In finance, the concept is that you may want to give people zero payments for, say, the initial 6 months, as an enticement to take on more debt, or over the winter if it’s equipment that requires decent weather to be useful. But if what you’re financing is portable, you don’t want to find out in month 7 that it has wandered off never to be seen again. So, it’s common for the financing of trucks, construction equipment, and other high value and mobile assets to structure the financing with almost zero payments. That $100 payment check is a ‘contact payments’ to let the finance company know the people with the equipment are still there.
Consider this a contact payment. I’m still here!
A. You may heard we’re having a little wildfire trouble out here in California.
Why yes, yes we are.
Confluence of forces: Very hot, dry weather for 2 out of the last 3 weeks; Fairly wet year 2 years ago produced tons of brush; comparatively dry year last year dried it all out; decades of bad forest management have left many areas choked with dead and dying trees; an utterly freak and huge lightening storm ran through the state 3 weeks ago, starting thousands of fires; wind have been strong off and on, fanning the flames.
Over 2M acres burned. Now add winds similar in nature to the famous Santa Anna winds: air heats up in higher elevations, then ‘overflows’ down into lower elevations. Compressed by higher pressure at lower elevations as it flows downhill, it gets even warmer.
Then it hits the fires. Bad news. One outcome of this: a huge fire in the foothills of the Sierra east of here had its ash – lots of fuel in the foothill, the usual brush plus millions of dead trees – pushed east to west against prevailing winds by the winds coming down out of the mountains. To us, in other words.
So a long and an flukish set of circumstances resulted in this:
B. Have been wearing my ‘Make Orwell Fiction Again’ long black mask whenever I feel compelled to diaper up for the sake of not getting more or less innocent shop owners and parishes in trouble. I really do have a debilitating medical condition that contraindicates masks: a sever, early onset case of scientific literacy. My blood pressure rises, adrenaline starts flowing in nonconstructive ways, and I’m overall courting a heart attack (or arrest for assault) whenever I have to wear the ratzen-fratzen mask. Everywhere else (do see the morons wearing masks inside their own cars – because?) my face, such as it is, is off leash and running free! Wheeee! Until they arrest me.
It’s all about asking the wrong questions, or would be, if logic and evidence played any part in this. I’ve been mulling over whether knowing the right questions to ask is more art, science, or the inspiration of a muse. And it’s not just science that requires careful, exact statements of questions and answers – any inquire, to be rationally convincing, needs it.
For example: upon careful reflection, the primary question to answer for mask wearing is not ‘does it reduce transmission of the virus’? but rather, ‘does it meaningfully or even measurably reduce overall risk?’
The first question, taken at face value and without any other limitations, is a road to insanity – it’s the road we’re on. For putting everyone into deep sea diving suits would very likely reduce transmission even more! Or hazmat suits with all seams duct taped. Or simply saran-wrap everybody and stash them in the basement for the duration. Because, if the question is ‘does it reduce transmission?’ these, and even more drastic, answers are far better than stupid paper masks.
But, it might be replied, these additional steps are too impractical! Thus, the mask argument shoehorns an additional requirement: steps to reduce transmission can’t be too crazy. But, the pedantically logical person may now notice that those are not compatible or coherent standards. Either you want to take steps to reduce transmission no matter what, OR the real rule is something like ‘take reasonable steps’. And now we get to (if this were allowed) to argue about reasonableness.
Forget transmission for a moment, and consider risk. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that masks, even my pirate Orwell mask, reduce the risk of serious illness from COVID by 50%. Sounds impressive. But for healthy people under 50, that reduction would be from something like a 0.002% risk to a 0.001% risk. Noise, in other words – you could get a similar reduction in overall health risks by losing a few pounds and getting a little exercise. This is not something any sane person would think about, let along mandate.
But what about grandma? Don’t I care for those poor old people? Older people fall roughly into two groups: those with one foot in the grave already, and those who, any day now, will have one foot in the grave. This is common knowledge, and went by the very descriptive name of ‘getting old’. Forget transmission, again, and focus on risk. Per the CDC, if you are 85 or older, you run an all-causes risk of dying of 13.6% of dying this year, a percentage that rises with the passage of time, until it’s about 99% by the time you hit 100. It’s 100% by 120.
When considering the elderly, the risks of COVID must be viewed against what might be called a high risk environment – old people are at high risk of dying soon. Shocking, I know.
As mentioned, the elderly can be roughly divided between the more or less healthy and those with the end clearly in sight – in the West, this division roughly translates to: can live more or less independently and those who need fairly constant care. Those in and those out of nursing homes.
Those in nursing homes can be further divided: those needing mostly physical care, and those suffering from dementia. The first group dies very soon upon admission, typically well within a year. (Dementia and Alzheimer patients last 5-10 years, typically. Their brains are shutting down faster than their bodies.) So, one might reasonably guess the annual fatality rate for non-dementia nursing home patients to be something like 90%. Might be lower, but it’s going to be very high.
So, against that backdrop, does COVID increase the overall risk of illness and death in the elderly? I think the answer, from the data, is: Short term, very much so – people in nursing homes who catch COVID face a very real risk of dying very soon. On a longer term view? No. Those same people stood a very high chance of dying – and dying miserably! Don’t kid yourselves that death by COVID is somehow worse than how old people usually die! – within the year, COVID or not.
So, as I’ve said from the beginning, prudent steps should be taken to minimize nursing home residents’ and other sick people’s exposure to COVID, just as, I presume, reasonable steps are taken every year to minimize exposure to colds, flues, and other communicable diseases that can push old, sick people over the edge. Other than that? End the lockup. Burn the masks. Destroy the political careers of those who pushed this nonsense. (Not that they’ll let that happen – or do you think mail-in ballots will ever be allowed to vote any of these clowns out?)
The rest of the population falls somewhere in between, but the pattern holds: COVID adds a tiny amount to my already existing risks. Masks, even if they work, reduce this already tiny risk by an additional tiny amount.
Then comes the next question: does wearing a mask for hours on end in itself increase our health risks? For that, I can only add that, as far as I can see, the case to be made that masks increase our health risks in and of themselves is at least as good as the case that masks meaningfully reduce our risk from COVID.