Saturday, September 26, 2020

Cover That Cough!

      I'm still getting comments from people who think that masks -- simple cloth and paper masks -- are not effective against the transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

     Well, masks are effective.  When I try to explain it clearly, I get accused of being "condescending," when all I'm trying to do is cut through the fog of rumor and emotion.  And, yes, it's plenty awful to be required to wear a mask -- or use a seat belt, or obey the speed limit -- but it's easier to argue about those things if you're not dead.  There is plenty of causal, sloppy evidence -- here in Indiana, we didn't get transmission rates down until mask use in indoor, public spaces was mandated, and the drop in transmission continued against a background of steadily increasing testing for the virus.

     There's also plenty of expert advice and well-documented scientific evidence for the effectiveness of masks in limiting the transmission of the virus.  Oh, there's a catch to it, and the catch is tricky enough that many people have gotten hung up on it: masks are most effective at keeping people who already have the virus from giving it to others.*  Now, if this damned virus acted more like the common cold, using masks would be easy: put one on at the first symptoms and there you go!  --Unfortunately, the best evidence we have is that SARS-CoV-2 has a trick up its sleeve the common cold does not: you can walk around loaded up with the virus for days before you feel sick or develop noticeable symptoms, breathing it out with every exhalation and every word you speak.  So the only way to control the thing is for everyone to wear masks around one another, even though we're probably feeling fine.

     This rubs raw the American "You're not the boss of me!" reaction to most any government edict.  It irks me -- but I am the boss of me, and I decided that if I did get the virus, I damned well wasn't gonna drag anyone down with me.  So I wear a mask, not because the Great White Father in the state capitol or Mayor's office told me I had to but because I've read up on 'em, I know that they work, I know how they work† and I have made my own mind up to help.

     You can make up your mind to help, or you can fume, complain and cherry-pick disinformation (no small amount of it sown by foreign and domestic enemies of American civil order), but the evidence is in and the evidence says masks work.  They're not 100% effective, but they make a significant difference -- and so can you.
________________________
* One of my links, in fact, is to an NIH study, pretty early on, that suggests health-care workers dealing with infected people do best putting on a respirator at the start of their shift and not taking it off until they're done for the day; cloth or paper masks didn't do them a lot of good.  Putting the cloth or paper mask on the patients, on the other hand, was very helpful at limiting the spread and having doctors and nurses in respirators while the sick wore basic masks worked best of all.   Outside the hospital, where most of us are and the ratio of sick to well is very different, the best way to limit the spread was for everyone to wear a cloth or paper mask.

† For the tiny-virus crowd, remember that most of those viruses are floating out stuck to and in the warm, wet droplets of our exhaled breath.  It's not "a chain-link fence against mosquitoes," it's a chain-link fence against flea-infested chihuahuas: you may, in fact, find a few fleas on the other side, but most of 'em aren't going to hop off their ride.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Friday

      I woke up with a couple of perfectly enormous tomcats snuggling with me in bed.  It was wonderful and I kinda put off climbing out and starting my day for about a half-hour, just to enjoy it.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Louisville Is Burning

      It was inevitable.  Given the particulars of the case, the understandably high emotions it raised and the presumption of innocence inherent to our justice system, there was no way some of Louisville wasn't going to burn once the Grand Jury results in the Breonna Taylor shooting were made public.

     The only question was how bad it was going to be.  You could see it in the eyes of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron yesterday afternoon as he carefully detailed the Grand Jury process in his state, announced the results and asked for restraint in people's reactions.  He knew things were going to turn bad and was doing what little he could to keep from making them worse.

     It is entirely possible to be right on the facts, right under the law -- and wrong on emotions.  The powerful emotional reactions of masses of outraged people are why we have a justice system, why that system is supposed to presume the innocence of the accused, and why there is so much emphasis on procedure, eyewitness testimony and such facts as can be determined.  At each step of the process, the outcome isn't supposed to be emotionally satisfying; it's supposed to be the least unfair result mortal men and women can produce.  

     Sometimes that result feels very unfair to many people.  Sometimes it looks particularly unfair in the wider view.  But criminal proceedings are not about the wide view, nor ought they take account of public opinion.  Fixing guilt and fixing society are very different things.

     And in the gap between them, Louisville burns.  The time to stop that was long before three policeman knocked on Breonna Taylor's door and then knocked it in.

     (Wikipedia, though sometimes shaky in documenting this kind of situation, has links to multiple Louisville Courier Journal articles covering the case as it developed.  It's a complex and tragic farrago of errors.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Why The Rush?

      The amount of sanctimonious back-and-forth over appointing and confirming a successor to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg amounts to an ear-splitting din, with accusations and counter-accusations being traded back and forth by politicians and the Party faithful on both sides, a war of quotes, accusations of hypocrisy and sound bites--

     That signify nothing in terms of Constitutional requirements and Senate behavior and history.  Here's what happens whenever there's an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court and one party holds both the Presidency and a Senate majority: they name their pick to the job.  Period.  The Constitution allows this and it happens.  It may be good or bad, a thumbing of their noses on the way out the door or a glowing gift to the ages but it definitely happens.

     So let's dispense with emotion and rah-rah nonsense -- remember, I keep voting for the Libertarian candidates, since I find the big-party candidates for Federal office little short of risible -- and see if we can work out why the GOP is in a hurry to get the job filled.  Aren't they confidently predicting victory in November?

     Projecting a confident image is a part of electioneering; Speaker Pelosi has made similarly glowing predictions for her party's slate this Fall and the better punditry sites are telling me the races for the Presidency and control of the Senate are too close to call.  We can be pretty sure all Senators can read the same tea leaves, no matter what they're saying in public, so let's run the outcomes.

     There are two choices: act now, or wait to let whoever wins act later.  There are four possible situations after the elections: a Republican President and Senate majority, a Democrat President and Senate majority, a Republican President and Democrat Senate majority, or a Democrat President and Republican Senate majority.  How do they each play out?

1. Republican President and Senate majority: acting now or later has the same result, the GOP's pick gets the job.

2. Democrat President and Senate majority: if the GOP acts now, their pick gets the job (and there's a chance the incoming Congress would add Justices to the court, though institutional inertia is likely make this difficult, especially with the major problems facing the country at present); if they wait, the Dems pick.  (This would leave the balance of the Court unchanged).  Pretty clear choice for the Republicans.

3. Republican President and Democrat Senate majority: acting now means the GOP's pick gets the job; acting later, they will have to vet their choice to get through a hostile Senate, and their chances would be better with a more moderate jurist.  So the GOP's best move would be to act now.

4. Democrat President and Republican Senate majority: acting now puts the Republican choice in; acting later means the Dems get to pick and the Senate Republicans get to pick that person apart.  Just as the prior situation, the choice will be more moderate thanks to divided government, but whoever it is still won't be anyone the GOP would have chosen.  It's another vote for their acting now.

     That's three votes in favor of acting now (one with a risk of the Court being changed in response) and one "doesn't matter."  This would play out exactly the same way if the Democrats held the Presidency and Senate and were facing a close election.  While there's plenty of high-minded moralizing over the choice on all sides, this is really what it boils down to.  The Republicans aren't going to wait -- and neither would the Democrats if they were in the same position.

     This is not about emotion or consistency; it's not about tradition or noble ideals.  It's a fancy kind of chess game, played for very high stakes in the real world, and the players are all considerably cooler-headed than they'd like you to believe.  They've all worked out this set of choices and results, and they are betting you haven't.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Pandemic Response And Liberty

      I keep stumbling over alarmist articles about how inimical the response of the various levels of government has been to liberty.

     Not seeing it.  If you want to point to widespread "lockdowns*" -- all now ended in the U.S. -- as economically damaging, you're right.  Since all the other kids -- oops, countries -- had jumped off that cliff, there was no getting around the macro-scale harm; local and state-level shut-downs have hurt small businesses not deemed essential.  At best, we've got a recession underway and it may be worse.  There's no undoing it.  And with the business shutdowns came limitations on the size of any gathering of unrelated people.†  As an early response to an unknown virus that was spread by prolonged close contact, that was just about the only measure public health officials could take until there was an adequate supply of masks.  

     Those sweeping restrictions have all been rolled back.  That's the nature of public health restrictions: they follow not the whims of officialdom but our best knowledge of the illness.  There are still limitations in many areas on the environments known to be especially friendly to the spread of this and similar viruses: a loud bar, with people check by jowl for hours, yelling at one another over the music, is a prime situation.  Dining too close together indoors is a known hazard.  So we've got limits.  They're less in places where you can leave your mask on, so much less that the retail establishments around here are almost back to normal, with maximum occupancy limits set at 75 percent of the Fire Marshal's pre-pandemic numbers.  Since they rarely got that crowded back then, it's the difference between a speed limit of 60 and one of 45 on a narrow, winding road.

     Mask requirements aren't an infringement of your liberty, no more than the health requirements to wear shoes and shirts inside businesses.  The whining and outrage over a simple piece of cloth or paper mystifies me.  And the spread of misinformation is simply staggering.  (I have sat in doctor's offices three time since this began, masked and with a blood-oxygen monitor clipped to my finger; it reads the same 98 to 97 percent that it did when I wasn't wearing a two-layer cloth mask.  True, I wasn't running a marathon or bricklaying, but I endure doctor's offices in a kind of harshly suppressed panic, so I'm not exactly "at rest," either.)

     All of these things will run their course, and go away as soon as we're through this pandemic.  That's the nature of public health actions; eventually, the mumps or scarlet fever run their course and the County Health Commission takes the sign off the door and you don't have to get your groceries delivered.

     It's easy to glibly claim that government restrictions once imposed are never lifted -- and it is true that due to government interference, still aren't allowed to dig your well right next to your privy, those despots! -- but public health measures put in place to combat the spread of disease end once the disease has run its course or been fully controlled.  If this were not the case, we'd still all be wearing masks that were required during the 1917 - 20 influenza pandemic and all the public swimming places closed in response to polio outbreaks would still be shut down.  Government incursions like taxes, payroll withholding and professional licensing only persist if they're getting something from them. Cui buono?  If it doesn't put money in their pockets, it doesn't stick around.  Especially if it irks the electorate.

     Governments don't like depressions, and strive to avoid them.  They're not happy with pandemics with big death tolls and multiple days of lost work sweeping through the populations that elect 'em, either.  There's nothing good in that for them.

     I do not trust the goodwill of government -- and I don't have to.  I can rely on their greed and self-interest to set them to work getting us through this mess in the best -- and most taxable -- condition they can manage.

     If all you're doing is whining and spreading misinformation (a lot of it sourced from Russia's FSB-run rumor mills and "news" outlets, when you can track it back), then I don't have time for you.
___________________________
*  You were never locked down, Karen.  Nobody nailed your door shut and you could go out jogging or even drive the Audi whenever you liked.  But the Snip'n'Blow was closed, and that charming little antique store where you found those lovely lamps, and you couldn't get into Kroger or the IGA unless you wore a mask and isn't it just so awful.  No, it isn't.  Grow up.

† If you had ten children, four grandparents and assorted aunts and uncles all under one roof, or if your entire commune amounted to a larger population than the smallest towns, nobody was going to roust you out.  It's not just gathering in one group, it's that the group shares the same volume of air, and then goes home to their families -- or to other groups.  That's how illnesses spread.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Political-Ad Season

      Ah, the wonders of every even-year Autumn!  The crisp air, the apple cider, the bountiful garden harvests -- well, other people's bountiful garden harvests, we kind of dropped the ball* -- and the endless political ads.

     I'd like to tell you this year they're a cut above, issue-focused commercials from smart politicians with clear plans, but it's the same old glurge only worse, two motherhoods and an apple pie in every pot and a promise to follow their Party's line, just as soon as they know what it is.

     Give me a set of Punch & Judy puppets and cage of inebriated monkeys, and I'll give you a collection of candidates for political office -- and the monkeys will throw less dung.

     This regular performance should help keep us from becoming too fond of our office-holders, and yet willing to allow them to entertain one another with their feats of loyalty, camel-swallowing and gnat-straining.  I have a very short list of candidates I approve of, a longer list of ones I will vote for just to spite the twits, and a tiny list to hold-my-nose-and-vote for.  But I need to do more research before my loathing is ripe.
____________________________
* The tiny garden has nightshade and pokeweed, violets and honeysuckle, and some feral garlic chives. I think we got rid of all the poison ivy in it, at least.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

And Yet...

     Nasty comments about the recently-departed Supreme Court Justice continue to arrive.

     Look, if you didn't like her decisions, well, she's gone.  You don't need to keep pouring vitriol on her corpse.  I won't let you do so in the comments section of my blog.

     Also, why are you even reading my blog?  I'm an anarcho-libertarian, not a conservative.  You're not going to get a steady diet of ideas you will like from me.  And I am not going to join in your childish game of personalities.

     P.S.: I have sidelined any comment that was in any way critical.  Even the mildest.  Go make comments about someone who can answer them back.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

An X-ray Of The Soul

      The passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has certainly offered a peek into the hearts of many of my Facebook "friends."  It has not been a uniformly pleasant or uplifting look.

     Okay, fine, her opinions differed from yours.  On many issues, they differed from mine, too.  But she was a good lawyer, she took her job seriously and she did her homework.  She was a little old lady and now she's dead.  It's not weakness to show a little respect.  If you can't do that, at least keep your fool yap shut until she's had a proper funeral.

     I'm sure there will be a knock-down, drag-out fight over the next Supreme Court Justice (not to mention the meta-fight over the question of digging into it now or waiting until after the election).  Why can't you at least wait until that mess gets underway? 

Friday, September 18, 2020

New Day, Same As Before

      No, I'm wrong -- today also includes my desktop computer and/or Firefox acting up after I absent-mindedly left it on all day yesterday. I have backups, including the nice old MacBook I keep in my bedroom. I did have to shut the door to keep the cat from jumping on it, poor guy. He wants attention and can usually get it when I am on a computer.

     I have nothing else to say that doesn't boil down to "Get off of my lawn."  You don't care to read that and I don't care to write it.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Nothing

      Sorry, it's another morning of nothing to say.

     Well, the truth is, I have a lot to say, but half of it is depressing and other half will start arguments.  Haven't we all got something better to do?

     And so I say nothing.  Go read a book.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

"Look How Well Sweden Is Doing!"

      Without comment, COVID-19 deaths per million for Sweden, other Nordic countries (which have broadly similar cultures and governments) and the United States as of 16 September 2020:

Sweden.......574.6 deaths per million population
Denmark......109.2
Finland.......61.4
Norway........49.9
Iceland.......28.3
U.S. ........598.8


     This can be taken as a rough proxy for hospitalizations at ten or more times the rate, and as an even rougher proxy for infections.  As treatment improves, the ratio of deaths to hospitalizations (or to infections) declines -- and the lower the rate, the more people will get the advantage of those improvements.

     While the U.S. doesn't look so great in that chart, if you lump us with all of the EU, our death rate puts us somewhere in the middle third of the group, neither the worst nor the best.

     Sources: Statista's "COVID-19 deaths per capita" page and "Mortality Analysis" at Johns Hopkins.  The JHU page gives deaths per 100K, so you've got to move the decimal for deaths per million.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

So, Tuesday

     And here we are, Tuesday.  I'm still not getting enough sleep.  Can't I just hibernate until 2020 is over?