Thursday, March 19, 2020

Panic, Anti-panic, and Anti-anti-panic

I wrote a long post to my children tonight about why I am still going to work, and so do not have the focus to both have more alcohol and be intelligent on Blogspot. I love you, but I am choosing Drambuie at present. I would like you all to think about the following: I long ago estimated the average IQ of this readership as higher than the Mensa cutoff of 132, so your thoughts will be valuable. Well, valuable to me, anyway. Everyone else might continue to ignore you and think you fools, but you are welcome here. I jest, but I am also serious.

There was a period of looming about C19, and getting people to take it seriously. Then when people started taking it seriously there were some who over-reacted and took it too seriously, or more precisely, took the wrong parts seriously and panicked. So now we have a very predictable counter-reaction of folks going "Wait. This is ridiculous. It's not that bad. Untrustworthy people (our government, Other governments. News outlets) are taking advantage of the sense of panic, and fools now have sheds full off toilet paper and refried beans." That has in turn provoked a mixed reaction of decent people not wanting us to relent in taking C19 seriously who are in a confusing muddle at this point. They are arguing against the first non-serious group, mostly fools and young people who won't even wash their hands more and are defying safety measures proudly; yet also trying to argue against the anti-panic group which has a growing suspicion of who is benefiting from the panic; and finally, trying to sort out which among their allies in anti-anti-panic are grifters, tyrants, or carpetbaggers and which are legitimate public health experts.

Count me among the anti-anti-panickers, which I think is where I have been since mid-February. I hope to develop the idea tomorrow, and together we can figure out what the real risks are before we have to roll the dice again.  We're all wrong.  We're all right.  We'll figure it out.


Grim said...

Drambuie! Well, you won't feel any pain until tomorrow. At least that's been my experience with the stuff around Scottish Highland Games campfires.

Christopher B said...

I think there's considerable confusion about the objective of social distance, even among people who appear to understand it. As they talk about it they often reveal that their primary goal in social distance is "I
don't want to catch this", not that social distance is intended to keep people from transmitting it if they have the disease and don't know it. The other factor I've seen is that distancing is often described now as 'beating C19', even from medical professionals, and not holding to the goal of slowing the spread.

bs king said...

I made a gin infusion with extra juniper, rosemary, thyme, and dried mushrooms that I made my first martini out of tonight. Delicious.

I like anti anti panic. Contrarianism is a coping mechanism of yours, and double contrarianism seems fitting for the moment. I am obsessively numbers watching, as is my wont. It took us 18 days to get our first 100 deaths in this country, and 2 days to get our second hundred.

What’s striking me is we’re not all going to have the same experience. Europe is still widely variable across country, and we’re probably going to vary widely across state. That’s going to make it hard for any one take to be broadly correct. Even you and I living 75 miles apart may have two different but equally valid assessments.

Ah well, at least I have gin.

Tom Bridgeland said...

I keep hearing about panic, but how many people actually panicked? Some people who bought unreasonable amounts of toilet paper or useless junk like bottled water, that's panic?

Panic is abandoning your house and fleeing to the wilderness, or shooting random strangers who walk down the sidewalk in front of your house. Selling all your assets at firesale prices and hiding cash in your sockdrawer.

Buying a few shopping cartloads of random crap is not panic.

Christopher B said...

AVI .. I'm starting to watch state level numbers using worldometers and an NPR site. I'm seeing an interesting divergence between New York and a select group of states (Texas, Florida, and Louisiana). Even California has diverged from New York to a degree.

Working hypothesis - New York, like Wuhan, is in the demographic, geographic, and meteorological sweet spot for community spread of this bug. Most of the rest of the country, not so much, but we're all being driven by what's happening there.

Like my farmer dad used to say, when it rains in Chicago the grain prices go down.

sykes.1 said...

While I expect the pandemic to be severe, I do not think it will be anywhere near the 1918 Spanish Flu. The people on board the quarantined cruise ship in Japan experienced a 17% infection rate after two weeks of mingling. That's only one-third the infectious rate assumed by the medical authorities.

The bigger problem is the economy. The stock market is down one-third, and the unemployment rate is already 25% and trending higher. These are figures from the Great Depression of the 1930's. The pandemic is expected to peak around the end of May in the US. There will then be a drawdown of cases for two to three months. This will give us about six months of depression level economic activity. It is expected that half the hotels in the US will go out of business, as will car dealerships, airlines, restaurants... Many of these will be permanent.

Every pension fund in the US is insolvent at these stock prices.

Oil this morning is about $25/bbl. While much of that is due to the Russo-Arabian oil war, demand is so low that some refineries are shutting down. No oil company in the US can make money at these prices. Frackers were losing money at $60/bbl, and most frackers were insolvent before the collapse in demand.

Unless some miracle occurs, we will get a long-lasting depression. The Great Depression lasted 10 years, and stocks fell 90% and took decades to recover.

The Great Depression also lead to the rise of fascists, nazis, militarists, and communists, and they gave us a world war. This fall the American people, totally panicked and immiserated are likely to elect a communist government. Biden will be the front man, but the government will be in the hands of people like Bill Ayers, Van Jones, AOC, et al.

james said...

When I read the rumblings several weeks ago I started restocking the "tornado stash." That's only a couple of weeks worth--I didn't factor in panic and lockdowns that might extend things.

It was obvious that something big was going on in China, from the measures they took--and it is not obvious that things have changed there. They say, they say--but are air pollution numbers going up again?

It was also obvious that the West in general had gotten extremely complacent about epidemics. A lot of us think that modern medicine is a nice shiny magic wand that can cure anything, given enough money. In reality, we can't cure very many diseases at all. There are some wonderful new tools, but a lot of our improved health has to do with improved sanitation and diet. And at the end of the day, we're not disembodied brains in a jar, but integrated into a web of known and mostly unknown organisms for food and waste.

It has also been glaringly obvious that our economy, notably our retirement systems, was founded on extremely optimistic assumptions--and sometimes outright lies. Illinois never planned to fund the pensions they promised. We were headed for an ugly crash. This looks like it might be the trigger--it could have been anything. I tried to parse out the possibilities a dozen years ago. Nothing looks pretty. Maybe Jeremiah 45:3-5 is hopeful.

I am not plugged into the media stream. I pick and choose what sources to follow, and talking heads on MSNBCBSABC aren't them. I don't just read headlines, and I know enough about medicine (and reporters) to sort past a lot of the nonsense. As, for instance, thinking that a rise in numbers directly reflects a rise in cases, instead of being a combination of case rise and more testing.

By temperament and training I'm a scientist. That has a severe downside: a tendency to "wait and see" instead of acting promptly. The upside is obvious, though it can make one unpopular to keep saying "Yes, but that has nothing to do with the problem."

I figure the shutdowns are a guess. The Imperial College report explicitly does NOT discuss economic impacts--it is an extremely idealized model. Short term shutdowns look useful short term--but see Figure 3 in that paper. The disease comes back.

In the leaders' place, would I overcome "wait and see" to pick shutdowns? Probably. It's an old technique, and fairly plausible for ordinary transmission means. It doesn't work so well when the disease is spread by rat-borne fleas, or when you're infectious weeks before anybody has any hint. Still, you get some mitigation. And beyond that--some things just aren't easy to control. And often the more you monkey the more you break, and the more you break the more you have to monkey with to "fix."

Sam L. said...

I live in a rural area. I'm old. I'm not worried. I'm also not pan-glossian, and this is my first usage of the term. Y'all be cool.

Texan99 said...

I began stocking up weeks ago and am still getting deliveries of non-perishables from Amazon. We occasionally leave the house for provisions, but not often. We wash our hands a lot. Two things rivet my attention: the permanent damage to the economy from extended lock-down, and the prospect of overwhelming the hospitals. I was pleased to hear the White House's statements in this morning press conference about efforts to gear up quickly on ventilator production. I believe if we can address the well-founded acute anxiety over critical care facilities, we can keep enough people working to heal the wound to the economy. I suspect we'll have to fine-tune the lock-down better than we're doing now, unless there's awfully fast movement on the treatment front.

On the other hand, the numbers from the Diamond Princess are somewhat encouraging as a kind of worst-case scenario--bad but bearable society-wide, however tragic in a particular family--and we will eventually develop something like a herd immunity. That means that, no matter how awful this feels, it's not truly a society-wide existential threat. It's only an occasion for individual courage, patience, and generosity.