fall.  The more people at the rally who are vaccinated the less likely this event is to occur.  Highlands Health is offering free vaccinations at the rally but even if they are receiving the second shot the vaccine can take three weeks to take effect.  It will take a few weeks after the rally to see if there is an increase in cases which could fuel an increase in deaths.

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