The Virus Virus

This article in the Daily Mail in Britain is contrarian and provocative and interesting.

I’m not sure I agree with Mr. Hitchens, but I agree with part of his sentiment: there is, without a doubt, a portion of public policy that is over-reaction.  It is almost inevitable, just as it was after 9/11.  The dynamic is inescapable: nobody ever got re-elected by declaring that things are moderately bad but not disastrous and we should all stay cool and calm and take some reasonable measures but not get carried away.  No, no– much better to say, “Extreme Situations call for Extreme Measures!”.  Let’s make it an acronym we can glibly roll off our tongues:  ESCEM.   Do you want to be responsible for any deaths that are the result of your lax prescriptions?  I see.  Then you will vote for my Patriot Act or my FISA courts or quarantine in place or whatever.  You will consent to torture and arbitrary imprisonment.  You will not vote me out of office because I continue to enable $300 million a year expenditures on a prison in Guantanamo that holds 34 prisoners without warrant or trial or habeas corpus.

This is something Mr. Trump has learned, as you can diagram from his earlier comments to his more recent dire warnings.  Yes, they did some polling, and they found out that most voters want the government to be worried.  Conventional political wisdom is that they will forgive over-reaction, but never indifference.

Someone on the news the other day said that governments can’t really go wrong in over-reacting.  You mean, like Iraq?  HUAC?  Viet Nam?

One thing that is verifiable:  the number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 includes a substantial number of people with other life-threatening conditions.  So we have a phenomenon that should not be unknown to critics of #metoo.  If an individual has emotional or psychological problems and anxiety and depression and was not sexually abused, then their dysfunction is caused by emotional or psychological problems and anxiety and depression.  But if they have emotional or psychological problems and anxiety and depression and were ever sexually abused, then their dysfunction is always caused by sexual abuse.  There is no other cause.

Obviously, this can’t be true, but it is widely and deeply believed.

In the same way, a certain portion — perhaps a large portion– of any deaths of any individual with Covid-19 will be attributed to Covid-19 even if the patient, as is likely, had other serious health conditions.  To this day, the number of deaths attributed to SARS includes elderly victims who were already near death and likely to have died soon anyway.

If I am right you are in for a mild surprise: the number of cases will diminish before you expect them too, and the number of deaths will not meet the most dire forecasts.  There are a lot of idiots saying this but not everything an idiot says is untrue.

The Covid-19 pandemic can only be prevented from resurging when at least half the world’s population has become immune to the new virus. And that can happen in only one of two ways: After enough people have been infected and have recovered, or have been inoculated with a vaccine.  N.Y.Times

 

 

 

 

Post PTSD Syndrome

“In many cases, more deliberate attempts to process the trauma – for example, trying to think it through or talk it through with friends and family – were actually associated with worse PTSD. The children who didn’t recover well were those that reported spending a lot of time trying to make sense of their trauma. While some efforts to make sense of trauma might make sense, it seems that it is also possible for children to get ‘stuck’ and spend too long focusing on what happened and why.

Shocking.

No, it’s not.  Researchers have hit upon the amazing observation that when well-meaning therapists, parents, teachers, and others make obsessive efforts to treat children for conditions that do not exist but which are projected onto them actually make things worse.  “You’re in shock.”  “No, I’m fine.”  “You’re in denial.”  “No, I’m just fine.”  “Oh, now you’re repressing it.  You need to get it out or you will have symptoms.”   “I don’t have any symptoms.”  “You pathetic human being: you won’t even deal with your issues.”  “Well, maybe I am having a few symptoms.”

Did you know that many high schools where there has been a shooting actually require students to be “treated” by a therapist in order to “process” their trauma?  This is justified with the pathetic medical analogy argument: would you allow a person who comes into a hospital with a broken leg to leave without getting a cast?   No, but your hospital will have him leave with a broken arm, a fractured pelvis, and a broken leg.  If he came to the hospital with a depression, he would probably leave with anxiety, PTSD, BPD, and an addiction.  And depression.  And medications, some of which treat the side effects of other medications.

*

Have you ever heard of “grief counsellor”, which is my nominee for the stupidest phrase ever coined in the last fifty years?

 

The Meaning of Facts

In his highly entertaining book, The Seven Types of Atheism, released in October in the U.S., philosopher John Gray puts it this way: “Religion is an attempt to find meaning in events, not a theory that tries to explain the universe.” It exists because we humans are the only species, so far as we can know, who have evolved to know explicitly that, one day in the future, we will die. And this existential fact requires some way of reconciling us to it while we are alive.   Andrew Sullivan in The Intelligencer.

The obvious question is, how can an event be meaningful if you don’t believe there is any meaning to all events– to the random conglomeration of events and things and ideas make up the universe?  If you can’t explain the universe, what meaning could an individual event have?  Other than, as some agnostics would have it, part of a life that is no less wonderful and amazing because it is limited to our lived experiences?

If you see an ant crawling along a box car, you could say that it is trying to get to a certain location.  Does that matter if the boxcar is going somewhere else?  Is the ant’s purposeful journey meaningful, if he can never possibly get back to his nest, or the food he is looking for?

Conversely, if an event is meaningful because it is part of a narrative of your relationship with an almighty creator, then how can you not draw conclusions about the nature of the universe from the meaning that you give your life?

 

Biological Annihilation

This sneaky little article in the New York Times seem to come out of nowhere– as the authors observed.  No one’s paying attention.  We better start.

It begins with observable detail.  If you are old enough, you will remember the annoying task of cleaning bugs off the windshield of your car after a drive in the country.  I remember it.  I remember how hard it was to get those messy little splatters off the glass, even if you used Windex or windshield washer.  You’d always had to take a second run at it to get the most persistent little blotches.

If you rode motorcycles, like I did for a time, you knew the experience of getting bugs into your eyes and mouth while racing along in the countryside.  Constantly.  There was no escape.

It turns out that we might be headed for a big, big problem.  Where are the bugs?

I look forward to the pesticide industry– which is surely studing the brilliant success of the oil (carbon) industry in sewing doubt about climate change — starting a campaign to try to convince people that 1) there are really more bugs than ever before,  2) pesticides do not harm bugs (except when they do, as advertised, and 3) suburban home-owners use more pesticides than farmers.  After a few years, and after these theories have been debunked, the arguments will become:  1) yes, there are fewer bugs, but the bats are to blame and 2) what’s the problem?  Do you like bugs?  3) pesticides actually eliminate predators of bugs.

A few years later and the strategy becomes, 1) all right, so we are causing the bugs to die, but you can’t sacrifice good farm jobs just to save a mosquito or two.   2)  it’s too late to do anything anyway.  3) don’t worry– by the time we die because the food chain is disrupted by the annihilation of insects, we’ll already have been killed by global warming.

At not point will anyone in the pesticide or farming industries admit that they were wrong.

 

 

 

 

Re. Noah’s Ark:

There 400,000 species of beetles
12,000 types of ants
20,000 of bees

The Polarities

The heart of the gulf between political parties and constituencies in the U.S. is wonderfully rendered by this beauty, a conflict between Big Sugar and People Who Care About the Health of Your Children, usually embodied in evil incarnate: the government.

Big Sugar, deeply aware of what happened to Big Tobacco, are cleverly trying to pre-empt any attempts by progressives to raise the taxes on sugary drinks.

Let’s step back for a moment.  Several big corporations, represented by associations with anodyne titles, produce a product, sugary drinks (pop and juices) that are scientifically proven to cause major health problems to their consumers, namely, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.   The health care system will eventually have to provide expensive care for a predictable percentage of these consumers as a result of their consumption of these products.  There is no confusion here, no “alternative facts”: the over-consumption of sugary drinks leads to tooth decay, obesity,  heart disease, and diabetes, for a large number of people.  Big Sugar does not contribute one penny towards the medical care that will eventually be required by this population of consumers.  You and I will pay that cost, through our taxes and increased premiums for health insurance.  The health care required by an obese 30-year-old with diabetes is part of the real cost of the product.

You and I are subsidizing the sugar industry.   They don’t subsidize you.   The leaders of this industry pay themselves lavishly and their investors reliably.  There is good money to be made in selling poison.

They don’t need our additional help: they already receive massive government handouts aimed at the corn industry which provides the basic ingredients of these products.  The government does not provide anything like this subsidy to the growers of broccoli or kale or spinach or carrots or anything else that might be nutritious: there is not nearly as much profit at stake for shareholders and investors in those crops.  Vegetable growers need to study the lobbying skills of the Sugary Drinks Industry: the rewards can be monstrous.

So your government not only tolerates the production and sale of products that negatively affect your health: they actually sponsor them.  The same way the Trump Administration is now actually subsidizing polluting industries like coal mining and taking away subsidies from clean energy like wind and solar.

So Big Sugar has sponsored several ballot initiatives presented as legislation that will prevent city governments from adding taxes to any groceries purchased within the state.  They advertise these initiatives with anodyne phrases about stopping out-of-control governments from taxing poor people and adding to their grocery bills and inhibiting the pursuit of happiness and joy and pleasure.  This clever ruse appears to be working in some states.  When asked, voters are enthusiastic: stop the tax.  When it is explained that the soft drink makers are sponsoring the bill, they are surprised.  They didn’t know.  The soft drink makers are spending millions on advertising; their opponents have much, much less money.

The thing is, no city is contemplating adding taxes to groceries.  Just to soft drinks.  Like Philadelphia, which has seen a 40% decrease in consumption since they imposed a tax on sugary drinks, and Berkeley.

Conservatives believe in freedom.  Freedom!  That means tearing up the wilderness with your ATV, while shooting at aluminum beer cans with an A-15 semi-automatic rifle, drinking your Coca Cola and eating more fries, and being bankrupted when you finally do come down with diabetes or wipe out on your ATV or shoot yourself in the foot because you can’t afford health insurance.

Is this a caricature?  Some people deserve a caricature.  Like the Texas pastor who disbanded a football team because a couple of black players took a knee during the anthem.   Because he believes it disrespects the valiant warriors who gave their lives in Viet Nam because Lyndon Johnson couldn’t bring himself to admit that he had failed.   The Texas Pastor was absolutely well-meaning, even kind; he had had the black players overnight in his house.  One of them was a good friend of his son’s.  He was still ridiculously wrong.  Ridiculous because there is nothing inherently disrespectful about taking a knee during the anthem, and, arguably, it is more respectful of the anthem and the flag than anything those attentive white people standing up and looking at their smart phones have in them.

The Democrats, and progressives, think it might be wiser to discourage excessive consumption of sugary drinks, reduce the rate of diabetes and obesity, and encourage people to get more exercise and eat healthier foods.  They think it might be wise for everyone to have health insurance.

But I don’t want the government telling me what to do!

Well, it’s pretty hard to argue with that.  Nobody likes being told what to do.   But government eventually got around to fighting Big Tobacco (though they largely sold out in the end, accepting a lot of money in exchange for not banning it altogether) and most people now accept the legislation that restricted their ability to enjoy tobacco products where-ever and whenever they pleased.

Government still largely restricts–severely– the consumption of marijuana, which, arguably, does less harm than Coca Cola because most people will not use it, and most users will not smoke more than a few joints a week.

The Government doesn’t allow builders to put asbestos in houses anymore.  Cars have to meet minimum safety requirements, as do cribs and pajamas.    A lot of lives are better because of government “telling you what to do”.

Eventually, enough people might come around to accepting the idea that sugary drinks should cost more to help cover the cost of the damage they do to public health.  In the meantime, progressive leaders will continue to be the target of ridicule and scorn by Republicans.  The “nanny” state.  Extremists.  Communists!  The “elites”.  (I don’t know what you call multi-billionaire stockholders and investors, if not “elites”).

Of course, sometimes it means that corporations get to tell you what to do instead.  Like pay 150% interest on “pay-day” loans, or $13,000 for a few stitches, or allow sugary cereals, candy and soft drinks to be marketed directly to your children on Saturday mornings and during Christmas movies.  Movies, like “A Christmas Carol”, about a heartless capitalist who inflicts misery on everyone he knows in order to increase his personal wealth.

America now has a serious problem with polarization of the electorate, meaning that the middle ground of acceptable political compromise is no longer available.  If I win, you lose, and vice versa.  And it’s not the fault of both sides.  To blame both sides would be to accept a false equivalency.  Just because some Democrats are just as polarizing as most Republicans does not make them the same.  Obama clearly offered to work with the Republicans in Congress; the Republicans clearly decided that, even if it hurt the nation, they would not cooperate with anything Obama wanted to do.  They placed their own political interest ahead of the country’s.

Two sides finding each other incomprehensible to each other, like those who believe that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the greatest pop song every recorded, and those who, like me, find it absolute rubbish.

I’m not pessimistic.  I believe that eventually the chickens will come home to roost and people will begin to realize just what a bad idea Donald Trump was.

 

 

 

The Persistent Idiocy of Climate Change Deniers

Ah sheesh. Just when I thought I found a website that was serious about challenging the IPCC report on climate change, you find this: “The foundation was established in November 2009, shortly after the start of the Climatic Research Unit email controversy, with its headquarters in a room at the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, subsequently moved to 55 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QL. Its director is Benny Peiser,[7][8] an expert on the social and economic aspects of physical exercise, and it is chaired by former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson.[9]”

An expert on … what? In a room… where? So, who’s funding you? They won’t tell, while insisting that opponents are funded by the environmental “industry”. Of course. Then they had to admit that a graph showing the temperature declining was “in error”.

“People such as Lord Lawson [a board member] are not skeptical, for if one major peer-reviewed piece of scientific research were ever to be published casting doubt on climate change theory, you just know they’d have it up in neon at Piccadilly Circus. ”  They only doubt science that gets in the way of profits.  But hey, if you get cancer, you’re free to choose a chiropractor over a physician if you really want to.

This kind of BS is exactly why reasonable, open-minded people have very little reason to credit the climate-change deniers. You do a search, survey the pro and con sites, and find the deniers are embarrassingly thin on the science, the logic, transparency, and integrity. And without exception, are funded by the carbon industry, oil and coal.

[whohit]The Persistent Idiocy of Climate Change Deniers[/whohit]

Global Total Failure

Since 1980, the obesity rate has doubled in 73 countries and increased in 113 others. And in all that time, no nation has reduced its obesity rate. Not one.  Huffington Post

That is a startling statistic.

It is worse than the frustrating statistics on education, which, in the U.S. at least, never seem to get better.  Nobody can point to a school system that is doing the thing that gets better results and which can be adapted to all the other school systems so that they all improve.  There are systems that have improved their results somewhat, but never, it seems definitively.  Nobody can go to a failing system and say, “it’s simple: just do what these guys did and you will get the same results”.

We know that Finland does great with their schools.  They don’t give their children homework.  There: try that in Peoria.

Anyway, back to obesity, reread that quote: not one nation has succeeded in reducing the obesity rate.

So, obesity is normal.  It really is, when you think about it.  Developed nations have certain things in common about it’s food production: the massive overproduction of sugary calories in junk food and excessively sweetened other foods.  These are profit centers for the “food” industry.  As long as governments refuse to legislate policies that diminish the supply of bad foods, the populations will not resist stuffing themselves with them.

Every single one of those nations is doing something fundamentally wrong and can’t see it.

I’m perpetually perplexed by the obesity issue.

Just 4 percent of agricultural subsidies go to fruits and vegetables. No wonder that the healthiest foods can cost up to eight times more, calorie for calorie, than the unhealthiest—or that the gap gets wider every year.

What if a town decided that it would no longer allow the food industry a free hand in providing endless supplies of fattening foods?  What if banned displays at store counters of racks and racks of sugar-coated candies and chocolate bars?  What if it required restaurants, like car makers, to meet a certain set of standards so that the average nutritional value of the foods served meets a certain minimum?

What if– simplest solution ever– it imposed a tax on sugary foods that reflected the increased costs of health care caused by their consumption?  What if a bag of sugar candies cost $15?  But a bag of carrots and celery cost $2?  You want to sell sugar-carriers to children?  Well, the cost will now include the amount required to provide the additional health care required by an entire generation of diabetics.

The Republicans, in the U.S., would rise like giant waves of ogre faces and scream at the top of their lungs, “the Nanny State is coming to take away your french fries!”  And they would win the next election.  “I don’t want the government telling me what to eat.  I want Nestle, Coca Cola, and Unilever to tell me what to eat.”

And the food industry will speak gently, through their highly qualified public relations people: fat people are lazy!  They need to exercise more!  We’re all about choice!  Candy can be part of a “balanced” wholesome nutritious diet.

 

[whohit]Global Total Failure[/whohit]

Humility

I’ve never cared much for the braying exuberance with which most athletes now celebrate their goals or hits or victories.  I didn’t like Bautista’s bat flip.  I don’t like football (real football) players acting like they just raised someone from the dead every time they score a goal.  Why?  Simple: humility is a good thing.   You are not that great.  You performed an exceptional athletic feat: that’s all.  It’s just a physical ability.  It gives pleasure to your fans but not to the fans of the other 30 teams.  You achieved the ability to perform this feat by focusing all of your energy and passion into an extremely limited range of physical activity thereby depriving you of the opportunity to develop your mind, or your other physical skills.  It is not that great.

In American cities, in the South especially, football heroes– even at the high school level– are treated like gods.  They get the best seats in the local restaurants and never have to wait in line.  They get all the love.  They are treated like Disney Princesses: entitled, privileged, spoiled.  They are Disney Princesses.

I get arguments about this.  The bat flip was wonderful.  It was so much fun. Why shouldn’t he celebrate a great moment in sports?

Well, let’s turn it around.  How about if someone reads and understands a difficult book on economics?  How would you feel if he jumped up and down and screamed and shook his fist and yelled, “I know how capital accumulates!  I’m smarter than you!”?  You would despise him for his arrogance.   How about if he ridiculed one of your favorite movies, like “Shawshank Redemption”, as mediocre, unimaginative, and uninteresting, and recommended, instead “The White Ribbon”?  You asshole!  What if he looked at you with a slight sneer and said, “Really?  Neil Diamond?  You like Neil Diamond?”

Imagine.  In those Southern American cities: here’s a student with an A average: he gets the best table.  He gets the girls.  Strange people recognize him and slap him on the back.  You’ve made us all proud: you are smart.  You are a Princess.

You athletes will just have to wait your turn.

 

[whohit]Humility[/whohit]

 

 

 

The Ethics of the Unethical

When Martin Shkreli raised the price of Retrophin, a pharmaceutical used to treat AIDS, from $13.50 to $750.00 per dose, there was outrage.  Shkreli, who has since been arrested for fraud unrelated to the price increase, insisted that this was free enterprise.  There was no moral issue.  If anything, it was morally right for him to maximize the profits of his company.

I thought, what if I broke into Shkreli’s home in the middle of the night and stole his laptop computer, watches, and cameras.

Shkreli would probably think I had robbed him.  He would probably– I can’t quote him on it– call the police, if he could, and have me arrested for trespassing and burglary.  And I would look him in the eye, in court, and say, “What’s your problem?  What’s wrong with taking your stuff?  You don’t even really own it.”   Even better, if I could say that from afar, some other country, which did not have any kind of extradition treaty with the U.S.   And I would say, “what is your definition of moral”?

He might say, “it’s wrong to steal”.  And I would ask, “how do you know?”  Maybe he believes in the bible.  Maybe he believes that one should always treat others the way one would want to be treated.  Maybe he believes something like “always treat others the way you yourself would like to be treated”.

Or maybe he believes it’s a dog-eat-dog world and you just take whatever you can whenever you can because that’s what everybody else would do if they could.

No, that’s not possible, is it?

He might believe that such miracles as Retrophin are only possible thanks to our wonderful capitalist system which holds that the owner of a particular item has absolute control over its use and distribution and price.  Of course, the makers and sellers of Retrophin were already doing quite well before he jacked up the price, and it had been developed under a system with the built-in expectation of a certain cost to the drug, and that had worked, and it has been shown that most pharmaceutical companies spend more money on advertising and marketing than they do on developing drugs, so they can’t be serious about argument that the high price is the cost of developing advanced drugs.

More likely a tax-payer funded university research lab developed the basics of the drug and then a drug company bought in somewhat later.

But if we were all in a wagon training headed west in 1871 and we were crossing a desert and Mr.  Shkreli happened to own the only bottle of water left and everyone else was about to die, would it be his “right” to sell it for the exclusive use of the highest bidder, and let everyone else die?

I dislike these allegories.  What Mr. Shkreli is doing is already essentially the same thing: AIDS patients need Retrophin to survive: Mr. Shkreli is extorting a wonderful price.  It is extortion.  Extortion is wrong.

[whohit]The Ethics of the Unethical: Martin Shkreli[/whohit]

 

The “Best” Pro-Life Argument Ever

I recently saw a post on Facebook said to be “the best pro-life argument I have ever seen”.  I was curious, so I checked it out.   I’m always suspicious of articles on controversial subjects that start out with something like “I was a college student — an anti-war, mother-earth, feminist, hippie college student…”   And then I saw the light!  I saw the truth.  From an article in Esquire– of all places– written in 1976(!).  So, Frederica Matthewes-Green insists, I’m not one of those dim-witted automatons merely spouting the ravings of my pro-gun, pro-war, patriotic right-wing church.

These writers always seem to feel that it’s a compelling trope.  I used to be like you.  But she doesn’t follow up with a list of other positions she has now adopted because she knows that that list would undermine her seductive introduction.  Is she still opposed to war?  Is she opposed to capital punishment?  Is she in favor of universal health care?  Does she support parental leave?  Maternity leave?  Did she ever?  Really?

After reading her list of the things she supported back in the old folkie days, it becomes clear that whatever she thought she was in favor of back then, in her “hippie days”, it wasn’t what other people of her generation thought they were in favor of.  In her coy estimation, it seems that women back then didn’t think much at all, and expected ridiculous things in the future.

That becomes evident when  she proceeds to create a straw-man, the kind of person she believes believes in a woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.  This prop of hers thinks embryos are just a blob, and that abortion would only ever be used in emergencies, as a last, desperate measure, and that there is nothing violent or distasteful about it all– beliefs that kind of cancel each other out, when you think about it.

And then the big slide.   Having described in detail the painful, awful experience of an abortion at 20 weeks, she then proceeds to draw conclusions that makes no sense given her claimed pedigree of enlightenment and intelligence:

The usual justification for abortion is that the unborn is not a “person.” It’s said that “Nobody knows when life begins.” But that’s not true; everybody knows when life — a new individual human life — gets started. It’s when the sperm dissolves in the egg.

Oh, everybody “knows that”?   So, the enlightened progressive who rationally concluded that abortion is horrible suddenly leaps, magically, to the belief that life begins right at the instant of conception, all without a single reference to any religious belief.

She does not provide, of course, any logic or reason or analysis that would lead anyone to conclude that because a 20-week old fetus seems very human and perhaps entitled to the protection of the law, therefore the first two cells together must also be entitled the same recognition.

So why not, at the beginning of the article, acknowledge that your beliefs are grounded in your religion, not in your reason?   Why are you pretending to reason your way to a conclusion that really doesn’t follow any of your arguments?  Well, we know why: because nobody would take her arguments seriously.  Believers will have already agreed with her, and non-believers will find her irrelevant.

Frederica Mathewes-Green is not unaware of the problem.  From her website:

I have seen so much effort to produce publications, books, music, movies, and so on that can stand in the public square as quality material, and attract unbelievers. But look back at # 3; that only works as long as the material does not point to Christian faith. Once the mask slips and they realize we have been trying all along to bring them to Christ, they get angry. They feel duped.

Yes.  Well.  Try as you might to present an anti-abortion argument that seems rational and geared towards the general, public interest, your mask slipped, when you magically arrived at the point that life begins at conception.   That is a religious belief and the argument that because an embryo has the complete DNA of an individual human being it is entitled to equal protection falls apart because brain-dead humans also have the complete DNA of an individual human being, as well as a complete body.

[whohit]The Best “Pro-Life Argument Ever[/whohit]