Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Apples, Oranges, and Gun Control

There was good discussion at my Liberty Alliance post, and bsking was her usual statistical self.  It is a more useful skill than what I provide, but I hope I can still be of service.  After a few days has gone by, I tend to move discussions to a new post rather than write something long under the old one - as I used to in the old days.

How can it be that there are studies showing masks provide some group protection and other studies that show they don't make any difference?  The first thing I notice is that they are usually measuring different things. Sometimes what is being measured is how much people are wearing masks. Sometimes what is being measured is whether masks are mandated are not. Those seem the same at first, but a second glance shows they are quite different. One is a more hard science look, the other is more of a sociological take. We can see this if we compare it to gun control laws.  Chicago has lots of gun control laws - mandates, if you will - while New Hampshire has few. But that doesn't tell us much about whether people are obeying those laws or not and whether they are being generally safe with guns, does it? So too with masks. Just because they are being mandated does not necessarily mean any increase in the actual behavior. 

I am pretty annoyed at sites that should notice the difference but either don't see it, or worse, don't mention it because it doesn't fit their aims. A couple of Insty writers trumpet studies that show mandates don't help, and the takeaway that a lot of people have, judging from the comments, is that masks don't do any good. It is an advocacy site and can print what it wants, but insofar as it purports to be publishing news and promoting intelligent discussion, they should be more evenhanded - or at least keep reminding people what they really are. There is secondly a months long quiet dishonesty, in that right from the beginning they have been insisting "People won't put up with these restrictions. Real Americans aren't like that." Then when people resist wearing masks, and the numbers go down and the disease keeps spreading they say "See?  Masks don't work." 

Similar discussions about restaurant closings, school attendance, distancing and other measures flow from this, but I am just sticking with masks at present for simplicity, and because it is the easiest of measures to follow through with.  While they are a genuine hardship for some*, they generally aren't.

It is very possible from this disparity to take the view "Well fine then.  Mask mandates are no more effective than gun control, so we shouldn't have them."  I have a general sympathy with the idea that restrictions on freedoms, even small ones, should show some use or they should not even be considered. But there is a difference here, and perhaps a crucial one.  No one is claiming that gunshot wounds don't hurt people. There aren't comment boards angrily pointing out that lots of ammo is used without anyone getting shot, so this whole gun safety idea is ridiculous. Gun  owners are often the first to tell you "Dude, get some training." People acknowledge the danger but insist it can be managed, and that it actually reduces danger in other directions. If the people of an area were insisting that a gun can't hurt you, even I might reluctantly conclude some sort of restriction should be in place until we could smack some sense into them.

And yes, there are plenty of people saying exactly that about masks, without making any distinctions of masks properly made and properly worn, or particular circumstances.  I have heard them live and so have you, usually males being dismissive and implying that you are being a bit of a coward for buying into that nonsense.  This is usually accompanied by some very bad extra reasoning, such as "this is mostly a hoax, which I can tell because I don't know anyone who has gotten this," or assertions that the deaths aren't really Covid or aren't any more than usual, or are fewer than the number of people who die from x, y, or z. Dude, don't help any schoolchildren with their science homework, okay?

While I am on a rant, I will revert to my usual rants as well.  Not all of the disruption is because of the government, but lots of people are focusing on the government actions as a synecdoche for all the misery in their lives. With this many deaths, restaurant attendance was going to go down anyway, and restaurants are notoriously fragile. Also, many businesses concluded they don't want the risk for staff, vendors, and customers regardless of what the government was mandating - and liability questions are also looming an uncertain. Next, I keep hearing "They told us this was supposed to only be two weeks to flatten the curve."  That's a fully reasonable complaint.  The rug was pulled and the various reasons why are fair game for discussion.  But you know what else they said back in March? "They" said it was "just the flu," which would be 23K deaths in a year, and then "a bad flu," which would be 60K. "They" said that Florida was handling things much better, Texas had very few cases, California had way fewer cases than New York, and why couldn't we all be more like South Dakota? "They" said that the US wasn't going to get hit as hard as Italy or France because...something. Except the "they" in those previous statements are not the "experts" (always in quotes) but the self-appointed experts who were critics, who no longer mention what they used to claim. 

As I have said before - with lower numbers - you can make the argument that 400,000 deaths isn't a lot, especially when it's mostly old people who were going to die in 1-24 months anyway.  That is a seismic shift in American culture to regard the elderly that way, and it has been predicted over the last few decades because of how expensive we are getting to be.  But you could make that claim, yes. I don't like a culture taking that attitude toward life, but many tribes have done even worse - think ice floes and seal blubber. Just admit what you said, and what you are saying, or you haven't got the right to criticise what others said and are saying.

*As noted in comments under a previous post, people who can't have glasses fogging up when they are working and people who have hearing deficits have real hardships.


PenGun said...

"you can make the argument that 400,000 deaths isn't a lot,"

You can make any argument you like. The numbers are going through 330,000 right now with about 3000 deaths a day. So about 25 days to get to 400.000 dead. I don't expect this to go down soon, so you will blow through a half a million dead pretty soon.

bs king said...

Gun control is a good comparison, as is sex ed. Abstinence may work to prevent pregnancy, but abstinence only sex ed is not always well correlated with a reduction in teen pregnancy.

random observer said...

bs king adds a good angle with the comparison to abstinence.

It works perfectly to prevent pregnancy and STDs every time, all the time, without failure or penalty, and is the only thing with a 0% failure rate. It's worth mentioning all that to teenagers, indeed worth driving it home again and again, even if it means objectively silly things like making them carry flour sacks or watermelons around and get up to "feed" them at night.

Still, teens are all stupid and walking hormone bags, so some extra instruction on the mechanics of what goes on and of the things they are trying to avoid, as well as the tools of further mitigation and their failure potentials, are all also worth doing. It really ought to even be possible to offer this within a framework of supporting the families' own moral frameworks for sexual activity.

I really would like to balance the scales between the current more or less endorsement of free-for-all [presuming nothing like harassment goes on...] and the traditional [as recently as a few decades ago] pervasive ignorance of the basics and circulation of silly notions backed up by parents incapable of talking about grown up things as though they were grown ups.

Although I had to struggle to get to this point- growing up in the 80s I had probably lower than average interest, and way lower than average capacity to get girls' attention, if indeed I ever even tried, and super shy personality. I wasn't tormented by this- I didn't care that much and was also balls-out terrified of AIDS even though that was in retrospect silly for my time and place, and despite everyone saying that the authorities kept us in ignorance of AIDS back then. All that to say, I wonder who was getting all the teen sex.

random observer said...


So it goes with masks.

I sympathize with the right almost exclusively, even the American hard case libertarian tropes to some degree, even though I have a large element of fairly hard core statist right in me as well.

I remember that we got very different expert views on masks in the spring, and then and now I think that was all smokescreen to keep the supply for those who really needed it. I suppose I respect manipulative gambits like that in many ways, but I'd rather my country's experts treat me like a grown man. Just say 'we're hoarding all the masks for medical workers, and right now there's little to be gained for ordinary people if they do what we say and social distance'. That probably would have caused hysteria too because my country is not really populated by grown men and women anymore, but it's the message I would have respected. Instead we got 'masks don't help' suddenly switched to 'everybody wear a mask' after a few months. I remember that.

I even respect a bit of macho posturing- there are times and places and issues in which fearmongering will be a problem, solutions will be wrong, and those who object will turn out to be right.


I think governments actually have inherent powers, and that includes war, rebellion and plague countermeasures. The US may have overdone it, or not. Or in some places. Or underdone it, in many. But these things can be done, even the horror or horrors of movement controls in a free society or takings of property. In a bigger emergency, these tools will be used again, and more. We can and should always evaluate them against circumstances, but they're not always or inherently tyrannical. The US Founding Fathers all knew it and said so, even if they differed on points. The anti-federalists less so, but I bet many thought their states had inherent powers.

Mask mandates seem to have fit conditions- Canadian cities have mostly not required them outside, because that is not needed. I don't know if such rules made sense in some hard hit US cities, so perhaps their more strict mask rules made sense.

Masks are neither expensive nor burdensome. I do want to leave room for those to whom they are a real hardship to have a say, but I'm having trouble getting it. I've been wearing one in indoor public places for hours at a time for months, even outside because sometimes it's tough to get it on and off in a hurry when carrying stuff, even walking and climbing stairs that give me trouble in general. Never is the mask the problem.

I wonder that if one has enough breathing problems that wearing a mask is impossible, should one not be among those staying at home all the time, and shouldn't society be supporting that choice? If you can't breathe with a mask, are you not inherently among the very most vulnerable to COVID?

I have a slight hearing deficit, so I appreciate maskmouth as a communication problem. I've had my ear turned to the plexiglass barrier at coffee shops many a time to hear the barista. Those with worse hearing probs maybe have it worse- for most of us this is a trivial challenge, but I could see where someone would need accommodation.

But little if any of the anti-mask movement seems to be about these marginal issues.

Years ago on the web somewhere on some relatively classy site purporting to advise men on fashion, grooming etc., some wag commented that real men don't use umbrellas, they just get wet. I responded that real men invented tools, and real men use tools to do jobs, to solve problems, or to prevent problems. Umbrellas, weapons, or masks, or anything else, are tools. We wear masks because they are tools, even if marginal ones.

random observer said...

Or to use a loose analogy- social distance is like abstinence. It works the best, all the time. It's easy, costs nothing, and does no harm. But every so often we need to go farther- masks are face condoms.

It's a loose analogy- social distance isn't as uniformly easy as abstinence. You have to work to keep people 6 feet away if you're out of home at all. Abstinence is by comparison a default you have to work to change. Similarly, social distance doesn't cover surfaces, so it's less perfectly effective than abstinence for what it's trying to prevent. Still, similar situation and both enhanced by clean hands. Similarly masks possibly nowhere near as effective as condoms, but similar as tier 2 mitigations and similar problems of materials and application.

Yeah, rambling. The analogy just tickled my fancy. Also, at work and avoiding a task.

Soon I will do that task and go home.

Merry Christmas to all.

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