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.
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.
Pondering our certification culture. We certify everything from doctors and lawyers on one end to cosmeticians and astrologers on the other. All of this certification is putatively to protect us from ourselves, which, in itself, cannot but infantilize us. Certification also is supposed to enforce standards, such that, if I go to a certified accountant or licensed surgeon, I expect some basic standards to be met.
It should be clear that certification in itself tells us nothing about the desirability or wisdom of those standards. Both chiropractors and medical doctors are certified and licensed, yet they hold to often contradictory and antagonistic principles and practices – they can’t both be right, although they can certainly both be wrong. Certified astrologers are held to standards as well, one supposes, although one also supposes those standards have nothing to do with anything happening in the real world. But then, we Pisces tend to be skeptical…
Let us leave the fringe cases and turn to the strongest. One things doctors and lawyers share historically is low public esteem.
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her.
The unfortunate woman in Luke is not an exception. The poor could not afford doctors; the desperate rich were reliably cured of some or all of their wealth, if not their physical disorders. Where I live, there’s a park preserving the large house of one of the earliest settlers to the area. He had allegedly received some 19th century medical training back East, making him the closest thing to a doctor for many miles around, and so he became the go-to guy for health issues in that rough and tumble period. He charged 1 cowhide, upfront, before he’d look at a patient, and was not apparently very much inclined to pro-bono work. He ended up with a nice big house on a nice big ranch. I doubt he had a sterling reputation among the many.
Keep in mind that these were not modern people, who seem to believe the medical profession can and should save them from every sickness and danger. No, before the last 50 years or so, people seemed to understand that bad things happen, everyone dies, and doctors can be hoped to help, but there are no guarantees. It is only since the 1950s, for example, that going to a hospital when seriously ill would generally improve your chances of survival. Before that? Pretty much hit or miss. Before 1900, pretty much miss. When our not too distant ancestors heard of somebody undergoing treatment at a hospital and coming out alive, let alone cured, that was a sensation. When somebody went to a hospital and died, that was just life – especially since all but the rich wouldn’t even think of going until they were on the verge of death anyway.
Then, confirmation bias kicks in: the stories of cures at the hands of doctors are given great weight; the inevitable deaths are dismissed as just the way things go. The point here: it is only in modern times that being a doctor became a generally respected occupation. In the middle ages, surgery was something the local barber did; the distinction (if any) between medical care and witchcraft is a fairly modern thing, and, sadly, not clear to much of the population even now. Through most of history, an experienced doctor was a big help in setting bones and treating wounds. Check this out, for example. Otherwise? Big maybe. The general impression one gets when reading literature or history from anywhere: doctors are most often portrayed as money grubbing shysters.
The low esteem in which lawyers are even now held by the public needs hardly be mentioned. It has always been thus. The sophists of the golden age of Greece were training up what we might call lawyers – masters of rhetoric and public speaking, who used their skills to gain power and manipulate people and institutions. Socrates and Plato loathed such men; I would imagine common citizens could be counted on to loath them as well. (1)
Obviously, individual doctors and lawyers can be good people. I’m here describing what might be called a marketing problem: enough people have bad enough experiences with doctors and lawyers, historically, at least, that doctors and lawyers are held at least in suspicion, if not out and out distrust.
Enter certification and licensing. From a strictly business point of view, it is important for doctors and lawyers to calm public fears about their competence and trustworthiness. As late as the 1870s, few US doctors were licensed; as late as the 1930s, medical ‘diploma mills’ were still in operation. Gradually, doctors became one of, if not the, most highly regulated profession. Today, a doctor must get a degree from a highly regulated med school, pass a state licensing requirement, and then pass boards in any specialties he’d like to practice.
It is amusing – to me, at least – to note that all this regulation and training requirements trails overall improvements in public health. In 1900, a man could expect to live about 49 years, on average, up about 10 years from 1860. While medical care may have improved over those 40 years, that period also corresponds to a massive move from the country to towns and cities. By 1900, about 50% of everybody no longer lived on farms. Farm work, especially when using animals as muscle, is very arduous and dangerous. Horses, cows, pigs can kill you. Having to perform the brutal physical labor to plant, plow, and harvest regardless of health takes a toll, a toll expressed in a much lower life expectancy. Life expectancy has increased in America as safer, less physically demanding work has replaced farming, and machines have replaced animals for farm work.
Medicine has been bringing up the rear on these trends, for the most part, for the last 150-200 years. Vaccines and antibiotics extended the lives of many millions, but would hardly make a difference if sufficient food, water, and sanitation were not also available. Heart and cancer treatment advances largely apply to the elderly, who are the majority of the sufferers and who simply weren’t there in comparable numbers 100 years ago. Medicine, like formal education, seems to be a result rather than a cause of increasing wealth.
Many people profoundly mistrust conventional medicine. (Note: I personally don’t so much mistrust modern medicine as I like to take a look at the evidence for myself. In general, I’m willing to go with what my doctors say I ought to do almost all the time. It’s not automatic, though.) That’s why homeopathy, chiropractic, and other practices have their millions of devoted followers. These are not stupid or unusually gullible people – the medical profession has earned their mistrust, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support these practices. (2) No science, as far as I can tell, but that matters little to people when somebody they know personally tells them of their wonderful experiences.
From a purely business point of view, the willingness of people to try all sorts of cures and to distrust doctors is a major problem to be solved – for the highly-trained doctors. If I’m going to spend years and a fortune getting through medical school, I’m going to need to convince people to pay me, and not that snake oil salesman! I must assume and defend my professional dignity, and find a way to denigrate the competition. Licensing creates the desired division: respectable, trained, competent doctors are *certified*; all others are frauds. That’s the marketing message, at least.
In a similar way, a lawyer wants to claim the aura of respect surrounding the never-went-to-law-school lawyer Abraham Lincoln, while at the same time embracing a licensing scheme designed to keep the likes of Honest Abe out of the profession. Both lawyers and doctors tend to be rather fiercely protective of their professional designation – doctors want to be called *Doctor*; lawyers insist on being treated with the respect presumed to be due to an *esquire*.
Of course, licensing is inevitably presented as something done, not to suppress competition and aid the professions in their quest for prestige and money, but to help and protect ‘the public’. The public is treated as a bunch of children, unable to look after themselves. While this may be true – that many people are gullible rubes – it’s not clear that a) lawyers and doctors are not equally likely to be gullible rubes themselves, and b) that the practice of licensing, especially when the state gets involved and is used to suppress competition, isn’t an ultimately irresistible temptation to abuse. In other words, I’m assuming doctors, lawyers, and other high-end professionals remain of the same species as the rest of us, subject to the same temptations and failings.
I expect that many, if not most, people would by now be horrified: I’m suggesting we might be better off without licensing requirements for doctors and lawyers? Am I a madman? First off, what I would suggest is separation of professions and state: the guilds can do what they want, as far as creating all sorts of merit badges and participation trophies – and the public get to decide how much weight to give them. If an individual want to only hire doctors who have all the approvals of the guild or not, or hire a certified lawyer or rather base his decision on whether or not that lawyer has a track record with the issues that made him want to hire a lawyer in the first place – OK. Newsflash: this is what people are doing anyway. On the doctor side, there are many homeopaths and chiropractors doing solid business; Whole Earth panders to those who think probiotics and organic food is going to heal them. Lawyers get hired by reputation or recommendation.
I repeat that I’m using lawyers and doctors as examples here, because they represent the most elite certified professions. This argument applies even more so to the more pointlessly certified. If you got the state out of the certification business, and instead let the guilds develop their own practices however they like but unenforced by the state, then people would be treated like grown-ups who can make up their own minds, rather than children who need to be protected from themselves.
The underlying problem here is the inversion of cause and effect: a world increasingly set up on the assumption that we need to be protected from ourselves creates children who never grow up. Before this eternal infantilization can be changed, we must stop reinforcing it. It is good to remember that people remain people – a situation no amount of certification can change. If we need protection from ourselves, so would doctors and lawyers. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Licensing boom: In 1950, 73 occupations required licenses in one or more states. By 1970 that number had grown to more than 500. | Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
from the cation to a picture accompanying the article
It’s illegal to practice medicine without a license, and that piece of paper is exceedingly hard to come by. Would-be doctors face more than a decade of training and must pass rigorous board exams. Thanks to that high bar and the steep up-front ante, there are almost no quacks in American medicine today. That’s a comforting thought when you’re sick and need to see an unfamiliar physician.
So, naturally, we take it for granted that licensing requirements — now common in skilled professions, including law, architecture, and accounting — exist to protect consumers. Indeed, that’s more or less what Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jonathan Berk assumed when he began a theoretical study of licensing and certification in the labor market.
Now, to be sure, if any barber could hang up a shingle and call themself a doctor, and you unwisely decided that would be a good option for hernia surgery, you might wish there’d been more stringent regulations in place. What the analysis says is that consumers as a whole are worse off under licensing — the gains to those who benefit are far outweighed by the burden on the vast majority, who don’t.
“This result was as much a surprise to me as it is to anybody,” says Berk, the A.P. Giannini Professor of Finance. “To be honest, this is not the paper we set out to write.”
It’s telling that Plato, in his Academy, would filter out candidates for his highest training – training for the gold-souled, the would-be philosopher-kings – by math skills: he believed mastery of math was solid evidence of real intellect. He attempted to filter out the glib posers, in other words – who would be perfect pupils for the sophists. I’ve gotten to know a bunch of lawyers over the years; exactly 2 were good at math. Both came to law later in life – one was in fact an elite mathematician, the other an engineer who got into patent law. Others ranged from ‘not exactly terrified of math’ to ‘cringy math-phobes’. Plato might be amused. (aside: how would I come to know their level of comfort with math? See: my career.)
My oldest sister, with a master’s in chemistry and a JD, and a career chasing patents for a Big Pharma company, saw her chiropractor regularly. Whether there’s anything to the theory, there’s a lot to be said for the power of human concern and human touch. Her visits with her chiropractor were one of the few regular, positive interpersonal experiences she, house-ridden with health problems, had. Unfortunately, as she was dying and we were settling the estate, we discovered he was a major shyster. But that’s another story.
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:
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:
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.
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 & Johnson
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.
When we last left off, we were discussing claims and evidence. Now let’s talk about the quality of claims, evidence, and the relationship of claims and evidence. This it probably Part 1 – topic spiral potential: high.
To cut to the chase: a reasonable, useful claim is specific, expressed in unambiguous terms, and subject to logical and real-world contradiction.
Thus, reasonable, useful evidence addresses specific claims, according to the rules of logic.
This all may seem pedantic nonsense. If so, you will find real science is all about pedantic nonsense. Ask a scientist a simple question: what is the boiling point of water? and, if he is answering as a scientist, you will get:
discussions about what a state change is, energy thresholds, margins of error, and limits of observation;
A laundry list of conditions that affect the observed boiling point of water: air pressure, purity of the water;
THEN he might say: 100C, GIVEN all the definitions, conditions, and caveats listed above.
The boiling point of water is about as simple a scientific question as one can ask. See Millikan’s classic oil drop experiment (my favorite, and the fanciest experiment I’ve every personally done) for something a little more complicated. To calculate the charge of an electron, Millikan and Fletcher had to define, develop and measure a whole bunch of things, e.g., the size and mass of aerosol oil droplets and the viscosity of air (which changes with temperature and pressure). They needed to design and build a device that 1) created tiny oil droplets; 2) generated electrons in such a way that some of them would stick to those oil droplets; 3) provided a consistent, measurable way to observe the oil droplets thus created; 4) had a magnetic field of known strength that they could turn on and off at will. THEN you spend hundreds of hours (in addition to the hundreds you spent coming up with the experimental concepts and building and perfecting the device) risking blindness to gather thousands of observations.
Millikan did all that, and a ton of math, then got to say that the charge of the electron is 1.5924(17)×10−19 C (1) and collect his Nobel Prize.
In the real world, few people understand the question: what is the charge of an electron? let alone feel any need to know the answer.
A scientific claim is a claim that answers a scientific question. (I’m a regular Obvious Oscar today!) If the question itself does not go through the refining and defining required to hammer it into scientific shape, cleaning up as much as possible all ambiguities and and establishing the limits and conditions, then the pseudo-scientific claim that science has answered such a question is, and must be, wrong.
The above is a round-about way of addressing the nature of science as discussed here for a decade or more. Science, as John C. Wright points out often, is the study of the metrical properties of physical objects. If the question does not concern the measurement of the properties of something you can see, hold in your hand, smell, taste, hear – then it’s not a scientific question. Note: this does not mean your question is unimportant or wrong, merely that you’re not going to be able to use science to answer it. Most of life’s really important questions – should I ask her to marry me? what is the right thing to do? how should I spend my life? and so on – are not science questions. We have to come up with other ways to answer them.
It should be clear at this point that scientific evidence must be weighed by how well, if at all, it addresses a well formed scientific question. Badly formed or categorically wrong questions cannot, as in, CANNOT be answered scientifically. Science will not tell me if I should ask this particular woman to marry me; science has nothing to say about the proper course of action for any human decisions. Getting an ought from an is is difficult, if, indeed, the impossible can be called difficult. (That’s an Aristotle joke, there.)
Thus, people are making a categorical error when they claim to be ‘following the science’ when the do or promote actions. There’s always more to the question. Ex: if someone is injected with these chemicals, they will die. Therefore, IF we don’t want a particular someone to die, we should not inject them with these chemicals. So, do we want them to die? Are they an innocent child, or a serial killer of innocent children on death row? Could have different answers. IF the person OUGHT to die is not a question science can answer.
To be convincing or even relevant scientifically, evidence requires a good, clean scientific question to be run up against. Take an example I’ve used before: I saw a report once that a certain migratory butterfly population had decreased 87.3% (say. Numbers are for illustration only.) The obvious scientific question this ‘evidence’ would be addressing is: are there fewer butterflies of this particular type in a specified time period as opposed to another specified time period? Simply putting the question in that format should suggest the conditions and definitions needed in order to evaluate evidence, if any:
How is the counting of butterflies being done?
How is the accuracy of the counting assured? (This means, in Feynman’s classic formulation, that the makers of the claim/presenters of the evidence are required by the honesty implicit in the pursuit of science to list any possible ways they can think of that their conclusions, methods, or data could be wrong.)
In turn, these questions intended to clear up and make scientific the more general question do, themselves, raise questions. And here’s the point of this exercise: if the study or report authors or claimants cannot show that they have done the thought-smithing needed to define and clarify the question they claim to be addressing, then, put bluntly, it’s not science. In the above example, at least, the ‘researchers’ would need to assure us that:
Where they are looking for the butterflies is where the butterflies are – namely, that they didn’t simply take another route, or take the usual route at a different time. In other words, that their count is in fact a count that includes all the relevant butterflies.
How they counted those thousands of butterflies is at all accurate.
And so on.
In the real world, the speciousness of almost all claims made in the name of Science! are not even this subtle. But I think it important to get a grip on what scientific claims, questions and evidence ought to look like.
In a commencement address given at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1974 (and reprinted in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! in 1985 as well as in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out in 1999), physicist Richard Feynman noted:
We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It’s a little bit off because he had the incorrect value for the viscosity of air. It’s interesting to look at the history of measurements of the charge of an electron, after Millikan. If you plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little bit bigger than Millikan’s, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, and the next one’s a little bit bigger than that, until finally they settle down to a number which is higher. Why didn’t they discover the new number was higher right away? It’s a thing that scientists are ashamed of—this history—because it’s apparent that people did things like this: When they got a number that was too high above Millikan’s, they thought something must be wrong—and they would look for and find a reason why something might be wrong. When they got a number close to Millikan’s value they didn’t look so hard. And so they eliminated the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that …
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.
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?
Penultimate post, mentioned the central role of middle management in enforcing the desires of the hypercompetitive. Especially in enterprises not governed by the desire for money, middle management is filled with people who in previous ages would have been courtiers.
Robert Bolt captures the nature of courtiers in A Man for All Seasons. The central theme can be framed: how Thomas More is not a courtier. To illustrate this, various courtiers at various stages of their climb are introduced and examined.
Sir Richard Rich, who plays his friendship with More into a position as Attorney General for Wales by perjuring himself to get More convicted, follows the near-ideal path for courtier: parlays his relationship to More into a position under Cromwell and betrays More to get the Attorney General for Wales gig. Rich gains Henry’s trust by showing his willingness to do whatever it takes (e.g., after the official torturer had reached his limit, personally torturing a 25-year old woman on the rack to the point where, screaming in agony, all her joints were ripped apart. She had to be carried to the stake upon which she was burned to death, as any attempt to move was agony.).
He becomes the go-to guy for dirty, messy business, such as the dissolution of the monasteries, which he brutally prosecuted. He managed to ride out the change from Henry through Catholic Mary – even helping with the Restoration! – and back through Elizabeth. He was the perfect Useful Man who could survive any mere change in religion or ideology. Under an assortment of Kings and Queens, he held an string of ever more powerful and lucrative positions, ending up as Baron Rich and Chancellor. He died a very wealthy man, of old age in his bed.
The Oracle Wikipedia reports: “Since the mid-16th century Rich has had a reputation for immorality, financial dishonesty, double-dealing, perjury and treachery rarely matched in English history. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper called Rich a man “of whom nobody has ever spoken a good word”.
If you are wondering what middle managers of various flavors (*cough* Fauci *cough*) dream of, look at the career of Baron Rich. Relative nobody who plays his cards right, checks his scruples (if any) at the door, his finger constantly in the wind, lips always planted on the correct hindquarters, accumulating power and wealth and destroying enemies along the way, and manages to kept free of any loyalties that might get him killed when the people on the top change.
The reality, of course, is that the bulk of the courtiers end up jumping in the mud with Henry (see first picture) as they attempt to be useful and appear loyal and eager, and just get muddy – no titles and wealth for you! Two scenes later, Henry takes the boats and leaves the uncooperative Thomas in a huff, abandoning all those muddy courtiers to find their own way back to the palace. It’s a very real scene in a movie full of real scenes.
Machiavelli, after describing the murder and mayhem a new prince will need to visit upon hic competitors and potential competitors, tells his padawans they need not be concerned with finding men willing to do things like murder the entire families of his rivals: they will always be at hand. As in almost everything he writes, Machiavelli is letting history be his guide.
So, to tie it all together: the upper echelons of government and business are manned by hypercompetitive people, a disproportionate number of whom are out and out sociopaths; the next level down is people by career bureaucrats, middle managers, modern courtiers. Of course, there is some bleed-over – occasionally, a courtier makes it to Baron; occasionally, a hypercompetitive person gets stuck in middle management. But, in general: we are ruled by sociopaths and courtiers. Thus, it has (almost) always been.
Two notes: first, don’t mistake titles for power. Sometimes, a President or Pope is just a figurehead, sometimes a seemingly unlikely person is the power. You can be a Director of this or that, say the CDC, and still be, essentially, a courtier. Second, the aching eagerness with which courtiers try to anticipate and enact the desires of their lords creates a perfect system for mindless compliance and vigorous enforcement: once the courtiers figure out what they think the boss wants, then anyone who doesn’t go along is an enemy, an existential threat. A courtier wants to be useful to his lord, want to prove that he, more than anyone, is doing what the lord wants.
The sickening power struggles that are characteristic of courts and bureaucracies make concerted actions and brutal repression inevitable – without any sort of conspiracy, as normally understood, involved.
(This, btw, is why I harp on the lack of a purge after Fred Roti’s conviction – sure, the overt kingpin was removed, but the courtier mechanism he and his predecessors had constructed over decades remained. That mechanism – machine, if you will – then produces – what, exactly? A President and all his key cabinet members? Who can be expected to behave how, exactly?)
Returning to a mundane topic: how competitive people think. Businessmen, particularly high-end salesmen, are my go-to examples based on personal experience, but the same thinking applies to elite athletes and bureaucrats. To sum up: while many, maybe most, people are competitive on some level, the sort of competitive drive which motivates ‘highly successful’ people is different in kind. Such people have so internalized the question: ‘what do I need to do to win?’ that it drives their every action without so much needing to be asked.
An LBJ or a Bill Russel (to take examples that date me!) both had to win. LBJ famously had to get to know every cub reporter who made it to the Capital, and to impress on such a one that he, LBJ, knew who they were. He was their best buddy, at least early on, who would address them by name, slap them on the back, pal around for the required minimum time – and then move on to the next thing he needed to do. LBJ had an amazing memory for faces and names, and knew what role each person played and what he needed out of them to succeed. Bill Russell remembered every play from every game he had been in back through college and beyond, and could instantly recall decisions, tendencies, and outcomes in order to identify what he should do to maximize success. (I could use LeBron and, I don’t know, Rahm Emmanuel? as more current examples. Athletes are more willing to talk about their insane obsessions than politicians, who realize that such talk is a key part of the game they trying to win, and so what you get from them is pure marketing.)
And so on. Current superstar athletes and politicians have the same insane memories and focus – cause or effect? Coaches and, I would imagine, political chiefs of staffs, cannot do, so they teach. They systematize this: ‘watching film’ or ‘charting tendencies’ are the ways the hypercompetitive try to bring the merely normally competitive up to level.
Such coaches and political operatives do not usually see themselves as using people. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie seems baffled by the questions: are you doing all these things just to win? Are you using people? He thinks he is counseling mere thoughtful decency, and that success comes from treating people right. Maybe he is pure in his motivations, but the same approach applied by the sociopaths who are wildly overrepresented in ‘leadership positions’ is not so much malignant as indifferent. The concerns of the people being used is only of interest if it figures into the next goal. People are means, not ends.
Hyper competitive people are obsessed with their goals. They see EVERYTHING in terms of moving them closer or farther from winning. Yet, psychologically, goals are secondary to winning. Such people choose and even change goals, but the need to win is permanent.
Imagine such personality types liberally sprinkled throughout a representative democracy. Here’s the leap: you’ll end up with what looks like a ‘conspiracy’. It may in fact be a conspiracy, but that isn’t strictly necessary: for the hypercompetitive, everything and everyone else are pieces to be used. What those pieces think about being used is irrelevant. If it works to bring them in on the plan – to welcome them into an inner circle – then, do that. If it works to lie – by omission or commission makes no difference – do that.
Like coaches, the immediate goal is to get the team on same page, to get as many people as possible pulling toward the big goal. It’s not important, and may be undesirable, that the team knows what the ultimate goal is. In fact, the creation and promulgation of whatever goal the team would be willing to pull together to achieve is an early part of the game plan.
The first step is to make sure there is a team. Sports and politics are essentially indistinguishable here. I support my team because it’s my team. The other team is evil. Yay, team! It’s a matter of identity, not logic. I was a big Laker and Dodger fan when I was a kid, because… they were the closest teams. No reasoning was involved. It’s delusional to imagine politics is much different. Some people change sports teams when they move; some people change political allegiance, but it’s rare and often traumatic now days.
In the more advanced, evolved state we’re in now, the team members have been trained to pull toward whatever the announced goal is, which can change on a dime. No more consistency is required than in sports: used to hate that guy when he was on he Celtics, now love him because he’s on the Lakers. Today, we’re against the war, because we’ve decided it’s the other team’s fault. Tomorrow, we forget all about it, because now our team is in charge.
Much of this is, of course, basic tribal behavior. I’m here pointing out that such behavior is useful and encouraged by the hypercompetitive. They are not in the least interested in enlightening the masses – they just need the masses to do as they are told.
Young lions will sometimes team up to unseat the current head of pride, two against one. Later, they will try to drive out or kill each other. But step 1 is getting the established leader out. In just such a way, but more complicated as people are more complicated than lions, you don’t need a single leader. A bunch of hypercompetitive people can, while competing with and even despising each other, agree on the next step, the next intermediate goal. Then, promulgate a goal – justice, say – that the team can be made to get behind. Vilify anyone who dares question the goal – he’s a Celtic fan! He’s eeeevil!
Maybe I’ll write next about the middle management. Your career hack doesn’t so much follow orders as he knows his life depends on figuring out what the next level up wants him to do. For the last year and a half, those who have figured out that the top echelon wants a plague, wants a terrified population, have prospered. Those who point out how stupid these claims and steps are have their lives destroyed. They are simply playing the wrong game.
Sociopathic hypercompetitive people might well choose, as the most interesting goal, destroying the current culture. Maybe so that they can lead, or maybe just to watch the world burn. They might take Gramsci as a means to their end. They might even believe in what Gramsci believed, but that hardly matters. What matters is that such people will turn their attention to the destruction of family, village, and church as mere intermediate goals. They would create and promulgate ‘goals’ for the team that achieve their almost certainly unstated personal goals. Thus, all the mores and traditions that uphold the family must be destroyed – you announce to the team that ‘justice’ or ‘fairness’ demands some action, making no reference to the ultimate goal.
Recap: the world is full of hypercompetitive people. For such people, psychopathy is not only not a hinderance, but a plus. Thus, the big winners in our world tend to have absolutely no concern for the effects their winning has on other people. Further, at the top levels of any social system, such as our system of representative democracy (RIP) these sociopathic hypercompetitive people will find themselves working ‘together’ at least as a short-term expedient. They will need to get the others to act in ways that further their goals. Because of toady middle management and well-trained team members, this ad-hoc agreement on shorter-term goals will have the appearances of a conspiracy. The ‘leaders’ know what they want; middle management makes an easy guess about what that is and shapes their behaviors and messages accordingly, and the desired behavior is promulgated down to the obedient sheep. No smoke-filled room with thousands of conspirators signing onto an evil master-plan is required.
Models tell you only what you tell them to tell you.
Solutions, reactions, decisions, and so on, related to model output, are also models
Ferguson, the professional panic-monger who started all this with his insane, unvetted model, has a 20 year history of promoting panic via insane, unvetted models that fail to match reality.
If you do not run your model against independent data collected from objective reality, it holds no weight. It means nothing.
Common knowledge among modelers: you can always build a model for any set of test data that matches the test data perfectly – and this means nothing, except that you need to run it up against reality.
And, on the Kung Flu specifically:
When the models that predicted coronadoom ran up against reality, they all proved disastrously, ridiculously wrong.
A case used to mean ‘someone with symptoms who needs medical care’, not ‘someone with a positive test result, but no symptoms or need for medical care.’ Counting cases is misleading at best.
And here’s my favorite graph, from the CDC data:
Deaths peaked during the Great Depression, possibly because financial panics are stressful, and stress kills, then slowly declined until about 2010, when it began to slowly rise again. Look at that nasty uptick in deaths at the end there! Oh no! Based on where the uptick began, it looks like the Coronadoom started taking out people in 2014 – the damn thing can time travel? Is there no evil this virus can’t do? Compare this to the UN data and projections since 1950, which specifically does not take the Coronadoom into account:
You will note that the UN projected an increasing death rate starting around 2013, 7 years before the COVID panic was a gleam in Ferguson’s eye. Why? As the US populations ages, a larger percentage of people will die each year. The US population has historically skewed younger: immigrants tend to be younger, and when the birth rate is higher than replacement rate, more babies enter the population than oldsters exit it. But now the US population is getting older, as fewer babies are born. Therefore, the death rate will rise. Not rocket science.
Now let’s break out the two relevant sections of the two graphs, the annual death rates from 1950 – now, in the CDC numbers, we can see the dramatic uptick in deaths caused by the most horriblest viral outbreak in History that we’re now in the middle of, versus the UN numbers which exclude the effects of the pandemic. Top graph is actuals including the Kung Flu deaths; the lower is projections without Kung Flu, as the banner says:
Wow, just looking at the graphs! The supposed massive uptick in death caused by the Cornonadoom IS INVISIBLE. Put it the other way around: if 400K more people had died in 2020 than was expected, the 2020 death percentage would go from 0.888 to 1.012. (.888 X 330M = 2.94M; add 400K dead, it would be 3.34M dead; divide by 330M = 1.012 death percentage.) * It would look like this:
So the CDC graph (which I didn’t use because the y-axis scale is inconvenient for this purpose, but the graphs are the same) should show a dramatic increase over the UN projections if, in fact, the virus killed a bunch of people. But it doesn’t look like this at all! It looks like NOBODY MUCH EXTRA DIED IN 2020.
One of my complaints with the numbers and reports coming out of the CDC is how needlessly complex (and difficult to find) they are. ‘Excess deaths’ are calculated on a weekly basis using all kinds of assumptions and math that make answering the simple question: how many more people have died this year than last? or, better, how many more people died in 2020 than could reasonably be expected? needlessly difficult to answer. Why is a simple total of deaths in 2019 versus deaths in 2020 not posted on the CDC’s home page? Seriously, why, if we’re supposedly in the middle of a pandemic, not post totals so that people can get a feel for the magnitude of the problem?
Unless, of course, there isn’t a problem. Or rather, if people knew, there would be a big problem for certain people.
*Note – it’s estimates all the way down on population #, so it is simply pointless to try to get much more accurate than this.
A few basic points, which failure to grasp condemns one to live in mindless fear (or mindless fearlessness, but that seems less a problem these days):
Everybody has a 100% chance of dying within the next 100 years or so.
Most of us, in the West, get old and weak and die starting around age 50. No, really. By age 79, half of us are dead. By 90, almost all of us are dead. By 120, all of us are.
There are risks you can reduce, and risks you can’t: never swim in the ocean, and your chances of getting eaten by a shark go from microscopic to even more microscopic (but never go away entirely). Get old enough – and you die no matter what precautions you take.
It’s boring, hard to avoid things that kill almost all of us: heart attack, stroke, renal failure, cancer, pneumonia. Try as you might, live as healthy as you can, if you live long enough, it’s one of those things, or something equally mundane, that will likely kill you.
Then there are the rarer but still common stuff, things that kill young and old alike. Chief among these are suicide, murder, and accidents including semi-accidents like drug overdoses. A lot of people die in cars; a lot die getting routine medical care. People choke to death. People die amusing themselves – hang gliding, horseback riding, canoeing are all comparatively dangerous, as are playing football and riding a bicycle.
Each of us is at some unavoidable risk of dying from anything that might kill us that is not a logical impossibility: not only might you get hit by lightening (about a 0.000078%/yr chance) or eaten by a shark (about 4 people per year worldwide*), but you could be killed by a meteorite (under a 1 in 10B chance) or crushed by having an elephant dropped on you (not going to look it up, you get the point).
The risk space aliens will kill you is unknown, but might be real, because it is not a logical impossibility. Same goes for werewolf or vampire or Godzilla – they might exist, therefore, they might kill you.
Nobody I know goes around wearing a metal helmet to improve his chances of surviving getting hit by a meteorite; nobody wears shark repellant in Iowa because they might – might, tiny but non-zero chance – get attacked by a shark out in a cornfield. Somewhere in between meteorite death, which I think we can all agree is pointless to worry about, and, I don’t know, developing a meth habit, which I also think we can agree ought to be avoided, there’s some point where prudence would suggest taking reasonable, *proportionate* steps to avoid or minimize risks. Taking a shower is risky; a rubber bath mat reduces that risk to what most sane people consider acceptable. Riding a horse is risky, but it is also fun (so I am told), so people who like to ride horses try to be careful but do it anyway.
Something will kill each of us eventually. Yet we take what we think are prudent risks all the time, because we feel we need to or simply because we want to. We drive to the airport – way more dangerous than flying in a plane – because we want to go somewhere. We deem what we want as worth the risk. As Bilbo says: It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. It’s always a question of where we each draw that line – and where we place that line is almost never rational. Let’s take a stab at making it more rational.
In the modern West, your chances of dying in any given year before you’re 50 are pretty small, but start rising rapidly after that. Put another way: it’s a shock, generally, when a 25 year old dies; it’s often a relief when an 85 year old dies. Human bodies are amazingly tough, so tough that they can put up with tons of abuse – e.g., way too much fat, alcohol, drugs – for about 50 years. (See a connection, there? No?)
It is customary – ask your life insurance agent – to consider, first of all, age when trying to understand our risk of death. Then, in the context of age, we consider other ‘risk factors’ related to overall health and behaviors. This is not a perfect way to consider risk, but it’s a start, and far better than irrational fear.
After a rough first year or so, where kids born with health problems die off at a much faster rate than healthier kids, the base level risk of dying in America is very very low for the next 40 years. When people this young do die, it tends to be freakish – murder, suicide, drug overdoses, accidents – or just stupid bad luck – cancer, say. The Usual Suspect listed above start taking over about 50. By age 59 for men and 66 for women, your chance of death reaches about 1% per year – and it keeps going up from there, to about a 10% chance of dropping dead that year in your mid-80s, to 25% in your mid-90s – by which time, few if any of your friends in your age group will still be alive.
So, yes, now, let’s look at the damn virus: according to CDC data, there are no age groups under 85+ where the virus adds as much as 10% to your risk of dying, even based on their pessimistic, beyond dubious numbers.** Or, put another way, if you had a 1% chance of dying this year, the virus, at most, increases your risk to something less than a 1.1% chance of dying this year. So, think of the children: a healthy kid has something like a 0.001% or less chance of dying in a given year. COVID adds less than 0.0001% to that risk. It’s like crossing a street, or walking out the front door – sure, your risk increases, but by so little it would be insane NOT to cross the street (looking both ways) or walk out the door based solely on increased risk. If I’m very old, again, the additional risk is real (maybe) but in any event tiny – what is the difference between an 10% risk of dying and an 11% risk of dying this year if I’m 86? Should I stay locked in my house, away from my family and friends, because there’s a slightly lower chance I’ll die this year if I do? Since loneliness, fear, and depression ALSO add risk, how could it be worth it? Does it cancel out, such that the additional risk (if any) from COVID is less than or equal to the additional risk from loneliness, depression, and despair caused by being locked up like a criminal?
Why is this obvious aspect of the lockups not discussed?
Steps taken to mitigate risk are insane if the base level of the risk those steps are trying to mitigate is not taken into account, and the cost – there is ALWAYS a cost! – of the steps themselves are ignored. It has to be hammered on: the base level risk of COVID to almost everybody is microscopic; the costs of mitigation are beyond measure.
Worrying about everything that might kill you, or worrying about risks you can do little about, is insane. Panic ceases once one looks at the evidence and attempts to follow the flawed logic of the panic mongers. (ex: if the vaccines work, it doesn’t matter to anyone but me if I get it; if it matters to other people that I get it, the vaccines don’t work. Verbal gymnastics don’t change this.)
* I have in good authority – my little brothers, who are surfers – that the death by shark attack numbers are significantly understated. They point out that, every year, especially in Australia, a certain number of people out surfing just don’t come back. What happened to them? If a shark ate them and nobody saw it, they don’t show up in the shark death count. Plausible hearsay.
** What I mean, taking this from William Briggs: In 2020, while the virus ‘raged’, in no age group, excepting the very elderly, did as much as 10% of the deaths in the age group ‘involve’ COVID. So, if you were going to die in 2020, there was under a 10% chance it was going to ‘involve’ COVID. Note, as described above, how small – invisible at this scale, way, way under 1% – the risks of death from any cause whatsoever is for younger people. After kids’ first year, the death percentage isn’t big enough to even register until age 15-24; the risk from COVID is invisible until 45-54 age band, and hardly visible until the age 65-74 band – at which point, people are starting to die of all the usual causes, which is the point of this post.