The History of Pandemic Lockdowns in the US

Written on July 15, 2020. Written by .

Deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic are still occurring, but this provides a picture of how COVID-19 currently compares to previous pandemics. Years of life lost per 1000 population provides the best metric for comparison of overall severity.

During the 1918 pandemic “Social distancing measures were introduced, for example closing schools, theatres, and places of worship, limiting public transportation, and banning mass gatherings. Wearing face masks became common in some places, such as Japan, though there were debates over their efficacy. There was also some resistance to their use, as exemplified by the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco.” There were no lockdowns like the one’s seen in 2020.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu

US Population
https://www.census.gov/population/estimates/nation/popclockest.txt
https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=US
https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/

US Deaths
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1957-1958-pandemic.html
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1968-pandemic.html
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-h1n1-pandemic.html
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm

Mean Age
https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2010/03/study-life-years-lost-h1n1-pandemic-had-sizable-impact
https://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/ages_deaths.htm
https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/global-covid-19-case-fatality-rates

Years Life Lost
https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2010/03/study-life-years-lost-h1n1-pandemic-had-sizable-impact
https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.19.20136069v1.full.pdf

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The communist roots of Black Lives Matter

Written on July 12, 2020. Written by .

Black Lives Matter cofounder Patrisse Cullors referred to herself and cofounder Alicia Garza as “trained Marxists” in a recorded interview. [1]

The third cofounder, Opal Tometi, wrote an article praising the socialist dictatorship of Venezuela, saying “We stand with the Venezuelan people as they build a revolutionary and popular democracy based on communal power”. [2]

The organization published an article mourning the death of Marxist Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, writing “As Fidel ascends to the realm of the ancestors, we summon his guidance, strength, and power”. [3]

Black Lives Matter is administered by an organization whose vice chair, Susan Rosenberg, is a convicted communist terrorist who served 16 years of a 58 year sentence which was commuted by Bill Clinton. [4] [5] [6]

Rosenberg was a member of the May 19th Communist Organization (M19CO) which “openly advocate[d] the overthrow of the U.S. Government through armed struggle and the use of violence”. [7]

M19CO was a female-led combination of the Black Liberation Army (BLA) and the Weather Underground (WUO), active from 1978 to 1985. Most of the members, including Susan Rosenberg, were lesbian feminists. [7] [8] [9] [10] All three founders of Black Lives Matter (BLM) describe themselves as feminists and two of the three publicly identify as queer. [11] [12] [13] [14]

It seems that history rhymes.

Communist ideology has resulted in an estimated 100 million deaths worldwide… so far. [15] [16]

And we are painting the name of this organization on our public streets.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pyhy4IvkENg
[2] https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/11789
[3] https://medium.com/@BlackLivesMatterNetwork/lessons-from-fidel-black-lives-matter-and-the-transition-of-el-comandante-c11ee5e51fb0
[4] https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/thousand-currents/
[5] https://thousandcurrents.org/black-lives-matter/
[6] https://web.archive.org/web/20200616222408/https:/thousandcurrents.org/board-of-directors/
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Rosenberg
[8] https://books.google.com/books/about/Dykes_and_Fags_Want_to_Know.html?id=7N40yQEACAAJ
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_19th_Communist_Organization
[10] https://www.amazon.com/Tonight-Bombed-U-S-Capitol-Explosive/dp/1501170120/
[11] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/07/archival-black-lives-matter-co-founder-reflects-life-activism/
[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJWH0BFxo1A (@5:00)
[13] https://blacklivesmatter.com/our-co-founders/
[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrisse_Cullors
[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_killings_under_communist_regimes
[16] https://www.wsj.com/articles/100-years-of-communismand-100-million-dead-1510011810

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Seeing Like a State

Written on May 11, 2020. Written by .

This book goes deep into a discussion of how states operate and why their central planning schemes are often very destructive. The first part of the book talks about how states attempt to make their citizens and resources more “legible”, meaning easier to measure and administrate. The second part is about “high modernism”, the naive overconfidence in science and technology. The third part is about the centrally planned attempts to modernize rural populations which had terrible consequences. The fourth part makes the case that high-level state administrators can never have the same level of first-hand practical know-how that actual practitioners develop, and this is a big explanatory factor for why central planning has such bad outcomes. The book is quite scholarly and goes deeper into certain topics than I was interested in going, so I found the book a bit boring despite the fact that I think it makes strong points on very important topics.

★★★★★

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Smart and SeXy

Written on April 21, 2020. Written by .

This book is one of the most information dense books I’ve read, it felt like almost every sentence was providing a new fact and there are a ton of citations. Also one of the least politically correct books I’ve read. The first half of the book goes pretty deep into genetics related to sex chromosomes and their connection with intelligence. I learned about hemizygous exposure and X inactivation which are the type of thing I would have expected I’d heard about a long time ago, so this was really exciting to learn about. The second half of the book gave a lot of arguments against feminism supported by data. Even though I’ve heard a lot on this topic before, a lot was new to me and I found it really interesting. There were a couple points that I think may be incorrect, such as the explanation for why intelligence evolved in humans; the explanation in The Mating Mind seemed more persuasive to me. Also, he makes the claim that preservation of civilization is of utmost importance, which doesn’t square well with the ideas from Civilized to Death. Also, the false rape accusation statistics he provided were higher than most of the studies listed on Wikipedia and there wasn’t any discussion of the studies with lower rates, which suggests there may be some cherry-picking of data. But as long as it’s read with a grain of salt, I think the book is excellent, very informative, and very fun to read.

★★★★★

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The Illusion of the Self

Written on April 18, 2020. Written by .

The Buddhist concept of non-self says that the self is an illusion, but the meaning of this is subtle and requires some elaboration.

First we need to distinguish what I’ll call the “concept of self” and the “sense of self”. The concept of self is what you cognitively think of yourself as. The sense of self is the aspect of your subjective experience that makes you perceive yourself as a self (I’ll clarify this below, this is just the abstract definition). Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram describes this sense of self as “a permanent, separate, independently functioning (acausal), localized self”.

The non-self concept says that the sense of self is an illusion. It’s possible to have an accurate concept of self without illusions, so it can be confusing to hear something like “the self is an illusion” without this distinction.

Ingram also says “sensations arise on their own in a natural, causal fashion, even the intentions to do things”. This statement essentially answers the question of free will vs determinism in philosophy. It says that our minds are deterministic, which implies that our sense of free will must be an illusion. This is part of the illusion of the self, but the illusion of the self is not limited to just free will.

The illusion of the self refers to a bundle of mental illusions (this list is probably incomplete):
1. the illusion of acausal free will: I choose to do this vs. this intention arose spontaneously
2. the illusion of acausal thought: I am thinking this thought vs. this thought arose spontaneously
3. the illusion of persistence: I am the same self today as I was yesterday vs. this consciousness only exists in the present moment (Zen and Ego-persistence)
4. the illusion of coherence: I generate and perceive all my thoughts vs. there are many interacting mental processes running simultaneously (this is discussed in The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa)
5. the illusion of duality: I am in my head/body vs. there is no precise division between myself and everything else

Our sense of self is merely the product of these illusions. How do we know this? Well, if you eliminate these illusions then all that’s left in your experience is consciousness, thoughts, and sensations; nothing that could be identified as a sense of self. Thus, the sense of self is an illusion.

Even if you cognitively understand that these are illusions, it doesn’t mean that you have overcome them. Regardless of what you believe philosophically, normally it still feels like you are thinking your thoughts, like you are actively driving the thought process. The reality is that the thoughts are being generated automatically and you are just experiencing them and getting your awareness lost in them.

With this understanding, we can see how meditation can allow one to see through this illusion. When you are meditating, thoughts will arise. If the thought completely consumes your consciousness then it just feels like you got distracted and this doesn’t lead to any insight. But the mind can be trained to witness the thought arise and pass. This means that conscious attention is strong enough that arising thoughts don’t always fully capture it. In this case, it becomes clear that you (the observer) didn’t create the thought because you just observed it arise and pass spontaneously. This is where the illusion breaks down because the illusion tells you that you are both the observer of the thought and the generator of the thought, but the observer knows it didn’t generate it. This is a direct experience of the illusion of the self.

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We need to stop the lockdowns

Written on March 24, 2020. Written by .

The CDC says “In the coming months, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/summary.html).
“A panel of experts at the University of California, San Francisco, predicted that between 40 and 70% of Americans could become infected within the next 18 months” (https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-150-million-americans-may-get-infected-2020-3?op=1). The lockdowns are not going to stop or contain the virus, they are only slowing it down. Slowing it down increases the chance that we’ll have better drug treatments, gives us some time to increase hospital capacity, and spreads the load on hospitals over a longer period of time, preventing them from becoming overwhelmed. This last benefit is known as flattening the curve, and this is the primary justification for the lockdowns, the other two are not assumed to be as significant.

You’ve probably seen the cartoon diagram of how flattening the curve works. This diagram doesn’t show how long the curve would have to be flattened to stay under hospital capacity. Researcher say it would require “roughly two months on and one month off—until a vaccine is available, which will take at least 18 months (if it works at all)” (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/615370/coronavirus-pandemic-social-distancing-18-months/).

How many lives can we potentially save during this 18 month period? There are many variables that we don’t yet know accurately, so it’s hard to say precisely, but we can try to estimate it. On March 5th, the assistant secretary for health at HHS said “The best estimates now of the overall mortality rate for COVID-19 is somewhere between 0.1% and 1%” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElDa–a_hso). This is called the infection fatality rate (IFR), which is significantly lower than the case fatality rate (CFR) because many infections go undetected and don’t become cases. Since this estimate is based on current figures, it is likely to go up if hospitals are overwhelmed. To estimate how much, we use the fact that about half of critical patients in China died, which means it’s likely that hospital care saved the other half (http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/02/study-72000-covid-19-patients-finds-23-death-rate). So without any hospital care, we can estimate that the IFR would rise to 0.2% to 2%. Therefore, the approximate difference between no hospital care and optimal hospital care is about the same as the IFR: 0.1% to 1%. Given that about half of the population is expected to be infected, the difference would be between 0.05% and 0.5%. These numbers are rough, but I think something rough is better than nothing at all for wrapping our heads around this.

The difference in mortality with a lockdown and without a lockdown is smaller than this because hospitals will still operate even without a lockdown and even with a lockdown, we might still see hospital overload. Furthermore, this will skew lower if high risk individuals are more careful and isolated so that they end up in the half of the population that doesn’t get infected until after we have a vaccine. Also, voluntary self-isolation will naturally increase as infections rise, which will flatten the curve even without lockdowns. I don’t think anyone knows how to accurately quantify these factors, but it looks like a small fraction of a percent of the population potentially being saved by lockdowns.

To put this in perspective, about 0.77% of the world’s population would have died this year even without the coronavirus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortality_rate). Given that the coronavirus heavily skews towards the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, statistically we aren’t going to be saving many years of life. This is not to diminish the importance of saving lives, but it’s important to consider when we have to weigh this against seriously harming the lives of others.

On the Diamond Princess, out of 3711 on board, 705 tested positive, and 8 died, all over 70 years old (https://abcnews.go.com/Health/early-mortality-rates-covid-19-misleading-experts/story?id=69477312). “More than 99% of Italy’s coronavirus fatalities were people who suffered from previous medical conditions” and “All of Italy’s victims under 40 have been males with serious existing medical conditions” (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-18/99-of-those-who-died-from-virus-had-other-illness-italy-says).

Is this worth the cost of shutting down the world? How can we even attempt to quantify the harm caused by isolating billions of people and stopping huge fractions of the global economy?

Nobody has ever done an experiment like this with a complex global economy. Perhaps the closest thing to a test of shutting down whole economies was the attempt at communism in China, which led to the starvation of tens of millions (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chinese_Famine). Nobody is qualified to predict what the consequences will be.

Consider that most people don’t even donate to charities that can save a life for about $3000 worth of mosquito nets (https://www.businessinsider.com/the-worlds-best-charity-can-save-a-life-for-333706-and-thats-a-steal-2015-7?op=1). At that rate, the stock market losses from the economic shutdown have already cost billions of lives, which just illustrates how inconsistent the reaction is with our usual attitudes towards saving lives. Anyone who thinks they are saving lives by shutting down the economy would be better off going back to work and donating their earnings to charity.

And the personal consequences are even harder to fathom. This situation affects different people very differently. Some people have much higher risk from the virus than others. Some people are terrified of dying while others are ready to die. Some people can work from home while others have been made unemployed. Some people live with their loved ones while others live alone and are effectively being put into solitary confinement. Some people live in huge comfortable homes while others live in a cramped van. If you’re lucky, a lockdown might just be a minor inconvenience, but for others it might be life destroying.

Lockdowns and economic devastation could cause an increase in suicides, and the increase could last long after the pandemic if there is a major global depression. How many elderly lives would we have to save to justify each additional suicide of a young person? It’s not clear if we would be saving net life-years in the long term. Even if we could be sure that we were, that’s not all that we care about.

The movie “I, Robot” illustrates what happens when you value saving lives above all else. In the story, humans create a superintelligent computer and program it with Asimov’s three laws of robotics, the first of which reads “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” The inevitable logical conclusion was that a massive fleet of robot police must permanently confine all humans to their homes because leaving their homes exposed them to risk of harm. Sound familiar?

Even without a pandemic, every time we leave the house we increase the risk of harm and death to both ourselves and others. We are used to that and we accept it because we cannot eliminate all risks and it’s senseless to ruin lives just to extend them.

Ultimately, can we really say that one person’s access to hospital care outweighs 100 others’ right to find love, earn a living, or enjoy dinner with friends? If you think hospital care trumps everything else, then should we also arrest people if they don’t serve as nurses when there’s a shortage? If the jails overflow with these “criminals”, should we then begin executing them? Where is the line? Hospitals didn’t even exist for the vast majority of human history; it’s bizarre to witness the derangement they can cause.

We have principles of liberty that are supposed to prevent this kind of thing from happening. These principles are what protect us from turning into North Korea. It’s shocking how quickly people can abandon such treasured principles with just a small dose of fear.

The sooner we can come to a rational reaction to this pandemic the better. Even without forced lockdowns, more people will voluntarily self-isolate as the infections spread, and higher risk groups will self-isolate more. Additionally, those who don’t self-isolate will naturally take more precautions since everyone has a chance of being in the half of the population that doesn’t get infected in the first wave. Those who do get infected will be predominantly those who chose to not self-isolate; they are taking their own chances.

Even if this argument doesn’t convince you that lockdowns are harmful, I hope it will at least make you doubt that they are clearly beneficial. This is a complex situation involving epidemiology, economics, and moral philosophy with many unknowns. If you support a lockdown, then you are claiming that you are so confident in your opinion that you are willing to use authoritarian measures to impose your opinion on those who disagree with you. Or worse, that you just blindly support whatever your political leaders say, which is likely just a reflection of the psychology of a fearful mob.

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The Coddling of the American Mind

Written on March 3, 2020. Written by .

I didn’t really learn much new from reading this book; just reading the summary online covered most of the points, and I expected this, but I decided to read it anyways because I became more interested in the topic and wanted to use the book as a way to help me ponder it a bit and it worked well for that. One thing I was wondering was if you could identify a single primary causal factor for the issues we see in Gen Z. I still think smartphones and social media might be the biggest factor explaining the sudden change, but the book helped convince me that there are several important factors including less unsupervised play time, increased safety-ism by parents and governments, increased competitiveness and stress around getting into a good college, increased political polarization (possibly related to social media), and lots of social issues in the news. If you had to summarize it in a single causal factor, you’d have to say something like their upbringing is more unnatural, which is so general as to be pretty unhelpful in understanding what’s happening.

★★★★★

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Against the Grain

Written on January 13, 2020. Written by .

Somewhat dry but really interesting thesis that grain agriculture was uniquely suited to taxation which enabled the formation of early states. Emphasized that early states may have been worse places to live than the surrounding areas outside of state control and how states were effectively farms for domesticating, breeding, and enslaving humans.

★★★★

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Pro Git

Written on November 24, 2019. Written by .

This book is a good introduction to Git and also covers some of how Git works internally. There were a few useful things that I learned from the book, but for the most part I either already knew it from using Git or it wasn’t something I would need.

★★★★★

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The Dark Forest

Written on November 22, 2019. Written by .

I think this sequel was better than its predecessor, The Three Body Problem. It’s very well thought out and interesting, but at the same time somewhat slower-paced.

★★★★

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