Current Unpleasantness Comes Close to Home

Paris. 1832. No much like here and now.

While out here in the working class part of Contra Costa County, Antifa isn’t a huge or obvious presence, we are close by Berkeley and Oakland, where the revenge fantasies of those with daddy issues more often find a traditional Stalinist outlet.

But burning Oakland and Berkeley *again* is starting to lack that thrill of adventure. Why not, thinks the Antifa leadership, go to the other side of the Berkeley hills, where some rich people live, and where all the good high-end shopping is, and make our oppressed voices heard via smashing windows and looting stores and burning stuff down? Thus, ‘protests’ took place in Danville and Walnut Creek yesterday. Other nearby upscale cities – Pleasant Hill (borderline – mostly people who bought homes years ago, and saw the old California joke realized: I always wanted to own a million dollar home, but I thought I’d have to move.), Lafayette (similar, but with a dose of McMansions thrown in) – also got worried and Took Steps. We’ve got curfews and stern warnings in place in most nearby cities (not ours – yet).

Last evening, younger daughter drove to Danville, where she has a part-time job at a Costco, only to find the store shut down and all workers sent home. On her way back, the freeway was shut down – ‘protesters’ had stationed themselves in the northbound lanes. Gratifyingly, the Walnut Creek police warned them, gassed them, and hauled them off. But not before our daughter was forced onto surface streets – not entirely a happy situation. But she quickly found her way home like the Wise Men – by another route. Major relief.

This is all maybe 8 or 10 miles from here. We live in a working class neighborhood, little houses built in the 40s and 50s, nothing much worth looting, I should think. So, not really concerned – yet.

One irony: Danville and Walnut Creek are the homes to many current and retired athletes from the various Bay Area teams. It’s a very nice area, where a couple million can still get you a pretty nice house. Many if not most of these athletes are black. Most also get along very well with their neighbors – at least, in all my years living here, I’ve never heard of any issues.

(Personal stories: many years ago, I played on a city league basketball team. Several of the teams had players who were former Oakland A’s. Let’s just say they were a *little* more athletically gifted than your typical 35-ish city league players. I got dunked on my head a few times. Also, Steph Curry lives in Walnut Creek. A couple years ago, out local Safeway was all abuzz, as he’d dropped by to pick up a few things on his way home one day. He’s a demigod, at least, in these parts.)

There’s also a lot of retired military out here, and a few gun clubs. I could, in theory, walk a half-mile to a sporting goods store and get myself just about any legal firearm I might want. So, I wonder if the goon leadership has taken this into account. I, personally, am not armed (for now), but I can’t imagine if a riot happened on my street, some armed resistance would not readily appear…

UPDATE: Our county government, always one for overreaction and grandstanding, has issued a county-wide curfew starting at 8:00 tonight. Sigh.

Wedding

(Started with a bitter, snarky, angry attack on our reptilian governor-thing and his petty, society-destroying tyranny, but who need any more of that? So, cutting to the chase:)

Our beloved eldest daughter was married yesterday to a fine young man. We are all thrilled for her. Due to the current unpleasantness, the wedding Mass and reception were up in the air until two days before the event. She and her new husband are both meticulous planners, and so had had detailed plans for this wedding in place for months. God evidently wanted to send the message: you are not in charge, but I love you and will make it better.

Although the “Science!” on what is or is not allowed changes with the governor’s socks, the young couple decided a month ago they would be married on the 30th as originally planned, even if it was just the two of them and a priest. Then the diocese said: 10 people max, all masked, may attend the wedding mass. Then, two days ago, it was upped to 30 people. So we got to have a wedding mass with immediate family, bridesmaids and groomsmen, and a photographer. This meant, of course, that anyone who had to travel was not going to be there. When the wedding was originally announced, family and friends from as far away as London were planning to fly in.

This small, out of the way parish was willing to risk 30 people, for which we are eternally grateful. Aside: no pics where you can see individual faces – don’t have permission from the people involved.

About a hundred people gathered in the church parking lot – properly socially distant from each other, as the Science! – any day now – will clearly demand:

Signs with good wishes, balloons. Very touching.

Two weeks ago, when it became evident we were not to be ‘allowed’ to have a reception, we – the family – decided to become veritable pirates, and do some approximation of what we wanted to do, with implied obscene gestures and unprintable curses flung in the direction of Sacramento. I was ready to be the guy hauled off in handcuffs, if it came to it. Enough is enough.

We began to set up a wedding reception for 30 people in our backyard. The story becomes tear-jerkingly wonderful at this point: the number of people who showed up and worked like dogs to pull this off is truly amazing, and our family will forever be so grateful to them.

Tiny amount of background. We are not the neatest people. To put it mildly. We like projects, so there’s, um, stuff lying everywhere. I’ve got bricks and wood and, stuff, everywhere. My wife has her needlework and sewing and other artsy things. Similarly, basic stuff gets, um, less attention, e.g., we filled half a dozen large green waste containers with weeds and branches just cleaning up the backyard. So prepping the physical plant, as it were, was non-trivial. And that’s not the half of it.

But everybody pitched in. Start with our children: our youngest, 16, spent hours helping me clean up the yard, repairing broken things, hauling things around. He similarly helped my wife clean up inside the house. He took spreading wood chips and mulch on paths and other bare dirt areas as his own personal artistic project – and it looked good! At the last minute, he was arranging potted plants out on the patio to make sure everything looked good. Just a saint. What a good kid!

Next, one of the real heroes is younger daughter, 22. She flew back home from South Sudan two months ago as soon as a lockdown looked inevitable just to make sure she could be here for her sister. On an emotional level, it worked much better to have her be the coordinator with her sister than for either parent – the two of them could treat issues and decisions in a more jocular manner, important as the bride-to-be was understandably under incredible stress. Younger daughter took this role on with grace and style.

AND: baked this wedding cake:

Oops – doesn’t look like I took a picture of the finished product. It was utterly beautiful and charming, complete with Lego bride & groom figures on top.

AND: helped with fitting bridesmaids’ dresses, baking vast numbers of scones and sweet breads (the reception was a formal tea), shopping, coordinating, cleaning, bossing her brothers around, doing the layout and decorating – just amazing! Can’t say enough. All while remaining cheerful.

Next, older son, 24, flew in a week ago, the soonest he could get away from work. (He will be pulling major hours to make up for his time here when he gets back). Likewise, in a unterly cheerful and gung-ho manner, he threw himself into whatever needed doing, shopping, errands, and of course clean-up and set-up. His shining moment was on Friday night, when it became apparent that there was simply no way to keep the finger sandwiches cool – not nearly enough fridge/cooler space, and the pretty trays they were on could not be stacked much. So he brainstorms, finds 40 lbs of dry ice, some cardboard boxes, towels and a little desk fan, and puts together a makeshift refrigerator, large enough to lay out trays of little sandwiches so that they could be kept cool without smashing any of them.

Worked like a charm.

Awesome. Next, 3 bridesmaids decided early on they would come no matter what. Two of them, uncertain of the dependability of air travel, jumped in a car and drove 2 days from Colorado, showing up Thursday. A third drove up from Southern California. From Friday morning through clean up late last night, the three of them without a moment’s hesitation threw themselves into set-up and final cleaning – and acted like it was no big deal. Totally wonderful!

A friend of my wife’s, someone who works 40 Days for Life with her, just shows up – for 2 long days – and cleans windows, organizes project materials, just whatever needed doing, smiling and laughing the whole time.

A old school friend of our daughters agrees to mange final set up while the rest of us are at the wedding Mass, a 45 minute drive away. She lost out of the 30 attendees allowed at mass, but, just like everybody else, cheerfully pitched in.

Did you notice the clouds in that second picture above? Weeks of nice, if a little hot, weather before the 30th; weeks of warm, dry, sunny weather forecast starting today. The 30th itself? Scattered thunderstorms. So on Friday night, after the team set up the tables, my wife and I tarped and weighted them all, just in case. The old school friend was to come over a few hours early, pull the tarps, finnish the formal tea set up – complicated! – and then, once we called from the wedding Mass to let her know people were on their way, fire up water pots, set out the charcuterie and lemonade, cue up all the sandwiches and baked good, and have it all pretty and ready to go for when the guests arrived. 25% chance of rain at the scheduled start time, tapering off to nothing over the next 2 hours.

Halfway through final set up, as we are driving back, cloudburst. 1/2″ of rain over maybe an hour. She and a friend she brought to help her quickly retarp all the tables, bring in any food, and – wait. We get home, pouring rain, I grab a push broom and start sweeping an inch of water off the patio – it drains poorly – and we wait. Forecast says the storm should blow through any minute – and it soon does. HOWEVER, our back yard is completely shaded by two ancient walnut trees – a huge part of its charm – and every little stir of the wind brings further showers of drips off the leaves. So we wait some more.

Finally, the sun comes out and quickly dries things out. The tea that should have started around 2 p.m. starts after 4. But everyone was in a great mood, and had been socializing inside, and so were perfectly charming and happy as we rolled out the tea. Here’s some pictures:

From the patio, prior to final decoration of the bower elder son and I threw together.
With decoration, before we left for Mass, tarps still on the first time!
Closeup. It was pretty.
As you walk through.
Sorry, no final set-up pictures, as the guest were there before I could get any. You’ll have to imagine the charming tea sets, heaping platters of finger sandwiches, scones and sweet breads, and little bowls of clotted cream, lemon curd, apricot and berry jams – all homemade, of course. We’re crazy that way.
A little side table with wedding pictures of the parents of the bride and groom, plus gifts.

It hardly needs saying that the mother of the bride worked her fingers to the bone on this, cleaning, baking, jam making, sewing, mothering. She hardly slept the last few days; she was still abed at 9:00 a.m. today, very unusual for her. Another hero. I’m sure I’m missing a few. But the number of people who cheerfully pitched in at the last minute to pull this off – and everything was lovely – was staggering. We are all so grateful.

Two families partied until around 9:00. Tea followed by cake and champagne and coffee, followed by some pizza and chicken. Social distance was not maintained. Nobody turned us in.

So, that’s where I’ve been the last few days. This morning, warmed up some coffee from last night, and grabbed some leftovers (a small mountain remains – we made 2X+ as much as could possibly have been eaten. Tradition!) and sat out on the patio typing this, a happy and grateful father of the bride.

Scones with clotted dream and lemon curd – heaven.

A Political Observation & Some More Charts

The top 6 countries by COVID 19 deaths are shown below. These 6 countries barely represent 10% of the world’s population yet account for 56% of all cases and 72% of all deaths:

Woldometers

A political observation, something all these countries share:

USA – election of a ‘right wing’ administration revealed the vulnerability of the culturally and politically dominant Left, which, predictably, completely lost its mind. Now, under the COVID noise, indictments are coming down against the 3rd tier of Leftist operatives.

UK – contrary to the wishes of the politically dominant Left, the nation voted not only to reject globalism and leave the EU, but then enabled the despised non-Leftist Boris Johnson to become Prime Minister and form a government.

Italy – The anti-globalist 5 Star Party came to power in 2018.

France – Macron, a lifetime Socialist Party member, has been under siege by the Yellow Vests for over a year. The Yellow Vests are a mixed bag, politically – hey, it’s France – but include ‘populist’ anti-government factions. While Macron is often portrayed as pro-business, a cursory look at what he’s up to shows he’s pro giant global business, and pursues pretty much textbook Gramsciite social destruction policies.

Spain – a history of conflict, often violent, between Communists (under whatever name) and more conservative elements. ‘Right wing’parties have been making gains in recent years.

Brazil – Jair Bolsonaro’s election in 2019 put in power pretty much the Left’s nightmare candidate. As Wikipedia sums up: “He is a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, abortion, affirmative action, drug liberalization and secularism. In foreign policy, he has advocated closer relations to the United States and Israel. During the 2018 presidential campaign, he started to advocate for economic liberal and pro-market policies.”

Each of these nations has a Left that’s having its power threatened. Somehow, that correlates remarkably to more COVID 19 deaths…

Now for some charts. Have COVID 19 daily deaths counts fallen off a cliff? Why, yes, yes they have: (All charts from Worldometers)

Italy:

This is probably as low as Italy will fall, as far as daily death counts go, as they count COVID 19 deaths very liberally, and, with an older population, they will not lack from nursing home patients with the sniffles checking out. But, on a populations 60M+, we’ve reached the statistical noise level of deaths.

Spain:

Ditto. Also note that the declines started in early April – with the arrival of spring, which is what any sane person would have predicted.

France:

French data is extremely noisy – again, hey, they’re French – but the overall decline is still there. Those spikes are all related to reporting lumpiness. Tiny numbers.

Brazil:

So here’s the one country, of the six ‘leading’ country, where the decline is not evident from the graph. Brazil has over 200M people; 750 deaths are, as always, personal tragedies, but, statistically? Barely registers.

I’ll keep more of an eye on Brazil.

UK:

Even the birth palce of COVID Panic Porn is clearly on the way out. This data shows an odd weekly cyclicality: down, down, down, off a cliff, down, way up, repeat. Reporting quirk? I’d assume so.

As noted previously here, England has implemented a policy of listing COVID 19 on the mandatory reporting list, along with the Plague, Mad Cow Disease, anthrax – because a flu-like infection fatal well under 1% of the time is just like those things. The net result: as the infection inevitably spreads, more and more people who test positive will show up in the counts regardless of COVID 19 actually contributing to their deaths, or, indeed, despite showing no symptoms at all.

So, realistically, we’ve reached bottom unless the UK changes its reporting rules. It may even go up.

Finally, the US:

Same pattern, same issues as with the UK data. Given the political investment in keeping the lockdown and fear going by political conmen like the reptilian Newsom, I’d guess this is about as low as the daily counts will be allowed to go.

I think I just insulted reptiles.

Shall We Fear Fear Itself?

Context and proportion. If there are two things lacking in today’s viral kefluffle, it’s context and proportion.

Context: A bad flu season kills about 75K-100K Americans. Something in that range died in the 2017-18 flu season. A really bad flu season, which has happened twice in the last century or so, could kill about 300K Americans. Adjusting for population, the Asian Flu of 1957 killed that many. The Spanish Flu, the worst one is modern times, needs to be heavily caveated, as the conditions of WWI, with vast troop movements and other travel, military hospitals packing sick people in and then sending them elsewhere (to spread whatever they had), lack of modern medical care, and general chaos, makes it hard to draw any firm conclusions from it.

Proportion: So: if 100K people die of the Kung Flu, that’s a bad flu year. If 300K die, that’s a twice-a-century bad flu year. The Black Death, by comparison, would sometimes wipe out entire towns, and typically killed one third to one half of the people wherever a bad outbreak took place. The only truly horrendous viral plagues I’ve ever heard of is somewhat hypothetical: the American aboriginal population, having been presumably isolated from the diseases of Eurasia and Africa for maybe 15,000 years, died in appalling numbers, as high as 90% in some places, when smallpox and other diseases were inadvertently introduced by European explorers and rolled through the population over the course of a century or more. Maybe the flu was among the diseases that killed people off? Maybe, although compared to the smallpox and the plague, seems minor. But who knows?

Yet, somehow, this disease today is worth terrifying people over? Have your heard these people? Seen their panic? They are stone certain that we who aren’t panicked are going to get them all killed! Seriously. We take at least one long walk a day along a local canal path, and gratifyingly meet many cheery people (usually, not wearing masks) but we do meet some who seem terrified, masked up, scooting past at the max distance the path will allow. And these are the braver, less terrified people – the real rabbits are cowering at home, huddled with their cookies and mountain of toilet paper, watching CNN like slasher movies on loop.

Terrified. And fed terror every hour. At this point, saying anything to frighten people even more is worse than shouting ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater. Is more like locking the people inside and setting the theater on fire.

Of course, I’ve said all along – check the archives – that, based on what we knew or could reasonably surmise at the time, the world’s reaction has always been overblown to the point of insanity. ‘We’ were not making decisions based on knowledge or science, despite that incessant claim.

Most people do not understand claims, especially medical claims, made in the name of Science, and wildly, and I mean wildly, overestimate the level of certainty of such claims. We all know this is true from personal experience: how many health claims have you heard asserted with cold certainty, such that disobeying was tantamount to wishing death on one’s self or others, only to have something else, often the exact opposite, asserted later with the same cold certainty? And then changed again? Over and over and over again? This does not mean there isn’t good medical science out there, just that, for the non-expert, picking it out from the haystacks of nonsense can be very difficult.

Add to this basic problem the jargon and bafflegab in which the supposed science behind such claims are routinely couched, and the challenge can cause despair. Thus, every sane person ‘knows’ the ‘science’ around COVID 19 supports utter, terror-stricken panic, revocation of constitutionally-guaranteed rights, the destruction of the economy and the subsequent leap in suicides, overdoses, careless accidents, anxiety and stress, and the imposition of a police state. Add political and financial motives (got to have those COVID cases to get the COVID medical relief funds), and indeed, it looks hopeless.

All I’m doing is, frankly, all but ignoring the preliminary findings and claims except insofar as they comport with the basic science outlined below. Why? Because, as stated above, medical claims are highly suspect and subject to multiple, radical revisions, and even medical scientists are often demonstrably unclear on what the results they present *mean* and are, in any case, habitually overcertain. The person who is enough of a philosopher, scientist, medical specialist and political adroit such that his opinion is both worth listening to and likely to get a hearing is as rare as Sasquatch. Fauci, Brix and Ferguson are not that person. Our talking heads and politicians are not. William Briggs almost is – extensive professional experience with medical data, and an authority on statistical analysis and modeling. He lacks the political platform.

So, what should we keep in mind and check what we hear against? The basic science of viral outbreaks starts here:

  • Viruses are ubiquitous. People are exposed to many viruses every minute of every day
  • Viruses and humans have coevolved for millions of years. Viruses have not yet wiped us out
  • Viruses, like all life, evolve through mutation – by changing into ‘novel’ forms. Viruses have always done this, therefore, people have always been exposed to novel viruses
  • Coronaviruses are one common type of virus. Like every other virus, they mutate with abandon. We are always exposed to novel coronaviruses
  • From an evolutionary standpoint, a parasite – that’s what cold, flu and COVID 19 viruses are – is maladapted if it severely impairs or quickly kills its host. The virus that makes its hosts only slightly sick or not sick at all will survive and spread better. Empirical evidence strongly supports that that’s what happens in practice: severe and lethal diseases quickly burn through hosts and cause other potential victims to flee, and thus tend to die out. In technical terms, natural selection favors mild diseases.
  • Occasionally, however, a nastier virus may appear, such as the Spanish Flu. Such nastier viruses tend to die out very quickly, or mutate into a less dangerous form, for the reasons above
  • Airborne viruses die in the sunlight. That’s why flu has a season that starts when there is less sun, the weather turns cold and people stay indoors huddled together, and ends when there is more sun, the weather turns nice and people go outside more

That’s a fair summary of what is known about viruses as diseases. This is the framework within which we should understand this virus. On to the more specific information, what was discovered very early on:

  • COVID 19 is closely related to the 2002-2004 SARS virus. Both are coronaviruses
  • SARS died out in less than 2 years, with only a comparatively minor and localized outbreak in the second year. Spring weather killed it
  • COVID 19 is more infections than SARS, but far less serious
  • The infection and case fatality rates of COVID 19 are very much dependent on location. CFR varied greatly from place to place, as did number of cases.

Here’s where we come to a logical deduction: Wuhan was a uniquely bad situation: dense population, poor sanitation and hygiene, comparatively poor healthcare, dead-of-winter outbreak typical of airborne viruses lead to ideal conditions for the virus to spread, conditions very different from most of the world most of the time. This suspicion was soon confirmed by experiences in the rest of China and the first areas outside China where the virus spread: in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other places, the spread and fatalities never approached the levels seen in Wuhan, and were in any event much different.

Then came South Korea, where it is suspected a conscious effort was made by some religious fanatics to spread the virus. Even then – nothing burger. 252 deaths. We *can* ascribe the rapid containment of the virus to the supposed superhuman effectiveness of the South Korean mitigation efforts. Or, it could be that the virus simply never was as bad as all that. It was likely a little of both.

Iran next made the news. There have been a little over 6,000 deaths there on a population of 83M. In context, especially the context in which the government there likely disappears that many people in a good month, nothing. Some prominent public figures died. I looked over some listed on Wikipedia: Ages at death: 81, 72, 68, 55 (!), 91, 67, 63, 79, 62. Maybe not so surprising.

Then came Italy, and all hell broke loose.

At each step, more information became available, much of it confusing. Medical treatments changed. Ventilators, about which we were assured any shortage would result in people dying in the streets, proved ineffective or worse. More and more minor and asymptomatic cases were uncovered. Estimates on the number of infected grew, pushing the fatality rate radically downward. Child-to-adult transmission has not been verified, despite efforts to do so. And so on.

We had to flatten the curve – effectively, prolonging the pandemic – in order to not overwhelm our hospitals. With the possible exception of a breif period in NYC, no hospitals were overwhelmed. Without the theoretical lives saved due to not overwhelming hospitals, all flattening the curve does is have the same number of people die spread out over more time, increasing the economic and social damage of the mitigation steps. Each passing week made the idea of a general lockdown less and less defensible.

At no point did ‘we’ act on the best information available.

It was clear by the end of January that 1) there were vulnerable populations – the elderly and sickly – that represented almost all, as in 95%, of the deaths; 2) that kids and healthy adults were at, essentially, 0 risk; 3) that different areas had very different results, even within China; 4) that the models reflected none of this, and were therefore useless; 5) that the common assumptions used in the models represented crazy levels of worse-case scenarios; and 6) that these worse-case input numbers were based on fundamental misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the underlying information.

Acting on the best information available would have meant: restricting travel from areas of outbreak; screening incoming travelers; taking steps to protect the relatively tiny vulnerable populations. Thos steps, affecting maybe 5% of the populations, would likely have gotten us 95% of the benefits of the lockdown – and avoided the health disaster created by the lockdown.

And spared the economy.

A look at the trends show that Italy and Spain, a month into Spring, are nearing a total collapse of fatalities, as in, we should see single digit daily deaths soon. The US, despite retroactively classifying thousands of deaths as COVID 19 and expanding the classification rules twice over the last few months to be more ‘generous’, still looks unlikely to hit even 100K deaths. Spring has finally reached the Northeast, meaning that this airborne virus will die out in 3 or 4 weeks – as it appears to be doing.

from Worldometers. At least 2 of the spikes in April are due to redefining/reclassifying COVID 19 deaths.

Today, which doesn’t show up in that graph, 1,126 deaths were recorded – down again, the 6th straight day of decline. California still has 2,500 deaths on a population of 37M, and is logging under 100 death a day, even with the ‘generous’ counting.

The time to end this lockdown fiasco is long past. Sure, restrict some travel, take care of the vulnerable. And wash your hands. But the notion that going to get a haircut or grab a burger or attend a wedding is so dangerous that it must be banned is pure insanity. Or pure evil. We’ve terrified the rabbits to the point where their anxiety is much more of a health risk than was ever posed by this virus.

Update: Bricks

When we last checked our endless brick project, I was working on some short walls to allow access to the water meter. Looked like this:

Finished it today. This is a milestone: all the walls and planters along the street are done, except for finials on the four little towers. The fam is pitching hard for pineapples, after the English tradition. That’s getting alarmingly close to the house in My Big Fat Greek Wedding level of kitsch, kinda pushing back…

The English build and then live in houses like this. I don’t know it the the English get enough credit for straight up wierdness.

Ya know? Although it may already be too late…

So here’s what we got:

From the curb.
From the street, complete with tools and a neighbor’s car. Frames the pomegranate tree, flanked by the cherry to the left and pear to the right.
Looking north. Stuck some stray rocks and dichondra in there, just because.
Looking south. Had some salvaged refractory bricks lying around, no use for them, so used them to cap the center section.
Getting cute on the tower caps.
Had a few 2″ Mexican tiles lying around.

So, the plan is to put a potted plant on each of the little towers, and wooden planter boxes on the three wall sections, to complete the visual barrier.

Anyway, some clean-up, then on to the south wall – simpler, but still a lot of work. Last, there’s a gate at the top of the steps. And that’ll be it for this project, a mere 5 years later.

Update: April – the Month That Was (bricks, flowers, a certain minor disease)

A: A happy, holy and blessed Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. True story: When I went to Italy as part of an art program in the 1980s, we we visited a number of smaller towns around Florence. Can’t remember exactly which one we visited on May Day (Lucca? Somewhere…), but we found ourselves in the middle of a somber little parade in the medieval town plaza. We watched mostly middle-aged men in their Sunday finest go by, each wearing a red carnation.

Duomo di Lucca, Cattedrale di San Martino. Maybe here?

Communists. It was a little, um, odd. Then we went into the duomo, in front of which this parade had taken place. As I looked around and prayed a little, one after another of the men from the parade came in, took off their red carnation, and laid it at the foot of a statue of Our Lady. A nice pile of carnations was formed over the next half hour.

Someone, it seemed to me, was very unclear on the concept: Communism, the Catholic Church – pick one? They don’t really go together. But it seems Italians – and I love Italians – are not as troubled by niceties of consistency as I am. Or perhaps they see some consistency on a level that escapes me. Or – one can never rule this out – they’re basically crazy?

As a 20-something punk, this little moment has stuck with me ever since, and helped form my take on the world . People – hard to figure, sometimes.

B. Due to Sarah Hoyt linking to this post on Instapundit, I saw basically a year’s worth of blog traffic and a couple year’s worth of visitors over the course of a couple days. (Not saying all that much – my beloved regular readers are treasured, but few). Perhaps this kicked me up a little in Google’s algorithms, or maybe – I flatter myself – the blog picked up some more readers – In April, most days got over 100 views, even after the 5-figure spike was well past.

So, if you are a new reader, welcome! If the skewering of bad Science!, the history of schooling, curmudgeonly commentary on current events, reviews of SF&F and other books, and the occasional home improvement project and Catholic shout-out are your cup of tea, you belong to a very, um, select group – and this here’s a blog for you!

C: Bricks. We left it here:

That tub up top I use when I want to soak bricks in water so that I have longer to move them around before they suck enough water out of the mortar to make it stiff. This morning, I noticed what looked like a stick floating in it – a lizard had fallen in! poor thing! I dumped him out – he was alive, seemed OK.

Today, I’m hoping to finish this little piece up. Here’s how it stands now:

Once I cap the little towers in the corners, we will put potted plants on top of them, and long wooden planters in between. Something from this selection:

Nasturtiums, self-seeded from last year, on the back patio.
Those two wooden boxes in the middle are sized to fit atop the sides of the project. Wildflowers have been planted in them.

Should look nice. I wanted pots and wooden planters so that, come Christmas, I can move them and set up the Nativity scene there. Then on to the south wall/planter.

D: Planted a little herb garden in a wine barrel half. It’s sitting off the patio a couple steps from the pizza oven and the back door out from the kitchen. Previously grew herbs on the south side of the house, not handy if you’re in the middle of cooking. (Huge batch of oregano is still there. Will see if I can transplant some closer.)

Basil in the back. The skewers are to remind me of the divisions until the plants come up: Thyme, sage, chives, cilantro, green onions.

E: Big stress here at the casa: our older daughter is to be married on May 30. Our unctuous, reptilian governor has continued the lockdown in the face of all objective evidence. This means the church and the venue for the reception are closed. On the off chance we do get to hold something (the marriage is going to take place on the 30th no matter what, even if it’s just bride, groom, priest and witnesses) have cleaned up the back yard, trying to make it look spiffy-ish:

Have a lot to do in the front yard, where my brick obsession has made quite the mess, but at least the plants are coming in strong:

Rosemary, nasturtiums, honeysuckle along the street. Fruit trees in the background.
Tomatoes, between the fig to the right and the cherry behind.
Apricots.
Figs.

In a month, maybe we’ll have some flowers or at least plants in all those pots and planters, to be distributed around. If we can do anything.

If you are the praying kind, prayers for our poor, stressed daughter would be appreciated. Thanks.

F: Don’t think I’ve ever posted on food per se – too much of that out there already – but this is maybe odd enough to be interesting. Somebody gave us a turkey months ago, don’t remember why, and it sat there tying up freezer space. Saw this guy on Youtube do something interesting, and thought – I should try that, get rid of that turkey:

Deboned and stuffed turkey:

Yes, it is time-consuming and not all that pleasant to debone a turkey, but, then again, carving a regular turkey can be some work as well. I did a poor job: the trick is to not cut the skin, which, when you roll it, is what keeps it all together. I tried to use a very cheap filleting knife that we’ve had forever, but it wasn’t up to the task, you need a very sharp tip to the knife, and this one just wouldn’t keep an edge. Got my eye on a Victorinox boning knife, if I ever do this again.

And I just might. However much trouble I had up front, it was very nice to simply cut slices without having to worry about bones and with a nice dollop of sausage stuffing right there in the middle. And it cooks a lot faster, too. FWIW.

G: Something proposed in a com box discussion here with Darwin Catholic, a man whose analytic abilities I respect: will COVID 19 result in more deaths in 2020 than would have otherwise occurred? I say: no. He says: yes, at least 75K. Now, even 75K is a tiny number on a population of 330M, but it should be noticable: the UN predicted around 2,930,400 deaths in the US from all causes before the current kefluffle. So: an additional 75K puts us a little over 3M. (Darwin wants to do a lot more math, with weighted average mortality over 5 years – OK by me, although I’m not sure what the gain in accuracy would be).

More important, and more obvious: the minimum number of dead with a continued lockdown was estimated at 100-240K just weeks ago. As the lockdown is eased or eliminated in more sane states, they theory goes, those numbers should get higher. So, anything short of about 3.03M lillion dead should be seen as an obvious fail, as far as any predictions go, and, realistically, anything less than 3.2M or so should lay a thick coat of egg on the face of the panic mongers. Not that they don’t already have lies in place to cover this.

The trouble here, as Dr. Briggs discusses here, is that the mitigation steps themselves have begun to kill people. First off, if biopsies and follow-ups for serious diseases, and the usual rounds of check-ups and screenings during which problems are routinely uncovered, are delayed, and thus problems are not discovered and treated promptly, prospects for those people are worsened. Some people will die. Same goes for some elective or non-critical treatments – something that looks non-critical today can get critical if pushed off enough.

But, by far, the major risk of death from COVID 19 is quickly becoming the psychological stress of lockdown and subsequent job losses. Suicide, taking stupid risks, drug abuse, domestic violence – these are real, and really kill people.

Is it enough to offset the ‘savings’ we might get from retarding the spread of *ALL* communicable diseases for a few months (insofar as that works. Not always and everywhere, that’s for sure, but some)? The longer the insanity of the lockdown drags on, affecting 330M people, not just the 1M cases of COVID 19, even a slight uptick in lockdown-related deaths could offset all gains. What a disaster, in terms of lives and morals. We want to believe we are not killing people with the lockdown, and so we do believe it. But we are, and it means nothing to us.

Someone somewhere should be putting together very targeted lawsuits against the people responsible for the government’s suspension of of our constitutionally guaranteed right to free assembly and, effectively, unlawful seizure of our wealth without any due process or review whatsoever. I’m saddened so many people accept this without a hiccup. Does it not occur to them that the patriotic need to be brave and face our enemies and risk death to defend our freedoms is still required, even if the enemy is a *&^% virus?

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

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

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

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

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

1. Messy data, and what it tells you

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

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

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

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

NO, ‘WE’ WERE NOT.

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

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

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

Garbage in, garbage out.

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

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

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

2. There is nothing novel about novel viruses

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

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

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

Novel doesn’t equal ‘super-scary’

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

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

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

3. (Recklessly) Assumed Homogeneity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://time.com/5774366/how-coronavirus-spread-china/

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

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

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

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

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

https://apnews.com/6ed70e9db88b80439a087fdad8238009

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/25/two-thirds-patients-die-coronavirus-would-have-died-year-anyway/

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

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

Springtime for COVID!

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

The data is messy. Let me count the ways:

Some of the more important ways, at any rate.

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

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

How About Some BRICKS?

Long time, no bricks. When we last left our Eternal Insane Home Improvement Project, back at the end of last August, things looked about like this:

Once Daylight Saving Time kicks in and the weather get a little warmer, I am able (and motivated) to get back to work. Here’s where we stand today, after a couple weeks of getting in a few hours on most days:

As you can see, everything is at least in progress. Redesigned the brickwork around the water meter – the curve idea was looking weird when I tried to work out how to actually do it on the ground. The square shape is both easier and more aesthetically consistent. We’ll know in another week or two. Also have dug out around 8-10 wheelbarrows of dirt and screened out the the larger rocks as I attempt to prepare to pour the footings for the south planters/wall – the last walls to build!

Pictures! Cars parked on the curb prevented a good angle on this part:

Footer. In the background are wood chips from a neighbor who took out a tree. 8 wheelbarrow’s worth, moved one at a time from about a block away. Will use to cover all paths/bare dirt in the mini-orchard.
Notice how the water meter box isn’t square to the path/street? I’m fighting off the urge to spend hours digging it up and straightening it out….

Over on the south property line, we got some digging to do:

Looking east. Forms are so far just the outside edges of the footers; there will be 2×4 rectangles marking the inside edges. The end of the forms marks about where a Marian shrine will go; then more planters where I’m standing to take this picture. Got several wheelbarrow loads more removed since this was taken.
From the street looking in.
Catty corner, so you can see how this all ties together.

Rained Saturday through Monday, so had to mostly lay off. Did get a little more digging in before it got too wet. So, if it dries out enough, will work on this some more this evening.

My Beloved planted irises in one of the front planters:

They are very beautiful, a lovely deep blue with yellow highlights. They brought to mind Don at zoopraxiscope, who grows and takes beautiful pictures of flowers. So, if you want to see good pictures of beautiful flowers by a guy who knows his way around a camera and can tell one kind of flower from another (I’m always getting my jasmine and honeysuckle mixed up. Among others.) check his site out. Me, I’m more a tomato and fruit guy.

Future bulletins as events warrant, or when I fell like it and remember to take some pictures. Maybe at the end of the summer, if all progresses well, I’ll do a video walkthrough?

Education Reading Roundup, etc.

Old guy advise to whippersnappers who may one day want to do something scholarly: when you get the chance to learn German, French, Latin, and Greek – DO IT!

Image result for old man grumpy

I’m you’re Cautionary Tale right here: turns out that there’s tons of critiques and descriptions of Pestalozzi – in German. Hecker loomed large in France. Latin and Greek are kind of essential, too.

I used to be able to read a little French, but that atrophied away decades ago; German I took when I was 15, didn’t take at all; Greek I took for a couple years, but guess what? One must work at Greek like training to be a marathon runner – can’t let very many days go by without putting in some serious time and effort. And Latin I know only through singing a ton of church Latin – the Nicene Creed contains about 90% of any Latin vocabulary I might pretend to know.

Being at the mercy of translators isn’t so bad, usually, but here I worry a little. Example: I’m reading The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi by a J. A. Green, B.A., Professor of Education at the University College of North Wales. Green’s preface begins:

In this attempt to expound the fundamental doctrines of Pestalozzi, I have been chiefly indebted to two admirable articles by Wegel in the XXIII and XXIV Jahrbücher dee Vereins filr wissenschaftliche Padagogik,
entitled “Pestalozzi und Herbart.” In the vast extent of German Pestalozzian literature, these articles are generally acknowledged to be the most satisfactory critical account of Pestalozzi’s doctrines.

“In the vast extent of German Pestalozzian literature” I’m thinking there are going to be a wide variety of takes on what Pestalozzi was up to, and that, given the Sahara-like dryness of the topic, few have been clawed into a civilized tongue translated into English. When I reviewed How Gertrude Teaches Her Children, which seems to be considered his clearest declaration of his philosophy and methods, I noted how Pestalozzi’s writings seem little more than a Rorschach test wherein anyone, from Einstein’s kindly teachers to Fichte in his proto-Nazi ravings, could see what they needed for their purposes. Indeed, the translators of that volume mention Pestalozzi’s peculiar use of words:

These terms are difficult, for apparently we do not grasp Pestalozzi’s thought. We neither read nor follow him. If we walk in his ways, we may see what he saw; if we repeat his experiments, we may in some measure share his thought. Doing leads to knowing. He has been blamed for not defining his terms. He gives instead the history of this conception, the circumstances which led to it, its development, and his schemes founded on it. ” There are two ways of instructing,” he said ; ” either we go from words to things, or from things to words. Mine is the second method.”

Why does it need to be either/or? Perhaps there is a third way, one that uses things-to-words and words-to-things as appropriate? Does not any child old enough for formal education already possess enough awareness of the world gained through ‘sense impressions’ to skip the picture-book phase? The key recurring element of the Pestalozzian approach, the one that all his followers, in their disparate routes, from Einstein’s teachers cutting him some slack to Fichte’s legions of state-certified teachers micromanaging every spoon-fed moment, is the primacy of the *teacher*. It is How Gertrude Teaches, not How Gertrude’s Children Learn, after all.

Even more basic, Pestalozzi does not inspire confidence in his ability to move from things to words when he, himself, cannot seem to put into words the methods he employed for many decades. Seeing is believing, I suppose, but then everything, especially becoming a teacher after the manner of Pestalozzi, can only be learned as a sort of apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is not the kind of schooling the state has settled upon.

Keep uncovering more books that I have to read, or at least think I do. I knew this was a vast field; I did not think so much of it would be relevant to my purposes. Generally, I plan to eschew sources more recent than the 1950s at the very latest; my quarry is the story of the complete surrender of the Catholic schools to the state’s idea of education, after almost a century of fighting hard against it. Looks like the end came with more of a whimper than a bang, and was completely over by the 1930s. What strikes me now, and struck Archbishops Ireland’s and Gibbon’s opponents at the time, was the relatively swift and total shift from an adversarial relationship with the state schools to a slavish imitation of them. Bishops like Hughes in NY had waged war to keep as many kids as possible out of state schools; Ireland thought Catholic schools were a stopgap, and wanted to hand education over to the state, or at least to its surrogates and mirror images in the form of diocesan school school superintendents and certified teachers under the supervision of the state. These new ‘professional’ ‘educators’ would ensure that Catholic education conformed to the state’s wishes, that classes were taught in a state approved manner from state approved curricula. The Supreme Court ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters codified what Ireland had proposed: that the state has a coequal and independent interest in the education of children, and can rightly oversee and, where it deems necessary, overrule the educational decisions of parents. As Legaldictionary.net puts it in their summary of the ruling:

Nothing stops the State of Oregon, or any state, from regulating private schools to ensure quality.  However, a state government cannot use its power to arbitrarily and unreasonably destroy the existence of private schools.

And who gets to regulate private schools to ensure quality, I wonder? Chief Justice Hugo Black, a former KKK member and bitter anti-Catholic, maybe? Who in 1947 started the tradition of applying the anti-establishment* clause of the 1st Amendment to any state *tolerance* of Catholic expression in public?

Pierce v. Society of Sisters was proclaimed a victory for the Catholic schools, because the court did in fact strike down an Oregon law banning them. Lost in the celebration was enshrining into law the state’s right to oversee *all* education. The old idea, championed by the Church and, indeed, virtually all American Protestants up until the end of the 19th century, was that parents and their churches had the primary rights and duties towards education of the young, and that the state had only subordinate and derivative rights, if, indeed, any. Nope, here is enshrined in law the idea Ireland promoted, that the state’s has rights to meddle in, and, indeed, manage, the education of your kids, and that these rights are neither derived from nor subordinate to parental and religious rights.

We are to simply trust that the Hugo Blacks of the world won’t overdo it, that the overwhelming force wielded by those at the reins of the state are not going to be brought to bear on a few uppity citizens here and there. They wouldn’t dream, for example, of mandating sex ed completely at odds with Catholic religious beliefs. As Woody Allen put it: the lion may lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep.

All this has lead me to the frankly wild Americanism of American Catholics, complete validation of the accusation that they (we!) are Americans first, and Catholics second. This ceases to be a mere truism once its clear that it is the decision-making paradigm: “American” is the solid thing; Catholic must be flexible and conform.

*It’s like people have no idea ideas have any context, as if we must struggle to understand what establishment of a religion means, instead of looking at the English history in which that term arose, or in the colonies where it where it was implemented here, or in the way it was (not) applied to all the Bible reading and religious education that was considered essential to public education well into the 1930s. Nope, it means something else entirely, new and mysterious.

Blank Slates, State of Nature, Pestalozzi & Rorschach Tests

Ah! Not only am I reformatting a work – J. A. Green’s The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi – because I found the online sources almost unreadable – I’m going down endless rabbit holes, looking up people, places, historical events, ideas, books, etc., as they come up in the text. So far, I’m only about 35 pages into what will end up, once reformatted, as a 150 or so Google docs page book (maybe 300 pages in a traditional format?). But there are nuggets.

I confess to an intellectual shortcoming (one of many, not even counting ones I don’t know I don’t know): I take undue delight when I find a scholar agreeing with something I figured out. I mean, I should hope other people see what I see, but it’s nice to see it in print.

Case in point: Pestalozzi saw his life’s work not so much as addressing the immediate needs of abandoned and orphaned children as solving some ancient intractable problem with education. Therefore, in some ways his practical examples, the schools he actually ran according to his poorly-articulated principles, are considered by him the true illustration of his point. Yet this didn’t stop him and his followers from writing ideas out, ideas so uniformly vague and conflicting that they became little more than a Rorschach test for later ‘educators’.

This passage in Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World, by Sarah Anne Carter, says it more politely:

(I stumbled across this passage in this interesting sounding book while searching for something else, but the book is just a little bit too far outside the target for me to have time to read it. Sigh.)

“This imprecision also offered ample opportunity for the next generation of educators to put his ideas into action in a range of ways.” Right. Fichte, who it turns out met Pestalozzi in 1793 and encouraged him to write out his philosophy of education, by 1808 can recommend Pestalozzian schooling as the panacea for all that ails Germany, with *slight* modifications: the state replaces the family entirely, not because the family is absent, but because the family always mis-educated the child in loyalties other than that due the state (hint: all and absolute). Pestalozzi’s focus on educating children in valuable skills so that they can take a suitable place in society needs to be flipped: the state will determine what it needs the properly-trained products of its schools to do.

I’m looking for evidence Pestalozzi rejected this interpretation, as he far outlived Fichte and lived through the first implementations of Prussian schooling modeled after Fichte’s ideas, largely by Fichte himself through the agency of the newly-founded University of Berlin where he was rector. Pestalozzi was a near-legend of impolitic behavior (one source of his repeated failures anytime he had to work with people who were not his hand-picked padawans), so I’d be nearly compelled to believe he approved if he didn’t publicly disagree. We’ll see.

Pestalozzi’s How Gertrude Teaches Here Children, called by Green “by far the most important of his writings,” meanders about without saying much of anything, except reiterating the central role of mothers in the education of the children – the one thing Fichte is clear he is against. Rather than mothers being the first and finest and essential teachers, they, along with fathers and family in general, are for Fichte the problem. Fichte doesn’t suggest helping mothers do a better job, rather, he wants the state to take children away from their mothers as early as possible.

Pestalozzi is routinely called a Romantic, was expressly a follower of the ideas expressed in Rousseau’s Emile (ick) and therefore takes a ‘state of nature is better and purer than the civilizations that muck it up’ approach. To be fair, he seems more particular in his criticism: he’s dealing with the specific shortcomings of the war-torn civilization of Switzerland in the decades surrounding the turn of the 19th century. When you end up with scores of orphaned or abandoned starving children wandering the streets as a result of ongoing wars, and have church and state largely impotent to do anything about it, it would be easy to get a little down on so-called civilization. At one point, Pestalozzi did manage to gather the local orphans together into an old convent, only to have French soldiers return, commandeer the orphanage, and throw him and the children out. Once the French were done ‘living off the land’ – seizing all the food they could steal from an already starving population – they left. But the local authorities refused to let him reopen his orphanage…

So, yes, civilization as locally manifested didn’t seem to do much good for any but the top few percent of the people. Pestalozzi to his credit focused on addressing the specific civilizational shortcomings – e.g., lack of family, moral compass, food, a sense of belonging and being loved – that left children starving in the streets and ill-equipped for any decent place in society if they somehow survived.

Fichte at least functionally is a blank slater: he is going to make children into whatever the state needs.

Onward!