Wednesday, September 30, 2020

I Watched The Debate Last Night...

      I watched the debate last night while sorting through my bedroom closet.  It is a measure of the times that my closet is still mostly loaded up with winter clothes -- from last winter -- and an assortment of tops and skirts I won't part with but rarely wear.  There were quite a few tops that were too small to begin with, or that are too small now (who barely rode her bicycle in the summer of 2020? Me.)  It was crowded.  None of my clothing was in any particular order. One sweater appeared to have been moth-eaten!

     The debate was similar right down to the moth-holes, though with less decorum.  If you liked President Trump going in, well, he wasn't any different to how he always is.  If you preferred former Vice-President Biden before the debate, he was his usual self, too.  If you were undecided about who to vote for before the debate, you're probably wondering now if you should vote at all.

     You should vote.  Even if neither of the Big Two candidates appeal to you, there are other ones on the ballot (or you could even vote against the one you like least).  There are plenty of other offices up for election this time, too, and every one of them is someone lower down in the food chain and more likely to listen and respond to your concerns.

     A commenter on a local TV station's web page suggested the next Presidential debate was, "...going to be a fistfight in a Chili's parking lot."  And so what if it is?  Those men are apparently the finest choices their Parties could dredge up; there's a lot of up-and-coming talent in the lower contests to vote for (or against) and if we don't cull 'em now, nothing's going to get any better.  So vote.

     Here's a little contrast: John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon debating in 1960.  This is how it used to be.  Since then, we have put men on the moon and put TV sets and computers in your shirt pocket.  Imagine if we had made the same progress in the conduct of debates.

     I'd like to put the candidates in soundproof glass quiz-show booths.  When it's one participant's turn, the lights and microphone in their booth are on; when it's not their turn, they're off.  A timer or two in front of each booth keeps track of how much time each one gets per question and in total.  When there's an open discussion, both booths have lights and a live microphone; when the moderator speaks, both booths are dark and silent.  You'll never see this.  No Presidential candidate would ever agree to it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fall Indeed

      The temperature fell steadily yesterday afternoon and evening.  By bedtime, a steady trickle of cool air was coming in though a couple of partially-open windows and I was trundling off to dreamland under a pile of fresh covers, complete with blanket and quilt, the room spinning steadily all the while--

      Yes, spinning.  There's a lot of stuff in the air this time of year and I do have mild allergies.  Last night, they were not so mild.  It didn't keep me awake.  I made my peace with Coriolis and drifted off, both tomcats sleeping near my feet.   

Monday, September 28, 2020

Mailbag: Masks, "Karen" and Pandemics

      First off, I'm going to recommend John Barnes' Daybreak trilogy to my readers (again!).   Starting with Directive 51, the three novels offer an engrossing exploration of destructive memes,* civil disunity and the weak points of technological civilization.  I read it going into the current pandemic and it was a kind of inoculation against some of the worst of the candy-coated bad ideas presently floating around.  And they happen to be good books, too.
*  *  *
     Okay, now to dig in: I have received several comments about my piece on masks that I'm not going to publish.  They mostly repeat some very dangerous and untrue memes,*  and I am not going to give those ideas any more traction than they have already got.

     I do have to mention them in order to dismiss them:
     Several comments took as given the incorrect idea that cloth masks are intended to protect the person wearing them.  Nope.  They do offer some limited protection, but the main purpose behind them is to protect the people around the wearer.†  This is the exact same reason for surgical masks in operating rooms and the exact same reason people in Japan, Korea and some other Far-East countries wear masks when they have a cold or the flu.  When you wear a mask, you are protecting society -- and not in some abstract sense of the term, either: we're talking about your friends, your neighbors and the other people you encounter where you live, work and shop.

     In the context of masks, a couple of commenters accused "Karens" of giving them the stink-eye or making comments for not wearing masks.  One commenter even threatened violence against any store clerk or manager who might ask them to mask up or leave!  But in fact, what a "Karen" tries to do is impose her (or his) desires on unwilling others.  Since the mask you (should) wear protects other people from you, if you refuse to wear a mask in stores, at work, etc., you are the Karen here, imposing your desire to not be inconvenienced over their desire to not catch whatever it is you might have.

     Other commenters tried to use numbers and amateur statistical analysis to support their point.  Yeah, no: look at the planet as a whole.  The places that cracked down fastest and hardest slowed viral spread down to a crawl, and people in those countries were able to get back to work and open up stores earliest -- while continuing to wear masks, wash their hands frequently and maintain physical distance to keep the virus from spreading unchecked.  It works.  People in the U.S.  were never going to stand for the kinds of extreme measures Red China employed, but we have (mostly) done what we could, with a lot of pushback, and it shows in our mixed results.  We have not done as bad as the worst; we have not done as well as the best.  The good old U.S.A. is a "C" student here and it bugs just about everyone who grew up knowing what a great country this is. 

     I have never disputed the economic harm that came from widespread shut-downs but they are largely over.  The economic harm from a raging, unchecked pandemic would have been greater: we would have been hit harder than Italy at its worst.  The hospitality industry has suffered tremendously and will not recover for a long time; dining out is going to continue to be different and we're going to see fewer options, an easy phrase that translates into lost jobs for people in an income bracket that can least cope with it.  Tip well if you can afford it, and if you really like a establishment, be sure to get at least one meal a week there and tell all your friends.

     In the economic short-term, mass numbers of "sick" are as bad as smaller numbers of "dead" as far as a consumer economy is concerned, so (somewhat specious) back-of-envelope figures about "risk of death" don't impress me -- and they impress me even less when they don't take the capacity limits of hospitals into account.  This coronavirus makes far more people very ill for relatively long periods of time than it kills, and we have already seen examples overseas and (to an extent) in NYC of the kind of economic damage that can do as it sweeps though a neighborhood or a business. 

     Another commenter went off about masks and effectiveness, once again misunderstanding the vector of protection† and suggesting that his own experience with a gas mask in military training proved that an N95 mask without an exhale valve was impossible to use for any length of time.  Since I have been trained to use an APR (Air-Purifying Respirator, the civilian version of a full-face gas mask) and have used both valved and valveless N95s, I can speak to this: the canister filters in an APR or gas mask by design are easier to pull air through than blow it back out: the filter material is arranged in a gradient from coarse to fine for incoming air, and one's moist exhalation has to try to push the other way.  Those type masks are strapped on your head with thick, adjustable bands and one way to check the seals is to block the exhale valve and blow: they stay stuck on as air trickles very slowly backwards through the filters.  Conversely, while N95's have light elastic straps and must be properly fitted to avoid air ingress and egress around the edges, the filter material is homogeneous or symmetrically graded, and it takes no more effort to exhale through a valveless N95 than to inhale through it. And remember, while they do offer the wearer better protection against the virus, information from medical settings with exposure to infected patients shows that most of that protection is lost if the mask is taken off and put back on often.  Two-layer cloth masks are still the simplest, most easily used form of protection we have -- but they only work if we're all wearing them along with keeping our distance and washing our hands.

     We will get through this, and we will have sticks-in-the-mud, proudly maintaining their independence by refusing to wear masks, just as we have always had people who are proudly independent of dental hygiene or regular bathing, and such individuals often express puzzlement or anger at the way so many people will not come too near to them.  Funny how that works.

     I choose to wear a mask in indoor spaces other than my home.  Not because there's some damn rule or even law requiring it, but because I do not care to help this virus spread quickly enough to do any more harm than our health and support resources can cope with.  If you would rather make a fuss, well, I'm not the boss of you, but I can and will walk very wide of you.
* I am using "meme" in the original sense, a kind of "viral idea" that gets transmitted via in-person and Internet connection in a peer-to-peer way.  The cute pictures with pointed and/or funny captions came later.

† Confusion about this is one of the most dangerous memes floating around and if you sincerely believe that masks are supposed to protect the person wearing them rather than those around them, I am unlikely to change your mind.  You are broken and I feel very sorry for you.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Campbell, Heinlein, Piper...

      The "General Specialist."  Anyone who grew up reading the kind of Science Fiction John W. Campbell sought out and encouraged during his time as editor of Astounding, later Analog magazine will recognize the term and the idea behind it: that humans are adaptable and the best of us adapt readily and well as conditions change.

     I think Robert A. Heinlein and H. Beam Piper provided some of the best examples, though there were plenty of others -- certainly Eric Frank Russel's slightly more cynical heroes fit, and his most aspirational works suggested that intelligence and adaptability were going to be found in any dominant intelligent species.  At its worst, it could become a kind of tiresome "humanity ├╝ber alles" trope, but at its best, the idea inspired readers to learn and grow, to understand that figuring out what you needed to do to survive and then doing so was well within the grasp of anyone.

     The insight became so prevalent in SF that it was almost invisible unless it was being mocked (something the New Wave occasionally delighted in -- and there's no idea so wondrous that it is above question, after all).  Outside SF, it wasn't so obvious.

     What was obvious, at least to the scientists who study early man and emergence of clever hominids, was that there used to be a lot of upwardly-mobile primates with decent thumbs and big brains on our planet, and now there's just us.  So what happened?

     The archeological record suggests we ate some of 'em; the genetic record suggests we married some of 'em.  But that doesn't account for it, not even close -- and, really, while we have given up eating strangers (and friends), we're still marrying them and yet plenty of our much smaller differences to one another persist.  So we're still here, in all our different hues of eyes, hair and skin and what we'd like for dinner,* but the early cousins of our species are all gone.  What happened?

     We may have pushed them out by being more adaptable: homo sap. fills niches, from freezing cold to blistering hot, from humid climates to dry ones, from coastal plains to the highest valleys, our ancestors showed up, figured out where to find water, what plants grew there, what animals lived there, and which of them were good for dinner (not to mention which ones to look out for!).  And our cousins weren't as good at that.  If their climate changed too much, they were in trouble, while our ancestors were busy making new menus.

     Maybe we're just that adaptable.  And perhaps they weren't.
* I'm thinking pizza and an early dinner.

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


      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


      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
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?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Got That Done, Too

      The "next phase" of my long bedroom project was to hang my lightweight clothes hamper from the closet door.  This allows me to keep the hamper parked in front of that door -- just about the only space for it -- and still get at the closet without having to slide it out of the way.

     It's an aluminum frame with a mesh bag in it, so that's workable, at least as long as I don't load it up with wet towels.

     I'd gotten as far as working out the bottom support -- a shelf hanging from ornate brackets of the general type I like to use where there's sufficient clearance -- but attaching top so the thing wouldn't go flying when I moved the door had me working through a series of unwieldy, ugly solutions.  Then I realized one-hole conduit clamps would work nicely if I could find a size close enough to the tubes of the support frame for the hamper.  Shaped like a question mark, the clamps are hidden by the mesh bag in the hamper and the "half-inch"* size was just right.

     After this, I'll build either a big wardrobe/TV cabinet or a set of skinny shelves that will fit between my bed and the wall and hold another 11" shelf for storage cubes near the ceiling at the same height as the ones already along two walls.   The big cabinet will be tricky; it's got to have doors to keep cats out of the clothing and the size means I'll need to use a different style of construction, 2 x 2 frames holding lightweight panels (maybe perforated masonite) for the sides and probably 1 x 3 frames and panels for the doors.
* Conduit "trade sizes" are related to the inner diameter, but it's best to just accept them as relative designations and move on instead of getting too fussy over matching the size to a measurement.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Desk Surround Progress

      I spent some time yesterday and today working on the desk/dressing table surround in my bedroom, along with a  new high shelf that is anchored to it with loose dowels.
     It's coming along pretty well, I think.  There's still clutter to sort through and one more phase of the project, but so far, it's worked out about as I had hoped.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Feeling Better

      I was still feeling pretty bad through late Friday afternoon, and had made a doctor's appointment for Saturday morning.

     But late Friday, things improved suddenly.  It all appears to have been a new version of my nemesis, kidney stones.  The doctor concurred.

     Highly not recommended, but oh, what a relief when it is over.  Details will not be provided.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Superspreader? Supersoaker? Superscience?

      None of the above?

     Spin, spin, spin.  I've already read people claiming the President didn't say what he said on tape, with a handwavy "editing" offered in explanation.  Yeah, no, nobody's that good; more to the point, Bob Woodward's not that good: audio editing is as much art as science and you don't get good at it without doing a lot of it, hundreds and hundreds of hours.  Even then, it leaves traces, abrupt changes in background noise, changes in breathing patterns, changes in speech patterns.*  The comments are almost certainly context-stripped; conversations, especially lengthy ones, wander and expand and unless you have the entire tape, you'll never know quite how any snippet of it came to be.

     But, as I pointed out recently, it doesn't matter.  If you liked the President, you still will.  If you disliked him, you still will.

     The Sturgis motorcycle rally is another example.  Leading up to the event, it was already established that having a large number of people in confined indoor spaces for an extended length of time was an ideal situation to spread a respiratory virus, no matter if it was COVID-19 or the common cold.  ("Con crud," the nasty colds that run through science-fiction conventions, is an example that goes back decades.)  Outdoor events are much less predictable -- and Sturgis mixes both.

     Bikers, you may be surprised to learn, are not lab rats; they're not even very good experimental subjects.  There is no tally of who attended, where they came from, what routes they took or where they went afterward.  There's no "control group" of bikers who stayed home to compare them to.  There's no real data.

     Some economists did a study and inferred a fairly high number of additional infections among rally attendees, their families, and those with whom they came into contact; I read far enough into the news reports to glean that fact and marked it as "interesting but unsubstantiated."  The actual known case count -- people who were at Sturgis for the event, went in for testing or treatment afterward and tested positive for COVID-19 -- is two or three orders of magnitude smaller.  This all very interesting, but it doesn't tell us much; it just sets a lower and upper limit, with a very wide error band in between, and if you are engaged in a heated argument over it, you're fighting fog: we don't really know a darned thing either way.

     Telling people to "get the facts" when there aren't any facts isn't helpful.  Calling yourself a "skeptic" when your mind is made up is simply incorrect. 

     The world is, in fact, duller and less convoluted than it appears.  Most everyone is muddling through.  Some have less mud in their way; some have got a nice collection of tools to help cope with the muddiness; but the only people with a crystal-clear vision are either mistaken or delusional.  Not only is there a lot we don't know, there's a lot we can't know -- not because it's secret, sneaky machinations but because it is unknowable: life does not take place under laboratory conditions.

     It is very difficult to see what is really there instead of what we want to see, especially peering into the haze of uncertainty that is our actual world.  It's nevertheless rewarding to make the effort.
* One of the best analog-tape editors I have known learned her trade producing a talk show hosted by a local writer on public radio.  The host had a nice turn of phrase and an easy manner; he was a natural interviewer.  He also had a huge "um, er, ah, I meant to say..." habit that required hours of razor-blading to remove.  Edited, he was witty and erudite, moving deftly from topic to topic.  Unedited, his verbal grace was significantly less evident.  It was fun to play "find the edit" when listening to the show -- and became more difficult with every new one she did.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

You Probably Think I'm Going To Comment On Current Events

      Wondering what I have to say about the story that's leading TV newscasts and making headlines this morning?

     Keep wondering.  I've got nothing.  Oh, it was mildly surprising, but here is the thing:  It's not going to sway the opinion of a significant number of voters either way.  People's minds are made up.  So it's moot.

     Between now and November third and barring natural disaster or sneak attack, the only thing that might -- might -- change the opinions of voters would be, to update an old line to accommodate Ms. Harris, catching a Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate in bed with a dead member of the opposite sex or a live member of the same sex, and I'm not entirely sure even that would do it.

     Come November, you have your choice of septuagenarians, each one with a VP chosen to appeal to their base. Or, of course, the various third-party candidates.  I usually go for the LP's pick -- not because I think they will win, but because I'd rather see them in the job than either of the candidates that are going to come in first and second and that's the only way I have of communicating my opinion.

     But I'm not going to tell you how to vote.  We all pull the lever and take our chances.  Even bad choices are better than no choice.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Pro Tip

      If your comments are paranoid speculation, they're not going to get published.  That goes double if they are highly partisan and triple if you're pushing conspiracy-theory nuttiness. 

     I do not think well of either major political party here in the U. S. and I have an even lower opinion of the fool idea that, "The other guys are so evil that you must support the side I favor."  This is the United States; I don't have to like any side at all.  I'm not required to vote for any person or party -- I'm not even required to vote at all, and neither are you.

     If you are unable to grow up, at least go peddle the crazy somewhere else.

2020: Direct To Video

      2020 is the worst monster movie ever.  This remake of The Andromeda Strain is lousy.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Should Have Written About Labor Day

      ...I should have written about Labor Day (like why it is when it is in this country), but the way this year is going, we should probably get Labor Week.

     "Should," like so many things for those of us who work for a living, is not that same as "is" and so off to work I go.

Monday, September 07, 2020

You're Soaking In It

     An online acquaintance, someone at least thirty years younger than I am, was viewing-with-alarm the other day: "I don;t want the world to become a kind of electronic panopticon, infested with a social credit system like Red China, where people get deplatformed or "cancelled" for Wrongthink!"

     It's a noble sentiment, but I think it's too late, possibly -- possibly! -- moot and askew from human nature.

     Taking those points one at a time:

     Too Late: I grew up in a world where you got a Social Security number when you entered the workforce, and were issued a flimsy little piece of cardboard with some of Uncle Sam's nice engraving, your name blurrily picked out in all caps by some kind of computerized printer, and a neatly-printed little notice: "NOT TO BE USED FOR IDENTIFICATION."  My parents had received theirs about the time they first got their own ration cards, and their parents--  Their parents had taken a dim view of the whole notion, another one of that over-reaching Roosevelt's schemes, this one cribbed from that scary lunatic Francis Townsend.   In that long-ago world, you might have been able to look up someone's name from their phone number or address, if you went to the library and looked it up in a city directory -- and your local library probably only had a current one for your town.  The librarian and the clerks at the bookstore and the five-and-dime were the only people who knew what books you were reading.  --And we were worried about invasions of privacy by things like yearly automobile inspections* and all those nosy questions on  the U. S. Census.†  As long as you kept the shades drawn and avoided breaking the law, nobody know what you were up to inside, John Bircher and Commie alike (though all those IMPEACH EARL WARREN stickers on the thicker corner fenceposts made it pretty clear which group was in ascendance.) Mow your yard oddly, though, and you might be the talk of the street.  This was the world that my grandparents thought was a bit too privacy-invaded by The Government and my parents admitted, well, yes, it was, but what are you gonna do?

     Possibly Moot: The Internet still interprets censorship as damage, and still routes around it.  It does the same thing with platforms.  The Eternal September eventually killed Usenet; MySpace collapsed of its own...something or other, possibly inertia.  Today's huge, dominating platform is very likely to become #YesterdaysNews, especially once it commences pushing people overboard for any flavor of wrongness.  Of course, this works as well for bad people as it does for nice ones -- possibly better.  But it always has.  The ISPs and national/international regulation of them is a weak point (with one bright spot), but the genie (GEnie?) is well and truly out of the lamp and it's not going back.

     Askew From Human Nature: Let's go back to the earlier generations I was writing about.  My grandparents grew up in tiny communities.  You could leave your past (mostly) behind by pulling up stakes and moving far away -- but you had to put them back down again at your new location.  People gossiped.  People visited.  If you never dusted behind the furniture, your neighbors knew about it.  If you had loud arguments, your neighbors knew about it.  If you were scrupulously honest in your dealings -- or not -- everyone knew about it.  No radio, no TV: idle talk was a major form of entertainment. 
       My parents grew up in small towns, often on the edge of larger ones; they graduated from the same High School a few years apart, with each class having less than fifty people,.  By the time I was twelve, I knew all their names.  Just from overhearing.  I only met a few, but they all kept in touch with one another; they knew what the others were up to.  They, well, gossiped.  And they kept track of the other people they went to a school with, and their neighbors and their teachers, shopkeepers and civil servants. A very few of them did things of which the rest disapproved, and were ostracized for it. Is any of this starting to sound familiar?  Social anonymity is a relatively recent phenomenon.
     This is how human beings are wired up. Inserting some electronics and code into the process does not change its fundamental nature.

    So, Panopticon? You're soaking it it. Just as all you ancestors did. Most of them didn't have electric lights; few of them enjoyed running water. Social interaction has gotten the same kind of technological upgrade, but the people driving the interacting have not changed.
* Bit of a scam, bit of a good idea: cars wore out a lot faster back then and if you were, say, a teenager driving a twenty-dollar Ford Falcon, you were probably not going to replace the brake shoes until they'd scared you, or a turn-signal bulb until a policeman had warned you.  On the other hand, plenty of garages either used them to drum up business, or give your car a lick and prayer and handed over a sticker for a small and rapid profit.

† I dodged the Census twice because of discomfort with all the questions.  "Enumerate," fine, but until the flush toilets in my house get the vote, I still don't see any reason for the Federal government to know how many I have.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Well, Now

      Firefox was very crashy; I cleared out the fattest cookies, deleted Cache2 and did a "restore Firefox," which is supposed to cure such ills, which that made it much, much worse instead.

     Dammit.  I don't like Edge and I don't want to have to try to move all my saved stuff over to it.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Maybe Later

      Today's blog post of any content will have to be written later.  Today is a mess -- misremembered the time for a doctor's appointment, feeling lousy in a slightly new way, and so on.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Where Did I Have Them Last?

      Not much change, but one minor triumph -- after a lapse.

     Wednesday, abut dinner time, I needed the spare set of house keys.  There's a hook we keep them on, but when I went to get them, the keys weren't there.

     I wasn't entirely sure when I had last used them.  Checking all the obvious places didn't turn them up.  Eventually, I gave up and went to bed.  It would be easier to find them with daylight anyway.

     Woke up this morning and still felt lousy, but between trying to work from home and napping, I kept looking.  I kept going back to the jeans I wore to the doctor's on Sunday, folded over a pile of pillows for later, since I'd only had them on for a couple of hours.  Nothing.

     In early evening, I was looking for my favorite leather belt.  I'd misplaced, it, too, but it showed up under the jeans and a pillow.  As I picked it up, something else hit the floor with a clunk.  I couldn't find it at first; I was looking for something larger than what the cause turned out to be.

     Yes, the spare keys, which had probably fallen out of the jeans pocket when I first put the jeans there -- fallen onto a pillow, silently.

     Another reminder to put things back in their proper place promptly after use.  You'd think I would have learned that by now. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Keeping On

      Nothing else to be done, really.  I'm taking my prescribed medicine, doing what the doctors tell me to do, and things seem to be slowly improving.  Actually went in to work yesterday, and got some things done.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Is There Nothing People Won't Try To Spin?

      On one level, I get it.  We're the optimistic primates, who will try everything when confronted by adversity and figure out what works by seeing who survives. We're the species that understands the joke about the fellow who jumps off a very tall building, and when someone yells, "How's it going?" as he passes the halfway point, he shouts back, "Okay so far!"

     This is who we are at a very basic level.  It crops up over and over in our myths and our genetic history: we squeak our way through long odds and one of the reasons why is that we tend to make up our own version of reality and stick to it -- and the people whose version was too far askew, well, they encounter abrupt correction from the physical world and adapt, or they're not around later.

     But this trait, frustrating and admirable as it is, gets in the way of just looking at the evidence and not trying to hammer it into the pattern we want to see.  And yet that's the first step in understanding anything: seeing what's really there and no more, without preconceptions.

     It's hard work.  Peel away one layer of "It ought to be.." and "It's supposed to be.." and there is another one underneath.  But it's worthwhile work.

     Not everything is hype.  Not everything fits neatly on one "side" or another.  We would do well to remember it.