Thursday, September 30, 2021

Anxiety and Ideology

A popular psychology article about a recent study on anxiety and political beliefs The Unexpected Relationship Between Ideology and Anxiety.  With Ann Althouse, I ask "Why unexpected?" I have been saying this since the 90s, that despite the  accusations that conservatives are afraid and anxious and just can't handle all the changes and the modern world in general that it is actually the opposite: liberals cannot endure people not doing things the way they should given this frightening world that is falling apart and are just so anxious about that - and they project.  I exaggerate unfairly, but the core point remains.  The conventional wisdom is backward in this case - as it often is. The correlations of Big Five personality characteristics with ideology were also interesting. Not shocking to me at all, frankly.

The results are also consistent with another study using American data ... that found that people on the extreme political left reported higher rates of having mental disorders than people on the right. As I noted, research on the “Big Five” traits of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience has found that people identifying as politically liberal tend to be higher on openness to experience and neuroticism and lower on conscientiousness than their conservative counterparts (Fatke, 2017; Gerber et al., 2011). Additionally, surveys find that neuroticism is more strongly related to economic than social liberalism (Gerber et al., 2009).

The actual Finnish study based on British data is here. The data set is people who were all born in the same week in 1958, who have been followed over the years on a variety of measures. This particular study was a subset of 7,000 members of that group.

Looney Tunes Complexity

Warner Brothers introduced us to some varied and complex music with Looney Tunes, from Wagnerian opera to revived obscure minstrel show pieces. The music they had specifically done for their cartoons was often surprisingly complicated for pieces whose presumed audience averaged about ten years old.  This was composed by Mack David and Jerry Livingston, who also wrote Disney intros (Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland) and popular songs (The Twelfth of Never). 

Most of Daffy's harmony is pretty standard here, but a few bits are surprising, and the sudden syncopation as the whole cast parades in is a nice touch.

#70 - Conspiracy And Paranoia

Repost from 2019, and includes links from much earlier.  I may comment further, but there's already enough here to keep people busy for a few days.


Well, this got out of hand.  I thought I had written about conspiracy and paranoia a fair bit, but after reviewing the search bar results, I wonder if I have written about anything else. I gave up.  I may have missed the best ones.  Here is the original, 70th-most popular post that kicked it all off. As it concerns Lee Harvey Oswald and the KGB, it is likely that some of the traffic was driven by people search about the topic, not my friends and other sites telling everyone what a great post AVI had today. I wrote about that aspect at least one more time. Okay, two.

What has been more usual for me is writing that paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories precede an actual formed theory or focus. We do not become paranoid because of our experiences.  We interpret our experiences in a paranoid way after developing the tendency.  (I am willing to discuss this in the context of people under tyrannies if someone wants to go there.  I think that is somewhat, but not entirely different.) I did find some posts about that. Categories of Paranoia, Conspiracy and Blue Hats, Paranoia FYI'

The principle applies even when it is mild paranoia or mere suspiciousness. Distributed power. Suspicion and the Liberal Mind. Yet if people really believed even that much, wouldn't they take up arms?  Or leave the country?  No, that pretend paranoia is merely there for signalling, a Poetic essence.

Ted Goretzel talks about who believes in conspiracy theories. It can include PhD's. I discussed why it is hard to convince people Conspiracy theories are unlikely and unnecessary.They are too easy. The truth is harder to fix.

The object of Paranoia can change over time. You can ascribe your troubles to different conspiracies. (Yes, she has now included the Jews.) There are whole lots of these theories, pick one. Sometimes they actually are ture: Journolist. People try to create conspiracies all the time, but the more people you have, the quicker it is going to become public. Daily Kos noticed that George Bush quietly changed a law in 2007 so that he could declare martial law in 2009 and not step down.

Does our style of paranoia choose our politics for us, rather than the other way around? Does the mechanism for accepting blame and responsibility in our brains break before the paranoia? Do fiction or film increase our vulnerability to paranoia or belief in conspiracies?

I'm sure I've said other brilliant things elsewhere, but this is already well more than enough.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Paranoia Repost

I had already been looking at some older posts about paranoia for other reasons when I saw Mike Guenther's approval of my posts on mental health issues, so I browsed through the list and thought this one might serve as a good introduction. Paranoia, Another Thought from earlier this year.  I started in writing on the topic in 2006, and even categorised myself as a "psychblogger" then.  I have not seen that term in a decade, so I think it just never caught on. I have written many times on this over the years and will put up at least one more, one that includes many internal links and references so you can have something close to one-stop shopping on my thoughts about this. I think I will touch on the related topic of Conspiracy theories as well.

Quick summary on paranoia: The paranoid mind-set occurs first, the targets are flexible and come later. 

Less quick summary on conspiracies:  Conspiracies are attempted all the time.  It is not crazy to believe that people are trying to do these things. But secrecy and cooperation are hard among the ultra-suspicious, and most conspiracies fall apart quickly. It is good to ask yourself how many people would have to be in on the secrets, and how much they would have to get along. 

Chesterton noted "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason," going on to describe that such a one has lost proportion, and humor, and faith, just for starters.  Or, more fully in the same work:

I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument. Suppose, for instance, it were the first case that I took as typical; suppose it were the case of a man who accused everybody of conspiring against him. If we could express our deepest feelings of protest and appeal against this obsession, I suppose we should say something like this: "Oh, I admit that you have your case and have it by heart, and that many things do fit into other things as you say. I admit that your explanation explains a great deal; but what a great deal it leaves out! Are there no other stories in the world except yours; and are all men busy with your business? (GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter II: The Maniac.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Golden Name Day

My Aunt Jennie's book about Swedish-American girls, The Golden Name Day, a 1956 Newbery runner-up, has been reissued after many years. I have written about it a few times over the years, most recently in 2019. I had not heard that is was coming out again. The last paperback edition was 1971, I think. 

It's a charming girl book, recommended for 8-12, and my wife has read it aloud to our two oldest granddaughters. Her grave is in the Lindquist family plot in the Swedish section of Pine Grove in Manchester, next to her favorite cousin (and everyone's else's favorite aunt), Selma.  They both died decades ago, but we still go to the site every year.

I certainly like the old Garth Williams cover much better than the new one, but none of the family was consulted about any of this.  The copyright has long since expired, but perhaps the illustrations have not.  She donated her children's literature collection (she had been editor of The Horn Book as well) and many of her personal papers to White Pines College, which later became Chester College.  I had the rest but could think of nothing to do with them and eventually donated those to the college as well.  The school went under about a decade ago, and I imagine they are all long gone now, scattered or even destroyed.  I keep thinking I should put in the effort to do a Wikipedia page on Jennie, but have never gotten around to it.

Archaeological Quotes

I listened to an interview with Dr. Lee Bray, lead archaeologist for Dartmoor National Park, and he turned out to be remarkably quotable.

"Looking into the prehistoric past is like looking into a well. It's dark and indistinct and sometimes all we can see is our own reflection." If one reads popular accounts of archaeological finds, this is recognisable. When something is found, the journalist - and sometimes the science writers and even the researchers spin a tale of what they think was happening and what the people must have been like. Somehow, they always seem to be like us, and the speculations of a century ago are noticeably different than what we guess today.  It is rather like looking at episodes of The Flintstones or The Jetsons now, when the 1960s cultural assumptions are glaringly obviously projected onto both the past and the future. Not that we do that anymore...

"It's not true that they were just like us in many ways.  The farther back you go the weirder they get."

"Artist's renditions of prehistoric people all look like attendees at a 1970s Glastonbury festival." He also wonders why we insist that their clothing must have been brown, given that we know they had vegetable dyes, cosmetics, piercings, and tattoos. They loved decoration. We even apply this dullness to recent historical eras when we have a wealth of data contradicting it. James had a recent post that classical statues were not actually white and unpainted.

"The sharp breaks in eras and cultural changes are almost surely wrong, even in the case of one population completely displacing another. It's not as if someone looked up one day and said 'Right, it's the neolithic now, we'll have to start farming.'  We make categories in order to break them."

That last sentiment applies to a great many fields.  Biology, where our definitions of species are increasingly discarded; medicine, where diagnoses are sometimes neither fish nor fowl; all social sciences, and all types of history, where eras are created in retrospect in order to clarify some aspects, yet necessarily obscure others.  I don't recall ever being taught this, not only in introductory courses, but neither in more advanced courses.  We were required to learn categories. That isn't a terrible approach in any field, for without something of that nature there can be no organising of the material into schema nor discussion about it. But I think warning the student that the boundaries are mere conventions and soft at best should be inserted into learning.

It might even make journalists and other dilettantes wary of thinking they know everything.

Natural Immunity Vs Vaccination

Update:  I may have spoken too soon about the number of deaths receding. 

My usual brilliant source knew of this one and I pass it along.  Getting covid-19 is much less effective than being vaccinated.

  • More than a third of COVID-19 infections result in zero protective antibodies
  • Natural immunity fades faster than vaccine immunity
  • Natural immunity alone is less than half as effective than natural immunity plus vaccination

The part about one-third of infections resulting in zero protective antibodies was quite discouraging. 

Deaths are receding nationwide, and even though they are still high in Texas and the lower Mississippi states, they are lower than they were a month ago. Last year the spike in cases moved north in late fall and winter, but that was before widespread vaccination. Perhaps it will not happen again this year, as a one-year event is still just a one-year event, not necessarily a pattern. I would express cautious optimism, but I have done so a few times during the pandemic and been wrong, so I will not do so at this time.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

By the Numbers

I have seen the argument advanced in a few places that getting lots of people vaccinated is actually more dangerous, because it creates a more likely opportunity for a super-variant of Covid to arise, one that overwhelms even vaccinated immune systems. While this is not so, it does have an element of truth in it that deserves refutation rather than mere dismissal.

Let us look for a moment at winning a lottery.  A person who has bought a million tickets has a much better chance of winning than a person who bought only one, so his average expected winnings is a million times higher.  But there aren't really "average" winnings in a lottery (a pure lottery.  I am excluding the actual money-raising games that give lesser prizes for getting some of the numbers right). If you win the 10 million dollars, you win it, and if you don't you get nothing.  The idea of average winnings is something of a statistical trick.

The rise of a supervariant is like a lottery in reverse, an enormous single bad-luck outcome. If everyone but one person were vaccinated, there would still be a chance, however minuscule, that the last person who contracted the disease carried a mutation that turned out to be the supervariant that overwhelmed everyone else. You can see how that might happen in theory, but no one is losing sleep over that possibility.  Much more worrisome is the situation where there are many, many people carrying the virus.  It's like millions of lottery tickets for that ugly reverse lottery. Even though the chance of a supervariant mutation is extremely low for each of those "tickets," in aggregate the odds are much greater.  It is still small.  There have been millions and millions with the virus, and only a couple of variants that have been problems.  It may be that only the Delta is a big deal.There are likely many mutations out there already, but as well all know, most mutations make things work worse, not better.  The many mutations simply sink beneath the waves.

But if there are a bunch of these mutations around, they have an enormous number of vaccinated targets.  I am going to describe the situation as if the virus is "trying" to outwit the potential hosts, even though it is not sentient and trying to do anything.  It's just with such enormous numbers it has that appearance, of an organism trying to get through defenses, like a hundred million squirrels trying to get through to the bird feeder by indefatigable persistence. When there are only a small number of variants, it's like there are fewer squirrels trying their hand at the obstacles.  The odds of the squirrels in general succeeding and coming up with a strategy is low.  But when there's lots of squirrels, the possibility that one might hit upon the one brilliant strategy is increased.

I don't know what the worst ratio is for that possible development of a supervariant is, but I have to think 50% vaccination - right about where we are now - might be close.  With 95% vaccination, there just wouldn't be enough squirrels working at the feeder puzzle.  But with 50%, there are a huge number of people carrying the virus, and they have a huge number of targets - both the easier targets of the unvaccinated and the hardened targets of the vaccinated. Or if you prefer, while one of the few unvaccinated in the 95% scenario might develop the winning ticket variant that is actually the losing ticket variant for us all, such a variant is more likely to arise in the scenario of only 50% vaccinated, because that would be like buying ten times more tickets for that lottery.

Even with all the unvaccinated counted together a supervariant might not arise. Even though it's ten times worse than the 95% vaccinated scenario it's still low.  But remember, the original predictions months ago were that more powerful variants were unlikely - and we've already had one.  Worse, the one we've got is still spreading, so a variant of that would only have to be a little worse to be a heightened risk. We don't actually know the likelihood.  No one does. It may be unfortunate bad luck that we got even one Delta variant.  Or we may have gotten lucky with ten almosts that just missed, with no reason to expect such good luck in the future.

It has some importance because of the insistence of the unvaccinated that they represent no danger to the vaccinated, and so should be left alone by all the busybodies. It is true in the limited sense that the potential danger of each unvaccinated person is low. Like lottery ticket low. Though someone does eventually win lotteries, and if you buy millions of tickets the aggregate danger is higher. At minimum, they increase the risk of danger for us all.

If someone has better math on this, let me know.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Playground Games

These were played more by girls than boys, and I think their disappearance has something to do with the availability of real sports for girls now.  There weren't many outlets then. Swimming - not much good on the playground or most neighborhoods; cheerleading -  much less athletic then than now; gymnastics, ditto; riding bicycles or roller skating. Organised sports were bigger in the private schools, likely because they didn't have neighborhoods to go home to. Skiing for the rich girls, skating more middle-class. Athletic girls were often directed into dance.

Even more important, "Ten O'Leary Postman" can't much compete with the fascination of an electronic device.

I was surprised how many of these British games and rhymes had American equivalents

The song Rubber Dolly was originally a ragtime number that got adapted for bluegrass, then done by Helen O'Connell with Jimmy Dorsey ("Is it the feller or the dolly, or the dolly or the feller?"), eventually becoming a playground rhyme done by a girl group in the 60s that keeps popping up over and over. 

My wife did not recognise it. At her schools in Massachusetts, as at mine in NH, "Oh Little Playmate" and "Spanish Lady" were the thing.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Top Banana

A forgettable musical, but I recall my father, who did this sort of humor onstage - or off - whenever anyone would give him the slightest opening, speaking of it. 

I never did any burlesque comedy myself, not even mock burlesques or parody skits, but my brother did lights for Ann Corio's "This Was Burlesque" when it played in Skowhegan Maine in the mid-70s. He drove "Luna, Goddess of Fire" in his Volkwagen into town for an errand. That seems like it could have been dangerously cramped.

Junk DNA

I guess it is more properly called "satellite DNA," and James has linked to an article about what it might be for.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Liberty: Upon Further Review

 I recommend for you the comments section under "Liberty." I wrote there "Also, WRT surveillance and record-keeping. The comments clarify for me that if we have 30% more freedom because of our technology and even more permissive laws but only 20% more restriction, it still might be a net loss of liberty because of your increased vulnerability to pressure from a variety of corporations and departments."

In terms of that 30%, I have things to add.  The disabled of all types have much more liberty. We are better protected against abuse from employers, abuse from family members, abuse from police. Protection from fellow citizens - is it about the same?  We have improved protections against fraud, better protection (some would say too much) against being brought involuntarily to psychiatric institutions. In NH, it used to be that any doctor plus your local state rep could have you sent away.

I got to thinking what that 20% loss of liberty via restriction might be, in order to weigh the two sides clearly.  As I was walking I concluded there are none, or perhaps few in case I haven't thought of something. Wait.  It is much harder to father a child and bear no responsibility now. That's a restriction. I suppose, but not one we usually put under the category of "liberty." Undue liberty, perhaps, not a legitimate one. The added surveillance is not just for fun, after all, it is put in place to curtail bad behavior.  The problems come later, as the definitions of bad behavior always expand, never contract.

It still might be a net loss because of the various types of surveillance, by governments, places we do business, and even (especially?) our fellow citizens: Financial observation, social observation, visual observation by device. Those are wide-ranging and insidious, and a few commenters provided good lists of what exactly is surveilled. So that's the whole trade. It's all increased freedom, all the way, with no added restrictions...

...except for the eyes watching, and the potential for abuse there.  Most of us are unaffected, but we can look around and see how we might be affected, and in some bad places, people already are.  The threat is quite real. As one commenter mentioned, we were always at the mercy of others social in neighborhoods and small towns, and memories could be long. Yet you could, in a pinch, move elsewhere, even taking on a new identity, as my great-grandfather did.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Bob Newhart

 My mother bought this in the 60s and I became thoroughly enamored of it. 

My brother, when he had a professional event lighting business in SoCal in the 80s, had business cards "Joe's Lights and Storm Door Company." He did get calls for storm doors occasionally, yes.


We have been talking covid, covid, covid, and the thought of mandates - which doesn't mean holding people down, BTW, whatever else happens - but issues of liberty have been coming up in libertarian and conservative circles for years.  This just pushes them over the top.

It's not crazy.  We have had liberating technologies, but governments have moved in to try and "make sure people use this right" just as often.  We have many more restrictions, but I actually think we are in a net gain.

When I was a young man, the federal government could draft you and send your ass* overseas to get killed.

Tax rates in the 60s hit 90% for the highest incomes - which were not all that high - until Kennedy and then Reagan pulled them down. We roll our eyes at the fanatics talking about "confiscation" now, but really, look at that. How is that not a serious limitation on all your business actions, when nine parts in ten are going to DC?

Because we have made transactions less restricted, there are lots of things that are no longer an obstacle.  You can buy a drink at a restaurant everywhere, including the south and midwest. You don't have to go to that one store, sometimes in the next town, to buy Playboy, if anyone is still interested in that. You can buy lots of things without your neighbors knowing. You can buy things on Sundays, and if the store isn't there you can order it online.

Plus, you might ask Black people about restrictions on their lives compared to pre-1970, and women could explain to you about some of the de facto vs de jure restrictions of their youth.

Much of what we object to is the government or large corporations knowing things about us that IBM or Eisenhower never dreamed of.  It is new territory for freedom, but much of it immediately captured in worrisome ways. Counting credit cards, retirement and investment accounts, credit unions and banks, and online purchases that are essentially an account kept in records, how many more accounts do you have than your parents? Faceless entities know more because there is more information to be had.

Surveillance does alarm me.

*That construction is actually a pronoun now, according to linguist John McWhorter, and I think he is right.  Think about it, and try to separate your thinking from its origin and look at what its usage is now. You might call it a synecdoche, but I think it has even gone beyond that at this point.  "My ass," "Your ass," "Her ass" is just a coarse, dramatic, colloquial version of my/your/her

You Will Be Hearing These Forever

One downside of badgering people into vaccinations is that they will associate any negative experience in the days following with the injection and blame it. There was a female popular singer who got a lot of attention recently because a friend's cousin (or a cousin's friend?) got the vaccination and two weeks later had something go wrong with his testicles. The best response I saw was a friend who passed on a tweet "My cousin's friend got the vaccine, and two weeks later he gotten bitten by a moose.  Do the research, people."

It is easy to sneer, but this happens all the time even with free choices. The brain seeks answers, and will settle on a bad one that fits its schema. That the explanation does not explain does not bother many people.  It is the lack of explanation that is unendurable.  They told me I had to get the shot in order to visit my grandmother and said it was safe, but now my immune system is worse and I get every cold and flu that comes along. The hard part is that these explanations will often never go away, remaining impervious to all reason.

I heard these all the time when taking social histories from patients or families about how this illness started. He was doing fine, had a job and was going to school part-time, and he moved in with this girl. She was a nice enough girl but she broke the relationship off and he went into a tailspin.  He started talking psychotic and taking drugs and he's never been the same.  He still talks about her. What is much more likely is that he was getting psychotic and taking more drugs, so the girl broke the relationship off. Cart/horse. Especially with our children, we make up these explanations for what went wrong based on the time association rather than a logical association.

Sometimes they are quite true.  A serious head injury can explain just about anything. When I first started reading CS Lewis I marveled that he was doing something like algebraic proofs with ideas instead of shapes and graphs. I was stunned to later learn that he was not good at math.  His mother took a math degree and taught it.  He occasionally handled scientific concepts in his examples that were largely founded on mathematical principles.  It seemed impossible. Only later did I learn that when he was at the school run by a certifiable and violent headmaster, he had that person as his maths instructor.  Students were beaten if they got the answer wrong.  They were also beaten if they got the answer right. That could interfere with learning.

Time association has largely driven the vaccine-autism fables. During the years when a child begins to interact with the world enough to display that something is wrong, he also gets lots of vaccinations.  Such symptoms do not show up with bang, usually.  It's not like a fever or neck pain where it was not there yesterday, but unquestionably here today. But once the idea is planted that this odd behavior in your child might be caused by vaccines, many parental minds are going to leap to "Hey, yeah, he did get a vaccine six weeks ago."

I think I have post brewing about Infection Control Nurses and the wheedling, badgering, suggesting, and insisting they do as a normal part of their job, trying to get employees to accept flu shots, or environmental services to ramp up its surface cleaning, or other infection prevention interventions. (Or maybe not.  The summary is pretty easy. 1. Mandating an intervention is part of that continuum, not some entirely separate thing out of the blue. We have "forced" families to comply with various levels of health precautions for years. 2. Sometimes the professionals can be wrong, as can the nutritionists or psychiatrists or anyone else in the system.  Just as in any profession.  But mostly, 90%+ of the resistance and refusal they get is based on the same dumb-ass stuff they hear every year, of people claiming the flu shot always gives them the flu, or droplet precautions can be ignored if you are just poking your head into the patient's room for a second to tell him his visitors are here or whatever.) But the key takeaway is that the more you do this, the more resentful people are going to blame any subsequent thing that goes wrong on the hospital/school/Big Pharma, whatever. 

Thus, I am big on avoiding that as much as possible. Over time it builds distrust of the whole system even when it is completely undeserved, because people don't like some explanations. Yet I also know that people cannot always be persuaded, and sometimes you have to put the hammer down. That's not just hospitals and health, it's your profession too.

Saturday, September 18, 2021


Idaho is now in Crisis Standard of Care because of Covid. This means that depending on each individual hospital's resources, if you code, you might not get CPR.

You might not get CPR. You wanted to "wait and see" about getting vaccinated?  This is the "see" part.

Surgeries and other care will be postponed. Something similar is up in Maine, which had been one of the safest states with the lowest covid rates until a couple of weeks ago. We had a relative tell us today about a friend who can't get a hip replacement for some indefinite period of time. So care is being postponed. I suppose you can call those "not real covid deaths" if you like. Or gee, it's not even death, really, just people sitting at home not able to get care. What could possibly go wrong?

You don't see this, because you don't work in a hospital or other care facility or know those who do.

91% of their admissions are unvaccinated. Further proof that the unvaccinated pose no danger to the rest of us.

Of course, a deep-blue state like Idaho must be fudging its numbers, because it's in on the covid conspiracy.  Wink, wink, nod, nod. We intelligent people know how that works. It's all a ruse.

I do not support mandatory vaccination - yet.  But the push for it isn't coming out of nowhere. I support the harsh numbers of figuring out what will help more people get vaccinated, and doing that.  I think this whole covid vaccination thing is new to people, and I get that some folks have questions, or feel nervous or afraid, or just don't understand it very well.  Also, there are loud voices telling them crap, which muddles things. So I still think that persuasion is the better way to go, even though some will not be persuaded. But it's not because I am wringing my hands and saying  "I just don't like telling other people what to do," it's because I think the numbers still lean that way.

The US is back up to 2000 deaths/day. I was as relieved as everyone else this spring when it looked like "Hey, the risk is going way down. It looks like we have this thing mostly licked, down to a level where we can open everything up and just endure the low level of disease circulation and death going forward."  Then the data changed.

“When the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do, sir? John Maynard Keynes

Friday, September 17, 2021


This was my freshman dormitory in 1971, the unfashionable one, unlike those preppies at Yates. Long-term patients from Eastern State (before Deinstitutionalisation), would sometimes just show up, puzzled, in the dorm looking for their old room. When you are that far off campus and the college no longer cares what happens to you, things get weirder than usual. We had our own Olympics, with the 267-inch dash and the Refrigerator Shove as events.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Gotta Serve Somebody

 And...for all of you who thought in the last post that you are really are independent-minded people making up your own minds about these things.

Covid Links - But Not Really About Covid

This post has the appearance of trying to persuade you, but this is actually not so.  I certainly hope you are persuaded by the links and my comments on them, but I have a deeper purpose, which I will get to below (or the next post - don't know.) There are then deeper levels beyond that, which I may or not reveal, depending on how things go. But the people who argue online are not fully representative of...well, of anything, really. So the following links are for demonstration purposes.

I have been waiting this post for bsking to put up her most recent on excess mortality, as she promised. Breaking down national data by race and age and age-adjusting the state data because there are large differences turns out to be interesting.  Florida looks better than you would think from looking at the data - not surprising as it is an old state - and the safest states in the northeast and northwest look even better.  Texas looks worse, and Mississippi and DC look terrible in excess deaths.  She discusses some of the possible variations in assignment and counting.  She is clearly not trying to make any side look better or worse - except perhaps noting defensively that while Massachusetts is often listed among the worst states for covid deaths, this is not so when one makes some reasonable adjustments. She makes the point to me that we should all be looking at data by states anyway, as we will have a much better sense if anything is fishy in the case of places we live, or have lived, or border on. It's easy to get into discussions about whether the upper reaches of the CDC are reliable, when none of us have much access.  But I have  great deal of confidence in what NH is reporting, because I have some familiarity with the people, and the local media, and local knowledge.

I have been following the more recent trends.  You can browse the state data and look at the graphs here. Of note, some states with notoriously bad overall totals, such as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, show that they are all front-loaded for the beginning of the pandemic.  Not much blip in cases or deaths since then. Texas has as many new cases and almost as many deaths as any time in the last 18 months, and Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas actually have more.  As there is some vaccination even in the lowest-level states, it becomes a question of whether this is because they reopened too soon, the delta variant is worse enough to override even a partial vaccination rate, or some other reasons. South Dakota is interesting.  It was trumpeted last year that Sturgis was/was not a superspreader event as predicted/denied, then watched as new cases quadrupled that month, held steady for another month, and then exploded.  However, that was the time lots of other places were exploding as well, so maybe the festival wasn't the cause.  The same thing is happening this year, with a spike in cases just after the gathering - but a lot of other places are seeing a spike right now as well. I think we will have to depend on honest, knowledgeable reporters in SD to figure that out.  Hope they've got some.

Masks work. This means they have worked throughout, though Stone notes why this is hard to measure. I had an argument with one guy on another site who insisted that because masks do not absolutely prevent covid, they cannot be said to "work." We say that seat belts work even though some accidents are so bad that people die anyway.  We say that condoms work, even though by their very nature people use them wrongly (impatience, usually) or skip them altogether, and relying on them has a higher pregnancy rate than other methods.  We say that calorie restriction works for losing weight because it works some for everyone, at least for a short while, and keeps on working for a smaller percentage. I digress.  Perhaps none of you were going to offer the same argument. There are huge caveats about masks, which I am certain I have stated repeatedly, as have most mask advocates.  There are only secondarily a filter, they are mostly a barrier protection, very effective for coughs, sneezes, singing, yelling. They don't work if you are siting in an unventilated space with someone for extended periods, because all the air in the room eventually passes through the infected people.  They don't work if they aren't worn properly.  Just because they are mandated does not mean they are worn or worn properly, because people rebel and shave the edges. Just as with gun control (and, I think we may soon see, vaccines), people who don't like a law will find ways around it, and you don't get the result you expected.  However, that doesn't mean that gun safety (or vaccination) doesn't work.  It just mean the mandate didn't work.  So too with masks. The masks-don't-work studies I have seen consistently make this error, that mandates don't work.  The places where masking is enforced, as in hospitals and clinics. have found that everything else contagious has gone down so far that they will likely never go back to maskless. From that, they conclude that masks likely provide a similar benefit for covid, even though they have no baselines from 2015-2019 to compare it to.  Because no covid then. 

But the people with skin in the game think they work enough to keep going.  That is always a big deal to me.  Not "authority," which I will deal with later, but skin in the game.

Astral Codex Ten has a very thorough post on what we know about Long Covid. He always has lots of comments, some of which are also lengthy.  I don't think one needs to read even any of them, let alone all of them, but I hope they at least dissuade people from jumping to the conclusion that "he has overlooked this really important point unsupported cliche I need to tell the world." I have seen a couple of links on other conservative sites that "long covid isn't as bad as we feared." As I never saw them express any fear at all, only the carefully curated news that supports the conclusion they had reached before the studies were even begun, that can't possibly be true.  They had no fear at all and have ignored or denied it consistently. You can't get less than zero fear. I feel I have been mentioning this to an empty auditorium for months.  They are holding scraps aloft. "Look, it's not as bad for children as the "experts" told us it would be!"  What experts said that? Who made predictions? So let's start from the simpler premise of "long covid is real," and let's see how big a deal it is rather than ignoring it whenever we calculate what the tradeoffs have been. We conservatives (except me, of course) have an absolute failing grade here.

Nurses are resigning, especially in the states hardest hit recently. Yes, CNN plays the violin here, but 2000 fewer nurses in a state the size of Mississippi is a big deal. Medical care will be worsened for everyone.  There have been claims that postponed care was already killing people, though that did not seem to show up in 2020's numbers. But there is a limit to how long you can postpone things.  It may have started to happen this year. Even if true they only dent the definite covid numbers a little, but it's certainly not good. By the way, the anti-vaccination groups are trying to claim that the nurses are resigning over the vaccine mandates.  Some are, especially among minority populations. I don't see evidence it's a lot.  However, resignations may be occurring for both reasons and both sides trying to take credit for the aggregate number, similar to those poll questions of "Do you think this country is headed in the right direction?"  Pretty useless question, with no predictive value of anything.


But that's not what I came to talk to you about. I want to go over some history about how opinions are formed on this matter. Way back in early 2020 I thought we might have much less problem on this side of the Atlantic.  Trump had closed down flights despite opponents calling him racist for it - I now shudder to think how quickly it would have spread otherwise, back when hospitals didn't quite know how to treat it and we thought mechanical breathing was going to be key. Plenty of people - I have mentioned that Sarah Hoyt was prominent among them - assured us that we weren't going to have Italy's and France's problem because our hygiene was better.  Others noted that we didn't have so many grannies living with families here, and our hospitals are better, etc.

Well, things spiked quickly, as you well know. Large gathering places started shutting down, particularly indoors. There was still the attitude that if we strangled this in its cradle we'd be okay. The idea of two weeks to bend the curve was only part of that, not some outlier. People now get enraged that the CDC and other experts said that and then it wasn't true, but we pretty much all subscribed to that general idea. One big slam.  don't let it get a foothold.  Then we could deal with a smaller, more manageable crisis after that.  Churches thought they were going to be back open for Easter. There were some voices who were already telling us that novel contagion doesn't always work that way, and even announcing there would be a spike in summer.  I was considered one of the pessimistic ones because I didn't think that the sharp increase in cases was going to be just as sharp going down.  I thought we would have a more gradual decline. 

The deaths kept mounting, and already people were trying on their new denials: there wasn't really an increase; the deaths weren't really covid, they were just sorta covidish, if they existed at all; masks don't work and there's probably nothing we can do to make things worse or better anyway; letting everyone get sick would probably be better. There were, and are, more. Some were darker, part of the motivated reasoning I will discuss later. "Everyone is acting scared (means: I'm brave and they aren't)." "It's only old people and people with other health conditions (the classic defense mechanism against danger, that you are somehow not vulnerable because you are smarter than that.  He only got robbed because he wasn't being alert, etc.) and the self fulfilling "Americans aren't going to put up with this." Sure, it's patriotic to refuse to take health measures

Even in early August I nearly wrote in to one of the podcasts I had been listening to that had predicted a spike late July and early August - see? It didn't happen, did it? I don't hear you admitting you got that wrong. I am glad I held back, because then came September. A half a million deaths later, and people's excuses and opinions haven't changed. I have to wonder what would have changed them. I remember that summer the fury that some people had that some "experts" had dared predict we might have as many as 2.2 million deaths.  What a maroon! That's why you can't listen to experts! I recall being apologetic for them that summer, trying not to call them alarmist and extreme, and cautioning others not to do so either. Well, that's the worst-case scenario...if you look at what's happening in Europe you might leap to that conclusion...don't assume they are just trying to scare you... So, coming up on 800,000 excess mortality now...estimates the vaccines have saved about another 200,000.  Let's run the mental experiment of not shutting down the international airports, and of not closing down to prevent the spread, of not masking, not distancing.  Could that have doubled the death total?  I don't know.  That seems possible. Gee, all the skeptics and critics - including me, to some extent - turned out to be even more wrong.

Remember that hospitals were overfull, with units being turned into covid-only, ERs overflowing - so let's take our imagination experience and double the number of cases. How's that playing out?  Health-care workers doubling their exposure, and so more of them sent home. Whether lack of prompt care drove much excess mortality in 2020 is not clear - I think only a little, but may turn out to be wrong, and 2021 might be worse - but it absolutely would have been happening under that scenario. No hospital beds, huge numbers of doctors and nurses unable to come in because of quarantine.  And some dying, by the way. That gets conveniently overlooked in the "only old and fat people" telling. As with Kipling's "Tommy" and soldiers, societies can devalue sacrificial people who just don't happen to be on their radar at the moment.

So the data changed, and changed dramatically, but people didn't change their opinions.  When that happens, it is fair to ask whether they are engaging in motivated reasoning. Even when I strongly suspect it, I usually refrain from accusing others of poor motives unless I have very good evidence, and even then, only if they are accusing others of poor motives.  I take the view that we are a mix of good and bad motives in all our decisions and we try to inspire others to do the best they can. I have questioned people's motives many times over the last sixteen years, because I think confirmation bias and motivated reasoning is enormous.  But it is double-edged.  As with CS Lewis and Bulverism, if you use that door, it swings both ways. So the data has changed, but the accusation of bad motives has not budged, or has even intensified. Suspicion of the accusers' motives is entirely justified now.

Persuasion isn't supposed to work like this.  Elizabeth Breunig has a nice article on not shaming the unvaccinated, but listening to them, because many of them are not as unreasonable as advertised.  She is a nice person, I think, and it is true. But I am not trying to be persuasive here.  It will surprise you that I am not even talking about covid, ultimately. When discussing reasoning and motivation dispassionately, it is best to take non-emotional examples. Sam says that Julie is taller than she was last year. His wife says, no, she has stopped growing. But I am intentionally keeping this discussion in hot and even angry places.  Because most of you know about logical fallacies in the abstract.  Some of you know them better than I do.  That's not what is happening here, and I want the examples bubbling.  I am also not convinced that gentle persuasion is the best route.  Greg Cochrane has been very ungentle, including to me directly, but he is one of the people who has most changed my thinking over the last five years. I am usually immune to shaming, but it is not mere shaming that is persuasive. It is finding I am wrong that is shaming, and in those instances the lash does not seem unfair.  I get over it pretty quickly.


I keep thinking you have read what I have written to date and are slowly absorbing it over the week while I finish.  That won't be the way it works, of course, it will come as a fire hose, and each of you will identify a particular bit you want to comment on, which might be something of less interest to others and which I have long moved on from.  As there is some slight danger that this is my last post except for odd bits I might put in every week or so going forward, I will likely let things collect before I rejoin, if at all.

For review, one of my most-visited posts, Types of Liberty.  See if you can anticipate as I develop this what this means for vaccination, lockdowns, masking, voluntary shutdown, etc in the various American regions.My hypothesis is that the regional variation in vaccination especially still has some founder effect values behind it. Following David Hackett Fischer, it shows the cultural differences in the various American colonies about the idea of liberty and how that still flows into our cultures now, though in attenuated form. I will not go into detail, except to notice that personal independence and civil disobedience are different in the New England, Coastal Southern, and Appalachian cultures. (I don't have a handle on the Quaker mid-Atlantic on the subject, and so won't try to force some interpretation in.)  The Coastal South was deeply hierarchical, with initial forced obedience to the FFV or other cultural rulers of Wessex mentality.  But this gradually created a shamefulness about being one of the people who had to take orders rather than give them. That former group was larger and may have had more cultural influence. The Appalachian Scots-Irish were mixed independent, often isolated most of the time but still connected to a web of relatives, a clan, which could take on the deeply obedient attitudes of tanistry, thanes of Cawdor, or of Buckland. This was hidden and less formal in America, but still real. It bled over into church authority among the Baptists and the many sects. I am getting far afield here, but these country churches kept splitting off from each other to form small churches a few miles down the road, but within those narrow walls, there was obedience unknown among New England Congregationalists.  It's complicated, probably worth more than a few PhD theses (which I wouldn't encourage, because those knuckleheads would miss every elephant in every room throughout South Carolina, frankly). But I would put big money on the idea that there are congregations in the South where no one is vaccinated and others where everyone is, and where there is division among them, predict a church split in the next few years. So they may be deeply dug in along the lines of "You can't tell me what to do" to the government, yet willingly obedient elsewhere.

This is completely incomprehensible in Northern New England, past and present.  The town and church were originally synonymous, but that's clearly not going to hold up, and quickly the town won out. Like before 1700.  A New Englander - a default libertarian until about 1900 - used to be deeply suspicious of Concord/Montpelier/Augusta and very especially Boston.  Washington DC was beyond even uttering out loud.  The town won out over both the county and the Congregational Church. But the town actually did have the authority to tell you what to do. Without that, no schools, no hospitals, no roads would happen. And deep Yankees would accurately point out in the late 1800s that those things did not happen throughout the south.  If you don't like what the bastards are doing, you vote them out next time. (This has clearly attenuated in the last four decades.  We blame it on the rest of you moving up here.  Especially New York.) But when people dig in and say they aren't going to do what Concord says, it is on the basis of "They're wrong," not "You can't tell me what to do."

Tangent:  The Free Staters from around the country who chose New Hampshire and moved in and thought they could influence the politics of a small state and make us a City on a Hill for libertarianism never got this distinction.  Still don't.  They try that "sovereign citizen" nonsense on us and we just look at them blankly. When they tried to install a " fully libertarian" government in little Grantham, NH it was just anarchy.

Back in line. So when my friend Grim accused me of wanting to defer to medical professionals I was amazed that he would insult me at that depth. I spent my career fighting with arrogant doctors who actually didn't know better than me, and I could prove it, dammit. I am deferring to no one.  The experts, while flawed, are making a better case than the skeptics and I am going along, thanking them for the time they have put in so I don't have to.  But if they are wrong, we don't go to no experts, where we all just make up our own guess, but to new experts.  Throw the bastards out.  (I wish this were still deeply true about northern New England, but fully admit we actually don't throw the bastards out anywhere near as much as we used to anymore. The system may have broken beyond repair.)

So it took me a bit to figure out that in Grim's cultures of origin (which seems to be only a percentage of his current culture), that's how it must look. His word choice was suggestive, bleeding out from that base. And if Grimmy, who can step back into considerable objectivity, leaks out he thinks that about me, who he knows more about...the penny dropped for me. In other mouths, that idea is much more dominant.  All this accusation from others - and boy do I know about those others at this point - that the people who put on masks are nervous and cowardly, and the people getting vaccinations are somehow believing authority like sheeple rather than following evidence, made sense in cultural terms.  In their culture, that would be more likely, at least at some long-inherited level.

But that's more than a little ugly, and I'm going to not only push back, but shove back against it. Eighteen months of accusing that those other people just want power and to tell you want to do and grind you down, and don't actually have any good reasons I now think says more about the accusers than the accused.  Because we have received new data month after month, and they haven't budged.  So does that mean that this level of authoritarianism is what you would do if you held the whip hand, or does it mean that you just don't like being told what to do and reject all reasoning on that basis.  Because at this point, I submit that this has to be at least part of your motivation, based on a dozen comment threads on a dozen sites. If I were wrong, it would have eventually shown up in the comments that you made, and I have been on this a long time now.

That you are annoyed at Karens wearing masks in what you perceive to be a showy, prim manner is irrelevant.  

That high-ranking officials are traveling in ways denied others, or going maskless, or otherwise being hypocrites is irrelevant. It may be relevant as to whether you vote for them again, sure, but that fact that celebrities come to believe they are invulnerable and can do what they want isn't news, and it tells us nothing one way or the other about safety.

That it offends you that most parents are okay with their kids being masked (though they want them back in the classroom), and the kids are bothered by other requirements much more than masks is irrelevant. You want them to be furious. They aren't. This is taking place in your head. You have some need, whether social or personal, for some things to be true and others not. But that has nothing to do with actual truth, and frankly, it's not my problem.

That you want these new vaccines to be dangerous is motivated reasoning. There's no evidence for it.  None. Zero. I tried to be polite for the sake of persuasion rather than confrontation about these bizarre idea that reproductive danger was possible - the absolute go-to for paranoiacs about anything they suspect - but this is just over.  There will be something that shows up about the vaccines that isn't good, according to the law of averages. That's normal.  We already know that premature births are occurring with covid, but not among the pregnant and vaccinated.  I lean against making even complete fools do stuff unless the danger is clear, not because I think it's a bad idea this time to increase public safety (it will) but because I shudder at what such government overreach means next year or the year after. 


Go back up to the original links.  While I have referenced a few of the topics over the last months, I intentionally chose things that were new information.  Did you treat this as new information to be absorbed into your views?  Likely, you did not. The folks who thought masking was good thought Yes! Masks!  I always said so! And the people who thought masks useless immediately went to There must be something wrong with this.  I say this not to play the percentages - which would be valid - but because I have personally watched you do this. You either have the self-observation to see this, or you don't.  I put up those links, then the subsequent harsh meta-discussion about how things have been going, not to persuade you, but simply to illustrate how this is done. I'm intentionally not persuading.  You are on your own.

There are variations on this motivated reasoning. To move to a more neutral example, Sally says to Cindy that "Catholics don't let their people read the Bible." Then a few others chime in and they discuss this for half an hour, about no private interpretation, Vatican II, whether the practical results bear out Catholic theory, etc.  Then Molly comes in and says "But you are missing the real issue.  Catholics don't let their people read the Bible."  And I wonder  why I am bothering to discuss these things at all. Person after person, known to display some sort of intelligence on other topics, has proven unable to do anything other than burst in, recite their cliche from forty minutes or forty years ago, and expect others to just agree. Do I seem unfair?  This just happened here, and I can pull up forty example over the last year from a very narrow band of sites. And this from people I actually like. It is a subset of motivated reasoning. It wastes everyone's time.  It's just birds chirping out their current location.

But the central motivated reasoning is complicated and varied. You see yourself as brave, ignoring the poor bastard of a cashier at the supermarket quick line who is exposed to a thousand people a day at about 4' distance. Because you estimate, accurately, that you are not in much danger when you shop and don't need a mask. You are suspicious of the conventional wisdom - I really  understand that one, since childhood - and think yourself wise thereby, better than those fools. You don't actually know anyone working in the ICUs but you think things are probably okay there, want that answer. The danger is exaggerated.  All your favorite conservative sites tell you so, and you don't trust the others. 

As a CS Lewis-obsessed person, I feel confident I can lay claim to having looked at layer after layer of possible bad motivations I might have for anything I believe.  As a psychiatrist friend once laughed, "I'm not absolutely sure of my own name. And my mother is a very honest person." Yet even within that context I might well have been only playing a complicated chess game against myself, letting black win this time because it would seem fair. It's unrealistic to expect any of you - except maybe James - to see things that thoroughly.  But this year things went bad.  I tried to stay with my peeps as long as I could, but i just can't.

If I seem unfair to the conservatives about this, and you want to point out how much worse liberals are. I will say I have done that for sixteen years.  Yes I am being one-sided.  Suck it up, Jasper. My belief is that we all have personal and social reasons for wanting some things to be true, and that's normal.  We should try to correct for those, but we might miss a trick. We might miss many tricks. But I expect you to do that homework before you comment.  We have some tradition of that here, which has increasingly slipped away in 2021. Some have.  I would name you, but I would miss some and imply insult to the innocent.

Why do I rant?  It's not about covid, covid is just an example, expressly chosen to burn and chafe. Because without the ability of a large percentage of us to beat ourselves up over possible suspect motives, there will be no cooperative governance, no understanding... western civilisation, and ultimately people will be unable to consider the claims of Christ.  I have that Quest for Saint Aquin  view, a similar oversimplification of Aquinas to Francis Schaeffer's, that logic must ultimately lead to God, and removing logical obstacles in one sect will lead to lightning coming down on an altar elsewhere. Weeding is a humble but desperately needed act.

It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule. JRR Tolkien


Friday, September 10, 2021

Mandatory Vaccination

 It's always good to check in with The Volokh Conspiracy on these things.  Usually very sound.