The Dream Virus

Inspired by a comment by El Borak on this post at Rotten Chestnuts.

For many decades now, it has been known that viruses always mutate, and tend to almost always mutate into less lethal forms. (1) Why viruses strongly tend to mutate into less virulent forms is basic applied Darwinism: a virus that kills its host is much less likely to spread than one that doesn’t. Dead bodies don’t get around much; people avoid dead bodies much more than they avoid live ones. Since any virus ‘wants’ to spread and replicate as much as possible, while its victims don’t ‘want’ to die, a milder, less fatal variation is much more likely to spread than a stronger, more fatal variety. (2)

Further, the fewer symptoms that announce a person is sick, the better, from the virus’s point of view. Having someone moaning in bed, or coughing up a lung, is not as likely to invite further interactions with potential future hosts, than a host that looks and acts more healthy.

The ideal virus would be infinitively infectious with no symptoms at all. And, indeed, at the moment it is likely you, me, anybody, has more virions in us than we have cells that are ‘ours’. They’re unimaginably small, for one thing, even compared to ‘our’ cells, and are simply everywhere. Some are symbiotic. But some are, evidently, just there. We humans have ‘coevolved’ with viruses for a couple billion years. They ‘know’ how to deal with us; we ‘know’ how to deal with them. In the normal course of things, viruses don’t ‘want’ to kill or harm us, and we are pretty much indifferent to their presence. Only once in a while does a mutation happen that increases the deadliness of a virus, and such mutations strongly tend to quickly fade out.

So we should have expected the COVID virus to a) mutate; and b) get more infectious and less and less harmful over time. And that’s exactly what the delta variant is: a more infectious but much less dangerous mutation.

Here’s what was shared by El Borak:

1) Do a duck duck go search for “technical briefing sars-cov-2 variants of concern”
2) The first item or two will lead you to a link. Click it.
3) Download the latest “Technical briefing” This is official “raw” data about Covid and its variants by Health England. The latest is #19, published July 23.
4) Scroll down to Table 3, page 13 and look for the Delta line.

More than 229,000 cases (now more than half of all British cases since Day 1). 461 deaths. An overall Case Fatality Rate of .2% (2-in-1000. 1st line, p.15). That includes all the diabetic octogenarian grandmas who got missed in the first wave. For people under 50 the CFR is 0% (penultimate line, p 14).

Those are official numbers, so you can assume, probably, that they’ve made them look as scary as they could get away with.

But they are not scary. A virus that kills 45 people under age 50 in more than 200,000 cases — who now all have immunity — is as close to the dream virus as you can get.

Chaser: of the 460 total deaths from Delta, only 165 (36%) had not taken at least one holy jab. The rest loved CNN.

Anybody listening?

  1. The counter-example was the Spanish Flu during WWI. A virus is ‘looking’ for more hosts; men in the trenches who got mildly sick stayed in the trenches, while those that got more seriously ill were taken to hospitals. The mildly sick only exposed a shrinking population of non-immune soldiers (those who had not already caught and recovered from the virus) while those who got more sick and were taken to hospitals got a chance to expose many more non-immune people, both on the trip and in the hospitals themselves. Thus, this one time, selection pressures actually favored a more virulent version of the flu. In the big picture, this odd environment that selected for symptoms bad enough to get the victim removed from the front briefly made the Spanish Flu more deadly, before it, like every other virus in history, mutated itself out of the news. Or so the story goes.
  2. I’ve often wished I had gone into evolutionary biology – it’s endlessly fascinating. One idea I had as a kid when I first read and read about Darwin, a notion I have yet to find in the literature (not that I’ve done anything like an exhaustive search) is the idea that life has evolved to evolve, that any successful living thing – and that’s every living thing that exists – has a genome that has gone through millions upon millions of selection cycles. Genes that produce characteristics that provide an advantage only once every hundred or thousand or million cycles would still get selected for. Think of grasshoppers – they have the genetic hardware to become locusts, a behaviorally and physically different animal. Yet many generations may pass before whatever it is that triggers that transformation occurs. Those genes persist through many generations where they are not expressed. Why? Or hybrid vigor: why is it that when closely-related but long separated populations mate, the results are so many outliers? Hybrids are smaller, bigger, stronger, weaker, and so on, than their parents. Why? Well, what if selection pressures over millennia had favored rolling the dice, feature-wise, whenever sufficiently divergent populations interbred? The environmental question: what kept those populations apart, and what has changed to bring them together? When an evolutionary environment changes – meaning, definitionally, the selection pressures change – then whatever form was selected for in the previous environments may no longer be favored. Maybe a bigger version would be better – or a smaller, etc. So, coded into every genome by natural selection acting over millions of years is a hybrid function: the advantage goes to more varied offspring in an environment of unknown but different selection pressures. I don’t know if that makes any sense – I’d need 10,000 words or more to spell it out any better.

A Gripping Tale of Getting My Teeth Cleaned, and Other Exquisite Drama

These remarkably clean, white, straight, unchipped teeth are not mine. Is there such a thing as a teeth model? I bet there is…

Got my teeth cleaned for the first time since the Coof. Walked in, the guy working reception told me to put on a mask. OK, dentist with a lot of elderly patients probably needs to put them at ease…

Next, the hygienist comes out. There are 3 who work for this dentist, two of whom I know pretty well from the last 25 years of being his patient. This was the 3rd, who may have done my teeth once or twice over the decades. So I don’t know her well enough to kid around with her. Well, she’s got the thermometer gun and the finger thermometer thing, and starts quizzing me as she’s taking my (perfectly normal) temperature.

She finally asks: “Have you been vaccinated?” I respond: “Do you know HIPAA?” She responds, a little flustered, “I think we can ask…” I go, “Maybe, but I don’t need to answer.”

Awkward silence. Finally, I add: “I’m not sick.”

Aaand -she let it go.

The dentist himself is a great guy, but not completely free of Branch Covidian dogmas. At least, he didn’t seem too worried, and made noises about the whole thing being overblown.

Walked out to talk to the reception guy and pay my bill. Didn’t mask up. No issues at all.

Next, went to mass this morning at a parish where, during an earlier stage of the Covidiocy, the priest had one day moved a daily mass inside because it was pouring rain outside – and got upbraided by Karen. She, you see, would rather have old people catch their death of cold out in the rain than see 30 masked up people in a church that seats 500 sitting 10+’ apart. Because something something.

Anyway, not sure if this is a milestone or tipping point, but for the first time since this insanity took hold, an obvious majority of the people in church were unmasked. Now, the masked-up people get to feel like the weirdos, and have their finely-honed instinct to comply triggered. You don’t want to be the last person wearing a mask, do you? One can only hope.

Finally, I’ve been working, off and on, on a COVID dictionary. Here’s a sample:

A Covid Dictionary

These are trying times for speakers of standard English. A lifetime spent using simple words to convey clear ideas leaves one ill-equipped for understanding what one reads and hears today. Here is a possibly helpful dictionary of terms currently in vogue, for those wedded to the now archaic idea that words are to be used to communicate. 

In today’s brave new world, any dictionary has an ever-contracting useful life. The notion that words should correspond to anything in objective reality is viewed as a dangerous anachronism. Therefore, the definitions below are good only for the current moment, and will be changed as soon as found expedient by our present wordsmiths. 

Believing the Science: An act of faith performed by acolytes who have not read the studies, would not understand them if they did, but parrot exactly what the nice people in lab coats on TV tell them to. 

Conspiracy Theory: a ritual allegation that relieves the speaker from all obligations to look at evidence

COVID Case: anyone who shows any signs of having, or ever having had, any of the symptoms common to a cold, flu, seasonal allergy, asthma, or related afflictions, or who gets a positive test result on a COVID test, regardless of how many cycles the test is run. Archaic: someone who presents for medical care while showing clear symptoms of COVID – never use case in this sense!

COVID Test: a highly sophisticated and, as used, highly oversensitive test wherein, when desired, a sample is processed as many times as it takes to get a positive result. Standards call for 40 or more cycles in cases of COVID, while other uses of the same technology to diagnose other diseases stop at 20 to prevent rampant false positives. 

Denier: See ‘Conspiracy Theory’

Established Science: A set of ever-changing dogmas found politically useful regardless of evidence or valid criticism. 

Scientific Consensus: The principle under which people defend the ideas that bloodletting is a good treatment for a wide variety of diseases, and that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies. Antonym: Scientific Method. 

Pandemic: Any real or imagined health problem the government declares to require massive government intervention to address. 

Have a nice weekend!

Some Badthink, While We Still Can

Perspective is important. One constant gotcha is scale. Saw something like this once, couldn’t find it, so I mocked it up myself:

On the very, very small chance anyone tries to look at the numbers, they are most likely to see something like this:

What you are supposed to notice: that scary red line way up over the weekly death totals from previous years, starting in March, 2020.

(What you are not supposed to notice: the dotted green line, which shows deaths from all causes other than COVID in 2021. That dotted green line should be – should be, by all common sense – ABOVE all previous years except 2020. The population has risen and aged significantly over this period; we should expect year over year death numbers to be higher. Yet, by some miracle, if it weren’t for COVID bringing the total 2021 solid green line up to where it might reasonably be, significantly fewer people have died in 2021 than history and common sense would have predicted. Makes a fellah wonder…)

What do these numbers look like if we put the deaths on the same scale as the population? They look like this:

All numbers from MacroTrends here and here

What this chart shows is the gradual increase in US population over the last decade, and a death rate consistently just under 1%. That means around 3M people die in the US every year in the normal course of things no matter what we do. Next, we will add in the attributed number of deaths ‘involving ‘ COVID in 2020. (2021 has been effectively flat, so I’m ignoring it). Note, not the number of excess deaths claimed by the CDC, which is about 360,000, but the 500,000 number of COVID deaths that is still getting tossed around. In other words, I’m following the ‘use the worst numbers in the worst way’ practice used incessantly by the media and government:

If you have good eyes and look very carefully, you can barely detect a tiny bump up for 2020. As tragic as any particular death may be, on a population basis of 333 million, even 500,000 additional deaths doesn’t change the big picture at all. If this seems cold, first, note that numbers don’t care.

As pointed out by many, many people, what a sane layman means by a disease killing somebody bears little resemblance to how the press has reported the CDC ‘death involving’ numbers. Most likely, at least 2/3rds of the deaths attributed to COVID are elderly, sickly people who were already dying of something else. People in nursing homes are there for a reason, and are most likely going to die soon, COVID or not. Yet we count them and panic while simply ignoring into oblivion the INEVITABLE, INESCAPABLE death toll of the lockdowns themselves.

Next let’s consider a pandemic about the existence of which there is little dispute: the Black Death. The numbers are not hard, as people at the time were too busy burying the dead and trying not to die to do any large-scale demographics for our benefit. Roughly, 30%-60% of the population of Europe died over the years 1347-1351. The population may have been as high as 75 million. Since we’re just ballparking here, and have to guess anyway, we’ll use a mathematically reasonable 4% annual death rate, which is about the guesstimate for agricultural pre-modern societies. I’m open to better suggestions here, but I merely point out that up or down a percentage point or two won’t make much difference to overall picture I’m painting.

Putting this into a graph, and making the simplifying assumption that the Plague killed about the same percentage of people from 1347 to 1351 so that the total adds up to about 60%, the graph looks something like this:

For illustration only. I’m not using hard numbers, but then again, no one else is either.

The first point is that you can actually see changes in deaths: from about 3 million a year as a baseline to almost 10,000,000 deaths in 1347, and the about 40 million who died over the duration of the Plague.

The second thing to note: the population went down, and went down drastically. It was centuries before the overall population of Europe again reached 1300 levels. Meanwhile, under COVID, the US population ROSE, and continues to rise.

The CDC is claiming COVID increased the death rate in America by about 10%, from about 2.9 million to about 3.2 million. That’s counting every ‘death involving’ COVID as a COVID death and ignoring INEVITABLE, INESCAPABLE deaths due to the lockdowns and masks. The The Black death increased the death rate about 300% annually, from about 3 million deaths to about 10 million deaths per year.

I have heard more than one person compare Sars2 to the Black Death. No. To get in the ballpark, a hundred million Americans would have to die, 20 times even the wildest overestimations floating about.

To put it in personal terms, every European during the Black Death saw his chances of dying a horrible death soon go up astronomically; COVID adds a tiny fraction of a percent more risk to an average, reasonably healthy American. During the Black Death, people had not just heard about a fatal disease, but saw many, many people in their families and villages die before their eyes. Mass graves, containing hundreds or even thousands, were needed to dispose of the dead. Death was an immediate, irrefutable fact for all but the most isolated Europeans. In America, while everyone who listens to the media has heard of COVID deaths, almost nobody personally knows an otherwise healthy person who died of COVID. Not elderly, not obese, not diabetic, not having underlying heart or lung issues, not having survived cancer (the the damage to their immune systems and overall strength surviving cancer usually entails).

Claiming a person so ill that they were consigned to a nursing home was killed by COVID defies common sense. Mortuaries are not and never were overworked any more than usual; hospitals are not and never were overwhelmed any more than usual. A cold is as much or more a threat than COVID to about 99% of everybody.

Footnote: I was so pleased and relieved to see back at church today someone who could have become, if she had died, the first person I personally knew to die of COVID. She’s a wonderful lady, 87 years old, generally vigorous but having had a couple falls in the last few months. She refused to wear masks or otherwise go around terrified. She is said to have caught the disease, ended up in the hospital – and then recovered just fine, like 99.9%+ of reasonably healthy people who catch it. Something is going to get her – something is going to get all of us! – but I’m so thankful it wasn’t the Coof in her case. May she live another decade! Everybody else I know who has had it has recovered promptly. A few had lingering symptoms. People seem to have forgotten catching that flu that just won’t go away, takes a couple months before we feel truly right. Used to be a sign you were human. Now, it’s a sign of the Apocalypse.

Vacation Adventures

View from where I’m siting at the moment

I am typing sitting at a table in a cabin looking out at a redwood stand overlooking a tributary to the Russian River in Northern California. For the first time in 3 years, my beloved and I were able to get away by ourselves for two whole nights. Left Monday afternoon, will get back Wednesday afternoon, This is all thanks to my wife’s double little sister – biological and Dominican – spending her annual home visit with her mother, who lives with us. God’s blessing on her! Yea us!

The Pacific from Bodega Head yesterday.

On Monday night, we went to dinner in a lovely restaurant right on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Wrap-around floor to ceiling windows, and the sun set during our meal. We had to park up Highway 1 a bit. It was very dark, the stars were breathtaking on our walk back. I’d never seen stars that bright other than from in mountains.

But this isn’t all about ME! Any more than usual, I mean. On the one hand, not a mask in sight at the restaurant. Patrons tended to be older (like us) and very gabby. We arrived at 8:00 and were I think the second to last group to be seated. The place was full, and didn’t really start to empty until well after 9:00. We weren’t the last people leaving when we left after 10:00. It was so PLEASANT to simply hang out like normal people!

On the other hand, we went to mass the next morning in Sebastopol, a small town inland a bit. It was beautiful, lovely priest gave a lovely homily for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

We we the only two people not wearing masks. On the next level of insanity, a woman walked the aisle during communion squirting hand sanitizer into people’s hands. Let’s give thanks for our membership in the Body of Christ by treating all other members first and foremost as potential disease vectors.

All other interactions were mixed: shopping, we ran into some masked, some not. When we hiked around at Bodega Head, a few people – out in the sun, with wind that could almost knock you over – were masked. One interesting thing: the proprietor of our B&B is in nearly the highest risk group – he’s not old, but he’s a cancer survivor, given almost no chance to live 16 years ago when he was diagnosed. (That’s how he ended up owning a beautiful set of cabins in a redwood stand – when you’re pretty sure you’re going to die, you live the dream NOW.) Yet – no mask. In general, the cancer survivors I know truly understand that, with what the cancer and the treatments have done to their bodies, the next freaking COLD could kill them, let alone anything more serious than that. And, with no exceptions, they do not cower in their rooms, locked away from all human contact in fear. (Although if they did lock themselves away for ‘safety’, I’d be less likely to know them in the first place.)

The fear/risk relationship has no basis in reality. Masking children, who neither get nor transmit the disease in any numbers, makes no sense. Our host here would absolutely get a pass from me if he were to get all masks & social distance on us – his risk may be low (it is) but it’s real, like it is from a cold or a flu.

But he would rather live now. I respect him for that, just as I respect Herman Caine, another cancer survivor who refused to cower in fear. He died – he was going to die at some point, probably sooner rather than later – but got in another dozen year after his cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you have been around cancer victims, you know it’s unpredictable how people are going to react. Some people look and act absolutely fine, after having surgery, chemo, radiation, only to fairly suddenly drop dead. Others are sickly, even bedridden, after treatment, and live some number of years. It seems to be a crap shoot, although a positive attitude seems to help.

Anyway, back to fun stuff. Our host will be delivering our fresh-baked goods for breakfast soon; we will pack up and head out for a leisurely drive home, working in a stop for fresh bread, local cheese, ice cream, maybe look at some junk antiques we have no place for and can’t afford – the usual. Then, back to the real world.

Out Shopping…

Today, went to the local vegetable market, a health food type store (they sell bulk flour and grind your own peanut butter), a restaurant supply store (bulk New Mexico chile powder) and Costco. For Father’s Day, my wife and I walked to the local Baskin Robbins. I also hit a Safeway earlier last week. Here’e the report.

The state of California, while warning us they could change their mind at any moment for any reason, has decided that, as of last Wednesday, people who have been fully vaccinated don’t have to wear masks or even social distance anymore, even in stores. For now. So I, whose medical records are nobody’s business, cannot be required to wear a mask. I’ve been gritting my teeth and pulling out a mask when physically in the stores, because some, like the heath food and produce markets, are little mom and pop operations, or close enough to it, that a Karen or two could put them out of business; others are huge chains that hire minions whose lives I don’t want to complicate – having some lowly clerk have to harass you after some Karen has harassed her seem to be getting the wrong people in trouble. I just pull it off the second I pass through the door on my way out, and put it on as I walk in. I was supposed to be wearing it even outside – which is where I drew the line.

If I had something this stylish and pointed in more than one sense, I might be tempted to wear it.

So: Produce Market. Mom and pop level store. No sign out front regarding mask wearing. Maybe 50% of the patrons were masked up. Clientele is largely not of western European extraction, and thus their attitudes toward doing exactly as the government tells them tends to be more – flexible. I’m happy to report that these good folks have generally gone easy on enforcement. The owners have an American flag and a God Bless America sign up on the wall. Employees were all masked. B+.

Harvest House, the health food store. I was worried. A few months ago, they had instituted a ‘no self-help on the bulk bins’ policy, which struck me as crazy. You had to wait for a store employee to fill up your plastic bags with whatever you were buying. Annoying. So I feared they would be more toward the Karen end of the scale. No sign out front about their masking policy. As I came in the door, an employee – masked – greeted maskless me cheerfully. So far so good. Then went back to get some bread flour (much cheaper in bulk, at least around here) and – all the don’t touch the bins! signs were gone. And maybe 30-40% of the patrons were maskless. Pleasantly surprised. Employees were all masked. B.

The restaurant supply store had printed up signs simply stating the governor’s new rules. Maybe half the patrons were maskless. Employees were all masked. B.

Costco had large, professionally printed corporate-level signs up about the state’s current recommendations. Maybe 60% of the patrons, and all the employees, were masked. B-.

Baskin-Robbins had no sign I could see, might have been one, but must have been small or poorly placed. When we got there, we headed for the door when a masked woman waiting outside told us they were only letting so many in at once, and she was next, and that they required masks. We’d been patronizing this particular Baskin Robbins for decades – they used to have $1 cones, and are a 20 minute walk from home, so we’d sometimes take the kids by. That has now ended. We walked all of another 1 1/2 blocks to where *2* other ice cream stores are located, picked one, and walked right in without masks and got some ice cream cones.

Baskin Robbins has decided to go the extra mile to appease Karen, and so has lost me as a customer. I sent them an email to that effect. F.

Finally, Safeway, the huge grocery store chain, posts the governor’s rules. I was disappointed that a sizeable majority of patrons (and all employees) were masked. C.

All that training to do as you are told and stick with the group can, one hopes and prays, backfire. If people see that most other people are not masked, they will start to want to skip it themselves. Alas, we have yet to reach that tipping point. Smart money says we won’t, or, if we do, the rules will change again.

Updates: Writing, etc.

A. Novel #1 – This is the puppy I am targeting to have ‘done’ – ready for beta readers – by June. OK, getting a little fast and loose here – end of June? June-ish? On the one hand, I’m only just shy of 20K useable words; on the other, what I’m trying to do has come into much better focus. At first, 20K words seemed like all there was going to be to this story, but as I keep asking myself: why would this character do or think this or that? I discover that this or that other thing has to happen.

Vague enough? I needed an interaction between the Captain of the Guard and my protagonist so that a later interaction would carry some emotional weight. So I had the Captain discuss some history of his species and their predicament with the protagonist. I then read the resulting couple thousand words aloud to my poor alpha readers – my wife and son – who made the mistake of wandering by at the wrong time. They were good with it. It’s essentially a world building info-dump, but couched (I hope) within some more emotionally interesting activities. For example.

Working this out laid out a road map for everything else I needed to include to give this story the emotional zing I’m looking for, and suggested yet another twist at the end….

So now, even though I burned May prepping for/attending our son’s wedding on the opposite side of the country, and so am WAY behind – all I need are 2-3 thousand words a day, and I’m good. Riiiiight – I feel pretty good about it. Before, I wrote myself into corners, because I didn’t know exactly where I was going. Now, I think I’m good to go.

B. The downside of feeling my way through writing something this long: repetition and continuity errors. Twice now, I’ve jumped into scenes I left dangling when I didn’t know where to take them, got going good, only to figure out afterwards that I already wrote a bunch of the scene. In my enthusiasm, I just kept going past where I needed to stop. Oops. This leaves me with two drafts of the same scene – and, of course, I like stuff from both takes.

So what I’ve done is highlight version A and B in different colors, paste them into another doc, go paragraph by paragraph through them, then sync ’em up and paste the results back into the main draft. In these two cases, I ended up keeping most of both takes, so it worked out OK. But I’d rather not work this inefficiently.

C. Just reminding myself: over the last 5-6 years, I’ve written 25K words of flash fiction on this blog, part of the about 1.5 million words of blog posting here over the last decade. Also written 40K words worth of short stories. Fragments of novels add up to about 38K words, not counting scraps and pieces from the more distant past. And not counting all the materials I’ve assembled for the book(s) on education, and the about 10,000 works on the Understanding Science book.

Typing this out to remind myself that, for me, amateur and mostly very part-time writer, cranking out another 40K words on this novel should not really be an issue – if I just stick to it!

D. The other other plan was to assemble two collections of existing writing from the stories and flash fiction, so I could have something on offer between getting the first novel – I’m thinking Dust Machines for the title – and getting whatever rises to the top of the pile as book #2. Each would be a mix of unpublished short stories and flash fiction from this blog, and would run 40-50K words each. A lot of it is SciFi, which might naturally lend itself to a collection, and a lot isn’t. Or I could mix it up.

So, if things were to work out as planned, I’d get Dust Machines to beta readers around the end of June (ha. How bout end of July?) then maybe to a professional editor a few weeks later, then throw it up on Amazon before the end of the year. Got to get a good cover artist in there someplace. Then, a month later, throw up collection #1, heavy on the SciFi; a month after that, the other collection, and a month or two later, book #2. Now I’d be well into 2022, with 4 books out.

Concurrently, start up a new author’s blog under a pen name, start the marketing push that seems an inescapable part of all this.

It Could Work Gene Wilder GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

That’s the plan.

E. Rumor is that the state has deigned to allow us to not wear masks at mass, starting tomorrow – if we’ve been vaccinated. As my wife reminded me, we’ve both been vaccinated since childhood! Good to go!

Pump the brakes. Let off a little her, a little there, but never let it be thought that anyone but you, the masters of the state, are in charge, or that you can’t can revoke permissions or make up new rules at any time.

Owner Balancing Treat On Dog's Head Causing Untold ...

5 Levels of Risk Analysis: We’re All Going to Die

Ever watch those YouTube videos where somebody will take a topic or piece of music and go through X levels of complexity, from simplest to most sophisticated? Malaguena, as played by a beginner, intermediate, advanced, pro? Or donuts as made by a newbie, an experienced amateur, and a chef? How about we do that for risk of death?

We’ll leave off the Level 0 analysis, by far the most common – basically, I don’t understand risk and therefore will dismiss risk analysis as unimportant nit-picking, and simply take whatever steps everybody else in my social group is taking alleged to reduce whatever risk my social group decides needs reducing. (1) We will instead start with rational risk analysis.

Note: Even though the approaches proposed are, except for the first and last levels, seriously flawed when considering an individual’s risk, it is sobering that, even as flawed as they are, any attempt to understand risk of death dispassionately in our current state is an improvement. Onward:

How To Understand Your Risk of Death – 5 Levels:

Level I – Everybody dies. You are at 100% risk of death. No getting around it. Your death, my death, anybody’s death, is as certain as taxes. When, not if.

Level II – Risk of dying this year, as a member of the human race: is somewhat less than 1%, or 1 in a hundred. This means that, across the population of the planet as a whole, something less than 1 out of 100 people walking the earth or born during a given year is going to be dead before the year is out. You can see this in, for example, UN death rate data, or just applying common sense: by age 100, just about everybody is dead; therefore, the annual death rate for everybody taken together could plausibly be a smidge under 1% (It’s more complicated than that, to be sure, but in a very simple, homogenous population, getting neither bigger nor smaller, nor older nor younger year over year, it would roughly be right.)

Pro Tip: when you see very accurate numbers – not a reasonable-ish claim like ‘about 0.9%’ but a remarkably accurate-sounding numbers like ‘0.8762%’ for estimates based on huge, difficult-to-count numbers, like world population, the klaxons of your BS detectors, if working properly, should be firing on 11. You get a death rate by dividing raw numbers of deaths by a population estimate. It would be surprising, given the people, methods, and motivations involved, if world population estimates were accurate within, say, a billion people. It’s not easy counting up a population – look at how involved the US Census is. Death counts seem much more simple – but are they? In, say, South Sudan or Mongolia or the Amazon rain forests? People don’t just die off-grid, as it were? Most other nations cannot or do not put the sort of effort into it the US does, and have reasons, often, for fudging. Three or 4 decimal places of accuracy might be plausible in the US, maybe, but the world? No. All those decimal places are pretty good indicator that somebody is trying to snow you, to keep you from thinking about how much uncertainty surrounds their numbers.

Level III – Risk of dying this year, as an American: your (and my) chances of dying this year simply by dint of being American is, according to the UN, about .8977%. Just about 9 out of every thousand of us in the US are expected to die in 2021. Let’s blow those numbers out to see some totals: using the last census count of something like 332 million Americans, looks like right about 3 million Americans are expected to die in 2021 in the normal course of things (See: Level I). That does not include any effects of COVID, by the way.

Level IV – Risk of dying by age: The astute observer will have noticed that death does not come at random, usually, but rather that some people are a lot more likely to drop dead than others over any short period of time, a year, say. Age is a huge part of this, such an astute observer will observe: young people tend to think they are immortal, which is a fairly reasonable or at least understandable position, given how few of their contemporaries die in a given year. They may know that one kid who died in a car wreck, or some poor kid who killed herself, but these seem pretty special cases – *I* drive good! I don’t want to kill myself! Old people, on the other hand, see their contemporaries increasingly dropping as they age, until it finally gets them.

And the data, as collected by insurance companies for a couple centuries now, bears this out. If you make it out of infancy and don’t have a crippling disease, you are all but guaranteed to make it to 50 – over 95% of American women and 92% of American men survive to age 50. It’s only about age 56 for men and 63 for women that the chance of death per year approaches the UN overall estimated US death rate of 0.8977%.

The obvious starting point, then, for any understanding of your risk of death is: how old are you? If you’re under 50, in general, it’s very low, but then starts slowly climbing until, finally, everybody is dead – around age 110 or so. We all seem to know this and take it for granted, except when we don’t.

Level V – How healthy are you? Here’s the bottom line. Are you healthy? Then you have very little annual risk of death above the background ‘stuff happens’ level. That is not a very high level, but is never zero. Let’s look at an actuarial table, for example, this one based off the Social Security website (relevant numbers included at the bottom of this post). Remember, this is the chance of death lumping all people of the same age together regardless of health. In reality, your or my or anybody’s chance of dying in a particular year has a lot more to do with overall health first of all, and risky personal behaviors second, than age directly.

Most people get sick and die, usually, but not always, when they’re old. But it is not age, per se, that kills them. Old age eventually leads to the human body wearing out and shutting down, on the one hand, and an increase in diseases as the body weakens and cannot fight them off so well, on the other. It’s perfectly useful to say people die of old age when we are describing the outcome of this shutting down and weakening. Clearly, however, being old – being 80 or 70 or 65 – isn’t the cause of death, as plenty of people those ages are vigorous. Age is a proxy for health, useful as a generalization, not so useful in individual cases.


A. Life is a bowl of cherries. Really:

Three-in-one cherry tree, from the front yard orchard. Yes, the could be riper, but the birds are eating them as soon as they get really red. Plus, while the Bings should be almost black, the other two varieties don’t get much redder than those above. And they taste good.

A young lady we’ve known for years came by every day to feed the cat and water the gardens. She did a good job. While we were gone, the cherries hit their stride. It’s only one tree, so we’ll only get a few bowls worth per season – but fun. Next up: apricots and peaches, probably end of the month.

B. Back from the Epic Wedding Trip. 7 days, 6 nights, 4 states not counting airports and home. Some pics:

The restored and Catholicized chapel. Our son’s wedding mass is the first to have taken place in this lovely building.
The sanctuary. Much of the renovation had to do with creating a proper sanctuary, where Catholic altar and tabernacle replace Protestant pulpit and organ. The Latin is a from the life of St. Thomas Aquinas, who set his works before the tabernacle and offered them to Christ crucified. The image of Christ on the cross said: “You have written well of Me, Thomas. What would you desire as a reward?” “Only You, Lord,” Thomas responded.
This is the student center at Thomas Aquinas College New England. I don’t know that the picture captures this vibe, but I just wanted to grab a book, find a corner, and read as soon as I walked in. Cozy and scholarly at the same time.

C. In New Hampshire, the spell of the magic mask talisman has been suspended – one can go about bare-faced and walk up to people, and the gods, we have been assured, will not be offended; cross the state line into Massachusetts or Vermont, however, and the wrath of the gods will descend upon any who dare sally forth with undiapered visage.

For now. Our betters are pumping the brakes, mixing it up, because, as any animal trainer will tell you, being predictable with your rewards does not get as eager a compliance as keeping the animal guessing. To add to the hilarity: when the New Hampshire folks decided to remove restrictions, they didn’t just announce: “OK, nobody’s dying of the Coof anymore, so go ahead and take off your masks and feel free to walk up to people and shake hands.” Nope, that would be too easy. Instead, it was *scheduled* for Monday, May 31. As in:

Owner Balancing Treat On Dog's Head Causing Untold ...

D. Speaking of terrified, scientifically illiterate rabbits doing as they’re told, I’ve got a massive post to drop in the next day or two about analyzing risk. Sometimes, I think I’ve been uniquely prepared for the COVID hysteria:

  • worked in the actuarial department of a major life insurance company, picked up some basic knowledge of how risk is measured;
  • worked as an underwriter and and underwriting analyst for a few years, so I know how the pros apply those risk models;
  • used and helped design mathematical models for 25 years, and taught people how to use and understand them (I can literally say: I wrote the book (well, a fat pamphlet) on a couple fancy models used by thousands of people to do fancy financing).
  • analyzed and cleaned up data for these models so that it was useful. Unless you’ve had to do this sort of clean up on real-world data, you simply have no idea how much sheer judgement goes into what gets measured and how. E.g., financial reporting systems are about as well defined, well-tested, and well funded as any data systems anywhere. Every company has one or more, with trained professionals inputting data, and have been doing this for decades. Yet, a data dump of the raw inputs is chaotic, unclear, and confusing. The question I had: what cash flows took place when? Surprisingly hard to answer! Correcting entries are ubiquitous, and often raise their own questions. And so on.
  • read a bunch of medical studies. When our kids were babies, I, like every other new parent in America at the time, was constantly ordered and shamed to not let the baby sleep in our bed with us. But I knew that this practice, called a family bed, was common everywhere else in the world. So I searched around, found the studies, and read them. Insane. Bad methodology, dubious data, poor analysis, no criticisms and answers (meaning: a study should address the obvious criticisms and answer them – it’s called science.) Just out and out junk. Yet – and here’s the real eye opener – a protocol had been developed from these two junk studies, and every freaking pediatrician in America was pushing the no family bed nonsense. It’s Science! It’s the medical consensus! Also read a few studies on salt and blood pressure, and was likewise unimpressed. Then noted how nobody did studies on drug interactions until it was clear such interactions were killing people – who’s going to pay for such endless studies? I reached the conclusion, since backed up by all the failed attempts at replication, that medical studies are mostly – useless? Wildly overconfident? Wildly over cautious? Not to be taken at face value?

With that background, and an amateur’s love of the scientific method, I was not buying the claims of pandemic, the outputs of models, the cleanliness of the data, and the ‘logic’ for panic and lockdowns. Looking into it, it was puke-level idiocy. And yet, here we are.

E. Briggs captures a good bit of what I’m trying to say in my upcoming post on risk analysis in this week’s COVID post:

Many people sent me this Lancet note about the difference between relative and absolute risk reduction. I’ve warned us many times to use absolute numbers (in any situation, not just this), because relative numbers always exaggerate (unless one is keenly aware of the absolutes).

Here’s an example. Suppose the conditional (on certain accepted evidence) risk of getting a dread disease is 0.001, or 0.1%. A drug or vexxine is developed and it is discovered (in update evidence) the risk of getting the disease is now 0.0001, or 0.01%.

The absolute risk reduction (ARR; conditional on the given evidence) is 0.001 – 0.0001 = 0.0009, or 0.09%.

The relative risk is a ratio of the two risks, and the risk reduction ratio is 1 minus this, or 1 – 0.0001/0.001 = 0.9, or 90%.

That relative 90% reduction (RRR) sounds much more marketable than the actual 0.09% reduction; indeed, it sounds 1,000 times better!

Here from the the Lancet piece are some numbers using published results, recalling, as the authors do, that everything is conditional on the evidence, which is always changing.

Johnson & Johnson67%1.2%

For instance, the CDC says only 300 kids 0-17 died with or of coronadoom (a terrific argument kids don’t need to be vexxed). Population of this age group is about 65 million. We don’t know how many infected or exposed or this group, but you can see that differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated kids would be very small.

Read the whole thing. I only dare write anything on something the esteemable Briggs has already written on because even this level of math is off-putting to some people. I focus on the narrative part – why is it that huge reductions in risk might be meaningless, when the underlying risk is originally very small, as in the COVID risk to kids 17 and under. When pestered by a friend about why I’m not getting the vaccine, I replied: I will not take experimental drugs to lower my risk of death from COVID from something like 0.01% to 0.005%. She immediately changed to the ‘protect others’ tack, so I let it drop.

Alas! If information mattered, we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in.

F. And then there’s this. And this. I tend to go data=>analysis=>political speculation, or perhaps claims=>evidence=>reasons/explanations=>politics. Therefore, I have only really lightly touched on the politics/corruption/coup aspects of the Coronadoom – because I foolishly keep expecting people to care about the truth of the claims first. Yet ‘truth of the claims’ is nowhere to be found in the thought processes of the many, who instead substitute ‘whatever belief maintains my good standing in my group.’ Most people seem to go my social group’s position=>politics. Don’t ask why you need to raise your hand and get permission to go to the bathroom – JUST DO IT, DAMMIT! That sort of training, where group position is paramount and approval is always contingent on mindless obedience, is a large part of what got us to this point.

An Old Post on Clarissa’s Blog: on Leaving the USSR

Way, way back in 2012, Clarissa, an academic who immigrated from the Ukraine, answered the question: since the USSR was so evil, why didn’t people leave? Seems appropriate, topical, even, somehow. Here is her answer:

The question doesn’t sound in the least stupid to me. The Soviet reality is so different from anything people have experienced or can imagine in other countries that it is, indeed, very difficult to comprehend it.

Leaving the USSR was next to impossible. People who applied for visas (mostly the Jews who had relatives outside of the country) were persecuted, sometimes imprisoned, and sometimes placed in psychiatric wards. The idea behind this was that anybody who wanted to leave the Soviet paradise had to, of necessity, be insane. Such people would be put on massive amounts of powerful psychotropic drugs with the goal of “curing” them of their desire to emigrate.

The only people who could leave the country for a short visit overseas were the ones who were considered “reliable” by the regime. You had to be an artist going on a tour or a very famous scientist traveling to a conference with a group of other Soviet people, many of whom were KGB informants and were following your every move. Of course, if you were a Jew, you wouldn’t be able to travel at all because Jews were considered unreliable by default.

All of this vigilance didn’t always work and some of the artists or scientists did end up asking for refuge in the countries they visited. This meant that they would never see their families again and could not even hope to get in touch with their relatives back in the USSR. People were never allowed to travel with their families, and who could face losing everybody you know and love for good? Single people were not allowed to travel precisely for this reason. If you wanted to work as a diplomat, for example, you had to get married because only then could the government keep your wife and children as hostages whenever it liked to do so.

In Captain Capitalism’s reality, people can just get on a plane and fly to Finland. This is a great, beautiful reality, and I really love it that there are people in the world who think in these terms. A Soviet person, however, could not have imagined such a possibility. Even traveling by train from one city to another in the USSR was very problematic. You needed to be prepared to show paperwork explaining why you needed to travel just to buy a ticket. Getting on a train or a plane to travel within the country was extraordinarily difficult. And when I imagine a poor Soviet citizen approaching the ticket counter at a Soviet airport and asking for a ticket to Finland (Bulgaria, Poland, etc.), I feel bad for that hypothetical Soviet traveler already. This person would have ended up at the police station and then the psychiatric hospital within minutes.

Gosh, folks, you couldn’t even make a phone call to another country. Talking to a foreign tourist in the street would put you in jail. We were completely isolated from the world because the Soviet government knew that the only way to keep people from running away in droves was to lock them down.

It’s true that Siberia is vast and sparsely populated. Obviously, nobody could guard the entire expanse of the border perfectly. However, you have to possess very special training to survive the climatic conditions. Besides, you need to know where exactly to go to have a chance to cross the border. Remember that one thing that you could never ever hope to purchase in the USSR was a map. Of anything. All maps were top secret. Also, a person who tried fleeing the country in that way – even if s/he were successful – was destroying the lives of every family member for generations to come as a result of the flight. How many people can face something like this?

I hate the Soviet Union.

The several hundred comment at the end are also enlightening.

We’re preparing for a trip to attend our son’s wedding, and therefore need to constantly check the ever-changing and utterly arbitrary travel restrictions the airlines and the states have imposed; we are hoping the whole vaccine passport idea dies the quick death it deserves. Our son is – finally! – getting to go on a week-long Boy Scout camping trip – and the insane, ever-changing restrictions and requirements are infuriating. If you dare to resist the siren call inject children with experimental vaccines against a disease that doesn’t affect them, then you will be required to submit recent clean COVID test results on inconveniently short notice prior to travel. Teenage boys healthy enough to attempt a week-long wilderness hike are literally at more risk of getting eaten by a bear than dying of COVID; my son quipped that masks reduce their peripheral vision, thus putting them at increased risk of injury out in the wild.

Yet, here we are. We don’t want to flee, but must be kept terrified and obedient to arbitrary rules so that we don’t gather and talk to each other, thus spreading ‘disinformation’ about what Our Own Lying Eyes see with dazzling clarity.

Your Own Lying Eyes

So, having correctly identified the COVID overreaction as fraud in March, 2020, I have not only not submitted to lockup, nor worn a mask except when needed to gain entrance to stores where I need to shop or to keep Karen from shutting down our church, nor observed the ‘social distancing’ rules, I and mine have actively sought out occasions to fraternize with people who similarly refuse to be cowed. Tends to only be a few times a month where we’ve hung out like normal people with normal people, but we’re trying.

So, I’ve noticed a couple things. Of course – duh – the people in these groups of normal people acting normally are not dying any faster or more dramatically than anyone else. If the propaganda were true, there would have to be a bunch of deaths in at least one of these groups, where many dozens of people over 60 gather regularly (I’m being vague here, for obvious reasons). I mean, we’re talking 80 year olds here, fraternizing with the other reactionaries of all ages, including smiles, hand shakes and – oh the humanity! – hugs. Over and over, week after week.

And none of them have died, and I’m pretty sure I’d have heard about it if someone had. Nobody’s been hospitalized. To all appearances, the elderly in this group are if anything more healthy than is typical of people their age.

Yet this is not evidence anyone on the terrified bunny side of the issue would admit. As unlikely as they are to acknowledge the cherry picking being done in the name of horrifying the rabbits, they are that likely to insist that this example is cherry picking on the ‘ain’t no plague’ side, that, if anything, it’s the fault of people acting normal that ‘we’ haven’t ‘defeated’ the virus yet. People refusing to be cowed into following totalitarian fantasy instructions unsupported by logic or evidence are somehow asymptomatically transferring the disease to others who then dutifully and in perfect accord with the panic die in droves, off-camera. Since we’re absolutely, dogmatically certain people are dying, and it’s clear the people immediately in front of us aren’t (at least, aren’t any more than any other year), then there must be people we never see dying someplace we haven’t been – nursing homes, for example, which were never overrun with visitors even pre-COVID, and are completely devoid of visitors now.

COVID deaths are also miraculously immune to that eternal bane of logic and science: confirmation bias. Even to suggest that confirmation bias needs to be guarded against gets one labeled a ‘denier’. The rules for filling out death certificates, which DO NOT mandate a positive test result for a COVID diagnosis, but rather encourage a COVID diagnosis if any two of the classic symptoms were present in the deceased, suggest, to put it mildly, a strong risk of confirmation bias. Since those symptoms include fever, aches, and breathing trouble, anyone who dies while showing evidence of a cold, a flu, an allergy attack, or a bout of asthma is almost guaranteed to get classified as a COVID death. It is otherwise impossible to rationally explain how, according to WHO data, no one anywhere in the world has died of the flu since March, 2020. (I heard a poor simple soul suggest that maybe the masks, lockups, and social distancing worked against the flu, even if they didn’t against the ‘Rona. In other words, this innocent was willing to accept that masks, distancing, and lockups worked against one virus but not against another that is exactly the same size and uses exactly the same transmission vectors. I didn’t even try to straighten him out.)

I know one man who had a younger, allegedly otherwise healthy relative die of COVID – 10,000 miles away. Not somebody he knew well, not somebody he’s seen in years, but somebody who was a real person to him – of course, I’m sympathetic, and said a prayer for the repose of her soul and comfort for her family. But, again – 10,000 miles away, on the ragged edges of Western medicine and of systematic reporting of numbers of any kind. Maybe this poor woman is the one in 100,000 or more healthy younger person who the Kung Flu kills. More likely, its a case of evil telephone – people are looking for COVID deaths, and so, by the time the story has been relayed a couple times, they will find them.

But that’s it, as far as my personal experience goes. A few friends and acquaintances have caught and recovered from it, with no more trouble than a typical flu. Does no one remember from the distant past of lo two years ago, when, every year without fail, we or somebody we knew caught the flu and just had a hard time shaking it? We’d get sick, feel kind of better, try to return to normal, then get hammered again? And how it would be a month or two before we finally felt 100%? Or even the common cold that took 2 weeks to shake and left us weak? No? Some other planet, then? But none of the people I know, even a few ‘high risk’ types in their 70s and 80s, has had any more than a ‘bad flu’ experience with COVID. Most shook it off faster than a typical flu – 3 days, maybe, with one ‘I’m not feeling right’ day followed by an ‘I’m pretty sick’ day followed by ‘feeling better but weak’ day. Of course, if you were already dying of something else, like the majority of nursing home patients, even this might kill you – because, if you are in a nursing home, SOMETHING IS GOING TO KILL YOU sooner rather than later.

No one I know has died of this disease; the deaths I’ve heard of from friends have all been elderly and sickly – and there’s only 3 total of those. To say an elderly, sickly person died of anything specific apart from being elderly and sickly is perverse. People get old and die – if we’re lucky, we each will get old and die. But in the current environment, it is tacitly assumed every old person would otherwise be immortal if the plague didn’t get them. I, like every sane person ever, assumes a sickly old person is going to die sooner rather than later, baring a miracle. Nursing homes are full of such people.

But back to evidence near versus evidence far. I’ve heard COVID is raging now in India. Looked it up – nope. But that won’t stop the headline writers and politicians from telling us it is. Very handy to have the latest deadly outbreak on the other side of the planet, from a nation to whom any standards of methodical reporting of anything are a bit of a British novelty, and certainly subject to more ingrained local practices. If that’s not clear: numbers coming out of India are suspect, to say the least; but what numbers have come up suggest the current ‘raging’ outbreak is still vastly smaller on a per-capita basis than any of the panic leaders in Europe. And make no allowances for confirmation bias.

So: There are those who have hardly stepped outside since March 2020. All they have, with slight apologies to Don Henley, is the word of

  • the bubble-headed bleach blond who comes on at 5.
  • Tell you all about the COVID with a gleam in her eye.
  • It’s interesting when people die – give us Dirty Fauci

Those who, like the hypochondriac who forgets not to use the arm that he says is crippled, go out often but imagine they are locking down, the lack of dead bodies on the street will go unnoticed.

Who are you going to believe, the ‘experts’ or your own lying eyes?

Pre-‘Rona. And one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded, to boot!