Book Review: John C. Wright’s The Golden Age

Short and sweet: The Golden Age, first of a trilogy, is fun book, set thousands of years in the future yet strangely appropriate to our own time. Packed with memorable characters and Wright’s usual boatload of fascinating ideas. Read it now.

This book, along with the rest of the trilogy – The Phoenix Exultant and the Golden Transcendence – were about eye-high, when I’m seated, in the bookcase to my left where the SF&F I’m supposed to have read by now is kept. The education stuff, once seated in my office, is above eye level straight ahead, and thus easier to ignore…

Just finished rereading this, noticed I’d never reviewed it. Reminds me of Lord of the World in one critical respect: it asks the question – what if things work out? What if the promised Golden Age is indeed brought about by human effort? Benson sets his story right about now, and the ‘technology’ that succeeds is centralized control of everything – a plausible enough fantasy for the earliest years of the 20th century, before WWI, the Russian Revolution, WWII and the Cold War made it seem too fantastical. Wright sets his story many thousands of years into the future, and gives hints about all the wars and troubles humanity went through to get there, but, by this time, (almost) all people – vanilla and enhanced, and machine intelligences, and collective minds – believe they are in a Golden Age, free from want and violence, free to enjoy fantasies both mundane and esoteric.

Both Benson and Wright address: What could possibly go wrong?

One exception is our protagonist, Phaeton, son of unimaginably brilliant and rich Helion, who is attending the once-in-a-millennium months-long party known as the Transcendence. Here, along with entertainments and competitions, possible future scenarios for the next thousand years will be presented for public approval. These scenarios are worked out by the Peers – the richest, most powerful minds in the Solar System, of which Helion is one – with the aid of sophotechs – strictly computer intelligences that run everything for maximum human comfort and freedom, after a fashion. Once a consensus on a desirable future is reached, the sophotechs will do whatever is necessary to make it happen.

Technology has advanced to the point where no one need see or experience or remember anything they don’t want. Depending on individual wealth, a person might live in a vivid construct of their own design, produced and managed by their own sophotech, if they’ve got one. Individuality is expressed in what kind of construct one chooses to live in, and under what rules. Should it be ‘realistic’? Should all pleasures and pains be enhanced? Beautiful? Under what standard of beauty?

A person can choose where to be within these various constructs, whether to see things as they appear to the naked eye, to filter out unpleasant things, to add more pleasant things, or to simply become immersed in a complete dreamworld. People can chose to see the world from other people’s ‘perspective’ – that is, within the constructs and rules other have chosen. Memories and minds themselves can be recorded, stored, transferred, and destroyed.

All sophotechs cooperate in creating the Earth Mind, which is the greatest intelligence in the Solar System, who keeps everything pleasant and peaceful, and to whom all turn for guidance.

The sophotechs will not, however, interfere with human desires that are merely self-destructive. Private rights, including property rights, are pretty much absolute. It’s a libertarian paradise, up to a point. The Peers are unimaginably wealthy, and like it that way. People routinely join group minds, which is, effectively, suicide after the manner, but much more pleasantly than, being assimilated by the Borg. Or submerge themselves in a dream world from which they can never be reawakened.

Phaeton quickly realizes something is wrong in his beautiful dreamworld, something he can’t quite remember. Wandering the vast parklands created for the Transcendence, he encounters a cryptic old man who offers a few baffling hints, and a strange blue Neptunian. The Neptunians are among the few who aren’t enraptured by the current state of affairs, and thus live past Neptune out where they can enjoy a degree of freedom – miserable (by comparison) lonely freedom.

The Neptunian tries repeatedly to get Phaeton to accept some seemingly harmless direct mental interactions, to grant some direct access to his mind, which Phaeton rejects. The Neptunian hastily departs just as Atkins, the last soldier and the one mind in the Oecomene left who can wield deadly violence for the state, shows up, and yet another cryptic encounter befalls Phaeton.

The story then deploys the amnesia device: protagonist wanders from clue to clue, trying desperately to discover what he has forgotten. He discovers his memories are locked away somewhere, and that he agreed to their removal, and agreed not to retrieve them…

Wright fertile imagination always supplies many characters to his stories. Here, among many others, we meet Gannis, a group mind and an adversary, Daphne, Phaeton’s wife, Helion, his tragic father, and, best of all, Radamanthus, the house sophotech for Helion’s and Phaeton’s manor house. Radamanthus has a wonderful sense of humor, appearing in the constructs sometimes as a portly butler, sometimes a geometric figure, but, usually, as a penguin.

The book ends with what is almost literally a cliffhanger, after a trial scene reminiscent of the climax of heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel. On to the Phoenix Exultant.

Statistics, Voodoo, and Medical Misadventures

Dr. Kildare, washing his d*mn hands!

People don’t become doctors because they are good at or even interested in science. They become doctors because they want to help people. Some may be good at science and math, but that’s almost a coincidence, when it happens. It’s possible for a motivated but untalented person to cram enough biology and chemistry to get by without every really understanding any of it.* This disjunction between medicine and science is evident in the history of medicine. See, for example, the story of what it took, and how long it took, for doctors to accept that they needed to wash their hands.

That said, I for one am very grateful to doctors – like many if not most people, I have had a couple occasions in my life where, without expert medical intervention, I would have ended up crippled or possibly dead. So, thanks, doctor-persons!

But we would do well to remember that doctors, as doctors, are not, in fact, scientists. In fact, a brief look at the vast panorama of quackery at large today reveals doctors are behind a depressing amount of it – fad diets and treatments that make bloodletting and bell-ringing sound pretty reasonable by comparison. (Look up Dr. Kellogg sometimes.) The drive and ambition that gets one through medical school has very little to do with a love for science and logic.

There’s this thing let’s call mathematical or perhaps scientific intuition. It is the ability to look at something represented with numbers, and understand what it is trying to tell you and, more important, what it can and can’t tell you.

Like just about any talent, mathematical intuition seems to have both nature and nurture components. I’ve got it to some minor degree, but I’ve also nurtured it for decades now, so I seem to be pretty good at, I think. Note that this has little to do with mathematical skills: The hardest math I can do is the Black – Scholes calculations, which, at the level I can do them, would entail *very* light derivative calculus and super-easy multiple regression analysis – stuff you can do in Excel. I’ve been too lazy to get very good at math. But I made a career out of well-honed mathematical intuition.

In the finance world, it’s a huge, as in HUGE, advantage to be able to look at some numbers and quickly figure out what they’re telling you. In this field, it’s a common, but by no means ubiquitous, talent. Suffice it to say that a lot of finance numbers don’t quite mean what they seem, and that, without an understanding of what goes into them, they can easily lead you very far astray.

But doctors are very unlikely to have any mathematical intuition, and less likely to hone it over time – it’s just not what they do. Except when they do, such as in developing or applying protocols based on statistical analysis.

Having doctors develop and apply protocols based on their understanding of what statistics mean is not a formula from which we should expect happy results. Two example, and these are from memory and a decade or more out of date, current situation may be better, etc., but since they are illustrative, I going to be lazy and not look them up:

Blood pressure: we’ve all heard 120/80 as the Holy Grail, and those are good numbers. However, turns out that 120/80 is not measurably more healthy than 135/85 – the actual statistics don’t show the dreaded uptick in problems associated with high blood pressure until you get above those numbers. Also, there is an alarming assumption of homogeneity: that everybody within a group, usually and age or weight group, with the same blood pressure is equally likely to have the same reaction. Are they? It would be surprising if, in fact, blood pressure had the same meaning across all people – maybe it does, could be, but when I looked into this, I didn’t see anything but wide bands assembled for analysis. People were just grouped – male, 50-55, with a BMI of something, etc.

The science guy in me – my mathematical intuition – really wants to know about other details for these people thus grouped: Any body-builder or distance runners in there? How about couch potatoes, or people with other health problems? Are we really assuming everyone in this group is effectively ‘the same’? Really?

Now doctors are going to follow protocols based on their understanding of what all this means: the protocol is (or, at least was as of a few years ago) that adult males under a certain age must have a 120/80 reading, or drugs will be prescribed as needed to get them there.** Now, there is a certain amount of wisdom in shooting for numbers that are a) very common in healthy people, and b) providing a little buffer beneath the danger zone, but there should also be some wiggle room in there, it seems to me. Knowing what constitutes acceptable wiggle room would require not just understanding the medical issues, but some *mathematical intution* about what the numbers are telling you.

Also, if you follow the protocols, it makes it harder for you to get sued. So, what might have started as guidelines end up as laws carved in stone.

Second example: salt intake. Take a thousand people with high blood pressure, say, an average of 140/90. Have them all cut their salt intake. It is very likely that the average will drop, maybe to 135/85. Conclusion: salt intake causes blood pressure to go up; reducing salt intake causes blood pressure to go down. Therefore, the protocol is developed to tell people with high blood pressure to cut salt intake.

Anybody see the obvious problem in here? Beuler?

Turns out that salt intake really does affect blood pressure – for around 30% of people with high blood pressure. For the other 70%, no amount of salt that any person with functioning taste buds would ever put on their food in real life has any effect at all. But, if you just see the results – we had a thousand people cut salt, and their average blood pressure dropped – and had no mathematical intuition, the conclusion as expressed in a protocol is obvious: people with high blood pressure should cut their salt intake.

Thus, doctors waste their social capital by telling people to make a very difficult change – cutting salt for somebody with a lifetime of eating habits can be very difficult and miserable – on recommendations that only help a minority of people. (There’s also a deficit in some doctors’ understanding how their orders affect the people getting them, that people generally trust and even love their doctors, and when they fail, as they generally do, in making the changes the doctor tells them to make, they feel bad about it, want to stay away from the doctor, don’t even try to follow his next recommendation, and in general do more harm than good.)

This general and demonstrable lack of mathematical intuition in the medical world is another contributing factor in my insistence on looking at the COVID 19 models and numbers myself: they have been processed by doctors, and therefore, almost certainly fundamentally misunderstood.

And, yes, they have been.

One final tragedy here, the one that will haunt and curse us for years to come: If you lack mathematical intuition, reality will almost always seem to back you up! 120/80 really is a good blood pressure! Few people with it die from heart trouble! On average, reducing salt really does lower blood pressure!

And the spread of infections really does drop when you do a bunch of reasonable-sounding things all at the same time across entire populations. That 95% of those things don’t do anything for 95% of the people will be masked by looking at the big numbers only, and refusing to consider the heterogeneity of the underlying situations. Add emotions flamed white-hot by incessant panic-mongering, and – well, here we are.

The transition to voodoo is all but invisible, and has already taken place: the medicine man must perform the ritual before dawn, or the sun will not rise! Ignore those heretics with their telescopes and astrolabes! We can’t take the risk! Pay up the offering! Or else!

We will be told, over and over and over again, how we were only spared DOOOOOM by doing what our betters told us to do: wearing masks, social distancing, shuttering millions of businesses, and discarding the constitutionally-guaranteed right to free assembly; and that, if we don’t want DOOOOM this fall, we’ll have to – HAVE TO!!!! – do it all over again. Any who say anything against this are heretics, and want people to die.

*For what it’s worth (hint: not much) read somewhere, years ago, that doctors have an average IQ of about 105 – very slightly above the general average. So, just a little smarter than the average bear. But: doctors have very large ambition and drive. So, you tend to end up with people who are justifiably proud of their achievement – medical school is hard – but really not all that smart. They then have to tell people what to do in emotionally intense situations. And they don’t understand science. So, if you push back (as I have, on occasion,very politely) it’s hard for them to process. Not all, by any means, and to greatly varying degrees – but I’d be surprised to meet very many people who have not run across a doctor or two with delusions of godhead.

** I learned all this because, of course, I developed high blood pressure some years ago, and was prescribed a bunch of drugs, some of which really messed with my sleep and general well-being. Getting the doctor to cut the meds made him uncomfortable, although he’s a great guy and all that, because there’s a *protocol* for how much and in what order different drugs are prescribed. When I told him I’d be happy to accept the (non-existent) risk of shooting for a 135/85 reading, he wasn’t too enthusiastic.

Errors: A Target Rich Environment (yes, the d*mn virus)

As I get older, I get a glimmer into how odd I really am. Not that I think I’m all that different than anybody else in this regard, we’re each weird in our own way. For today’s post, I’m trying to remember that I simply process information in what is evidently an unusual way.

Example I’ve mentioned before: when we studied Euclid in freshman year lo these many decades ago, 9 times out of 10 I would look at the drawing, read the proposition – done. Working under stated premises and the rules of logic, you assert, for example, that the angles opposite equal sides of a triangle are equal? Sure. Prove it? Sure – hand me the chalk. It took me a good while to understand that the other students, generally very intelligent people, didn’t work this way, that the truth of the propositions was something they got to by working through the proofs step by step, and that they had little idea how to proceed with the proofs without first working through them.

Now, I’m an idiot when it comes to language and many other things – can’t seem to get even the basics, and forget them faster than I can learn them. But logic and Euclid? Evidently, I’m some sort of idiot savant.

I say this because of my growing frustration, where arguments over the virus seem to circle around and around the same irrelevancies and claims, while ignoring what, to me, are the glaringly obvious points and the inevitable conclusions to be drawn from them. Then I remember: I’m odd, perhaps these points are not obvious to others? Maybe I need to lay them out in some sort of rational order, and not skip any steps? So, today, for what seems to me to be the umpteenth time, let’s go over the basic issues.

1. Messy data, and what it tells you

Way, way back in January and February, we started getting information out of China about an epidemic. Over time, but before mid-March when the shutdown was imposed here, we got data showing case fatality rates from various areas in China. Most of the action was in Wuhan, but it had spread to other areas as well. The CFR for various regions were quite different, ranging from, if I recall, 4.5% in Wuhan proper to well under 1% in outlying areas.

The very first thing these numbers tell you: the data is very messy. These various outcomes CANNOT be caused by the virus alone. There must be – MUST BE – other factors at play. The next thing they tell you: if these numbers mean anything, they mean anyone’s chances of dying from the virus is heavily dependant on where they live.

I evidently need to harp on this: these CFR numbers, in themselves, don’t actually tell us how deadly COVID 19 is. To get to that point, you would need a whole bunch of additional information – information, it turns out, nobody has. I’ve harped on that in previous posts. But they do tell you that there is no one number that represents how deadly this virus is, that even so simple-minded a number as CFR varies enormously from place to place.

From the beginning to this day, the claim has been made that ‘we were acting on the best data available.’ I am here to say:


The best we knew, the clearest information we can get and could ever get from the early data or any of the subsequent data: the seriousness of the virus depends on where you live. There is no one CFR that expresses the seriousness of this infection.

The ‘information’ we acted upon, the evident cause of our panicked overreaction, was: dead Italians! 7.7% CFR! Ferguson’s model! Millions dead! If, instead, we had said: the data is very messy so it’s impossible to conclude much of anything from it, but, if it does mean anything, it means the CFR depends enormously on where you are when you get infected, we would then have asked different questions and proceeded differently.

But ‘we’ didn’t. We ignored the actual evidence in favor of wild, worse-case assumptions, that we then plugged into models, which, dutifully, produced worse-case numbers.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Model output in not data or evidence. Acting on model output is not acting on the evidence.

(This is why, by the way, I focus almost exclusively on deaths, and belabor how deaths are counted, and dismiss case counts and CFR as misleading – deaths are the ONLY way to meaningfully gauge the seriousness of the outbreak. And not that many people had died when our overreaction was inflicted. Some states were shutting down before a single death had happened within their borders.)

I’m putting a recap/expanded summary of what I mean by messy data and what that means to the numbers being tossed around in a footnote. The messiness of the data generally means one would need to be careful using any of them and caveat the hell out of any claims. In this case, with few exceptions, the messiness of the data tend strongly toward overstating the seriousness of the pandemic. I’ve been harping on this in previous posts, which I why I merely footnoting it here.

2. There is nothing novel about novel viruses

Whenever it is pointed out that, you know, people and viruses have evolved together for millenia, and that we need new flu shots every year because every year we have to deal with new versions of flu viruses, we are told “COVID 19 is a novel virus! It’s not the flu! Nothing that has happened with flu viruses has any bearing on COVID 19 (and: you are an idiot to propose it does – I’ve been told this).

But wait – every new flu bug is a novel virus by definition. And, while, according to the current classification system, coronaviruses are not flu viruses, there are and have been plenty of coronaviruses floating around as long as people have been alive. Some common cold viruses are coronaviruses, for example.

Just because COVID 19 is caused by a novel virus doesn’t mean it is any more scary than next year’s flu bug, which will also be a novel virus, or the next cold you catch, which could very well also be a novel virus, and even a novel coronavirus.

Novel doesn’t equal ‘super-scary’

If we want to look for a recent, comparable virus, how about SARS in 2002? SARS is a closely related coronavirus, much harder to catch but more dangerous if caught. It died out once the weather got nice. It made a brief reappearance the next year, and then died out for good.

The claim that COVID 19 requires extraordinary, job-destroying precautions simply because it’s novel is absurd. Humanity has endured novel viruses for millenia, year after year after year. There is no evidence to support the idea this virus is going to be particularly worse than any of the others.

Buuut – if you mistake model output for evidence, and ignore what the actual evidence is, then ‘novel’ means this virus is way different than the usual. As more evidence rolls in, it becomes clearer and clearer that COVID 19 has been wildly and irresponsibly overhyped. ‘It’s just the flu’ looks more and more accurate as each day passes.

3. (Recklessly) Assumed Homogeneity

Assume a spherical cow of uniform density in a friction free environment. A blog post from Sarah Hoyt reminded me of this old joke, how complex situations must be simplified to be modeled – and thus, why models so frequently give gibberish answers.

liquid fuel - ULA's plan for LH2/LOX 2nd stage that can maintain propellant for an extended ...

The models necessarily assume a particular spherical cow of uniform density: that there is *one* rate of infection and *one* fatality rate, and one value for any of the other variables. (You apply the calculus after you’ve entered the values.) True, you could build multiple models representing multiple populations – the Imperial College model did two famous ones- one for Britain, one for the US – but that should engender an uncomfortable discussion of which I have heard nothing: how small do we slice it?

The logical answer, based on the very earliest evidence out of China, and reinforced with every new piece of information, is: very, very small. Not a country, not a state, not a city. How about a cruise ship, or a nursing home, or a particular Wuhan tenement? Or a California suburb, a grocery store, or a school? Does anybody pretend to believe you are getting remotely the same CFR in an Italian nursing home and a Southern California grammar school? Or from one nursing home or school and the next (unless it’s zero)?

I can hear the ‘buts’ – but people interact! But people don’t stay in their school or suburb! So? What does the model do? Assumes *another* spherical cow of uniform density: that everybody interacts the same way and amount, that some ‘average’ rate of transmission represents what’s really going on, that human interactions can magically be reduced to some (assumed ) number.

That is again, stupid, and *assumed to be false* by the very mitigation efforts currently being imposed on us: our faith in the belief that quarantines and various isolations and restrictions can stop the virus means we accept the notion that how people interact is different and effects how the virus spreads.

We could, therefore, have focused on exactly which interactions between exactly which people are the likely vectors, and striven to control them. We tragicomically did not: in our fine state, churches and garden centers are shut down; homeless encampments and public transit are not. People shopping outside in fine weather or sitting for an hour in a church – too dangerous. People riding around in subway cars and buses, or camped out in their own feces – acceptable risk. The homeless, in particular, then go mingle with social services personnel and the people they panhandle from. Yet homeless encampments were explicitly exempted from the rules. Sound prudent to you? Either California wants the homeless to die and doesn’t care how many other people they take with them – not politically viable – or they think this lockdown is a joke. Or? Similar insane steps seem to have been taken elsewhere. New York, last I heard, had not even yet shut down subways and elevators!

Another spherical cow, a somewhat more subtle one: that grouping people by age or any other characteristic makes all those in the class effectively the same. The class of, say, people 75 to 84 years old is somehow homogenous, thus any person in that class stands, according the CFR for that age cohort, a 10.32% (or whatever) chance of dying if they catch COVID 19.

Nonsense. Within that group are some older, some younger, and, much more important, some healthier and some sicker individuals. Some already have breathing and heart troubles, some don’t, and all this is a matter of degree. Lumping them together by age fatally muddies the answer to the underlying question: how likely is COVID 19 to kill them?

One subset is very likely to die, much more than any other. People are abandoned to die in nursing homes by the millions every year, with the people doing the abandoning feeling more or less bad about it. Some even visit. I guess all that daycay when we were kids gave us a high tolerance for other people’s misery. Be that as it may, it is BLINDLY OBVIOUS that the populations in nursing homes are way more likely to be seriously ill and ARE WAY MORE LIKELY TO DIE than their age cohorts in the outside world.

I asked a relative who worked for years in a nursing home. The staff knows that, likely as not, some little thing – a cold, a stomach flu, an infected scratch – will kill those people sooner or later. Probably sooner, if they are very weakened; maybe later, if they are stronger.

Dying after catching a viral infection is an extremely common way people in nursing homes to eventually check out. The virus would not kill them if they were not already old, sick, and weak.

Reports are that about 20-25% of all the COVID 19 deaths are people in nursing homes. This may – may – be understated, as it’s possible the decedent got sick and was shipped off to a hospital to die. Also – and I don’t know, but it seems very likely – some of those who die at home very well might be under hospice care – another (better) way we treat those who we expect to die soon.

So ‘where you are’ must also contain caveats about where you are healthwise. This information, which was available at the time of the US lockdowns, was effectively ignored. What happened in Italy, a country with a history of ‘excess deaths’ for even just seasonal flu, is that COVID 19 ripped through some nursing homes, then through some hospitals, and then started to peter out as soon as it had claimed, not random 81 year olds, but very sick 81 year olds and other people sick enough to be packed into a nursing home or hospital.

The point of all this: Now, it’s common among the educated to claim that our lockdown – and our sheep-like surrender of our constitutionally guaranteed right to free assembly – was merely prudent, based on what was known at the time, and that caution should be exercised in lifting restrictions. That’s a far as you can go and stay in the Kool Kids Klub. Further, other considerations, ones that were not available at the time the initial decisions were made, don’t retroactively make the initial decisions made without them somehow more reasonable. Excess deaths in (tightly-packed, #WohanStrong, subway & elevator ridden) New York and its suburbs NOW does not contradict or stand against what was know back in March: that packed conditions where people jostle about and breath the same recycled air in closed buildings, elevators and subways is *pretty probably a high-risk area* and that prudent steps should be taken there.

But NYC ain’t Laramie, WY or suburban California. A subway isn’t a suburban park. An elevator isn’t a garden supply store. Yet we model and set policy as if they are, not in accord with, but in defiance of, what was known at the time.

“Where is Every Body”: Fermi’s Ghost in China

Take a look at this picture, and note the date:

China started its by now famously effective and credulity-straining lock down on January 23, but didn’t get around to a general travel ban until January 30. The virus had spread all over China, presumably before January 30, such that cases were found everywhere. (Note that the size of the hexagons reflects cases, but more obviously, reflect local population densities: The huge one is of course Wuhan; the tiny ones are where few people live all spread out; the big ones where many people live in large cities. The 1.3 billion Chinese in China are not evenly distributed, and do not live in one uniform fashion or under one uniform climate or geography, etc.)

By the January 30 lockdown, COVID 19 had had about 2 months to spread out from Wuhan – and spread it did, as you can see by the map above.

The first US case was reported on January 20. The first furtive steps at control took place with travel restrictions in January, but full on, government-led efforts were not taken until March 16.

So: China and the US both had about 2 month of spread before strong steps were taken. China, with a more densely packed population in many places, poorer sanitation and personal hygene practices, and an outbreak in the dead of winter, might – might – be supposed to be a more favorable environment in which the virus could spread. Be that as it may, on March 31:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Americans to brace for a “hell of a bad two weeks” ahead as the White House projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

When you build models, one thing you routinely do is a reality check: is my output reasonable? Are there any existing cases against which I can try my model to see if it makes sense, given what actually happened? This is simple prudence regardless of the type of model. When I used to use financial pricing models, I knew or could easily find out what was happening in the market – what people were charging for equipment financing, and what kind of yields the finance companies were getting (and cost and tax assumptions, expense allocations, cash flow timings and all sorts of related trivia). So, if I modeled a case where the output was wildly different to what was happening in the real world, I’d look into it hard. No way am I just going to use output that contradict reality. I’d get fired.

So, when his team told Trump a bit over 2 months into this, that between 100K and 240K Americans were going to die, even with all the restrictions in place, I have to ask: where is every body? where are all the Chinese dead?

Because China was 5 months into it by this point, had similarly had 2 months for the virus to spread unchecked, had if anything more favorable conditions for its spread – and yet, as of today, is reporting under 5,000 deaths. Would not logic dictate that, since there are 4 times the number of Chinese as Americans, and, as you can see from the map above, COVID 19 was just about everywhere in China, that something like 400,000 to a million dead bodies should be piling up by now? Under the assumptions used to predict 100K to 240K dead Americans?

So, this forcast fails the sniff test rather badly. Of course, I think the Chinese communists lie, and think they could probably lie their way around an order of magnitude more deaths – 40K, say. But 400K? A million? Possible – these are the people who offed something like 65M in the Great Leap Forward, after all – but that took years, before spies, satellite surveillance and a semi-open country. Seems kind of hard…

Or, perhaps they are not lying, and instead are only counting people where COVID 19 clearly killed them? As Neil Ferguson, the guy behind the model, recently said about deaths being attributed to COVID 19 actually being from other causes:

It might be as much as half or two thirds of the deaths we see, because these are people at the end of their lives or have underlying conditions so these are considerations.

I don’t know, but either their numbers or ours are bogus, or both are and something in between is happening: the Chinese are hiding some deaths, and we are wildly overstating ours.

More to the point: at the time when this “100K – 240K” claim was made, it could not have been based on ‘what was known at the time’. It was not based on science or even a good-faith effort. All the supposed data available makes it nonsensical. Instead, like all the doom and gloom projections so far, it seems based on wildly pessimistic assumptions that nobody sniff-tested. SOMEBODY needed to ask: what about China? And get a straight answer. Trump’s got the surveillance satellites and spies, after all.

Springtime for COVID!

Finally, one last thing that keeps popping up: there are some viruses that seem to survive the spring and summer months better than others. Not very many that anybody has heard of. In fact, the only ones I’ve heard of are the Spanish Flu, which survived for about 2 years in conditions – WWI, primitive medical care – that could hardly be farther from what we have now, and the 1957 Asian flu, which lasted about a year and a half. Each of these flus somehow survived the disinfectant effect of sunshine, and so came back for an encore once the weather got cold again.

But, we are constantly reminded, COVID 19 isn’t the flu! It’s a *novel* coronavirus. Way different! So, do we have any coronaviruses to compare it to? Why yes, yes, we do: the SARS outbreak of 2002-2003. That SARS virus is closely related to our current bug. Infections broke out in November 2002; the WHO declared it over in July of 2003. Then, for unclear reasons 251 cases were identified in Toronto in 2003-2004. That micro-outbreak ended in June, 2004, with an appalling 43 deaths, or 6% of all the deaths.

So, again, based on the evidence we actually have and not on worse-case assumptions about what *might* happen, the logical thing to assume is that what seems most definitely to be happening – nice weather is killing off the virus – is, in fact, what IS happening, and that, based on what happened with the closely-related SARS virus, little or no recurrence is likely to happen in the fall.

Again: evidence. If you want to claim that we need to cower in fear that this virus will, like the dream of postbellum South, rise again, then point to a similar virus that did so. No fair harping on how COVID 19 isn’t the flu, then turning around and using *the flu* as your example of Undead Viruses.

Conclusion: I’m appalled, as any reader of this blog knows, by misuses of the term science in connection with every hair-brained bit of panic-mongering that crosses the illustrious pages of our esteemed media. In a remotely just world, this pandemic will be remembered as a cautionary tale, and go down as yet another abuse of science from what future historians (one hopes, not in charcoal scratching on a cave wall) will call the Age of the Great Scientific Frauds.


The data is messy. Let me count the ways:

Some of the more important ways, at any rate.

  1. The definition of a ‘case’ is not clear or consistent from place to place, and changes over time. Cases are not reported in an orderly or consistent manner. Cases may or may not include those diagnosed from symptoms alone without a confirming test. Cases are unlikely to include very many asymptomatic people. Cases are also dependent somewhat on how much testing is being done. What this means: case counts across time and space give us only a vague idea of the virus’s spread.
  2. The definition of a ‘death’ is not clear or consistent from place to place, and changes over time, for many of the reasons given above. Filling out a death certificate is not simple. Often, the immediate cause of death is not clear. Further, nowhere, with the possible exception of China, is death by COVID 19 counted in the manne any reasonable person would consider fair, namely: did COVID 19 kill this person? Would he have lived if he hadn’t caught it? Estimate of how many deaths classified as caused by COVID 19 that could pass this common sense definition range from half – Ferguson’s high end estimate – to 12% or less by some Italian doctors. The US, Britain, Italy and France explicitly encourage or insist upon COVID 19 being listed as a cause of death if the decedent tested positive or could reasonably be supposed to have COVID 19, even if it is at most a minor cause. E.g., Ventura County reported 2 COVID 19 deaths a couple days ago: a 99 year old man (life expectancy in years = 0) and a 37 year old man, who died of a drug overdose but had tested positive for the virus. No reasonable person would count those as COVID 19 deaths. What this means: Death counts are not a fair representation of the number of people who were killed by COVID 19. It seems likely to be too high by 50% or more.
  3. Cases are not infections. Nobody knows, and nobody ever will know, how many infections there are or were. Cases will always understate infections, often severely, unless the disease is near 100% fatal or near 100% generates unique, serious symptoms, or we accurately test everybody in the world. Otherwise, mild or asymptomatic infections will constitute a probably large number of infections that do not become cases. Early own, using the then-available information, I estimated that infections outnumbered cases by at least 400%. Since then, wider testing in, for example, New York and Miami, suggest at least 15 times as many infections as cases. What this means: The virus is much more widely spread, and therefore much less dangerous, than would be suggested by the number of cases.
  4. Case Fatality Rate – CFR – is a) not the real fatality rate even in theory, b) can never be established with any confidence, given the uncertainty in the case and death counts, and c) needs to be measured over a more or less homogeneous population to mean much of anything. What this means: For the reasons above, the CFR may be 30 times or more higher than the true fatality rate: e.g., half as many deaths divided by 15 times the number of cases = 1/30 the CFR. if the number of infections is 15 times higher than the number of cases.

In conclusion: none of this is particularly hard to figure out, it should be obvious to any competent epidemiologist or model builder.

Fichte and Messianic Schooling

Got another ‘final’ COVID 19 post all cued up, but let’s talk Education History!


Decided to reread Fichte’s foundational Addresses to the German Nation which you can find discussed at some length here on this blog. After having finished rereading Parish Schools and more Pestalozzi, it seemed necessary to reread with, one hopes, a deeper understanding, the work that underlies the schooling that we are enduring today.

The general rule – don’t read about somebody until you read what they have to say for themselves – having been observed here, I also started DuckDuckGoing (totally a verb) around to find further information on particular points in Fichte’s philosophy.

Aside: Severian turned me on to David Stove, the late sort of Neo Positivist Australian philosopher, who, while fundamentally as crazy as the next anti-metaphysician (also totally a word), spent his career providing the desperately necessary mockery of the pure nonsense spouted by Hegel, Kant and the whole clown car of modern philosophers. He tends to simply quote them, and holds up their own words for well-deserved ridicule. I haven’t read anything of his where he goes after Fichte, but that would be a fun ride. Ultimately, what all these lunatics and posers need to be deprived of is people taking them seriously. The only response to such nonsense is to ignore or mock them. They never should have been able to raise their heads in a legitimate university spouting such idiocy. But I digress…

One chapter in my much to be yearned for (by me, at least) education history book will be titled “Messianic Schooling,” containing an account of history of the belief that the world can only be saved by schooling, that there is one right way to educate, and, once everybody is educated that way, heaven on earth will be achieved. Fichte will get a starring role; poor Pestalozzi, who never could see, or at least, never could articulate, the political ramifications of his ‘discovery’ of the one, perfect way to educate children, is mere putty in the hands of Fichte. Pestalozzi sees the (properly instructed, using his textbooks) mother as the ideal educator. Fichte loves Pestalozzi’s idea of having every student’s every school minute managed by a (state trained and certified) teacher as a reason to simply discard the family. Family is a bad influence on children; the state will of course do a much better job once mom and dad are out of the way.

I’m about 40% of the way through my rereading of the Adresses, and, yep, it’s a lot clearer this time around. This time, his fanatical confidence in human perfectibility shines through, as does how he bases all this on poetical and mystical ‘insights’, not on anything as mundane as a sensible argument. He sees 5 stages of human development, identifies Germany and the world at large as stuck in Stage 3, and a moral imperative to all right thinking German men* to do what it takes to get us to the next level.

Sort of like a video game.

Thus have we endeavoured to pre-figure the whole Earthly Life of Man by a comprehension of its purpose;—to perceive why our Race had to begin its Existence here, and by this means to describe the whole present Life of humankind: …There are, according to this view, Five Principal Epochs of Earthly Life, each of which, although taking its rise in the life of the individual, must yet, in order to become an Epoch in the Life of the Race, gradually lay hold of and interpenetrate all Men; and to that end must endure throughout long periods of time, so that the great Whole of Life is spread out into Ages, which sometimes seem to cross, sometimes to run parallel with each other:—1st, The Epoch of the unlimited dominion of Reason as Instinct:—the State of Innocence of the Human Race. 2nd, The Epoch in which Reason as Instinct is changed into an external ruling Authority;—the Age of positive Systems of life and doctrine, which never go back to their ultimate foundations, and hence have no power to convince but on the contrary merely desire to compel, and which demand blind faith and unconditional obedience:—the State of progressive Sin. 3rd, The Epoch of Liberation,—directly from the external ruling Authority—indirectly from the power of Reason as Instinct, and generally from Reason in any form;—the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness. 4th, The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification. 5th, The Epoch of Reason as Art;—the Age in which Humanity with more sure and unerring hand builds itself up into a fitting image and representative of Reason:—the State of completed Justification and Sanctification. Thus, the whole progress which, upon this view, Humanity makes here below, is only a retrogression to the point on which it stood at first, and has nothing in view save that return to its original condition. But Humanity must make this journey on its own feet; by its own strength it must bring itself back to that state in which it was once before without its own coöperation, and which, for that very purpose, it must first of all leave. If Humanity could not of itself re-create its own true being, then would it possess no real Life; and then were there indeed no real Life at all, but all things would remain dead, rigid, immoveable. In Paradise,—to use a well-known picture,—in the Paradise of innocence and well-being, without knowledge, without labour, without art, Humanity awakes to life. Scarcely has it gathered courage to venture upon independent existence when the Angel comes with the fiery sword of compulsion to good and drives it forth from the seat of its innocence and its peace. Fugitive and irresolute it wanders through the empty waste, scarcely daring to plant its foot firmly anywhere lest the ground should sink beneath it. Grown bolder by necessity, it settles in some poor corner, and in the sweat of its brow roots out the thorns and thistles of barbarism from the soil on which it would rear the beloved fruit of knowledge. Enjoyment opens its eyes and strengthens its hands, and it builds a Paradise for itself after the image of that which it has lost;—the tree of Life arises; it stretches forth its hand to the fruit, and eats, and lives in Immortality.

“Ponderous Teutonic prose” indeed. Fichte was dogged by accusations of atheism. You may notice the lack of that God person in the above, and the Pelagianism of his take on Man’s role in his own redemption. This could hardly be any more contrary to Luther, and, indeed, in the Addresses he does get around to damning the great reformer with faint praise. The progression is perhaps familiar: just as in America at almost the exact same time, the great Calvinist Puritan tradition of the absolute depravity of man became, almost suddenly, the Unitarian Universalist position of salvation for all, Fichte was preaching to the Germans that they must move from the depraved Third Age – “The Epoch of Liberation … the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness,” to the 4th, “The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification.”

Notice, also, the lack of any family references. We move, in Fichte’s philosophy, almost directly from the individual to Mankind as a whole, with only a brief stop with our neighbors to pick up consciousness, self-consciousness, and morality. Fichte’s whole philosophy is built upon the self-positing ‘I’ which finds self-conscious in the recognition of the ‘Not-I’. We’re on the threshold of stage 4, where peace, love, and understand will bloom everywhere, once the state supplants the family and beats a little of Fichte’s pure love of Truth into our children. Until then, we’re screwed:

I, for my part, hold that the Present Age stands precisely in the middle of Earthly Time; … In other words, the Present Age, according to my view of it, stands in that Epoch which in my former lecture I named the third, and which I characterized as the Epoch of Liberationthe State of completed Sinfulness

Fichte, Characteristics of the Present Age/Lecture 2

Surfing around for some back-up materials, found this which ties together Fichte’s 5 Ages with his plan for national education (although the author, it seems, is simply wrong about where Fichte believe Mankind stands – not in the 4th on the threshold of the 5th age, but in the 3rd on the threshold of the 4th, as stated above):

In 1804-1805, Fichte delivered a series of lectures entitled Characteristics of the Present Age (Grundzüge des Gegenwärtigen Zeitalters), in which he outlined five stages of human development. Having travelled from the primal state of noble savages in ‘the Age of Innocence’, through dark ages, absolutism, and the ‘State of Progressive Justification’, mankind was now on the threshold of ‘the state of completed justification and sanctification’. Indeed, the ideals of the French Revolution had been characteristic of the State of Progressive Justification, but to reach political nirvana it was not enough to rely on the ideals of the French, which in any case had been undermined by the conquering forces of Napoleon. So in 1807 – the year after Hegel had described seeing ‘the world spirit on horseback’ in the guise of the French emperor, and at a time when the Germans were at a historical nadir and the once all-powerful Prussia was a shadow of its former military self – Fichte proposed that the Germans had to seize the day. In fourteen addresses, delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807, Fichte asserted that the Germans had a historical role: namely that of shepherding humanity into the bliss of a cosmopolitan utopia.

from Philosophy Now magazing, Matt Qvortrup’s Brief Life of Fichte

Love ‘delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807’ – man’s gotta pay the bills. Further:

Kant had argued that trade liberalisation – what he called ‘the spirit of commerce’ (der Handelsgeist) – would slowly but surely lead to a kind of brotherhood of man. Fichte agreed with Kant that the “whole race that inhabits our globe will… become assimilated into a single republic including all peoples” but he did not see free trade, let alone economic liberalism, as the path to perpetual peace. Rather, he feared that the economic competition between states would generate new enmities that would lead to war. Moreover, unlike his former mentor’s espousal of classic economic liberalism, Fichte made a case for economic protectionism and a planned economy in Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (The Closed Commercial State, 1800). This book’s defence of social justice facilitated by government intervention is but one of the reasons it has been labelled the first systematic case for the welfare state.

The Closed Commercial State was a philosophical Rubicon for Fichte. He maintained that all people eventually would be united into a single “peoples’ republic of culture,” and here he began to consider how this would be achieved, gradually coming to the conclusion that the German people could play a pivotal role in the process of creating a cosmopolitan utopia.


Marx, anyone? Since God, to Fichte, is something like the drive toward morality as expressed in Human history, Marx is pretty much all there even before Hegel picked up the baton and wrapped it in even more dense and ponderous Teutonic prose.


The Germans themselves were not yet ready to take on the burden of educating humanity. True, their language enabled them to utter deep thoughts, and so potentially to spread reason to the rest of mankind. But in order to fulfil their mission, the Germans themselves needed educating. Thus educational reform, not military strength, was Fichte’s key policy proposal. And in his Second Address he went to great lengths to explain how the aim of education was to make active and creative individuals who would “learn with enjoyment and love, purely for the sake of learning itself.” The aim was to facilitate “the capacity to spontaneously construct images that are not at all replicas of reality, but are capable of becoming models for reality.”


You may also see Pestalozzi peaking through here. “The capacity to spontaneously construct images” could have come straight from any of his works. The important part for Fichte is having children spontaneously imagine and be moved to action by perfect images of their own creation – in accordance with Reason, ‘natch. He’s after, almost exactly, what John Lennon described in his execrable song: bringing into being a purely imaginary reality in accordance with Reason.

It’s easy if you try.

The point here, of course, is that this is the philosophical underpinnings of modern state schooling: schooling is the means to messianic salvation. This – the promise of an Utopia to be achieved via the state’s training of children – is what Mann and Torey Harris and the NEA at its founding were attracted to and embraced. There is no discussion of ‘the basics’ – reading, writing, and ciphering don’t and never did figure into it. It’s simply not what these folks are interested in. The plan is and has always been: get kids away from their families to form them into the new citizens of the coming paradise on earth.

Therefore, homeschoolers and other dissidents cannot be ignored or tolerated. We are heretics, keeping the enlightened from achieving Paradise! Wrong has no rights, here. Burning at the stake is too good for us. The goal, except peripherally, is not staffing factories and armies. That might be OK, as an interim step, during the period where the Vanguard must rule absolutely to usher us sheep toward the eventual Worker’s Paradise (thanks, Lenin, for clearing that up for us) – but that’s not what, in the vision of its founding light, modern compulsory state schooling is for.

* Literally, men of the male persuasion: Fichte argued that “active citizenship, civic freedom and even property rights should be withheld from women, whose calling was to subject themselves utterly to the authority of their fathers and husbands.” – Wikipedia

Let’s look at Some More Graphs, and Make Some Predictions

Been a week or so, so let’s look at some graphs, from Worldometers, as usual. Again, I focus on deaths, because however iffy the classification of deaths as caused by COVID 19, at least – sorry to be morbid here – somebody died and so there’s a body to count. Infections are unknown, and cases are a function of testing and changing definitions and instructions, and so can and do fluctuate unpredictably. I don’t know what to make of total case numbers, and I suspect neither does anyone else.

Here’s Italy:

That’s not exponential growth, or growth of any kind. As the Philosopher pointed out 2300 years ago, what is not growing is dying. The curious thing: one would expect a decline at roughly the same rate as the rise. This seems to be falling more slowly than it rose. One reason might be that, with widespread infection and more broad testing, the listing of every death where COVID 19 appears on the death cert as a COVID 19 death would, over time, tend to cause the COVID 19 case death rate to converge with the overall death rate from all causes. In the hypothetical extreme, where everyone has been infected, every death will be attributed to COVID 19. This extreme is not going to happen in reality, but the principle applies: if, say, 30% of the population is determined to have or have had COVID 19 (so that they test positive), and that 30% dies at something like the normal rate, then 30% of all deaths for whatever reason would, under current practice, be classified as COVID 19 deaths.

The call for universal testing is a call, intentional or not, to inflate the number of COVID 19 deaths. If someone, say an older, weaker person, gets the flu, can’t fight it off, and it progresses to pneumonia and kills him – a very common way old people die – but tests positive for COVID 19, that is gong to be classified as a COVID 19 death just about everywhere in the West, certainly in the US, Italy and England. But – here’s the point – however classified, such a tragic death won’t push the annual numbers up. That death would have taken place anyway, so it doesn’t add to the annual total.

A plague worthy of the name adds to the total number of dead over its duration. So far , COVID 19 isn’t doing that, and there’s no reason to imagine it will going forward.

The UN projected that about 1.0658% of Italians would die this year, very slightly more than last year and in line with a decade long graduale climb as the population ages. Italy is home to about 60.5M people, so about 645K Italians were projected to die this year in the normal course of things.

So: will more than 645K Italians die this year? If a plague is killing a bunch of people, one might suspect so. But if people who, sadly, were going to shuffle off this mortal coil this year anyway, as people in nursing homes and hospitals frequently do, then COVID 19 will have little or no effect on overall deaths.

I bet there’s no increase, that right around 645K Italians die this year from all causes, just as if a no plague had taken place. Because (whisper) no plague took place. But because of the reporting requirements, virtually all deaths where COVID 19 can plausibly be claimed to be present in the deceased will be counted as COVID 19 deaths. Thus, unless they go with double counting, deaths otherwise attributable to heart failure and cancer and the afflictions of old age will drop, as will deaths from the flu, pneumonia, and any respirtory problems.

This switcheroo will only show up in the totals, or rather, will not show up in the totals.

Another thing – here’s the weather in Milan, the capital of Lombardy, over the last couple of months:

A bit cold and nasty-looking (to a Californian) until the second week of April – at least, cold nights and quite a few cooler days. Now, the weather is getting pretty nice, that lovely Mediterranean climate Italians and Californians love – and in which air-borne viruses quickly die out.

Here’s Spain:

Same story. Here’s France:

French reporting has been very inconsistent, as this graph shows, but the trend, if any, seems downward. I’m reminded of a story I heard about the song April in Paris: Yip Harburg, the lyricist, was asked how he could write

April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees
April in Paris, this is a feeling
No one can ever reprise

…when every Frenchman knew April in Paris is cold, wet and nasty. He replied: May didn’t fit the rhythm. So the positive effects of Spring sunshine won’t likely be seen for another couple weeks.

Now, on to America:

What is happening here? We get repeated lesser daily counts for a day or two, followed by new highs – three or maybe four times so far.

Following new CDC guidelines: “As of April 14, 2020, CDC case counts and death counts include both confirmed and probable cases and deaths. This change was made to reflect an interim COVID-19 position statement issued by the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists on April 5, 2020. The position statement included a case definition and made COVID-19 a nationally notifiable disease.

A confirmed case or death is defined by meeting confirmatory laboratory evidence for COVID-19. A probable case or death is defined by i) meeting clinical criteria AND epidemiologic evidence with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID-19; or ii) meeting presumptive laboratory evidence AND either clinical criteria OR epidemiologic evidence; or iii) meeting vital records criteria with no confirmatory laboratory testing performed for COVID19″ [source]

Worldometers again

Since over half the deaths have taken place in the NYC metro area, one would look first there.

From Woldometers

And, on that same page, are updates on how, over time, other states have changed their reporting practices to be more generous and inclusive – in other words, to include more deaths under the COVID 19 heading, following revised CDC guidelines. Whether these changes are warranted or not, they skew the results in one way only: more deaths reported as due to COVID 19.

So, are we in the same situation as Italy, where I predict no significant uptick in total annual deaths? I say yes.

I had hoped to be able to say that the numbers clearly show the US is well past its peak; but at face value, that’s not quite possible, given the upward spikes in deaths. On a local basis, the New York City/Newark area, unlike the rest of the country, has seen overall ‘excess’ deaths over what historical trends would find reasonable. This is real, and cause for concern. On the other hand, I have seen no reports to suggest the profile of the people dying has changed – it is still 80% people over 65, and 95% people who are sick, elderly, or both. In other words, at most 5% of the victims are younger and healthy. I say at most, because the prudent thing to wonder is if those younger, healthy victims did not, in fact, have underlying health issues that were undetected – maybe, maybe not, but the thought all but suggests itself.

Finally, one more set of pictures: Weather in New York City

Again, from a Californian’s perspective (I’m sitting out on the patio typing this, 80F, light breeze, beautiful) that’s some nasty weather, mostly cold and damp, and erratic. Maybe if Spring finally arrives in the northeast, we can put a stake in this thing.

Pig Farmer pt 2. Tuesday Flash Fiction

(continuing from here)

The help in this dive clearly knew Igor and his daughter. A round dude with a round bald head and a black apron materialized, dropped off a heap of fried brown bread and checha and three tall beers, nodded at Igor and Ksenia with, maybe, the slightesdt twinkle in his eye, and dematerialized.

“You like beer?” Igor nodded at me, then drained his pint with practiced ease. Ksenia did likewise, with a ladylike elegance that didn’t seem possible. Of course, she didn’t seem exactly possible herself…

I tore my eyes away from here after just a beat too long. Oh well. Time to rep for America. I tossed back the beer as nonchalantly as I could manage.

“Czech?” I asked. Good beer.

Best craft beer places in Prague - top 16 places where to drink craft beer

“Da!” Igor nodded, and seemed to warm to me ever so slightly. Round bald guy reappeared from the ether and slapped down another round. “Vyškov Generály,” Igor looked thoughtfully into his second glass. “This only bar in Moscow carries it.”

I need these people to trust me, at least enough to do my job. I’m little more than a glorified mule, sent to fetch some information that can’t be simply emailed or sent parcel post. As such, I’m professionally charming and flexible. This Moscow gig is downright civilized. I’ve sipped vodka in a yurt over a meal of boodog. I’ve caught piranha off the back of a canoe. Those little bastards will bite on anything; catch one, CAREFULLY gut it, hook the guts, toss the line back out, catch another. Repeat until you’ve got enough for dinner. Pretty good eating, too.

This was a little different. I been warned there might be some piranna of the two-legged sort, but, so far, it was just me, the enigmatic might-be-a-pig farmer, and his insanely gorgeous daughter who, I have from multiple sources, will kill me if I touch her. They seemed cheery enough…

A tongue of cold snaked through the bar when the front door opened and closed. A tall man in a heavy, fur-collared coat and a Bromberg appeared, looming above Ksenia, and said something quietly in Russian to Igor, whose face was stone. I started to stand, when Igor put me back into my seat with one meaty hand.

The stranger laid a hand on Ksenia’s shoulder. Her face went white, and her eyes widened with fear. She looked tiny against the mass of the large man. I tried to rise again; Igor again planted me in my seat.

Ksenia stood, shaking, the stranger’s hand still on her shoulder. A trace of a smile passed across the the tall man’s face. With sudden, cat like quickness, Ksenis drove her heel hard into the man’s instep, and followed up with a two-handed uppercut into his jaw, her legs and body uncoiling like a spring, putting some force into it.

The man let out a small yelp and staggered backwards, into the arms of the round bald guy and two large, very stern looking fellows, who, without a word, pinned his arms and whisked him out of sight. The other patrons seemed not to have noticed anything unusual, and the background hum quickly returned to normal.

Ksenia straightened her skirt, sat back down, and smiled at me.

“It is a good beer,” she stated, and drained her second pint.

I Hate Posting on This Stuff…

We need a little perspective here. I get the feeling that to most people numbers like 0.0006% means about as much as Sagan’s billions and billions – nothing, in other words. But, here I go again…

Not an epidemiologist, just a numbers guy – and the numbers guy wants to know:

100 Italian doctors died – how many fell into the elderly/preexisting condition group? So far, about 95% of deaths fall into one or the other or both categories. So, if anything like 95% of the doctors fell into that group, it would be tragic, of course, but tell us nothing new about the virus. If, on the other hand, the dead were predominantly younger, healthier doctors, that would tell us something – what, exactly, isn’t so obvious. Perhaps extended exposure under nasty conditions is to be avoided? We didn’t already know that? Seriously, what would it tell us?

All those younger people dying, the ones that make the news – perspective: about 5% of all deaths so far have not happened to people who are elderly, sick, or both. That would be about 1,900 deaths in the US so far. While, again, tragic, it’s a little over half of the annual total of drownings in backyard pools, or 75% of annual motorcycle deaths. And those deaths happen year after year, adding up to truly appalling numbers over the decades. Somehow, we have come to accept the trade off – backyard pools and motorcycles are fun, so we accept these death totals, even though banning backyard pools and motorcycles would save more people’s lives in one year (theoretically) than the number of otherwise healthy people who are dying of COVID 19.

But healthy people in low-or no-outbreak areas going to work, going to the park or beach, celebrating a birthday with friends, etc. – those activities are not important enough, across a population of 330M, to risk an increased chance of death, so far, of under 0.0006%?

Meanwhile, 250,000 people die each year from medical errors – third leading cause of death in the US. So we could, theoretically again, save more lives by reducing medical errors by 1% than the number of healthy people we’ll lose to COVID 19.

Finally, all signs so far point to massive rates of infection already, with huge numbers of people infected, just with no or minor symptoms to show for it. A random sample of people in England found nearly 1/3 had antibodies to COVID 19 in their blood. If this is a representative sample, it suggests around 23M English people have already caught the virus. Two things fall out from this: that efforts to contain the virus have already failed, even as the number of cases and deaths are falling; and, eventually, assuming having COVID 19 antibodies doesn’t protect you from all other causes of death, 1/3 of all deaths in England will be attributed to COVID 19, as all deaths where the virus is present or suspected to be present are now required under English rules to be classified as COVID 19 deaths.

Free Scandianvian archive prints -Social life in the19th century

The Swedish doctor reference yesterday says at least half the populations of Sweden and Britain have likely been infected already. If this carried over to the US, and we were to follow the British rules as New York already is. we’ll end up with that million COVID 19 deaths by the end of the year after all. It just won’t mean what any sane person means by ‘died from COVID 19.’

As I harp on here: it is important to know what you are counting.

COVID Link of the Day

From Clarissa’s blog. She has been posting helpful link regarding the current unpleasantness. I merely note that one does not have to have the sterling credentials of this Swedish doctor to notice, upon little more than inspection, that most of his points are valid.

UK policy on lockdown and other European countries is not evidence-based The correct policy is to protect the old and the frail only This will …

COVID Link of the Day

Addressing the NEA Convention of 1947

Archbishop John McNicholas - The Archbishop of Cincinnati, Ohio during the Great Depression. As ...

Archbishop John McNicholas of Cincinnati, chairman of the education department of National Catholic Welfare Council (precursor of the USCCB), addressed the National Education Association:

“We cannot emphasize too strongly our conviction that the Catholic and public schools are partners in American education. They must work together in the common task of preparing millions of boys and girls for the duties of American citizenship. Catholic school teachers would be greatly encouraged if at this convention the National Education Association were to reiterate our belief that there is a genuine partnership between the two major systems in American education, the Catholic and the public.”

as quoted in Parish School, by Timothy Walch, pp 119-120

Walch next mentions “The NEA membership did not respond to this overture.”

On the other hand, as discussed here and elsewhere, when Archbishop John Ireland addressed the NEA 57 years earlier, in 1890, and suggested that, eventually, all Catholic kids would attend public schools, that was more to the NEA’s liking. What Archbishop McNicholas had failed to note is that the NEA was founded to promote public schooling, not education in general. And public schooling to the NEA, from its founding, meant and continues to mean state-funded, compulsory graded classroom schooling conducted by teachers trained and certified by the state. There is no room in their charter for any other form of schooling; they do not, institutionally, recognize any possibility of partnership with any competing model.

Archbishop Ireland was singing from the NEA’s hymnal, whether he recognized it or not, while Archbishop McNicholas had completely missed the point. There is no place in the NEA’s conception of education for anything like a partnership with Catholic schools.

Starting around 1/3 of the way through, Dr. Walch’s book becomes more and more depressing. For that first third, there were real heroes, saints, even, battling to preserve Church and family by saving their kids from the patent efforts of the likes of the NEA to destroy them. Once you get to the early 1900s, heroes are replaced with bureaucrats and operators; saints by a parade of intellectual mediocrities.

“Achievements” during this period consist of appointing diocesan school superintendents, establishing standards and boards, finding ways to make the sister-teachers more like public school teachers, replacing the apprenticeship model with ‘normal’ schooling, and getting the sisters certified by the state. In general, progress began to be measured predominantly by how much like the public schools the parish schools could be made.

I am reminded of organizing a sock drawer. Everything is put in order; any questions about the socks themselves are irrelevant. Right size? Right color? Correct variety? Enough socks? Any need replacing? Who knows – but, boy, are those socks organized. Similarly, one can end up with a perfectly organized, consistent, and efficient school system – that doesn’t do anything a reasonable parent would want done.

With only a little hindsight, by, say, 1978, it should have been clear how these efforts, in the fullness of time, resulted in the gutting and closure of many Catholic schools, and the death of anything unique about them. Ireland and the NEA get their wish, although not how they probably imagined it in 1890: Catholic children *did* end up going to public schools, even when those schools were run by the local parish.