Thursday, April 30, 2020


There has been a suggestion that people here enter into bets about what they are asserting will happen about C19 going forward.  Some of the assertions are put more mildly, or are only implied, certainly, but numbers have a way of bringing clarity. to statements.  The advantage will be going back and checking, bringing the items forward. I am not a betting man, but I should at least make some assertion to get us started.  I am 90% confident there will be 100,000 American deaths by the end of the year.  I am 30% confident there will be 200,000.

You can address an entirely different question if you like, such as penetration into the Western states, or number of overall cases or whatever.

A month from now I might be hanging my head in shame, but that's where I am starting, here at the end of April.

Address Change

I notified a government agency of my change of address.  Today we received one of those evaluation forms, asking us in what manner we had contacted the agency and how we rated our experience.  Were we very satisfied, satisfied, or not very satisfied?  I think there were five categories, but you get the picture.  You have seen many of these, I'm sure.  There were about ten questions in all. I doubt they have the least value in actually measuring the quality of service, not in government, not in private businesses.  The surveys are just someone's attempts to "do something," about quality control and convince people that this is a valuable public relations function that customers have "input."  Which we all value so highly, y'see, having input. In the dim reaches of my memory, I think I used to believe that there was a way to do this well and get the information sough t in some useful form.  I was merely irritated that these surveys were done poorly.  I now think they cannot be done well at all, even by smart and well-meaning people.

As an added encouragement to actually fill out this form and send it in, in the stamp area there is a notice that postage is not necessary if mailed in the United States.  Thus, either the state agency or the federal Post Office is paying for this, because you 'n me are paying one (or both) of them to do that.

They sent the form to my old address and it was forwarded to me. The Post Office has a little yellow sticker they put on, telling you to notify the sender of your change of address.  I did not fill out the survey boxes, but informed them that I thus could not rate them highly on the core element of the reason I had called in the first place. The whole experience seems to capture in miniature my view of government.

Herd Immunity

There is increasing to reference to this as the desirable thing we need that lockdown is preventing.  I am not well-versed in this, and am happy to be corrected.  Okay, not happy,  exactly, but willing.  Is our faith in this justified?  Is this true, or some sort of magical incantation?  I know that some amount of herd immunity happens when a contagious illness is present in a population, but isn't it  In colonial New England, when a hantavirus from Europe struck, 90% of the natives dies, but only 30% of the English.  I guess that's better, but that doesn't mean that it's good thing and we just move on? That's the best strategy we can aim for? Is herd immunity what got us through smallpox? Because Africa had some herd immunity to malaria while the Europeans trying to penetrate the jungle just died, does that mean all was well for the Africans?  Polio?  We have MMR vaccines for children precisely because herd immunity over centuries didn't actually solve the problem.  It's better than nothing, I suppose, but...?

The assertion that we just have to hurry along because we want to get to herd immunity sooner, even though we don't know how much "immunity" that means strikes me as ill-founded.  I suspect that the fact that the word "immunity" is right in the phrase allows us to slip into thinking it means "very manageable disease presence."  I don't think we know that. There is a common argument arising that "well, we don't really have any choice.  Whatever we do is just going come out the same in the end until we just gird up our loins and allow Herd Immunity to happen."

Sounds great.  Is it actually true?  I understand that it will be true in a limited sense, but doesn't the variance matter?

New Comment on an Old Post

I thought I would pass along the new last comment on on Why I Didn't Like The Beach Boys. That one really attracted some anger.  I think I cross-posted it at Chicago Boyz, with similar response.

For the record, I see why other people liked Brian Wilson's creativity and devotion to getting sounds right.  However, California/Hot Cars/Surfin' is not a lyrically serious channel, and it kept them in the "good times, dude" category. Second, their voices (particularly their highest harmonies), though pure, had too much whinyness, shrillness, lack of tone, whatever you want to call that. It's jarring, even when used in a good spot.

Still haven't changed my mind.  I did find the comment enjoyable, but I'm not going to respond.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Some Good News

If you haven't been catching John Krasinski's SGN, you should.

C19 Concentration

I doubt that NH is all that different from most other states in having C19 concentrated in a few areas. For those familiar with the state it is hardly surprising, as the darker areas are along the I-93 and Everett Turnpike commuter routes to Massachusetts and include the most populated areas - The Golden Triangle. The places that are disproportionate on the high side would be Dover, Bedford, Hanover, and Lebanon; disproportionate on the low side Keene, Tilton-Northfield, Berlin. I can guess at some reasons, but others are a puzzle to me. Plymouth State and Keene State likely didn't have as many students going abroad as Dartmouth did.

Sports Video

We could regard this as a great opportunity to learn sports history over at ESPN if we chose to reframe it that way, I suppose. I keep going over there, like one of those pigeons pecking at the bar hoping for a pellet, but there's just not much happening.

I would think that golf and maybe tennis could both be done with social distancing and be darn similar for a TV audience.  Somehow, that's not happening.

And Now, Light Mutterings.

On Brand.

I recall reading Miss Manners book years ago, in which she answered a person who was writing in to complain about seating at a wedding in a complicated family setting.  "I hadn't realised that well-meaning but clumsy gestures were in such oversupply that we should put our energy into punishing them." I thought it a good reminder to all of us.

Yet here I am, poking fun at the people in my department who have put chalk drawing encouragements on the walkways at the entrance.  As I went outside to get cell reception to send my messages, I saw Jillian and Tiffani drawing and laughed "Of course it would be you." Jillian enthusiastically said "I'm going to take that as a compliment!" Because of course she did.

But I am not quite so sympathetic to another well-meaning sentiment placed at the entrance. There is the same context, of a person who wants to be helpful and encouraging. Very likely, a nicer person than I am who wants to be reassuring, to let someone who is hurting have a little hope.  Someone might package this with a serious religious statement and put the idea forward in a "It Is Well With My Soul" sense, but that is quite unlikely at my place of employment.  Sorry to kick a nice person.

Everything is not going to be OK in the narrower, immediate sense.  People are going to lose their jobs, their businesses, get sick, die, and each of those has a circle around them who is also hurt by those effects. False hope is a cruel thing.  My hope is that those reading are able to make the leap to deeper gratitude, to an OK-ness founded on something more lasting.

Light mutterings are in some ways more dangerous than dark ones.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Two Million

It is an excellent point that at least some experts were predicting deaths up to as many as 2.2 Million and we are clearly not getting anywhere near that.  How many we would have hit without our dramatic precautions is unclear, but that 2,200,000 is looking like a considerable overshot at this point.

There's another side to this. A month ago people were saying "it's just the flu" - some people on the fringe are saying it's just old people having colds and they are blaming C19 to cover up the 5G damage, but even discounting them - I was profanely telling them it's not.  Then it was "a bad flu season."  I also hear that the C19 numbers are wildly overestimated, because most of these folks were going to kick off pretty soon anyway, what with having "underlying conditions" and all that.* People quote the ranges, one set being 3K-48K per year of influenza, another set being 18K-61K.  But that 61K was an outlier.  An average flu season is deaths in the mid 20's.  So we are going to quickly get to triple that, and maybe quadruple it. Even without a re-emergence in the fall. The theories that herd immunity is going to save us if we just let it happen are just that, theories.  That didn't happen with smallpox until we artificially produced herd immunity with a vaccine.  Everything else we vaccinate against is a counterexample to that theory.

Still, it could be true.  Herd immunity is what happens with everything else. The theory isn't crazy or even untrue.  It's just not always true.

Maybe we should really press to reopen soon.  People's jobs are important, and I believe those accounts that each business has a point of no return, and more of those happen every day. We were down to a ridiculously low 3.5% unemployment and are now at a ridiculously high 16%. Even an immediate reopening will not bring us back to that first number for a long, long time. If we can get to 7% in 12 months it would be great. Those are real lives, real hopes, real careers.  It is not a catastrophe on the level that just about every other American generation has faced, but these things are relative. It is worse than anything most of America has seen. We saw 11% in 1981, and 10% in 2010, and knew those were bad.

But I just can't get away from the very recent history that many of those "just the flu" people are now just walking away whistling, pretending they never said that, exactly.  Yes, the experts, who you love to put in quotation marks - were wrong.  So were you, but you are conveniently forgetting that now. We're at 60K and still going, and we don't know what happens from here. I keep reading people who state authoritatively what the usual course of infectious diseases are, and immediately can think, from my own limited knowledge of history, that smallpox wasn't like that. What else, then?

We may just have to live this way from this point forward.  We may have entered a world in which the horrible contagions that keep coming out of China century after century just continue, just faster, and we have to put up with it because the alternatives are worse. It is such an interconnected world at this point that we all might be living in an elevator, they just don't know it yet in South Dakota because it's still two decades away.  We may just have to accept more death as a tradeoff that is already baked in, that we couldn't stop even if we wanted to. And as other medical advances outweigh it, it may not even be more death overall, just a slowing in the general improvement.

Just don't try to prove it to me with bad reasoning. I know I am biased by my attachment to hospital thinking, where people work hard to reduce risk because it's the other people in the room who are in danger, especially in the context of HVAC and viral load, but that is actually a lot of people in this country. Each increase in overall risk is magnified for them personally.

*The numbers out of Massachusetts are that only 60% of the fatalities were ever hospitalised for any of these underlying conditions, so it includes a lot of diabetics and hypertensives who had been successfully treated outpatient with medications by their PCP, but now they're dead.


Frequent commenter Grim has had his novel come out, Arms and White Samite. We have both the Kindle and paperback versions in our cart, debating which we shall order.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Those Dark Warnings

People won't put up with's only a matter of time...government officials love to tell you what to do, and real Americans are getting sick of it...

Yes, and they are more likely to get sick of it and not put up with it if others keeping encouraging them with their dark mutterings.  It's an old trick, and was used by the antiwar crowd in Iraq.  They kept telling us that Americans were going to get sick of this soon enough, that electing new politicians might bring an end to it, exaggerating how opposed Americans were - all in an effort to make it come true.  They encouraged the enemy to hang on and wait us out.  It worked pretty well, didn't it? We also see these dark warnings on both the left and right about what Some People are just not going to put up with for long.  "Not that I'm going to get violent, of course.  But those others...I know lots of 'em. I hear what they say at work. If my political opponents keep acting as they do, why those volatile people are going to explode someday.  I'm just sayin'..."

Gandhi used the same tactic on the British.  "If you don't negotiate with nice peaceful Mahatma Gandhi, I can't answer for what those half-a-billion other angry people might do."


I remember Will Torrey as a resident in the 1980's and haven't seen so much of him since then, as he has been primarily at Dartmouth and The Hitch. I liked him then and am very glad he has risen through the ranks over the years and came back to us in two difficult times: when we lost half of our medical staff three years ago because of a contract dispute with DHMC, and now just before all the C19 crisis came into play. Another person I like very much is coming in at the new Medical Director, but at the moment Will is still on the hot seat.  (As a humorous side note, at this year's Yankee Swap at a hospital Christmas party, it was Will who chose the spicy salmon that my son in Nome catches and puts up to give all of us every year.  He worked as a bartender in Ketchikan in the early 80s and used to get tipped in salmon.  He was thrilled. That's the kind of psychiatrist you want, my friend.)

He wrote this complimentary letter about us to the local paper.  It's exactly what a leader should do for morale in hard times. Of course most of it is automatic acknowledgement of all the big little people who make things go.  Yet you would be surprised how many people in leadership can't be bothered to do the polite thing.  Or maybe you wouldn't be amazed.
No one asks to develop a psychiatric illness such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – conditions that can be made worse by the social isolation, health anxiety and economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. These illnesses are painful, frightening and confusing. They are also common and very treatable. People who become ill need a health system that takes them seriously by offering them timely, outstanding care.
New Hampshire Hospital provides the quality of care that any of us would want for ourselves, or a loved one, should we need state hospital level of service. NHH is our state’s psychiatric intensive care unit. Like a medical or surgical ICU, the hospital is prepared to meet the intense needs of the patients who enter its doors. Teams of dedicated expert nurses, social workers, psychologists, mental health workers, rehabilitation specialists, and general medical and psychiatric care providers offer thoughtful, respectful and coordinated care. The state of New Hampshire runs the hospital and, for more than 30 years, contracts with the Department of Psychiatry at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine for the psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, general medical doctors, and clinical leadership. This state-academic partnership provides excellent care and trains much of the mental health workforce that serves New Hampshire.
One of Commissioner Lori Shibinette’s first official acts when she took over leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services this year was to appoint a strong new CEO for NHH, Heather Moquin, who has gathered a remarkably capable senior leadership team. Who would have known that very shortly after her appointment, Moquin’s group would urgently need to prepare for the arrival of COVID-19? Her team jumped into action to get the technology in place, sort out workforce requirements and think through the many contingencies. Not surprisingly, the planning showed that licensed professionals play an essential role in psychiatric and general medical care during this pandemic. But what also became obvious was that the hospital could not face the challenge without environmental services keeping patients and staff safe through effective cleaning, supply chain professionals obtaining needed protective gear, and experts applying their knowledge in pharmacy, communications, technology, operations, training and many other areas.
The preparation has been intense. Despite each individual’s complicated life circumstance and understandable fear of illness, the state and Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees have stepped up by turning up, contributing ideas and staying focused on the mission – taking great care of the patients.
I trained at NHH as a resident in the 1980s and have the honor of serving as the hospital’s interim chief medical officer at this challenging moment. In this role, I have a front-row seat to witness the quality of the people who work at NHH and the outstanding service they provide. I am deeply impressed. The citizens of New Hampshire are extremely fortunate to have this resource at all times and especially at this crisis moment.
(Dr. William C. Torrey is the vice chair for clinical services in the Department of Psychiatry at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.)

The Tim Tebow C19 Effect

You remember the Tim Tebow Effect?  It was pushed here for years and also at bsking's statistics site Graph Paper Diaries. It sprang from a Chuck Klosterman comment that
both groups perceive themselves as the oppressed minority who are fighting against dominant public opinion
...which is precisely what we see today.  If you go to some sites, you will see angry comments, and links to lots of people they agree with that everyone, I SAID EVERYONE is ignoring the very obvious truths that this disease is dangerous.  At other sites, you can find equally irritated people who are just sure that the really important information about how economically devastating this is ARE BEING IGNORED. A lot of energy is being expended showing how someone-or-other on the "other" side is just plain wrong.  And the next day, more links how wrong they were.  And the day after that, more wrong.

We are going to reopen.  The questions are all in the territory of how, how soon, and in what order.  Everyone wants it.  Some want it more quickly, with a higher risk profile because they think it all has been shown to be less than advertised.  Others want it more cautiously, because the risks are not as low as critics are claiming, not in the context of previous pandemics. The links mount up. 

You are not a minority whose opinion is not being heard.  Given that, everyone should focus on putting their best persuasive arguments forward, not the complaints of how stupid, or fascist, or immoral those other guys have been. Those who want to reopen quickly go looking for the worst examples of what some other state - that they don't live in - is doing that is completely insane, while those who think the long-term danger is underrated seek for the most stupid placard and quote they can find from the protests.

Not that those accusations are untrue. There have been plenty of stupid, immoral, or fascist arguments put forward.   You're right.  There they are.  Some people actually haven't given Tim Tebow credit for being a stunningly great college player and an equally great pro intangibles leader, while others really haven't noticed that Hillary Clinton is being held to different standards because she's a woman.

I have long liked Arnold Kling, and I really liked his recent essay. It does not advocate a position, it states what he thinks is the best understanding of the data.  I think he does show a leaning in how he presents it - and he may be wrong. Some people are trying very hard to listen.  Talk to them, not the others.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Perhaps In Honor of Kenny Rogers

Nice touch with the pistols at the end.

New Services

Delivered groceries were just coming in. Our local chains quickly became overwhelmed, and began only taking orders to be scheduled a week out.  As many people, of any vulnerability category whatsoever, are going to prefer to order things online more and more, there will be more of these services and they will employ more people.  I am not saying that your local supermarket is going to be obsolete, but hybrid forms are going to be more common.

This will also be true of restaurants.  There will be more specialising in takeout, and even fabulous room-based chefs are going to star figuring out how to make meals that can move across town. We are not quite ready for the virtual reality of pairing meals with rented environments of "London 1898,"  "Paris 1927," and "NYC 1960," but it's not that far off, either.

No, of course it won't be the same as actually being there, but as we can't go there even in its modern form at the moment, and even when it comes back it will be very expensive, there will be a market.  Here's the fun part:  there will be a market for Faux London, Faux Paris, Faux New York. In the same way that pizza and Italian food are not all that authentic, nor is Chinese food in America* very much what they eat in ...Hunan, the VR market will cater to what people think is authentic. Chef Louis isn't stupid.  Anyone can quick-google what the rich actually did eat in London in 1898, but he will prepare what you think was authentic and will spend money on. Enterprising young souls will also figure out what the children will eat that you can advertise to them as Florence 1568 or Jerusalem AD 63, so you can make it a repeatable history lesson.

Our church is already planning to keep the online services going even after we can get together.  This is not only because many of us will not want to go to the high risk of weekly contact in an enclosed area with 300 other people, some of them quite close, but because even after all that risk is reduced to as low as it's going to get**, some folks will decide that staying home and clicking on the church's Sunday menu is what they actually want. Compare, watching the NFL on TV versus going to the stadium.  People increasingly view going to the stadium as an occasional adventure, while preferring to stay at home. Whoa.  Maybe churches that provide replay, commentary, and analysis are going to start finding a niche!

What else is going to become delivery vs in-person going forward?

* I have read that the American version of Chinese food is now available in Chinese cities

**I think that means, even after a vaccine, two annual diseases that kill lots of people.  Doesn't that clearly imply a third and a fourth?  We will live different from here on in.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Marginal Revolution

Via Insty:  Tyler Cowen is right. I have written something similar, but less succinct and clear about the current divide.

My new conclusion.  We are seeing real-time evidence that many of us simply have to divide into two camps and cannot endure anything good or reasonable being said about the other side. It can't be a predominantly American thing.  I am guessing that the Anglosphere in general is better at at least giving a nod to both sides. I am pleased that we have a fair number of folks who can say "On the one hand...on the other hand..." at this site and the circle of connected sites.  Not that we don't each have some divisive trends of our own, but they are self-moderated by at least making an attempt to see some value in another way of looking at things.

Yet we are too few.  I am more irritated at conservatives at present, mostly because I seldom read liberal sources anyway, and so am not encountering their things that irritate me.  Yet I do know from those brief exposures that I would be at least as upset at them.  Or at least more often. But I have to say that conservatives are not showing their best reasoning on this one. Even when I agree with them, I wish some of them would take an available opportunity to shut up.

Local Humor

We happened upon this on the way to a car parade for one of my wife's former students.

For the record, the first part is now paved, but the road does, in fact, eventually turn into a dirt road.

Turning In Your Neighbors II

The comments reminded me of other neighborhood incidents, but one in particular.  I was walking late at night around the neighborhood twenty-some years ago, and up in one of the two perpetually-problematic areas, meaning mean dogs unleashed, dead cars, frequent police and ambulance calls, there was shouting in a kitchen.  As I got closer, a door burst open and two grappling males came out onto the deck, mostly fell over each other down a flight of 6-8 wooden stairs on the driveway, then proceeded to the lawn, punching and yelling. I worried I might have to take some part in this if something looked criminal. One threw the other down and yelled.   "Look!  I'm your fucking  best friend!  And I'm fucking telling you you're being an asshole!"

Ah, I thought. No problem here.  Everything under control.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Turning In Your Neighbors

Well, it depends on how wrong what they're doing is, doesn't it? I tend to be on the low side of reporting.  We have had neighbors keeping cars that don't run in their yards - still one three houses up with cars that have been there for years.  I've wondered about reporting them, but never done it. I've seen mistakes at work that I should have reported, but just cleaned up the mess myself.  Usually I don't even mention that to the person who created the problem.  I figure they probably know, and are either wired to be embarrassed and wanting to better on their own, or wired to A) not care or B) care briefly but be unable to endure the anxiety and forget within a day.  Either way, my comments aren't likely to affect them much.  There have been exceptions.

Because folks are torqued off about not getting back to work, or play, quickly enough during the C19 shutdown they are extra upset about any suggestion they should be reporting their fellow citizens for inadequate social distancing or masking. References to Hitler and Stalin have become common, with more and more disapproval that any American should be turning in their neighbors for anything at all.

We discussed years ago that our Bible lessons take on a different flavor whether we think something is really wrong or not.  Texan99 noted that we might not be so offhand about the easy forgiveness of Jesus forgiving the woman taken in adultery if it were a man who was sexually abusing his son. We no longer think what she did was all that bad. People who still take this very seriously, in fact, are regarded by others as being especially lacking in understanding the loving forgiveness of Jesus.

It's not evil in general to turn in your neighbors.  It depends whether they are poisoning the neighborhood children versus going unmasked on a walk by themselves.


Note that Greg Cochran over at West Hunter remains pessimistic about life becoming safer. Mutations are of course already occurring in C19, just from the numbers.  Most of those will be deleterious to the virus itself, or neutral.  But sheer volume produces mutations that are also diseases, some lesser, some greater.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Overheard On My Walk

A mother asked her daughter, who looked about fifth grade "So which is the worst?" 

"The executioner wasp," the girl answered confidently.  They were going the other way and I heard no more.  I had never heard of an executioner wasp.  It does sound like the worst.

Sweden and Opening Up

At the moment, Sweden has the 9th-highest C19 death rate per million in Europe.  If you eliminate tiny San Marino and Andorra, it is 7th-worst. at 200/mil.  Its best comps geographically and culturally are
Denmark 68/mil
Germany 67/mil
Norway 36/mil
Estonia 34/mil
Finland 31/mil

It may turn out that come autumn Sweden has more herd immunity and does very well, reversing these numbers.  It is also possible that five years from now with recurring coronaviruses every year we all say "Oh, if only we had done what the Swedes did back then.  They had foresight and courage." But at the moment Sweden is not looking great, even though a few articles are coming out telling us how well it is working.

You have to understand that Scandinavians in general are very big on national pride, always telling pollsters how happy they are compared to other countries and insisting that they have got the economic/cultural/religious/vacation/educational models best, with the Swedes being the most extreme of that in most instances.  Even the other Scandinavians have about had it with them. They do have their rebels and contrarians, but generally, if you ask a Swedish expert how things are going in his country about crime, or euthanasia, or gender equity, or Saami rights, she or he will tell you how wonderfully they are doing. All countries do this, but Sweden does it more.

I would love to tell you differently. There may be arguments for opening up America.  Sweden isn't one of them.

The US just hit 50,000 deaths in about nine weeks. A large percentage of those have specific explanations that might be called exceptions: New York City, New Orleans,  Detroit, Massachusetts, Washington State.  On the other hand, if there are that many exceptions it suggests there is an inherent instability that can be tripped fairly easily. Trying to explain away NOLA because Mardi Gras is a one-off event that involves a lot of contact, well, that's what Vegas is all the time.  That's what Walt Disney World is all the time.  That's Super Bowl week, the larger rock tours, and to a lesser degree a host of smaller festivals: up here there is Laconia Bike Week, for example.  Even if hairdressers can go back to work (probably a good idea, with precautions), lots of things can't go back they way they were. And the anger needs to stay fixed on the Chinese communist government.

First Draft

From the reading of Haidt's essay noted in the previous post, I see that he analogises to clarify and make his point quite often.  I greatly approve of this.  I consider finding analogies to be a very useful tool for clarity and teaching.  Terman thought it was one of the clearest marks of the very intelligent, that they could create and use analogies from one subject into another.  Look how many times Jesus says "The Kingdom of God is like..."

The analogy he used about genetics versus environment jumped out at me.  He stated that genetics writes the first draft of our behavior, but environment can overwrite that. He notes that sometimes the overwriting is minor, as the culture finds the easy path to go along with the genetic directives, but sometimes can be extensive, requiring a lot of cultural effort to make something different happen. This seems about right to me.  The previous nature/nurture arguments would grant only that one's biological inheritance provides a pile of stuff lying around on a table, which the environment assembles into a person. That genes write the first draft captures what really happens much more clearly.

Post 6900 - The Criticisms of Moral Foundations Theory.

A quick review of Jonathan Haidt (It's pronounced "height," BTW.  That may help you keep him straight from others.).  Really.  I'm going to try hard, here. Hmm, I like what I wrote in 2012, actually. The first five paragraphs pertain to this discussion. They cover my first two points. The third point, that they are objecting to him because of his lack of underlying theory, I now understand a little better.  Both Grim and DOuglas2 picked up on this right away as well.  Why is that an objection?  Let me quote from the first paragraph of the Curry article criticising Haidt.
The emerging consensus is that there is nothing mysterious about morality; it is merely a collection of biological and cultural traits that promote cooperation.
I remember thinking right out of the gate Is that really the consensus? There are lots of people who think that, but has it become generally accepted throughout the field? It could be. I don't keep up. But it seemed quick, given that this had not been the full consensus a decade ago.Not everyone thinks morality is "merely" anything.  Always beware words like that.  They are attempts to cow folks into avoiding arguing back.  Promoting cooperation as a definition of morality seems reductionist as well.  I am aware that there are those "god gene," or "evolution of altrusim" people out there, but I hadn't heard they had won the day.  Nor have they. Curry is engaging in a bit of sleight-of-hand here.

Reading Haidt's defense of his ideas in 2011, we get to see behind the curtain a bit.  There are what he calls East Polers (Harvard, MIT) versus West Polers (UC-Berkeley, UC San Diego), which have large conceptual differences. The subtext of the criticism against Haidt and his co-researchers is actually a disagreement with an entire school of thought within the field. Good to know. This isn't "Jonathan Haidt and his co-researchers have done this faulty work," it is "We think that whole crew over there is wrong, and Haidt is prominent." Thus, I suppose, this applies to my second immediate thought of last night, that others in the field are gunning for him. In this case, Curry has a theory of morality of his own.

Moving to my fourth idea from last night, we can dispose of it quickly.  In his self-defense essay, Haidt describes his invitations for people to criticise and improve on his ideas and how it came to be that he added a foundation on that basis.  That was years ago.  If Curry doesn't have that information, he has not even begun to do his homework and should not be writing from a purportedly academic POV.

All that being said, I still like a lot of what Curry has to say. He mostly discards Haidt's categories, though finds that they are sustained in bigger lots with somewhat different boundaries. I should say that he believes the mathematical attempts to identify factors of morality discard Haidt's categories, reducing the five to two. Purity as a moral category he has no use for whatsoever.  That is also an area where my strongest criticisms of Haidt were, but mine were entirely different, almost opposite.  I was focused on my observation that liberals have lots of areas where they use purity and disgust as moral categories, but Haidt's initial questions didn't pick those up, likely because of his original biases. I was granting it as a moral category.  Curry says the research doesn't support the notion that it amplifies moral decisions much either way.  Curry's theory that morality is built solely around issues of cooperation and harm may influence that.

He posits an overall morality which (he claims) holds up cross-culturally,
A review of this literature suggests that there are (at least) seven well established types of cooperation: (1) the allocation of resources to kin; (2) coordination to mutual advantage; (3) social exchange; and conflict resolution through contests featuring (4) hawkish displays of dominance and (5) dove-ish displays of submission; (6) division of disputed resources; and (7) recognition of prior possession.
In my research, I have shown how each of these types of cooperation can be used to identify and explain a distinct type of morality.
(1) Kin selection explains why we feel a special duty of care for our families, and why we abhor incest. (2) Mutualism explains why we form groups and coalitions (there is strength and safety in numbers), and hence why we value unity, solidarity, and loyalty. (3) Social exchange explains why we trust others, reciprocate favors, feel gratitude and guilt, make amends, and forgive. And conflict resolution explains why we (4) engage in costly displays of prowess such as bravery and generosity, why we (5) express humility and defer to our superiors, why we (6) divide disputed resources fairly and equitably, and why we (7) respect others’ property and refrain from stealing.
 It looks like it has a fair bit of overlap with the Tao, as described by CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man. So in the second part of Idea #5 of criticising Curry I see I have been unfair to him.  He is not just popping off about Haidt's theory not reaching an arbitrary threshold even though it is early in the day.  He is offering a set of foundations he believes does achieve that threshold, even though it is also new. It is based on older ideas, certainly, but the collection and unifying idea is newer. This runs over into my approval of Curry's ideas in my off-the-cuff Idea #6, which I am even more convinced of now.

Haidt may be trying to find the driving factors of morality when everything else is being held equal, looking for the neutral abstract motivators.  Curry points out that this is not how morality typically occurs.  Kinship loyalty, reciprocity, and status/hierarchical displays are themselves foundations of what we call moral behavior.

As we can see, the walk did not add much to my thinking.  My strength really is that my first draft of a response usually has most of what I'm ever going to get on my own.  I do pick up errors and rethink things from time-to-time, but that is more likely to occur in the context of someone else's thoughts.


I read both my email and the comments under the posts, so I usually don't miss them, but there has been an increase in my comment notification going to spam lately.  HMS Defiant always goes to spam for some reason - the program must just not like his name or something - but now Texan99 is going there too.  It doesn't affect going to the comments section, just my notification on comcast.  Thus, if I appear not to have noticed a comment of yours, that might be so. It ain't personal.

I mark them as "Not Spam" but it doesn't seem to have helped a bit in HMS Defiant's case despite multiple iterations. It sounds like something that would occur to a Douglas Adams character, although in that case he would have become obsessed trying to get past it and it would have happened billions of times.

Additional.  Speaking of HMS Defiant, he has his own site, which I don't think I have previously mentioned.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

For The Children

A Letter to the Editor from a doctor at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center figured prominently in this week's discussion in NH.  He advocates for the reopening of the schools, largely on the basis that the transmission of C19 to children is much less common, and they are also much less likely to show severe symptoms. It is an idea that has some merit. He completely neglects the fact that some children live with, or are even brought up by a grandparent, but still, it's not like in Italy - or in some American cities - where living with a grandparent is almost as common as not having one nearby. Also, even though transmission rates to children are low, a school is an intensely contagious environment, of many people in close quarters for an extended period, day after day.  Still, he has a point.

He lost me with his rather snide remark at the end, however, that schools are "more essential than liquor stores or gun dealers." It apparently bothers him that those are considered essential and still open.

Hmm, well, not necessarily.  He is making "schools" the automatic equivalence of "educating the young."  As we have seen, that can be accomplished from home, either by parents, by remote teachers, or a combination.  But until home brewing/distilling and 3D printing of firearms becomes much more common, those cannot be accomplished at home.

Six Days on the Road

The Flying Burrito Brothers started as a rock/soul band that couldn't keep a drummer - or much of anyone else, either. In the few years of its real existence it was constant lineup changes. They eventually settled on a rock/country/bluegrass fusion. They ended up being one of those bands that anticipated the trend to country-rock and were imitated by others more than having success themselves. They did a good job with this Dave Dudley tune.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Moral Foundations Theory

I have written with much praise and some criticism of Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory.  I was sent a criticism of the whole package, root and branch, that I have immediate reactions to.  Yet I think I will all of you have fun with it first. I'll need a rereading and at least one walk to work on this.

Update: Readers may be amused at my reply last night in the group where this was sent out. 
Two Three Four Five Six immediate thoughts: First, I have criticisms of Haidt that don't much overlap with these. Second, Social Psychologists have been gunning for Haidt right from the start, and have really worked hard to show that MFT is wrong, because they prefer something else. (Third, ed.) Related to this is the odd criticism here that MFT isn't founded on any theory, with the insistence that it needs a theory, and that's the only way to correct things. Fourth, MFT has had a sixth foundation for years, discovered empirically, and that is not reflected in the criticism. That is a huge error, frankly. We have to keep up here. Fifth. While MFT purports to apply to mankind in general, it has been clear right from the start that it was developed on Americans and mostly reflects them, only gradually branching out to figure out how this applies to all mankind. So making a big deal that it doesn't seem to work in Korea and Turkey because it doesn't reach a conventional threshhold for "model fit." Sort of what you'd expect of a theory still being developed, isn't it? Six, the neglect of kinship, signalling, and reciprocity distinctions in MFT are excellent and quite justified.
I always think better while writing. I thought I was going to just put in two sentences and hit send, but things kept occurring to me. That crap that one learns more by listening isn't all that true. I teach myself by trying to write much better than nearly all teachers have done for me. Things occur to me along the way and I can't type fast enough. My long essay isn't likely to be much better than what I have just shot off, just more thorough with some corrections and cautions.
I still haven't taken my walk to think about this, but I have reread the essay, and also the one that DOuglas2 links to in the comments, in which Haidt defended himself against similar complaints in 2011.  I learned something about the field and how Haidt has developed his moral foundations ideas.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Watching Language Change Happen

Sometimes there will be choices in language and I will wonder (for example) "What's the difference between hanged and hung*?  Is one more proper than the other?  Is one British?  Is one becoming archaic?  Is one considered slang?"  When I look it up, I often find that both forms are correct in some context, but that the ground is changing, and one looks like it is going to win out in a century or so.

We are living through a language change in general of the -t ending versus the -ed ending of some words, and -ed is slowly winning. Yet not always.  Spoilt and smelt are just about gone in favor of spoiled and smelled.  The two forms dreamt and and dwelt have an air of the poetic about them and are thus preferred in some instances to dreamed and dwelled.  That is often a clue, if only poets or other people trying to capture a formal or romantic flavor are using the form.  (That is why the Authorised [KJV] Version of the Bible went out of date so quickly.  The translators intentionally chose the poetic, traditional, and formal  language - just as it was going out of general use.  The -eth ending was just about gone in favor of the -es ending coming down from the north.  But it just sounded better to them, more holy, making it a bit harder for us to read today.) But there is no sleeped, so slept will endure a while.  Maybe it will remain as an isolate, or maybe speakers will push it out because it doesn't "obey the rule," as if language change has any rules. It will be aided by forms which have hung on despite competition because they are parts of common phrases: spilt milk and burnt toast, even though spilled and burned exist. Notice that those are adjectives, not verbs, which often keep unusual forms longer.

It is not merely that people born in 1940 use a word 80% of the time, those of 1950 70% and so forth.  While we are alive we also hear, and slowly modify our choices.  Not as quickly as those younger, but we are alive and hearing things in the air which influence us, and even we come to consider one usage to be "a bit too formal for this instance," or "eh, that has a old-fashioned feel that I usually like but not here."

This is how language change occurred in the past as well. "That's a viking word you ungrateful whelp, and I won't have it spoken in my house.  We speak good English here!" But in the next valley they just shrugged and gradually adopted the word. Because of trade, they could only get so far apart. As salesmen will consciously or unconsciously mimic the speech of those they are trying to sell to today, so too did the ironmongers and fishermen then.  It sold fish. Which was the point.

*A person is hanged, everything else is hung.  It persists largely because the wording exists in the law so often that lawyers and courts keep using it.  Otherwise it would probably only stick around as slang.

The Wanderer

Grim's post mentioning the Havamal put me in mind of the Anglo-Saxon poem "The Wanderer." It is a world-weary anonymous poem of the late 10th C, though written as much as a full century earlier.  The poet, or scop (pronounced "shope" and meaning shaper) laments what he has lost since the time of his youth, when he lived in the court of a king and spent days singing and feasting with friends and kinsmen.  But they were all killed in battle, and now he roams the earth looking for another lord to attach himself to. It is a melancholy poem, certainly.  It is usually associated with two other Old English poems of that era, "The Battle of Maldon" and "The Seafarer," the former for linguistic reasons and the latter for thematic ones. It is compared to the Havamal, the earliest bits of which date from the same time and a similar culture. Yet I have thought it bears comparison to Ecclesiastes.  Though the final composer of the poem is a Christian, it is unlikely he had strong familiarity with the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament.  It was in no way emphasised outside clerical circles until centuries later. Yet this melancholy man who has lost everything comes to the same solace as the Hebrew writer. At the end of the poem one almost expects him to break out into Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,
All is fraught with hardship in the kingdom of earth, the creation of the fates changes the world under the heavens.

Here wealth is temporary, here a friend is temporary, here oneself is temporary, here a kinsman is temporary; all this foundation of the earth will become worthless!

So said the one wise in spirit, sat himself apart in secret meditation.

Good is he who his maintains his faith, nor ought a man ever his grief too quickly of his breast make known, unless he, the nobleman, before then knows how to bring about amends with courage. Well is it for that one who seeks mercy for himself, consolation from the Father in the heavens, where for us all the fastness stands.
Readers of Tolkien will perk their ears up at another part of the poem, though. 
Where has the horse gone? Where has the young man gone? Where has the treasure-giver gone? Where have the seats of the feasts gone? Where are the hall-­joys? Alas, bright goblet! Alas mail-­warrior! Alas, glory of the prince! How that time departed, grew dark under helm of night, as if it never was. A wall wondrously high, decorated with serpent shapes, stands now in the track of the beloved troop of seasoned retainers.
is very reminiscent of Aragorn's lament in The Two Towers
Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?
Well, no surprise there, as not only was this Tolkien's professional field overall, but this poem was one he took special interest in. He thought it should more properly be entitled "The Exile."


Excluding the science portions of the debate for the moment, I have observations on how the plates have shifted on the politics.

Early on in the C19 crisis, it was conservatives who were raising the alarms that something was up in China, something that was worse than the government was letting on, and the American media was burying the reports coming out from doctors on the scene.  The accusation was that much of the Western media was protecting China, and calling people drawing attention to the problem alarmist, and sometimes calling them racist. As the Western media was also burying stories about Uighurs (still are), it seemed part of that pattern.  This gradually escalated, with liberal politicians doubling down and telling people to go out for Chinese New Year and into Chinatown in general. Then reports out of Italy started to work their way into the discussion, but the balance did not immediately change.  When Donald Trump halted international travel, he was accused of racism, as were his supporters. There was still a lot of conservative sentiment that the Chinese were flat out lying as well as mistreating their own citizens.

Italy changed things, albeit slowly.  Lots of politicians and university types like European travel and consider it part of their birthright.  Suddenly a European country was getting things badly wrong and people returning from there were turning out to be dangerous to their campuses and social circles back home. Racism couldn't be used as an excuse on this one.  Conservatives remained on the "this is dangerous" wagon, but there was a shift in focus to noticing that a socialist medical delivery system was not up to the task.  The reports that Italy essentially only provided palliative care after age 60 began to leak out - mostly in the conservative press.

I saw lots of discussion in the conservative press about what might our best response, with very little shouting.  The idea of letting things ride while super-protecting the vulnerable was proposed by a few, and the Brits were going to try it. But once Boris Johnson was in favor of it , it got bad press, so that was out.  The Swedes are trying it now, and people are oohing and aahing over how well it's working, because well, it's the Swedes, so they must be right.  I think they've got the 10th-highest death rate in Europe - that's not great, though every country has population and cultural factors that make it potentially an exception.

The pendulum has shifted, and when looking at the conservative and liberal stereotypes, it is not surprising. Conservatives and libertarians are much more of the school of "let people do what they want, everything carries risks," while liberals run more toward caution and protection and don't mind interfering with what they want to do.  The economic stereotypes also hold, in a similar way to the climate discussion.  It's "jobs are more important than people are acknowledging here," versus "we do what we have to do, the money will come from somewhere."

Let me point out again that none of this actually* informs any of the science or policy.  What I am listing here is what people would tend to believe entirely independent of what the correct answers are. That is not to say that this makes anyone's answer wrong.  It's just that we have to apply a discount to all POV's.  When vehemence increases, I apply a greater discount. Texan99's cautionary statement that I shouldn't make insulting analogies did give me pause.  Then the next day a writer at Maggie's headlines that those others are "sheepies."  (Some) Conservatives are making this a courage issue and they are sneering. I would counter that adulthood means accepting reality as it is and not as we would prefer it to be.

Most people taking added risks are mostly taking their own risk.  Each additional person's contribution to community risk is negligible, especially when it is a calculated or thoughtful risk.  But a thousand people in my community of 18,000 who decide to adopt a higher risk profile do raise the overall risk.That's my risk, and they didn't ask.

I think I have been in the same place all along: I pay attention to the medical professionals who have actual skin in the game.  The hospital officials...those I want to hear, and I'm going to think long and hard before going against their advice or telling someone else they should. Next, of the various competing experts, I want to hear a synthesis curated by people of reliable trustworthiness.  That will not necessarily result in correct answers, but it's better  than the alternatives. I am also still in another same place I was at the beginning of the shutdown, when I predicted that if it worked, people would claim we never needed to be this dramatic.  We have less death than predicted.  Some people will credit the interventions, some will claim it was never a big deal.  I'm seeing a lot of motivated reasoning, a lot of picking and choosing of data out there. I'm not singling out conservatives on this, I'm seeing lots of liberals absolutely unhinged in their insults.  But those aren't the people I feel much responsibility for.

At the moment, if I were king I would greatly reduce outdoor restrictions, because the evidence for outdoor transmission is weak. I don't know that I'd do much else immediately. That would mostly affect recreation, but there are jobs attached to all of that boating and fishing and hiking and golfing and swimming, so we can get them up and running.

Side note, based on an email I got, which reminded me:  Hospitals are not "fine." They prepared for a lengthy large emergency, and thus far have gotten a small** emergency of indeterminate length.  They postponed a lot of treatment that still has to occur, and this backlog gets worse every day.  They are also going to be trying to accomplish this with less money.  They have considerable financial incentive to advocate for calling these restrictions off.  Yet they aren't. When people act against their financial interests it is worth paying attention.

* That has a reputation as a mansplaining word, but I think of it as an Asperger's and OCD term.  A lot of sentences begin with "Well actually..." with that crew, even the children. I'm one of them, because when people say that, even when it's irritating, I find they are right a large percentage of the time.

**I'm not sure a new illness that kills tens of thousands of people is actually a "small" emergency, but it is less than expected. Maybe if we got a third and a fourth recurring virus people would wonder if maybe we should do something.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Merry Christmas

This is my eldest son's favorite carol.  We hope to get at least one of his daughters interested in it.

Les Yeux Noirs

I don't know what she is saying, but I have always liked Django Reinhardt and approve of tributes to his music.  And I like this.

Age 14 to 77

The suggested articles that DuckDuckGo puts in front of me includes this claim that our personalities change to unrecognisability from age 14 to 77. Except in my case that is not even close to true. The study speaks about teachers rating Scottish 14 year olds in 1950 on a variety of attributes that they summarise as "dependability," then following up on that decades later, with self-report and friend report of that percentage of subjects they could track down.

Fourteen-year-olds are generally not dependable, and even the component parts of that seem to my eyes to be highly subjective, depending on the sorts of things teachers like to see, rates of physical and emotional maturation, and cultural accidents such as who you have in your class and what siblings have had this teacher before. This is not good initial data, which is what you are hoping to compare to years later.  I think running that data on 10-year-olds would have given you more stable results, because puberty wouldn't be interfering. Ages 12-15 are very much a moving target.

Plus they had been through a war and economic restrictions quite recently, far more lengthy and extensive than anything we are facing now. Dad might have died, and you are still in childhood. That might matter. I don't know that, but it's worth keeping in mind.

At the other end, the data at 77 on how "dependable" you are is going to be heavily influenced, both in your estimation and your friend's, with what you have accomplished in life.  That will of course have some correlation to your personality, but halo (or trident) effects that include your intelligence, your luck, your external circumstances, and recency bias will color, or colour, those evaluations.

At fourteen I was highly conversational, friendly and complimenting others, with a constant stream of interrupting others to clarify what they were attempting to say and the word they were seeking, with creative solutions verbalised, daydreaminess and difficulty focusing on a topic for long. I sought new intellectual but not physical experiences (relatively.  Teenage boys do just do that excitement-seeking thing.) As to Big Five traits, I had high agreeableness and moderately high neuroticism.  I would likely score higher on conscientiousness now than then.  I suppose that's different, but compared to others my age, then and now, I don't know that there's going to be something measurable. Other than that last I show dramatic similarity, and people at reunions often comment on it.

Let me tell you what I think is going on with studies like this, other than a simple desire to publish something to keep your job at university. They want to create a bank of supporting evidence that Eastern religions are truer than Western ones.  That may not be conscious or explicit, but it is showing up in the social sciences a lot these days. They don't like the ideas of legacy and cultural continuity. They like to think they made huge changes and improvements after their (delayed) independence from their parents and then their divorce.

While I am deeply humiliated by the 14 y/o I was, I also still like him.  I'm not sure that's true for people doing studies like this one.


After some frustration with the IMHE model, my favorite statistician, bsking, went looking and found a UTexas site that shows the results of ten different models, illustrating the current uncertainty and dependence on assumptions. She works at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and has to fight through health statistics to earn her daily bread.

School Violence

Texan99 over at Grim's mentioned that she is reading some hand-wringing about children now stuck at home with abusive parents, but no mention of the liberation children are experiencing not "being raped or knifed in the girls' room or out behind the gym."

We downplay actual violence and cruelty at schools because some kinds of violence and taunting just seem to be part of growing up, and dealing with those a developmental task. I am speaking from history, of myself, my brothers, and my sons at school, so 1960-2014.  There may be important differences now.

I had some fights at school, and was assaulted a couple of times. I know the difference.  I knew it then, too.  Both of my times the school tried to treat it as just a fight, just boys fighting. Thinking about brothers, sons, and friends, my data is incomplete, but I think is much the same.  There were fights, particularly in the context of sports. Intimidation was for the hallways, and actual assaults were in more hidden areas.  I suspect females being assaulted have similar distinctions, between insult, unfairness, uncomfortableness, intimidation, up to assault.

The new interview with Fiona Apple talks about the cruelty of girls at school, which I was mostly oblivious to until well into highschool. I've heard a fair bit about it since then.

Aloha Shirts

I still have a half-dozen, though I have worn out another half-dozen over the last two decades. I got given one for Christmas by the son and daughter-in-law who went through Hawaii on their way to the Philippines. I had heard they are making a comeback, and this History of the Aloha Shirt confirms it.
This one sell for 188 bucks at Kahala, which I understand is the original brand. I won't be getting that one, even if it is a retro classic and has actual hula girls.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Rumania, Rumania

I'm pretty sure the song is about Romania

The Land of Unmatched Socks

We have only lived here two weeks.  How can I already have unmatched socks?

One is especially irritating, because in preparation for moving, I gave up on ever finding it and threw away the mate less than a month ago, after it had sat in the basket all of 2020.

Dialect Map

If you want a very detailed dialect map of the US and Canada, this one is so dense as to be confusing. When you stop and look at the areas you know even moderately well, however, you'll find it's not so bad.  There are other interesting links on the page. 


I sympathise with people feeling stir-crazy and wanting to get out and do something. Plus, getting out and moving around feels healthy and refreshing. Unfortunately, those are both feelings, and are entirely irrelevant to what is actually safe. There is also irritation at being told what to do, especially by governments or local buttinskis, even when they are correct.  The irritation increases (uh, maybe exponentially), when they are just plain wrong, forbidding people from going fishing in their own boat or playing tee-ball with their own family in a park. We begin assigning terrible motives to them, beyond mere nervousness and foolishness. These are also just feelings and entirely irrelevant to what is actually safe.

The irritation was predictable from the start, and I did predict it, but I overlooked an important aspect.  I projected that people would increasingly find excuses and rationalisations to make unnecessary trips or break social distancing, because that is my style.  I did not foresee that people would actually try to make a virtue of unsafe behaviors by calling them courage. They aren’t courage. They feel like courage in the same way that teenagers feel they are being courageous when they drive too fast and stay out late.  There is something like courage involved, in that you prove that you aren’t one of those timid people who doesn’t dare anything.  But mostly, you’re just doing it because it feels good, and shouldn’t kid yourself. I’m detecting a bit of attitude about this with people, both male and female though in different styles.

As a good counterexample, let us look at the recent behavior of our friend Grim.  He was antsy at being cooped up, so he went out for an extended ride on his motorcycle. The risk was entirely on himself, he didn’t bring added risk to anyone else. (Okay, maybe he did if he drove too fast, but I’m not inquiring into that and am sticking to the simplest form of the example.) Acts of civil disobedience, when you go fishing in your own boat (though you should not conveniently overlook contact and distancing at boat ramps) are also fine in my book.  If something is objectively safe – not just mostly safe if you squint really hard – and you want to run the social or legal risk of torquing people off, then go with my blessing.  I feel the same about political protest against government officials who are overreaching because…well, it doesn’t matter what their reason is. Insofar as they are declaring things a public hazard that aren’t a public hazard, I don’t much care if that’s because of stupidity, hand-wringing, or power grab. We think at first that the last of those is the most dangerous, but I’m not so sure.

But something else is increasingly creeping into this, and I don’t think it is justified. I also hear laxity increasingly excused by people who don’t engage in it themselves but don’t want to be seen as interfering with others.  Many of us have a horror of interfering with others which sometimes outweighs our willingness to assess situations dispassionately. I have a friend making noises about how he doesn’t put up with all this nonsense about masks, and I know it isn’t because he has done a thorough study of the relative safety of masking. I don’t want to say anything, but I may have to.  Being safe ourselves but shrugging at others because, well, a lot of people are high-spirited, and they aren’t going to put up with this forever, and governments have to understand…it’s fine if they want to take increased risks when it is only their increased risk. But that’s the same excuse we used with teenaged boys getting drunk, driving fast, and playing rough with girls until quite recently – still a common excuse in some circles.  They’re just high-spirited, you see, and what are you going to do?  It doesn’t get any prettier when we make dark warnings about what adults are going to do because they don’t like being in quarantine. That’s just a way of quietly excusing it. (You will notice that liberals use these dark warnings a lot about what black people and the poor are going to do if conservatives keep doing this or that.  It’s a way of quietly threatening and excusing it. [It’s also racist and condescending.] Gandhi did that with the British as well.)

There is considerable justification for the secondary point of pushing back against interference via protest or civil disobedience, as I suggested above, simply for its own sake. It’s good to fire a warning shot across the bow of the officious. I have no objection there, either, and that is not what I am talking about.  Yet I see the irritation as deeply affecting how people evaluate the information they are receiving.  They become predisposed to seeing this as no big deal, holding aloft every bit of information that supports that POV and discarding every bit that goes against it. Sometimes it’s just guys not wanting to look unmanly (to themselves or others) by being overcautious, nervous Nellies.  I have railed for decades against liberals, especially NPR and the Washington Post, arguing from anecdote, and now I am seeing lots of conservatives doing exactly that.  I will caution again that the people at the most risk who have the least ill motivation are the medical professionals who are directly involved. And they aren’t relenting in discussions of safety from their recommendation that distancing, self-quarantine, and masking are important.

A side point.  The new nickname for interfering, speak-to-the-manager women is “Karens.”  My brief research says it means women 30-60, usually suburban women, who have a particular attitude toward everyone else.  It’s an interesting choice of name because it comes much more from my generation than the one after.  The frequency was greatest for those born 1940-1980, and so women who would be 40-80 now, especially 45-75, so a full fifteen years off from the new stereotype. I knew lots of Karens growing up. The additional piece is that it was very popular among the Lutheran, meaning German and Scandinavian, women I have known across the years.  Thus I find it quietly humorous that the Swedish Lutherans I stem from may be the primary offenders here, leading to that choice of name. I mean, it wasn't the Greeks or Italians for this one.