20 March 2020

Random Plague Thoughts (Mostly Non-Political)

  • COVID-19, the Novel Coronavirus is NOT the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • But it's like nothing any of us alive have ever experienced.
    • The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 is our only global model precedent.
      • Though we have the experiences of China, S. Korea, and Italy to go by.
      • And these are so recent, their findings are hard to digest.
    • That flu was more deadly but not nearly as contagious.
  • One of the truly pernicious features of COVID-19 is the way it's spread:
    • If someone sneezes on me at the grocery story on a normal Tuesday...
      • I know I will come down with cold symptoms by the weekend.
    • With this virus, I might not show any symptoms for up to TWO WEEKS!
    • And all that time, I am infectious to everyone I come into contact with.
      • Unbeknownst to me or them!
  • The economic consequences of this current pandemic are going to be dire:
    • Q1 earnings/unemployment will only tell part of the story: ~three weeks of devastation.
    • Q2 will be devastating globally because the economic stoppage will be for the entire period.
      • GLOBAL RECESSION!!!
      • Depression. Economic Armageddon.
      • The death of Neo-liberalism and Global Capitalism.
      • The rise of Socialism.
      • The implementation of Nationalist Isolationism and Military Dictatorships.
      • The suspension of democratic elections and even Constitutions.
      • None of the above. All of the above.
      • Who knows?
        • I certainly don't. And neither do you.
        • And that's the point: we are all dealing in uncertainties and unknowns.
        • One question to ponder though: Are the stock markets pricing these potential risks in now? (We'll come back to that.)
      • Still, there are some things we can speculate about reasonably.
  • China, e.g., is already starting to see the first signs of economic recovery—even in Wuhan.
    • Due primarily to early efforts at containment and isolation.
      • AND MASS TESTING.
      • Only with broad testing are we able to determine how widespread the contagion is.
        • Frankly, the U.S. has no idea how bad it is here because we have so little testing...
          • Even for our front-line medical personnel.
    • China's economy is, however, manufacturing based.
      • Ours is more a service economy.
      • China, thus, may not be a good model.
        • Because you can isolate people on a factory floor but not, say, in a restaurant or at a show.
  • There may be some validity to the notion that the virus will dwindle by summer.
    • Summer colds suck but are not nearly as prevalent as winter colds.
  • Social distancing, isolation, and quarantining are key factors in stopping the spread now.
    • And we should all be observing them assiduously.
      • Probably at least through May or June.
    • But these measures also bring certain risks:
      • Chief among the risks: Fewer people are exposed to the virus.
      • Thus fewer develop immunities to it and remain vulnerable to exposure and infection.
  • If—IF—we see a dwindling of the virus and hints of an economic recovery by summer...
    • Many feel the economy and global equity markets will start to recover.
    • And social distancing, etc. (sports, concerts, bars, restaurants, etc.) may dwindle as well.
      • Folks will likely relax their precautions.
    • But there will not be a vaccination ready by that time.
      • And this is the problem.
  • Now, back to the Spanish Flu precedent (remember that?):
    • It, too, dwindled over the warmer months of 1918.
    • But came back with an even more virulent vengeance the next October.
      • And most of the deaths occurred over THAT winter stretching into 1919.
  • Yet, CDC is on the case.
    • People we know personally here in Atlanta who normally work on things like HIV/AIDS, cholera, ebola, flu, etc., have been reassigned.
      • It's all hands on deck for COVID-19.
        • This is a good thing. A very good thing.
  • But no matter how hard they work, a vaccine will not be ready for at least another year, if not longer.
    • This is a fact of life about vaccine trials: THEY TAKE TIME!
      • Both to check their effectiveness against the virus, and
      • Their dangers.
    • Next fall, if the Spanish Flu is any guide, could see a disastrous SECOND WAVE of the outbreak!
      • Unless, of course, some sort of therapy is developed.
    • There is some happy talk now from Trump about hydroxychloroquine, a malarial drug.
      • There is some evidence it can be repurposed to ease the effects of the coronavirus.
        • This evidence, however, is inconclusive...
        • And must likewise be investigated. Again, THIS TAKES TIME!
    • Again, CDC does not have any evidence at the present time that Chloroquine can mitigate the symptoms of COVID-19, say like Tamiflu does for the flu.
  • The point being: if we see a relaxing of the distancing precautions in the summer due to a belief that the virus is defeated, we may see a dramatic increase in cases next fall.
    • Remember, it is VERY contagious.
    • And, there being no vaccine, this could devastate the global economy even further.
      • And that includes the stock markets as well—IN A BIG WAY!
      • Meaning: a second major dip in the stock markets, another devastating hit to a recovering economy.
  • Bottom line: Don't sleep on this thing!
    • Don't get over-confident.
    • We are in this for the long haul.
      • At least until an effective vaccine is developed...
      • Or a proven therapy or even a cure is developed.
        • Then, and only then, will we have to deal with the idiot anti-vaxxers.
        • But at least they will have seen what a vaccine-less world looks like.

12 March 2020

11 March 2020

I Had a Day...

Arrived Thursday afternoon in Deer Valley, Utah—just up the hill from Park City, a short drive from Salt Lake City. Woke up at 4:15 am; out the door at 4:45. Drove 4+ hours to Moab. Entered Arches National Park at 9:00 am. Hiked until 1:30. Lunch at the Moab Brewery; coffee at Moab Roastery. Entered Canyonlands National Park at 3:30. Hiked until sunset, ~6:30. Drove back to Deer Valley, arriving 11:15 after all the skiers in the party had gone to bed. The day was nearly perfect: 60-65 degrees, mostly sunny. All told: 500+ miles driving; ~20,000 steps. These are some snapshots I took.

[Click pics to embiggen slideshow]

Gee, that's a GREAT looking LAKE! Wonder if it's SALT-y
Downtown Park City
Three Wisemen near the entrance to Arches NP
THREE WISEMEN up close and personal.
Contrails or Chemtrails? You decide! Tic Tac Toe above ARCHES NP.
You want to hike with me! The ledge trail on the way up to Delicate Arch.
Gee, that DELICATE ARCH seems kinda' tiny!
Delicate Arch: Astride the mountainside
Delicate Arch from underneath
Haha. Yes, I was there.
Such a poser.
Petroglyphs.
Moar arches!
Vistas for days.
DOUBLE ARCHES. [Click pic to enlarge so you can see the tiny people]
BALANCING ROCK
COURTHOUSE. Exiting ARCHES NP
GRAND MESA, otw to CANYONLANDS NP
Breath taken! CANYONLANDS NP
Canyons within Canyons within Canyons!
I may have mentioned: You want to hike with me! Scruffy Troll photobombing my picture. The path to GRAND VIEW POINT runs right along the canyon edge.
Like I said... 
Gasp! Sufficiently breathless.
For the ongoing series: Things growing on other things.
The path to Grand View Point.
Careful there, Jimbo!
View from the path.
The GRAND VIEW POINT!

20 February 2020

In Extremis

Key quotes from an article by Quassim Cassam in New Statesman entitled "Why Extremism Is a Question of Psychology, Not Politics" and Kevin Dorst at the Stranger Apologies blog.

Is 'extremism' a question of psychology and not politics? This is a question certainly worth asking. Cassam's talking about extremisms on both the right and the left here. His article raises the further question: If extremism is an attitudinal matter, how malleable (or manipulable) are the masses who find themselves emotionally pre-disposed to it? Propaganda, Confirmation bias, Overconfidence, the conjunction fallacy, group polarization, the Dunning-Kruger effect, the base-rate fallacy, cognitive dissonance, and so on all play into its cycles of toxic self-reinforcement.
"A key extremist preoccupation is victimisation – the perception of themselves as victims of persecution. ... 
"Another extremist preoccupation is purity. The purity that extremists are obsessed with can be ideological, religious, or ethnic. ... Extremism’s preoccupation with purity explains one of its key attitudes: its attitude to compromise. Extremists hate compromise because it detracts from purity. Being an extremist is as much a matter of how one believes as what one believes. Extremists see compromise as a form of betrayal, and while extremists may hate their opponents, this is usually milder than their hatred of people on their own side who have, as they see it, “sold out”. ... 
"Another key extremist attitude is indifference to any adverse consequences of one’s actions or policies.  To not be deterred by the practical or emotional damage incurred is the essence of fanaticism, so it follows that extremists are also fanatics. ... 
"Extremists are prone to both utopian and conspiracy thinking. They think in terms of a future utopia to which their policies will lead, and they see conspiracies everywhere. ... 
"...[E]xtremists are also uncommonly angry, and this points to the emotional components of the extremist mindset. Extremist anger is rooted in feelings of resentment about their lot. Another fundamental extremist emotion is self-pity. Anger, resentment, and self-pity are a potentially lethal emotional cocktail. ..." [Emphases mine] Cassam.
Dorst asserts "we are living in an age of rampant irrationalism" which feeds into political demonization, a key component in extremism.
"we are now swimming in irrationalist explanations of political disagreement.  It is not hard to see how these go. If people tend to reason their way to their preferred conclusions, to search for evidence that confirms their prior beliefs, to ignore opposing evidence, and so on, then there you have it: irrational political polarization falls out as a corollary of the informational choices granted by the modern information age.
We refuse to see ourselves and our own opinions as irrational, so we project that irrationalism on the other side. They are the irrational ones. Therefore they are wrong and, what's more, immoral. They are bad, evil, awful. "I hate them because I am _________ (fill in the blank: right, good, moral, rational, pure)." We've made a quick leap to demonization.
"If the problem is demonization—not mere polarization—then part of the solution is to restore political empathy. And if we lack political empathy in part because of rampant irrationalist narratives, then one way to restore it is to question those narratives."
I look forward to Durst's project here and have added his blog to my updating blog roll. You should too.

02 January 2020

Top Ten Top Ten Lists of the 2010s

Let's agree to get past the debate over when a decade (or century) actually ends: --19 (--99) or --20 (--00). [Personally, I'm persuaded that we normally count from one to ten and thus the decade truly ends next year around this time. But that's beside the point. YMMV.] The internet is rife now with lists and listicles of the "Best of" or "Top Ten ____" of the Twenty-Teens, 2010s, etc. Below are some of the more interesting ones I've stumbled upon. I'm not going to claim authoritatively they are the "Best of" or necessarily the "Top" because that's not my style. I've not exhaustively researched every single list across the entire Interverse© and quantitatively or qualitatively adjudged them by some agreed-upon (or even arbitrary) metric—despite the title hype. Nevertheless, for your enjoyment, I present (sans comment for the most part):

10. Magic Mic's Top Ten Magic Cards

9. Top 10 Food Trends

8. Top 10 Tiny Homes

7. Top 10 Memes

6. Listverse's Top 10 Popular Lists [Clickbait! As if this post isn't. Nevertheless, meta- enough for me.)

5. Top 10 Health Scares

4. Top 10 Stock Investments from ten years ago

3. Top 10 Ocean Songs

2. New Scientist's Top 10 Discoveries

1. National Weather Service's Top 10 Weather Events

And, because I love you and because there are so many sports related Top Ten lists, a bonus Top Ten link. You can do your own Movie or TV or Novel or Music lists. They, too, are ubiquitous, so I'll spare you mine.

Best wishes for the New Decade (that actually begins next year).

30 October 2019

The Personal Is the Political

Not one given to overly personal revelations here, nor to magical thinking—after all, I'm a lawyer, a rationalist philosopher—yet I find myself compelled to write this post. Please indulge or ignore, as you will.

On November 9, 2016, I made a private vow: The day the current occupant of the White House was "elected" I shaved my head and stopped trimming my beard. I promised not to let my hair grow back or to shave until Drumpf was out of office whether through electoral defeat or impeachment or coup or assassination. It was my own personal performative, prophetic (you know: mourning, sackcloth and ashes kind of thing—I'm also an erstwhile theologian) form of protest.

I had many reasons for this. I lived in New York during the '80s and '90s and knew what a damaged, mobbed-up con man this person was. I'd seen first hand his assaults on truth and decency, his greed, his amorality, his lust for acclaim and adulation, his narcissism. His evil. I also recognized how charismatic and what a genius at PR (i.e., propaganda) he was (see my pre-2016 election analyses here). I actually knew lawyers who'd represented him—in smaller, peripheral matters. The things they said...

Over the gentle protestations of wife Wisdoc, I kept my vow until Tuesday of last week. Because, you see, my only, my Dearest Darling Daughter (known in these parts as Wisdaughter) got married this weekend, and she wanted me to look presentable (and less like a bald Unabomber) for the photographs. I protested, saying that fifty years from now—long after I'm dead and forgotten—she can boast to her own kids and grandkids about her father's principles and integrity when she shows them the pictures. But she and her mother prevailed—to an extent.

I compromised my personal principles—out of love, mind you. I went to the family's long-time barber and hair dresser and had him trim my beard, shape it up. I did not have time to grow my (less than full) head of hair back.

And here's where we get to the magical thinking part. No sooner did I trim up my protest beard than the Speaker of the House of Representatives decided to submit a formal vote of impeachment to Congress. So, you tell me, which way did the causality run? Post hoc propter hoc? Mere prediction? Serendipity? Or, did my jumping the gun jeopardize any chance of humiliating and shaming this monster by running him out of office and forever blocking his spawn from public office? None of the above?

That being said, the question inevitably rises: should I take off the whole beard and start growing my sparse head of hair forthwith?

18 September 2019

2019 Peace Corps Tanzania Swearing-In Ceremony

A moment of personal privilege—it's my blog after all. This is the Facebook video of a livestream of the swearing-in ceremony for the 2019 Peace Corps Tanzania Education Cohort. There are around 80 in this group. My son, known in these parts as Wesdom, delivers the (English) commencement address beginning at about the 7:00 minute mark. After successfully completing nearly three months of training in country, he begins his two-year stint as a Volunteer (PCV). He will be stationed at a remote mountain village in the south west of the country—no running water, no electricity—teaching Math and Physics in a secondary school. We are incredibly proud of his decision to pursue this particular opportunity of service. It is one of those life choices that affects everything you do thereafter. It takes courage and sacrifice. Congratulations, my Son!

26 July 2019

MY PHILOSOPHY: SOME UNSYSTEMATIC OPINIONS

The pursuit of truth—the attempt to learn and accurately state facts about the real world—is the single most important enterprise of consciousness.

There is a difference in degree, not in kind, between two atoms fusing in the core of a star or two planets smashing into one another or two rocks bouncing off of each other like billiard balls or an amoeba feeling its way through a liquid solution and human consciousness. It is a continuum, a continuum of experience.

A human life is an experience-filled event, just as all human life and in fact all life as we know it itself is an event; we just don't know of what type and in what context or for what, if any, purpose.

The human species is a stage on an evolutionary ladder. We may not know what form or forms of consciousness will come next (if any) or how it or they will manifest (assuming no disruptive extinction event), but it's a good guess that the new being will incorporate some aspects of our technology—AI, for example, or prostheses. Another good guess is that the new being will be able not only to adapt to but make full use of the energy of the planet—solar, tidal, geothermal, wind—to facilitate its own further development. This, of course, is speculative, but at the same time it takes account of our natural history and asks us to anticipate a future for life and consciousness.

War, generally, is a bad thing. Conflict and struggle are fundamental in the state of nature—conflict over such things as survival, territory, and resources. Human beings are creatures of nature and thus conflictual. Some conflicts are thus inevitable given the state of nature. But there are bad reasons for war as well as good reasons. Though there is such a thing as a just war, perhaps even a good war, wars should be avoided if at all possible and by any means available.

The importance of the modern concept of the existence of some fundamental, inalienable, universal human rights cannot be underestimated.
  • Environmental protection is and should be recognized as a fundamental right, not just of humans but all other forms of life.
Linguistic analysis provides an effective model for understanding human thought, though it is by no means perfect.

Emotions are a feature of consciousness, a reactive, experience-processing feature that provides insight into our instinctual natures and personalities.

Art is a type of language. Truth is not a necessary aspect of art. Art is about consciousness, perception, emotion, recognition, reflection, reaction, and attitude.
  • Literature is a species of art. Its primary concern is addressing the profound angst that underlies our being once we recognize and acknowledge the inevitability of our mortality. This includes the ennui (or sense of bored superiority) that consumes us when we realize the futility of this condition as well as the sort of wearying sadness that results.
  • Distraction, entertainment, education, and therapy are the principle modes of literature. Intrigue, mystery, romance, speculation, tragedy, comedy, satire: all are parts of the way in which we come to grips with our existential suffering.
As a logical matter, there is no difference between theism and atheism. Theism asserts 'I believe in x' (where 'x' is "God"). Atheism asserts 'I believe in not-x.' Both are unfounded beliefs: neither relies on observation; neither is falsifiable.

The liberal position on justice— to wit: laws should be made from a 'neutral position' with respect to partisan interests and desired outcomes and applied uniformly and universally without regard to status—is the single most important philosophical social proposition of the modern age.

Morality recognizes not only the possibility but the actuality of other minds and points us toward empathy. Treat others the way you would want them to treat you in the same circumstances. When you choose to do something, act in such a way that you would be happy if everyone else did the same thing when faced with the same choice.

Ethics is different from morality. Ethics involves the means of effectively carrying out a given enterprise, the rules and the necessity of following them: the way to do things the right way. Morality involves the ways in which we interact with others, being good. They are not always coterminous.
  • Morality and ethics in sum: Be kind to others and do your work well.
The concept of 'good enough' is an important component of one's personal philosophy of life.