You Can’t Handle The Truth

The new sermon series at church is going to be “You Can’t Handle the Truth,” focusing on Daniel. That’s a nice convergence for me after just seeing the Max McLean production of The Great Divorce and just finishing Till We Have Faces. Of all Lewis’s works, those may be the two where that lesson is strongest.  It is in fact a common theme of Lewis’s throughout his works, that there are truths we do not wish to be true, but refusing to accept them keeps us from God.  If that seems unkind or condemning on his part, know that his works are often autobiographical, and the excuses he puts into the mouths of characters are ones he has used himself. 

James’s comment about the holy being both dark and light is like that for me.  I am not attracted to the earthy, hidden, primitive parts of Christianity like eating the god or imagining the witness of the dead watching us. Even singing as a necessity I think I might rebel against, as I would prefer that music just be an entertainment. I would stay with the idea portion of the faith if I could, of things to contemplate and discuss.  But Lewis taught me decades ago to beware of that as a thin, incomplete faith – we are not wired as cerebrally as we pretend, and mystery is a tunnel, not a swamp.

Ways of Knowing

I would like to start by thanking Mike Kennedy for his observations over the last months. We all bring some knowledge to the pandemic, but he brings a good deal more. I think he has been properly cautious in interpreting information as it has emerged and even more cautious in offering advice, even though he might be tempted. It has been a reminder to me throughout not to pretend I know more than I do and not leap to conclusions. If he can refrain from pronouncements, how much more should I refrain, eh? Saying this, I admit my memory might be inaccurate. Mike may have made all sorts of knuckleheaded predictions and offered cockamamie theories over the last ten months and I just forgot them. Yet I think my overall impression has been correct, and I am grateful.
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When my oldest was a small boy, he took it into his head that not fastening our seat belts would cause us to get into an accident. He had clearly picked up associations we had made between the concepts of accident and seat-belt.  The distinction between “in case we get into an accident” and “because we’ll get into an accident” is not easy when you’re three or four. No real harm done at the time.  He fastened his seat belt willingly and we didn’t think he’d graduate from highschool with that misapprehension.

There are a lot of theories and descriptions of the various ways people come to think they know things and what they trust.  They are not mutually exclusive.  We all trust our own experience while attaching some importance to what we hear happens to others.  We all have authorities we trust, but also trust our own ideas and reasoning. We also have opinions about what other people trust in ways of knowing. We particularly dislike it when those benighted other folks trust the wrong authorities or exhibit poor reasoning.  We also mix categories. In the long sorry state of CoVid commentary, we have had lots of complaints about people trusting “experts,” always in sneer quotes, yet our solution is nearly always that they instead believe…different experts.  Ones that we like better.

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New Cousin

Finding new relatives that no one in the family talked about or perhaps even knew about is one of the risks/joys/adventures of having a DNA test done.  I have a new relative, just a little younger than me, positioned somewhere between first and second cousin. She was a closed adoption in Ellsworth, ME in 1958.  Only two other listed relatives on her paternal side, both quite remote. She messaged me on Ancestry.com.  People are quite tentative about this, with good reason.  Folks don’t want to hear about extra babies born who were hushed up at the time.  I think I have mentioned before that we have that situation with our adopted nephew/fifth son.  His mother was a closed adoption in 1967.  He has a very close DNA match that we have narrowed down to be his grandmother’s sister. We asked her for details and received the reply that no women in her family had a baby in Cambridge in that year.  They were all in California the whole time.  So we still don’t know, though another match on that line might tell us which girl went away to “summer camp” that year.

It is uncomfortable.  It became clear that this new cousin must be a child of one of my grandparents or one of their siblings. On that side, my grandfather had four brothers and my grandmother was an only child, so I assumed at first that that side was more likely.  But the centiMorgans of the common relatives did not come close to matching.  We concluded at first that my grandfather must also be her grandfather, with an unknown son born around 1920 or so.  As Ellsworth is across the bay from Nova Scotia, that made some sense.  So…Grampa…he is long gone, died in 1983.  I knew him a bit and it did bother me just a touch.  I worried it might bother some other people more.  What to do?  What to say? How do you ask such questions without giving away the suspicions?

The woman is working with Search Angels, which helps people locate birth parents.  I spoke with them trying to narrow the places and dates, but it still didn’t add up.  I don’t have a huge number of DNA matches on that side but I have some, but she was not showing up as connected to them at all.  Which is impossible. We cast about until the person (from San Diego) mentioned that it must still be him because he had lived in Westford and her distant connections were from Leominster (he mispronounced it) which was so nearby. Ah, that was the key.  It wasn’t my grandfather from Nova Scotia at all, it was his first wife, from Leominster, whose family had been in that area (Fitchburg, Shirley) for generations. She died youngish in 1952 and I never knew her. I actually had a hard time talking him into that, but it made sense to me. So she had a child before marrying Carl, who was a very silent person.  I never heard him mention her.  Or much of anything else, actually. I don’t know if he even knew about the boy.

That boy in turn was the father of my cousin, born two states and 300 miles away, so she has two mysteries to solve to place herself in the genetic world accurately. I hope to meet her after all this avoidance of contact is over. My father had a half-brother he never knew about, and I have a half-first-cousin I just learned about, and it is time to close the circle.

Undeceptions Series

C.S.Lewis wrote about self-deception throughout his career. It was his belief that the illusions we embraced did not only damage us spiritually, but impaired our ability to reason. Under the influence of personally convenient myths, we gradually can no longer even know simple things. Ideas which appear at first glance to be intellectual errors are revealed under examination to be something more emotional, more spiritual, more psychological. When I first began reading him I recognised not only the errors of others, but very quickly, favorite little theories of mine that were exploded in a minute under the force of his logic. His logic is a force, yes. Not always pleasant, but often profitable. In my twenties I considered it a challenge to my courage whether I would pick up another of his books.

Enjoyable, though. Fun, even, and quite quotable. You can use him to expose the ideas of others even if you have an ability to dart sideways yourself.

Not everyone here is a fan of Lewis, so I have no intention of cluttering up the front page here with a series of essays on him. However, I do link to the whole group for those who have interest.

1. Undeceptions 

2. Undeceptions II – Biographical Notes 

3. Self-Deception 

4. Undeceptions III 

5. Undeceptions IV – The Ransom Trilogy and The Great Divorce

6. Undeceptions V 

7. Undeceptions VI – Till We Have Faces 

8. That Hideous Strength.  Not actually part of the series but added in for convenience

9. Self-Deception Anecdote. A later addition.

Radioactive Words

There are always radioactive words in any society.  Some are mostly forbidden, some are completely forbidden, some are conditionally forbidden, and some are secretly encouraged, so that people can show what brave rebels they are. At the moment the n-word is both conditionally forbidden, in that black people can say it, but otherwise absolutely forbidden, in that no others can say it under any circumstances.  There is protest over this, that the rules have gone entirely outside any sense of reason, in that it cannot be quoted in a context and cannot be uttered even to condemn it.  This is why I use the word radioactive, rather than sticking with the more usual term forbidden. One cannot even approach the word or handle it in any way unless one has the proper protections. If this seems unreasonable, remember that it was ever thus.  Of course it’s unreasonable.  So what? Live with the unreasonableness, because that is what language does, everywhere, at all times.

Those whose objections are unreasonable, who declare we cannot even quote from Huckleberry Finn, however important the book was in improving the way the culture thought about black people, might have bad reasons for the insistence.  It may indicate an imbalance in them that suggests they will always be miserable unless they have a change of attitude. Yet this is not new. They are responding emotively that if we do not follow the rule, it is evidence that we just don’t understand how serious this is.  If we protest that we indeed do, they will shake their heads.  If you really understood, you would not do this. They are always among us, and keeping some words radioactive might be good for us, however ridiculous each individual case might be.

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Pecans and Aunts

Words are pronounced differently throughout the country – just about anything with an “a” in it, for example – but very few words are sometimes pronounced differently by the same person.  Two of the most prominent, the two above, work from the same set of sounds.  People generally say ant or aunt the same way in every context, but sometimes, individual aunts will be referred to by the other pronunciation because well, that’s their name. This happens more often when two sides of a family have a different preference.  The children grow up with a preferred pronunciation for the generic, but some of both pronunciations for individuals. There is also the even more regional Aint or even Ayunt in the south, such as Andy of Mayberry’s Aint Bee. Both sides of my family used the traditional Boston-area aunt-with-a-“u” version, but my mother’s second husband came from North Haven and used Ant. I found it jarring when he would refer to my mother’s aunt as Ant Sal, because…because that wasn’t her name. Of course Aunt Sal wasn’t her name either.  Her name was Selma, and Aunt was a title. And yet, when you are an aunt or an uncle it is your name to some people, and that might even start extending to friends and neighbors as well.

Pecan is even more complicated, because not only the vowel sound can vary, but also which syllable is accented.  Most people have a single pronunciation for every use of the word, puh-CAHN, or pee-CAHN, or PEE-can, or pee-CAN. Others vary it depending on whether they are talking about the pie, the tree, or the plural of them in the bag at the store. Even people who use one of the “can” variants in every other setting might shop for pecahns at the store, and so buy pecahns to make a pecan pie. The pie is particularly tricky, because for some it is one of those phrases in which none of the syllables is accented: Pee Can Pie or Pee Cahn Pie. Even those who accent one syllable or another in the phrase tend to do so in an underplayed manner. Others will change their pronunciation if there is a modifier in the front, especially “Georgia.” Because that’s their name, don’t you know, regardless of what the nut is called in general.

The other most common word with variable pronunciation in the same mouth is “route.” One grows up with a preferred pronunciation, but might visit a place for vacation a few times as a child and adopt the other for a specific road.  Rout 17 is the best root to go.

Dead White Males

It’s the “dead” part that is the most problem. The goal is not to increase the number of voices the student hears, but to reduce them, so that only the present exists. The illusion of multiculturalism is not hard to overcome, as what they mostly mean is different foods, music, ways of dress. Fun stuff. Not too intellectually demanding. One can indeed learn something about other cultures by reading Zora Neal Hurston and Ida B Wells, and should. But they aren’t very dead, not even a hundred years, and the cultures the write about still not so very far from ours. And even they, if I can tell aright from this distance, are not read for what is different about their lives but for what the student can pretend is “just the same,” as illustrations that prejudice America now is really not that far from what they wrote about.  Those two women would say otherwise, I have no doubt. They sang more than one note.

Female writers are few as one goes back in history, as are writers of color. Yet this is a feature, not a bug, as it becomes difficult to find anyone from the past who might whisper to the student that people thought otherwise than they do today. Let us talk about the prejudices they faced, children – just like today! Pay no attention to how their values and motivations were not quite the same as ours, because then we might learn something from them. We therefore have only moderns to draw from, people who drive cars, watch TV, go to restaurants, and get everything from markets. The amount of diversity is going to of necessity be quite limited.

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You Knew This

I like Bing because of the photos, and I think they are marginally better on privacy than Google. I use DuckDuckGo most of the time.  Yet i have been annoyed at the bias of the Bing newsfeed, those clickable stories along the bottom of the page.  At the moment it is a refutation of the video claiming that Biden misidentified the state he was talking to.  I’m on conservative media pretty regularly, and I hadn’t seen that one.  I’ve seen links to lots of other videos with Biden gaffes but not that.  You see the effect?  By telling you the one that is discredited, without reference to how commonly viewed it is, it casts doubts on all those other, accurate Biden videos. 

Next is that Lady Gaga “hits back” at Trump, with headlines that the Trump campaign has “chosen a celebrity target,” as if the poor girl was hunted down and selected out of nowhere to be criticised by the Trump campaign.  She chose herself.  Maybe it’s terrible optics for Trump to even acknowledge it, but now a whole slew of folks claim Trump is drowning who have thrown themselves into the deep end quite on their own.

And the GOP “can’t stop count” in Nevada county, as if the Republicans didn’t want votes from that county from being counted, rather than an objection to the way this is proceeding.

Multiply this by a thousand days and ten thousand stories, creating an impression based on selective reporting.  I think I read something somewhere recently about the indoctrinated believing they have come up with their opinions entirely on their own.  That is not only ironic, it is part of getting them to believe their misapprehensions forever. They consider arguments carefully.  They weigh pros and cons.  They check on alternate opinions (or more usually, what their usual sources tell them are the opinions of those stupid people over there). And then, with furrowed brow and a quiet nod of the head, they conclude that their tribe is the most intelligent, the arguments of the people who control their social destiny are superior, and none of their authorities need Air Wick.

De Tocqueville on Cancel Culture

 Rather prophetic.

Princes had, so to speak, materialized violence; the democratic republics of today have made violence as entirely intellectual as the human will that it wants to constrain. Under the absolute government of one man, despotism, to reach the soul, crudely struck the body; and the soul, escaping from these blows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics, tyranny does not proceed in this way; it leaves the body alone and goes right to the soul. The master no longer says: You will think like me or die; he says: You are free not to think as I do; your life, your goods, everything remains with you; but from this day on you are a stranger among us. You will keep your privileges as a citizen, but they will become useless to you. If you aspire to be the choice of your fellow citizens, they will not choose you, and if you ask only for their esteem, they will still pretend to refuse it to you. You will remain among men, but you will lose your rights to humanity. When you approach your fellows, they will flee from you like an impure being. And those who believe in your innocence, even they will [419] abandon you, for people would flee from them in turn. Go in peace; I spare your life, but I leave you a life worse than death. (Democracy In America Volume 2, Part 2, Chapter 7, “Of the Omnipotence of the Majority in the United States and Its Effects,)

Political violence

I am caught up with my reposts with this one.

 I observed decades ago, and reported in the first years of my own blog, that there is a fundamental difference between conservative violence and liberal political violence.  This is more apparent when one gets to look at the psychiatric cases, where the usual filters are off. The left goes on offense. The paranoid leftist fantasizes about going out and assassinating someone, or going and destroying some stronghold of what they think is oppressing the people. I have heard them say “I think about skinning George Bush alive,” or being caught in a plan to blow up a federal courthouse.  As things progress, they may have developed a grudge against Ted Kennedy, who they used to work for but the campaign fired them, or against Hillary Clinton, who they just don’t believe is responding properly to the 100 letters they have written her appealing for help. The press uses such dodges to pretend the person who showed up with a bomb-vest at Clinton headquarters was actually some sort of conservative, but this is just a dodge. Yet even those are exceptions.  Most stay true to form and want to set a housing development on fire because it harms the environment or break windows at a drive-by of Republican headquarters or a military recruitment center.

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Fundamental Fairness, and Voting For Trump

There is a joke which is actually semi-serious advice among lawyers: 

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell”

It is first attributed in this form to the poet Carl Sandburg, but likely long predates him.

I have heard something similar argued about “fundamental fairness,” that it is a doctrine that is argued by an attorney when she has nothing better to put forward for her client; a pleading that “Your honor, don’t you think that this just seems more just?” That is an exaggeration, certainly.  Such appeals, in aggregate more than individually, are persuasive as culture changes, and have likely improved justice in the long run.  Just because it is often abused does not mean that there is nothing to it.  Wolves don’t hide in wolves’ clothing, I used to say.  What would be the point of that?  They hide in sheep’s clothing because there is actual innocence in the world.

So it is a suspect approach, but not wholly without merit.  I have at least four attorneys who are regular readers, and they are free to correct me on the point. I will leapfrog in this discussion a bit, so if I seem to be suddenly veering off course, please understand. 

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Transition to Farming in Europe

Just a conceptual framework here. 

Just so you know going in, whenever reading up on the topic.  There are ritual incantations by all the sources that depend entirely on PC money – National Geographic, Smithsonian – that must be made whenever discussing European genetics.  They must recite that there are no pure European races dating back endlessly with continuous presence until the present day.  Nay, nay.  Nazis, thought that, and you don’t want to be like them.  Lots of other people thought so, too, and they were also racist.  All of your recent European ancestors were likely racist, and good people don’t even come close to thinking like that anymore. Once you understand that this is part of their common religion and they have to say this at the opening of every academic exercise (sort of like everyone saying the Pledge of Allegiance at town meeting, or singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sporting events) it becomes more endurable.  It is comforting to them, making the appropriate obeisance before proceeding.  Because it’s a new religion, they are still working things out. They see heretics everywhere.

Then they go on to explain to you that until very recently, the major sources for European genetics do come from three waves which stabilised thousands of years ago.  But don’t get any idea that this means anything.  Those were really, really different groups, you know, and there were groups within groups, like Celtic and Slavic tribes both being Indo-European, and groups within those groups. So no one is pure. Got that, you potentially fascist reader?

The first group in were hunter-gatherers 45,000 years ago. Unsurprising, as there was nothing but h-g’s at that point, no farmers anywhere. They outcompeted but did interbreed some with Neandertals, possibly because they were meaner, or maybe smarter. Glaciers came and went and areas were depopulated and repopulated. Who they were has been murky, but we are starting to get some initial narrative. It’s complicated, but a group we call European Hunter-Gatherers, especially West Hunter Gatherers (WHG) became the temporary Indigenous Peoples of their day. Europeans still have lots of that ancestry, as you can note from the Distribution maps of European Admixture I linked to a couple of days ago. 

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Sadd Colors

History Friday- yes, bring it back! I had forgotten. I only have a side dish for this potluck, but here it is.

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The orangey-brown you see on the leaves now is a puritan color.  We call it russet. It was then called “Philly Mort,” a corruption of the French feuille morte.* They preferred the restrained, subdued hues called sadd colors, which those who have read Albion’s Seed may remember. Puritan hats were black. Black was otherwise considered a bit pretentious, or at least over-formal.  Clerics adopted it as time went on, reflecting their increased self-regard. But for everyday, the colors which occurred in nature were considered acceptable, though even a few of those were suspect.

Consider, for example, the dull magenta which Harvard calls “crimson,” and the dull blue and gray of Yale, or the dark Dartmouth green.  And of course Brown has the color…brown. The colleges and universities in other parts of the country have more exciting colors. Here, it is rust, puce, tawny, forest green, and other somber shades.

Those are the old New England colors you could still find until after WWII.  Immediately afterwards, all those gaudy golf/Bar Harbor/LL Bean colors suddenly became the mark of the moneyed, salt-water elite. I don’t know why, but I suspect that the universality of the dull colors even among the poor here created a counter-reaction of adoption of shades that had heretofore been favored by the gaudy urban and ethnic poor.  Just a guess on my part.  But you will remember the preppy look of the 70s and 80s which tended toward pink and bright green. Or lemony yellows, Nantucket Red, and all the rest. 

*There is a minority opinion that philly mort was an even duller, gray-brown color, but I am following the decisions of Plimoth Plantation on this.

Where Your Treasure Goes – Obverse

I have not done much cross-posting here in the last month. I will do a bunch over the next week, of things I should have put in here. But not more than one per day. That seems excessive.

 Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Even those of us who know the verse still respond as if only the inverse were true, that we give our treasure to where our heart inclines.  That latter is certainly true, but Jesus is teaching the interesting principle that if we give something, or commit something, our heart is much more likely to follow.  This is why salespeople or charities or organisations try to get you to commit any small thing – even a smile or a nod can be a down payment. 

Churches want to make sure that all is grace and no one is left out for inability to pay – but teachers of adult Sunday School notice that people are more likely to do the homework and participate if they have paid for the book than if you give it for free.  We grow more attached to something if we have bought it rather than received it. There are all sorts of applications – if college students male and female are set across a table from each other and included in their chitchat, are required to confess one secret or slight embarrassment, the find they like each other and have a higher probability for going on a date after than if that requirement is left out.

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Who Does That?

I read an article a week or two ago about the non-silence of many Trump voters, with a bit of cultural disdain for people who write TRUMP in big letters on the hulls of their boats.  Who does that?  You never saw anyone do that with Obama, however much they admired him. Fair enough.  That does seem a bit much, though no harm done.

Who puts up lists of haranguing strawman criticisms in their yard, in rainbow colors?

Excess Deaths Are C19 Deaths

Note: The graphs in this post may require an administrator to be made visible, which I have requested. In the meantime, those graphs and more are at the link. (I take it back. It looks like they came up first time!)

I wrote early on that there would be errors in both directions in the Covid count of deaths, that some might be called C19 that could be better attributable to another condition, and some ascribed to flu or pneumonia that were really coronavirus. A couple of months ago, when the drumbeat started that there were all sorts of deaths being called Covid that really should be called something else, I repeated that claim of errors in both directions, but noted that our numbers were more likely an undercount than an overcount, largely because some places require a confirmed diagnosis of C19 before it can be put down as a cause of death. This was unpopular in some corners. As reports of more suicides crept into the news, more attributable to lockdowns than to other explanations (isolation, loss of employment, anxiety) I likewise cautioned again: wait  for the data.  Do not speculate on why something has happened until you know that it has actually happened.

Please note, this is true for other countries as well.  Everyone seems to have excess deaths, and it is difficult to measure how many at present. There are different problems in counting in rural vs urban areas.

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IQ

I have written a lot at my own site. I don’t know how strong the interest is here. It is a topic I know a fair bit about, both the Mythbusters and the recent-thinking-and-research varieties. I can put up a couple of posts here if you like. To get the blood warm, I will tell you that it is much better to live in a place of high average IQ than to have a high IQ yourself, in terms of prosperity, lack of violent crime, freedom, and individual rights. Doubly warm, it is a real thing that measures real properties and has significant predictive value. It is usually polite to say YMMV, but I won’t because your mileage really doesn’t vary, you just want it to.

So ignore this if you don’t want to see valuable ChicagoBoyz space taken up with the topic, or jump on it if you want to engage. If you have a common Myth, I will of course Bust it, but if you have an uncommon myth I might be set on my heels and have to think about it a bit. Much is known, but much remains dark.

Victimhood

I reviewed a book in 2013 about The Saint Benedict Center, a Feenyite (renegade Catholic with old-fashioned trappings) group in rural NH.  I link back to it now because they very much believe that they are victims, and victimhood is in the air more than ever at present.  I believed as I wrote it that much of what I said then had general applicability, and rereading it today, I still think that.

Longtime readers might recognise that this last point is of particular importance to me. The more deeply pathological people are, the more they are certain that absolutely none of the fault is against their score. Ultimately, it is the perpetual victimhood of criminals and narcissists, that cannot allow there is even a 1% chance they are 1% wrong. Stalin, as an example, believed he was the victim of the starving Ukrainian peasants, who wanted so desperately to discredit him that they would even starve themselves to death rather than admit his enforcement of collectivisation was a better idea. Hitler did not see himself as a an aggressor, but as a lone defender against the worldwide Jewish conspiracy. SBC is orders of magnitude less pathological, certainly, but the tone is the same. That they did not live up to their permit agreements, that they repeatedly moved beyond what was allowed even as they promised not to, that they made insulting comments about their neighbors, these things are never mentioned. It’s all those others against them.

It is related to paranoia, and the genesis is similar. The feeling of victimhood comes first, like the paranoid interpretation, and then goes looking for an explanation that validates it. They are first driven by the whine, not the divine. Victimhood is a pose of weakness that is actually a cover for inordinate retribution. Being thin-skinned and attuned to small sleights and being “disrespected” is a prelude for revenge. We have all heard guys who say, “I’m not looking for a fight, but if anyone messes with me…” Yeah, dude, you’re looking for a fight.

As this was a several years ago and I had paid them no further mind I did wonder if they had mellowed, as I don’t like to kick folks unfairly. I looked them up again. I suppose they might have mellowed, but it isn’t showing in their online presence.  They are still out of communion with the Roman Catholic Church and claiming they are right and the others are all wrong.  Seldom a good sign.

BTW, Sgt Mom gets a good mention in the comments of the 2013 post. Solid things last, i suppose.

Follow The Science

Posted yesterday at AVI

Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 speech has been frequently quoted

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I think of this with regards to all the complaints on a variety of topics about “following the science.” Folks are throwing that phrase around pretty blithely lately, both seriously and as a sneer. I like Glenn Reynolds and his site is one of the ones I go to first every day, but his credentials, formal and informal, do not include anything about making judgements about scientific matters that affect others. He is complaining about the experts, always in quotes, and how they have failed us recently, and he is not the only one. It has become a popular sport this year. I’m calling it out. It’s a cheap way to make points. People who have to read scientific research and try to get some sense out of it that they can pass it on safely to other people tend much more to “On the one hand, on the other hand.” People trying to score political points tend to make broader statements.

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Apples to Apples II

More than one person has suggested that this entire endeavor is quixotic at best, distracting from real solutions at worst. Yes, I hear you, but am ignoring you. One of my usual lines when people make pronouncements is “Compared to what? Or whom?” When the accusation goes out about the evils of American interaction with oh, South America, I like to say “Compared to who? Portugal? The USSR? More recently, China? What do you mean, exactly?” So when we are looking at whether America as a whole is doing the right things about C19, it is quite natural to me to ask “Compared to who?” Especially in an election year we tend to fall into Sweden yea vs Sweden nay, or “Look how stupid Trump/Biden/Cuomo/Abbot/lockdown/opening is.” I am first trying to get out of that and see if there are large tendencies related to population density, international contact, and primary strategies.

You are free to find that a ridiculous approach. I still like it.

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Iceland and Switzerland are outliers, both with a lot of cases but few deaths. Switzerland’s cases are largely along its border with Italy and they have just had a resurgence, so the conclusions people were drawing two months ago are now looking premature. Iceland’s story is that they have done a level of aggressive contact tracing that likely only Scandinavians would put up with. ( Maybe Benelux as well.) While most people in all countries are happy to help with contact tracing, when it comes to doing so against their will, some will very much dislike that on principle. When Black Lives Matter or QAnon or drug dealers or pedophiles or CNN reporters refuse to give up their phones, it wouldn’t just be American libertarians who say “You can’t make them. It’s a terrible precedent. Once that seal is broken who knows what it will be used for?” There are lots of Canadians and Scots and Dutchmen who would say the same.

Still, the tradeoff on that was that Iceland did not lock down and believes they’ve got everything normal and under control at present, so maybe I’m wrong about what folks will put up with. Privacy vs having a job? Tough call. Also, it’s an island, so even if we thought their approach was the bee’s knees we might not be able to do it.

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Additional CoVid Factors

I am still not seeing as much as I would like about ventilation.  One of main things we have learned about the virus is that indoor air exchange is the A-1 vector for transmission.  I think of this at work when I go down to the cafeteria and a young woman with gloves has to pick up a sugar packet, a coffee stirrer, and a coffee cover and hand it to me.  Then I go back to an isolated office for phone and online meetings while all the air in the building is pumped directly onto me.

This is significant for nursing homes.  No everyone is there for the comorbidities we are so attentive to these days.  For some, it is dementia, or mobility and balance issues, or Parkinson’s symptoms that prevent independent living. But there they are, now stuck in close quarters with a lot of people with C-Pap machines aerosolising everything. I have an ugly suspicion that it goes less-noticed because it is not easily weaponised by either camp in the national debate. If a governor had said early on that businesses like restaurants could stay open with a few restrictions, so long as they had ventilation systems that met a certain standard – particularly in areas outside of the Northeast cities that were so heavily affected – it would be hard to gin up anger either way.  Dan from Madison raised the caution flag that a lot of these systems are now so far back-ordered that no one is getting delivery in months.  I’m betting that stuff is harder to switch production to than individual ventilators.  So who can capitalise on that one at the Conventions?

I have also not heard much about viral load, which I suggested early on would be important.  Next-most-affected after older people are those taking care of them. It can’t be a non-factor, but whether it large or merely worth noting as a possibility would seem of some interest. If I were to guess, the importance of superspreader events would suggest that crowds indoors are an enormous risk.

Bsking just mentioned in the Apples to Apples comments (at Assistant Village Idiot) that America’s high obesity rate as a factor is also neglected. That matters at a couple of levels. Median age has also been mentioned WRT Laos in specific and SE Asia in general.  It likely matters. 

The advance notice for the Apples to Apples II post is that the regional approach within countries does look like the best way to look at this, and whatever lessons we might extract across countries are often going to come from this.

Apples to Apples

Yes, there will be a followup. I’m just trying to get a grip on what comparisons are valid – and getting you thinking about the same thing.

In trying to find proper comps for America WRT C19, I have to conclude that there are none which are excellent, perhaps not even very good. It is fair to have industrialised nations as our starting point, and places so small that a single one-off event (or lack of them) can change the picture too quickly.  Andorra, San Marino, and Liechtenstein are not comps, whether for good or for ill.  There are Latin American countries – our own hemisphere – which have recently seen many cases, but I can’t see Peru as a serious comp.  We share a border with Mexico, and parts of that country have similarity to parts of this country in more than one way, but “industrialised” seems out of reach.  Ditto Brazil. We are narrowing to Europe and the Anglosphere pretty quickly, I think. Japan clearly qualifies as a first-world nation, though it is very much an island, and was culturally willing to isolate long before any of this. They remain solidly racist and homogeneous, resenting the Chinese and looking down on Koreans and especially Filipinos, so their degree of international contact has never been at European or American levels. Russia, China, and India are powerful economies and have industries but can’t really be regarded as industrialised.

Which leads to the next criterion, degree of international contact. Europeans have both contact with each other, often at places of great population density, and contact with the rest of the world.  America has two long borders, mixed between population dense and sparse population areas.  We have a great deal of international contact, much of it coming in by air. Canada less so, but still considerable. Australia has a great deal of regional contact, New Zealand and South Africa not so much. Even a lot of Europe isn’t in the same league, here. Because many come in by air, the international contact is in many places, well into the heartland.  Somewhat true of Canada as well, though Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are the main contact points. Not nearly so many as America or in Europe.  By population it’s a comp, but by area – that is, how much international contact per square kilometer, even if only measuring the southernmost parts – not quite so much.  As both population and area seem to be mattering with CoVid, that’s worth noting.

Because the NYC metro area has so dominated the American statistics, over a third of the deaths, and other major metros have had similar problems, I think the presence or absence of such areas is an important comp. A lot of people have criticised what New York has done, but what would they have done differently?  Not sending infected persons to nursing homes is a biggie, and worth mentioning, but what else?  Close the subways?  Then Ubers upon Ubers. What about elevators?  How do NYC apartments function without elevators?  This is going to weaken a lot of possible comparisons.  France has Paris.  The UK has London, and bonus points for the Midlands cities.  Argentina may work it’s way onto the list simply because of Buenos Aires.  Japan might work it’s way back on as well.  Mexico City is huge, but I think it is usually described as “sprawling.” Amsterdam, Brussels, Stockholm, Berlin, Rome, etc – not so much high-rise, not so much density. Canada has Toronto, not quite a megacity, but plenty of skyline. Montreal a little less. Vancouver probably not.  We are into places that are populous, have skyscrapers and some density, but just not Manhattan or downtown Chicago. Half-credit?

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What About Laos?

Laos has had 22 cases of C19, 3 currently active, 0 deaths. Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar, are not quite so low, but very low. These are not South Korea or Taiwan, where we can point to cultural support for masks and distancing and good medical care and awareness. It is fair to note that there is little testing and there might be deaths out in the boonies that are just “Eh.  Death.  Who knows why?” that leave actual CoVid unreported, but these national numbers are ridiculously low. If there were a CoVid holocaust in these areas word would be leaking out.  Even though no one, left or right, pays much attention to what is happening in these places, if there were some serious bump in the data, someone would be twisting it around to make some political hay out of it on NPR, The Nation, or some fringe right-wing sites.  It is, of course, very cool to be walking around knowing stuff about some country that everyone has heard of but no one has been paying attention to, so some news would get out.

If you go to Worldometers.info and look at the lower reaches of the list you see patterns.  You see islands, whether in Oceania, Indian Ocean, or the Caribbean, or essential islands like Gibraltar, Vatican City, Liechtenstein. Yes, they can keep others out, and are in fact used to keeping others out. There are also a lot of African countries, with similar poor medical care, low social cohesion for masks and distancing, but likely also poor reporting.  Yet I will note again, not that poor reporting. When there are lots of deaths, word leaks out.  The outside world may not believe those reports of death because they are uncomfortable, as the Gulag deaths, 6M Jews, or 25M Great Leap Forward deaths in China leaked out in the 20th C were ignored, but the reports were there.

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