Open Thread 149.5

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1,234 Responses to Open Thread 149.5

  1. kai.teorn says:

    Can we discuss what long-term social, political, cultural shifts can we expect after we emerge from the current crisis? Everyone loses in a crisis like that, but it seems like some groups lose less than others, which may give them an eventual gain in mindshare if not pure demography.

    – Introverts gain, extroverts lose. Introverts are more used to isolation and have less temptations to break it, so less chance to get infected.

    – Inner city dwellers lose, suburbia and rural populations gain. Greater population density likely translates to more chances of virus transmission.

    – Family people gain, loners lose. Not sure about this. On one hand, a family has more external connections so more chances of getting infected. On the other hand, in a total quarantine, a family unit will find it easier to get through due to psychological help, sharing resources, and again, less temptation to go outside and socialize outside of family.

    – Homeschoolers gain, everyone else loses. Obvious.

    – In general, survialist mentality gains, carefree mentality loses. A perfect “told you so” moment for lots of people who were waiting for it all their lives.

    – Remote workers gain (mostly a sliver of white collar workers), everyone else loses.

    – The rich gain, the poor lose. Business as usual. So obvious as to hardly merit inclusion here, but still.

    Not sure which ideologies will gain as a result of this, though. Of course everyone blames the other side, but will this shift the balance? Discuss.

    • flakyflakyhermit says:

      “A perfect “told you so” moment for lots of people who were waiting for it all their lives.”
      Who are these people that you are talking about?

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Biggest differences will be in the business world. Not sure how many restaurants will survive, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

      “Putting the economy on pause” for a month is science fiction. People still need to pay rent, buy food, pay mortgages (this month or the next, they still pay in full).

      The other thing I worry a lot about (though it’s not really in the scope of your question) is that most ways the governments finance stuff counts on other entities lending them, directly or indirectly. Deficits=borrowing, inflation=taking from the population and so on. So there’s a transfer of wealth. But what’s going to happen if we hit a crisis, and there’s nobody to pick up the slack? “Reserves” are, by and large, fictional numbers in bank computers. There still needs to be somebody to actually give the wealth. And China’s not going to be there this time.

      • Loriot says:

        Restaurants are going out of business all the time anyway. And this time there’s likely to be generous government aid. Unless you’re a restaurant owner yourself, I wouldn’t worry to much. We will still have restaurants, just not necessarily all the same ones.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          We might see businesses designed to purposefully handle smaller crowds.

          Shooting from the hip: Imagine a stadium with 50K seats having a plan to cut capacity to 10K seats, with people spaced out. The government decides it’s time to start socially distancing and activates the plan, which gives the stadium a small payment, but lets some economic activity keep going. You would need better ways of queueing up people for foods and the bathroom, too. I don’t know if it works but we should think about it after all this immediate crisis.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Less crowding is going to be a challenge for NYC.

            Meanwhile, I’m feeling cranky about people who talk as though the personal space you get in a car is immoral luxury compared to using mass transit.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            I’m not crying for stadiums 🙂 And I mentioned restaurants because I thought it was relevant to the question – some businesses will be hit a lot more than others. Oh, and I actually do care about that one, two dear friends own a restaurant in a small town. They’ll try switching to deliveries starting tomorrow, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        The physical bits of the economy will still be there – the roads, the machines, the buildings, the tools. So predicting the utter collapse of the economy because that part went under utilized for 3 months and now everyone’s bank statements are overflowing with red requires the government to mismanage the money supply very, very badly.

        Worst comes to worst, once the epidemic burns out, the printing presses can simply be run until the restaurants have workers and customers in them again, and the factories start back up. Yhea, that is likely to cause some inflation, but it is better than letting everything grind to a halt.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I’m not predicting utter collapse of the economy, god forbid. Personally, I don’t even see how the last couple of crises even touched Average Joe that much, so I’m not inclined to panic. But I do think that quarantines that touch more than events, bars and restaurants and last for a month or more have the potential of fucking things up a lot more than a mortgage crises. To the point where the average joe might actually feel things for a change.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        The other thing I worry a lot about (though it’s not really in the scope of your question) is that most ways the governments finance stuff counts on other entities lending them, directly or indirectly.

        Inflation lags monetary creation by a bit. This is why Germany could keep printing money in the 1920s and get away with it for a while.

        Governments borrow money on the open market because they care about runaway inflation. If push comes to shove, they can shove it down the road a bit.

        Correct me if I’m wrong.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Yeah, that’s the theory. But if everybody pushes “pause” at the same time…

          My aunt just told me the Dutch are staying home for 3 weeks – work included. She’s a dentist, so it kindof makes sense for her to get some time off, but if this applies to everybody you get broken chains and nothing works anymore. Say you find a way to build ventilators fast – but this requires working with 10 suppliers, which work with 3-10 suppliers each. And 90% of those are on forced holiday. You can’t make special exceptions – if you go that way that’s planned economy, and not only it doesn’t work nearly as well, but we don’t even have the skillset to make it work at all.

        • baconbits9 says:

          According to my copy of ‘The Great Disorder’ the German paper mark had lost almost half its value from the pre war years to the end of WW1 (4.2 in 1914 to 8.2 in 1919), it dropped to 64.8 in 1920, held for a year and then dropped to 191.8 in 1922 and then dropped to 17,972 in 1923.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Generally I think monetary theory is wrong, so take this with a grain of salt. I think the best way to look at it is that under the current system

          1. The government determines the amount of money in circulation.
          2. The markets determine the value of that money.

          The amount of money in circulation is only a part, and possibly a small part, of the equation. Generally you don’t get massive printing of money in a stable equilibrium which makes attempts to tease out the relationship very difficult.

          One important aspect is what is happening to other competing currencies. In post WW1 Germany there were essentially two currencies, gold and paper marks, which gave a direct and easy mechanism to get away from a debased currency. In many countries that recently or currently are undergoing high inflation they often have dollar denominated markets as well (legal, grey or black) and these places (I believe) tend to respond quite quickly to debasement.

          With a cursory knowledge of inflations I would say that there appears to be a ‘fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice you don’t get fooled again’ aspect where once a government has released the specter of inflation they have a lot of work to do to reign it back in and they are susceptible to a much faster break the next time.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Thanks for this baconbits9. I wonder how long the reset time is until society forgets and government can print money with a long inflation lag again.

    • dark orchid says:

      > The rich gain, the poor lose. Business as usual.

      That’s what happens after a small to medium crisis. After a really large one, like WWI, it can go the other way round – it completely demolished the aristocrat/rentier class.

      • theodidactus says:

        It’s obviously hard to predict at this point, but I agree with dark orchid, particularly given the already strained opinion of capitalism in the states, and the general alacrity with which everyone acceded to genuinely attempting to “put the economy on pause” for a month or two.

        You could very easily see a situation where people burn through their savings, rent and loans come due, “patience” among the landlords and creditors wears thin, they call in what they are owned, and everyone’s like “screw you.”

        I’m not saying that would be a great idea (necessarily) but it could very easily happen.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        “After a really large one, like WWI, it can go the other way round – it completely demolished the aristocrat/rentier class.”

        Probably best to not think of “the poor” as just one group. The upper classes lost, some of the poor did better, some lost a lot.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Probably best to not think of “the poor” as just one group. The upper classes lost, some of the poor did better, some lost a lot.

          Not only that, but people already gain and lose money all the time. Most of the people in the top and bottom 20% aren’t there in 20 years.

          • nkurz says:

            Is that true of wealth as well as income? I feel like the cases I’ve looked up before were about income. My instinct is that people temporarily change brackets of income regularly, but when measuring assets, the rich are quite likely to remain rich and poor frequently remain poor. I searched and couldn’t find anything that seemed to address this directly. Do you have specific numbers on the how many of the top and bottom 20% by net worth remain in the same or the adjoining quintile after 20 years?

          • cassander says:

            @nkurz

            wealth is largely a product of age. the 90th percentile of net worth for 24 year olds is 65 grand, for 69 year olds it’s almost 2 million.

          • nkurz says:

            @cassander:

            Yes, this does complicate things. Perhaps compare percentiles only within age brackets? That is, how likely is a 0-20% wealth 30 year old to be a 0-40% 60 year old?

            I’d still be interested in the non-adjusted numbers though. My instinct is still that at the rich and poor extremes, people tend to remain close to their levels. There are many poor seniors, and I’m guessing most of them were poor earlier in life as well.

          • JayT says:

            There is a lot of data out there on this, and I’m having a hard time finding it right now, but one fairly obvious point of data would be the fact that almost 50% of 18-24 year olds are in college, with almost no income. So, those people on average jump quintiles fairly rapidly as they age.

          • JayT says:

            Also, as far as seniors go, their incomes tend to be very low, even if they are fairly wealthy, so you have a common situation where the average person goes from the bottom quintiles, to the top, and back to the bottom.

      • aristides says:

        Agreed, stock markets are crashing, landlords are not going to get paid, businesses are going close entirely, all of which hurt the rich more. Housing courts are going to be a lot less likely to evict anyone, until all this is sorted out. More people will likely die, but the ones that do survive will likely be in a similar situation to where they were, while rich peoples net worth will decline fair amount

    • Jaskologist says:

      I think the right is gearing up to view China the way the left has been viewing Russia for the past 4 years, at least rhetorically.

      • theodidactus says:

        Well keep in mind that the Russia thing was/is a pretty transient position for the left (also, frankly, the right). I recall my conservative friends circa 2014 complaining about secret deals Obama struck with Russia in 2011 and 2012, and my liberal friends going to bat for Obama and Russia.

        I’ve long imagined an interesting partisan fracture-line along China/Taiwan relations, with china-bashing republicans on one side and anti-imperialist PC lefties on the other. I’m being slightly facetious when I say I sometimes imagine “one china” becoming a social justice issue du jour of the left for a few months, but it’s not *that* crazy.

        • Randy M says:

          The 1980’s called, they want their foreign policy back.

          • theodidactus says:

            I have now made it a point to watch a video clip of that debate every year, on the date. It’s going to start getting REALLY bizarre in the mid-2030’s

          • Ventrue Capital says:

            @theodidactus

            I have now made it a point to watch a video clip of that debate every year, on the date. It’s going to start getting REALLY bizarre in the mid-2030’s

            I must be overlooking something obvious. Which debate are you talking about?

          • theodidactus says:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0IWe11RWOM

            Long story: Obama had a “hot mike” moment with a Russian attache. He was making a tentative, and at that point somewhat secret, deal regarding nuclear arms. Presidents do this from time to time, but the fact that it was impromptu, and the fact that the attache replied with a lugubrious “I will transmit this to Vladmir” made the whole thing sound quite sinister.

            Republicans IMMEDIATELY attacked Obama for selling the country out to Russia, which Romney cautioned was our “#1 Geopolitical Enemy”…many people laughed at him, and you got this golden debate moment.

            Circa late 2016 the whole cast of characters switches sides. Now the right has no problem with cozying up to russia (and turkey, and north korea) and the left is sternly warning that these folks don’t have our best interests in mind.

          • BBA says:

            The current Russophobia among Democrats is mostly an artifact of the 2016 election that refuses to end. Once neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is a political figure on the national stage (so maybe in 20-30 years’ time, $DEITY willing) we’ll go back to seeing Russia as a burnt-out former power clinging to its glory days, rather than the sinister leader of the far-right “nationalist international” that it looks like now.

          • Loriot says:

            Well, there’s also the whole invading Ukraine thing. 2016 is just what made it so partisan.

        • Garrett says:

          It’s possible to think that Russia is a bad actor while concurrently thinking that Democrats are improperly associating Trump with it.

          • Loriot says:

            Likewise, it’s possible to think that China was legitimately abusing its position in trade while thinking that Trump went about things in the worst possible way.

            But nuanced views are outcompeted in the marketplace.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Loriot: Matt Stoller is getting some play.

            From his most recent blog post ( https://mattstoller.substack.com/p/shut-down-congress-physically-at )

            Indeed, we have shortages, and they are getting worse. (If you hear of any, let me know or leave a comment.) But they are not happening because we reduced our dependency on China, but because we did not.

            Even as Trump was putting up tariffs, his administration wasn’t focused on changing the other drivers of policy leading to offshoring.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Good article. I agree with him. One of my disappointments with Trump is that he’s doing tariffs to punish China. Okay, great, I’m fine with that, but I want tariffs to protect US industries. If all we’re doing is putting tariffs on China, that just encourages manufacturers to go to India or Vietnam instead. No, do stuff to make them come to America.

        • Konstantin says:

          Part of that was that Russia really was supporting the American Left around that time. Russian backed media in the US was hiring a lot of liberal journalistic talent that was being laid off by US media outlets, and they were given wide latitude to speak freely on issues not directly relating to Russia. Occupy Wall Street was the biggest example, as RT covered it constantly and called itself the “Occupy Network.” If you were a documentary filmmaker criticizing the US in some way, Russia was a ready source of funding. Of course, this cozy relationship ended abruptly once Russia invaded Crimea, after that and especially after Flight 17 nobody on the left wanted anything to do with Russia at all.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Most of your examples seem to be about short-term effects, not long-term. They are about whose lives will be disrupted less. For example, homeschoolers. Maybe in the long-term, the meme of homeschooling will expand. But who does that affect? The first order effect is that it benefits the people who considered a new option and decided that it was better. That is, it benefits people who previously did not homeschool by forcing them to consider a new option, the very people whose lives were (more) disrupted in the short term. This should not be surprising: every improvement is a change, a disruption.

    • There is the argument that the defining difference between right and left is that the right sees the world as a dangerous place where one has to defend things, the left as a safe place where one can experiment in order to improve things. I’m not sure I believe that argument — as I recently pointed out, both population and climate change have been issues where it was the left that was afraid of change — but if it is correct, then a plague should shift people to the right.

    • S_J says:

      Not sure how it will play out long term in society; I’m noticing that the danger points for coronavirus are the social connections of the “Jet Set”.

      That is, the people who have friends that go skiing in Italy, friends who do tourist trips to China/SE Asis, people who fly more than once or twice a year. Also at high risk are professional athletes, people in the movie business, and government functionaries who interact with traveling diplomats.

      Will this lower the prestige if people in those categories? Or will it change the way they interact with each other?

      • Tarpitz says:

        Speaking as someone in the movie business, I don’t think this is too bad for people in the movie business as a whole. Some companies will no doubt go under, some projects will get canned, but the demand for movies will if anything probably go up: the last downturn was actually pretty good for the box office, and if everyone stays at home watching Netflix et al, well, they’re going to need more content. Exactly how we go about making that content may change (I’m now actively looking for projects that can shoot entirely in the UK using only UK residents, which would not have been a major consideration in the past) but I think we’ll be fine.

        • Tarpitz says:

          I retract this comment based on having now read the ICL report explaining the shift in UK policy yesterday.

          If we are now looking at rolling shutdowns for the next 18 months, that is a huge problem for the industry. I had envisaged a return to public health policy normality some time in late summer, which now seems unlikely.

    • Chalid says:

      Inner city dwellers lose, suburbia and rural populations gain. Greater population density likely translates to more chances of virus transmission.

      Not necessarily. In e.g. the 1918 flu pandemic the death rate for urban populations was much lower than that for rural populations, probably due to that population generally having been exposed to more related pathogens beforehand. I don’t think we can yet know for sure what will happen this time.

    • Purplehermann says:

      It would be cool if working remotely became more normal after this

      • theodidactus says:

        I think it is persuasively demonstrating
        * It can be done
        * It has a LOT of really nice side benefits
        * It requires a sort of collective social contract

        I’m secretly hoping this whole crisis supplies an excuse to solve a lot of collective-action problems, frankly.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Me too.

        • aristides says:

          This is why I plan to work my hardest during my next few weeks of telework, to shore that I am just as productive, if not more so. I say this as I comment on a blog during work hours

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      – Homeschoolers gain, everyone else loses. Obvious.

      I’m really confused about the school closures thing. Some of the news reports are along the lines of “All K-12 schools and universities to be closed. Universities will continue distance learning.”
      Does this mean K-12 students will have no formal learning during this? If so, they’ll all atill be advanced to the next grade in September, right? Does losing a month to 6 weeks or more of school matter so little that K-12 teachers will never notice a stupider Class of COVID-19?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yes.

      • Anteros says:

        I have no idea about America, but here in France the schools seem to have just shifted to the internet. When I suggested to my ten year old that it was pretty cool to have a month off school she said “We’re going to be given work to do EVERY SINGLE DAY!” Didn’t seem too impressed about the idea..

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        My friends in Seattle said that students were doing remote learning, but it got shut off at one point because of equality-of-access issues. I forget where it’s at right now.

        My school system in the Carolinas is closed as of tomorrow, for 2 weeks but (of course) possibly longer. There is no plan for remote learning right away (me and the wife are going to make it happen) but things are changing by the day. Every student has a dedicated Chromebook but it stays at school — I expect them to be released to homes soon.

        Without some kind of remote learning very soon, the other choice is for the school year to extend further into the summer.

        • Randy M says:

          it got shut off at one point because of equality-of-access issues.

          reminiscent of the “No online courses without closed captioning” or whatever it was a while ago. Pretty aggravating.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            This makes sense. It’s not like the learning isn’t going to be made up, and it’s more effective (as well as more equitable) to have all the students making up the learning at the same time.

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe. Or maybe it would make more sense to try and keep most kids on track and do remedial work for the smaller group without access later. There’s no reason they have to stay with the same cohort.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Reasons why: Cost, access to cohort and friends (children learn in conjunction with other children, at least in public schools, and it’s not unheard of for children to be friends with children outside of their familial economic demographic).

            Your argument ultimately seems to boil down to the sancrosanctness of the school schedule. What’s inherently bad about moving part of summer vacation to the spring, pedagogically speaking?

          • Randy M says:

            Nothing, which is why I didn’t make that argument.
            It all depends on how long the closures are in effect for.

      • Loriot says:

        At least locally, I’ve heard that the schools are giving students work packets to take home, as well as chromebooks and Comcast credits for poor students without internet access at home. Apparently, there’s some sort of website for schoolwork as well.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        In general the learning has to be made up in the summer. One of the benefits of having a long summer break, I guess, is that classes can continue until the start of the next school year.

      • aristides says:

        This will actually be one of the best test cases ever for Bryan Caplan’s Case against education. Will there be any long term effects on students missing school for what looks to be 8 weeks? I’m betting no, and I really hope some researchers remember to check the data.

    • broblawsky says:

      Credit markets will be changed significantly as a result of this. Junk bonds will be in much lower demand; small companies (and large companies with poor cash flow) will find it harder to get funding. This may lead to an expansion of the existing “shadow banking” system.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Anti-free-traders will be able to make great hay over this, if they’re any good at propaganda at all (which is a very big “if”). This plague is so severe because the world is so connected, and do we really want our supply chains dependent on a country that churns out a new killer virus every few years?

    • soreff says:

      This is not a generic crisis, it is specifically an epidemic.
      So I’d expect some of the links between pathogens and some types of
      right-wing-leaning tendencies (emphasis on purity, emphasis on authority, etc.)
      to kick in.

      (Basically agreeing with David Friedman’s comment in
      https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/03/15/open-thread-149-5/#comment-865480 )

      • Jaskologist says:

        Well, this is certainly one way to put all of those priming claims about links between purity impulses and right-wingism to the test. If true, we should see a hard right-wing turn throughout the world.

        • noyann says:

          Could also be that the epidemic-necessitated purity behavior and thinking satisfies a need, and purity demands in the political sphere will diminish.

        • kai.teorn says:

          That’s an interesting point. In the Moral Foundations Theory, purity is one of the five core motivations, two of which push you more to the political left, three more to the right. Why don’t we look at all five:

          – compassion and care: I think it is stimulated by the crisis: we’re pushed to isolate but we’re also pushed to help each other, as in any crisis

          – fairness and proportionality: also stimulated, I think attempts by the wealthy to get preferential testing, care etc will be a hot topic

          – loyalty to the group: very much stumulated too, as the disease in most places is felt as something “foreign” and spread by faithless globetrotters

          – respect for authority or tradition: I think this will be a huge winner too, whether it comes in the form of realizing how government is saving lives by draconian measures, or in the form of “none of this would have happened if only we were going in our ancestors’ ways”

          – purity: winning too, agree with the commenters above

          So, looks like all five foundations are about to be activated and stimulated in this crisis. Which will turn out to be the strongest? We’ll see I guess.

          • aristides says:

            Interesting enough, as someone who is conservative, my instincts have been to isolate from everyone, protect my Ingroup, listen to the CDC, and don’t worry about what’s fair. This Implies that in a crisis, the moral foundations might reverse. The left sees the value in all 5 and the right only sees the value of 3. I wonder if there is any research on this?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The left sees the value in all 5 and the right only sees the value of 3.

            I thought that was the other way around? The left doesn’t value authority/tradition or purity.

          • kai.teorn says:

            It is usually accepted that the left is driven by compassion and fairness, the right by loyalty, obedience, and purity. I see no signs of that being reversed.

          • aristides says:

            Let me clarify my point. I know a few leftists that for the first time in my life are saying things like loyalty, obedience, and purity are important in dealing with this crisis, by with a reminder that fairness and compassion are important to. Meanwhile I know rightists that are saying I told you so about loyalty, obedience, and purity, while saying who cares about fairness and compassion, I need the people I care about protected. This is very different than Haidt’s claim, and I’m wondering if it is generally true, or just a biased observation?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Who’s saying to hell with fairness and compassion?

          • kai.teorn says:

            @aristides: interesting. I can imagine leftists reassessing obedience and purity (especially purity, kind of like HIV had delayed the advance of gay rights by a decade or more), but loyalty? Outside of family, loyalty to any social or ethnic group seems to bring little practical advantage now. And the sort of obedience that is being promoted by the crisis is the obedience to science-backed big government, which was already associated with the left more than the right. Finally, as pointed out above, the purity required now is limited and in many ways counterintuitive, so again, not necessarily reinforcing the right. So, while it is possible and in fact likely that we’ll see some overall movement of mindshare to the right, I would not overestimate it.

        • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

          What about the link between the Right, ignoring experts, and conspiracy theorisation?

          https://www.fitsnews.com/2020/03/16/guest-column-ron-paul-the-coronavirus-hoax/

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I don’t think that the right-wing “purity” is a matter of infectious disease purity (nor necessarily of racial ‘purity’, this is not a *wink* comment).

    • EchoChaos says:

      – Homeschoolers gain, everyone else loses. Obvious.

      So no change from right now. 🙂

    • Matt M says:

      Everyone loses in a crisis like that, but it seems like some groups lose less than others, which may give them an eventual gain in mindshare if not pure demography.

      I’m not sure this is helpful.

      I fall in nearly all of the buckets you’ve listed as people who stand to gain. And yet, I feel sick. Not literally, like, psychologically sick. And not because I’m worried about the poor and unfortunate. Because I’m worried about myself. This is going to harm me a lot, compared to what otherwise could have happened. My absolute standard of living will almost certainly decline.

      The fact that other people are less prepared and will have it worse than me does not provide me the slightest bit of consolation.

      • kai.teorn says:

        I understand you and I feel almost the same. Hey, even making this list was partly self-therapy for me (obviously, even though it was also useful discussion). Always look at the bright side of life, and if you can’t see it, invent.

        But with all that, I still think some people stand to gain from all this, even if they feel shitty in the process, even if they feel much shittier than those who lose. What happens doesn’t care much about your feelings. If you’re the right person at the right time and place, you stand to gain whether you want it or not. Could just as well use your unexpected advantage for something positive, such as helping others.

  2. Plumber says:

    I’m not sure if it’s a prediction, or just toying with an idea, but from:
    The Party Cannot Hold by Michael Tomasky in the March 26, 2020 issue of the  The New York Review of Books

    “In early January, as Democratic voters began to focus more intently on the approaching primary season, New York magazine published a profile of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.1 The writer, David Freedlander, spoke with her about the divisions within the Democratic Party, and asked what sort of role she envisioned for herself in a possible Joe Biden presidency. “Oh, God,” Ocasio-Cortez replied (“with a groan,” Freedlander noted). “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.”

    This was in some respects an impolitic, even impolite, thing for the first-term politician to say. AOC, a democratic socialist, had endorsed Bernie Sanders the previous October, so it was no secret where her loyalties lay. Still, Biden was at that point the clear front-runner for the presidential nomination, and freshman members of Congress don’t usually make disparaging remarks about their party’s front-runner. Her comment thus carried a considerable charge—a suggestion that if Biden were the nominee, this luminary and her 6.3 million Twitter followers might not just placidly go along.

    And yet, she is correct. In a parliamentary system, Biden would be in the main center-left party and AOC in a smaller, left-wing party. So her comment was an accurate description of an oddity of American politics that has endured since just before the Civil War—the existence of our two, large-tent parties battling for primacy against each other, but often battling within themselves.

    At the moment, as the Democrats struggle over their future, one can legitimately wonder whether the poles of the Democratic tent are strong enough to hold. The divisions are stark. This historical moment is often compared to 1972, when a youth movement similar to the one Sanders leads today took over the party and nominated George McGovern. But if anything, today’s divisions run far deeper. Then, the party was split chiefly over the Vietnam War. There were other issues, to be sure, and the New Left—the 1960s movement of student radicals that spread from Madison to Berkeley to everywhere—pressed a broader critique of American society; but McGovern’s was fundamentally an antiwar candidacy. And while the Vietnam debate was shattering to the party for a few years, wars eventually end, as indeed that one did, not long after the 1972 election.

    Once it ended, and once the Watergate scandal mushroomed, the party was able to stitch itself back together with surprising ease. In the 1974 midterms, both liberals and moderates were able to run aggressively against Richard Nixon, and the Democrats made historic gains that year. Then, with the country still agitated over Nixon and Gerald Ford’s pardon of him, and with a sunny southern moderate vaulting over several better-known and more liberal senators, they recaptured the White House in 1976.

    The current divide is not about one war. It is about capitalism—whether it can be reformed and remade to create the kind of broad prosperity the country once knew, but without the sexism and racism of the postwar period, as liberals hope; or whether corporate power is now so great that we are simply beyond that, as the younger socialists would argue, and more radical surgery is called for. Further, it’s about who holds power in the Democratic Party, and the real and perceived ways in which the Democrats of the last thirty years or so have failed to challenge that power. These questions are not easily resolved, so this internal conflict is likely to last for some time and grow very bitter indeed. If Sanders wins the nomination, he will presumably try to unify the party behind his movement—but many in the party establishment will be reluctant to join, and a substantial number of his most fervent supporters wouldn’t welcome them anyway. It does not seem to me too alarmist to wonder if the Democrats can survive all this; if 2020 will be to the Democrats as 1852 was to the Whigs—a schismatic turning point that proved that the divisions were beyond bridging.

    When did it begin, this split in the Democratic Party over these most basic questions of our political economy? One could trace it back to William Jennings Bryan and the Free Silver Movement (an early rebellion against the eastern bankers), or perhaps even earlier. But if pressed to name a modern starting point, I would choose the mid-1980s: the crushing 1984 defeat of Walter Mondale, and Al From’s creation the next year of the Democratic Leadership Council, which was founded to move the party away from statism and unions and toward positions friendlier to the free market. Mondale was the last old-fashioned Keynesian to capture the Democratic nomination. Ever since, the party’s nominees have offered, to one degree or another, hybrids of Keynesianism and neoliberalism.2

    Bill Clinton, the 1992 nominee, probably tilted more toward neoliberalism than any other Democrat, although wholesale dismissals of him as a neoliberal sellout aren’t fair or accurate. People forget, for example, that he rolled the dice on government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 because he refused to sign a budget Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole pressed on him with enormous domestic spending cuts. It was by no means a given when the first shutdown started that he would win that fight politically (which he did, even if he lost in another way, because of the intern he met who brought him pizza while the White House staff was furloughed). Clinton was a Keynesian at times, but in broad strokes, on trade and financial deregulation, he pushed the Democrats much closer to that then-aborning creature, the global financial elite.

    Like Clinton, Al Gore had been a “New Democrat,” as the more centrist Democrats of the day called themselves, most of his career, but as the nominee in 2000, he tried on both suits. I was at the convention in Los Angeles for his surprisingly high-octane, populist speech announcing that his campaign would rest on the idea of “the people versus the powerful.” But over the next few weeks, the powerful must have started calling. Gore toned that rhetoric down. We never got to see him govern, of course, as he won the election by 500,000 votes but lost it by one at the Supreme Court. John Kerry continued in a similar style in 2004. He proposed new health care and jobs spending, to be paid for by rescinding the Bush tax cuts. He also pledged to cut the deficit in half in four years. But the 2004 election turned more on national security—Iraq and the September 11 attacks—than the economy, and he narrowly lost.

    None of these candidates really had to worry about “the left.” It certainly existed. There was a fairly robust movement against free trade, backed by the labor unions, though it never succeeded in nominating a president. And there were numerous columnists and policy intellectuals who protested every time a Democratic president or congressional leader emphasized the importance of deficit reduction, or otherwise embraced austerity. But electorally, Democrats could get by just paying occasional lip service to the economic left.

    Then came the meltdown of 2008 and the Great Recession[….]

    […]As for those post-defeat developments, the most obvious would be an actual war. Suppose that Trump started a military action that for whatever reason—because it involved a defense of Israel, say—a number of hawkish Democrats felt compelled to support. An event like that, with tensions between the left and the mainstream already raging, could be the party’s Kansas-Nebraska Act, the 1854 law that tore the Whig Party apart once and for all. The Whig analogy is somewhat instructive because internal Whig divisions, especially but not wholly over slavery, reached a point at which reconciliation became impossible. So there is precedent in American history for a party becoming so split that members of both factions decide it’s no longer worth the bother. The difference is that the Whigs had existed for only about twenty years, while the Democrats have been around since the 1820s.

    There is also the overwhelming reality that our electoral system makes it very hard for third parties to gain traction. Duverger’s Law—the theorem of the twentieth-century French political scientist Maurice Duverger that single-member districts lead to the existence of two-party systems—still holds. If AOC and her allies were to form a third party, they would find that they could elect only a small handful of members of Congress (from the deepest-blue districts, and even there they would have to fight to dislodge entrenched Democratic incumbents), and their opportunities to exercise leverage would be rare. Third parties can overtake their rivals—it just happened in Ireland, where Sinn Féin, which had long trailed the two main parties, finished first. But Ireland uses a form of proportional representation that makes such outcomes more possible. In single-member district systems, third-party victories are much rarer. Labour displaced the Liberals in the UK as the main opposition party in the 1922 elections, after the Liberals had split into two factions behind David Lloyd George (in coalition with the Tories) and H.H. Asquith (dissenting). But this, too, happened because of the parliamentary structure.

    So our system militates against a schism. Yet it’s hard to imagine pro-socialist leftists and pro-capitalist liberals remaining peacefully in the same political party. Right now, there aren’t that many of the former, but their numbers will grow if the system continues to fail to address their concerns. Ocasio-Cortez gives them a highly charismatic leader to rally behind for many years after Sanders is gone.

    How is this fracture to be healed? I doubt it happens this year (although the unpopular Trump could still be defeated). If Sanders wins the nomination, it becomes absolutely incumbent upon Democratic establishment figures to get behind him, because a second Trump term is unthinkable. But the reality is probably that a number of them won’t; also, that a number of Democrats running in purple districts where some of Sanders’s positions might not be popular will keep their distance from him. In the long term, party unity will probably require a different presidential candidate, such is the overwhelming dominance of the presidential selection process in our system. This would be a person who, by dint of biography, personality, and record, would have some measure of credibility with both the left and the mainstream, and who could sell a concordat to both sides, convincing liberals to shed the neoliberal reflex to defer to certain corporate benefactors and embrace populism, and persuading leftists that the real common enemies they share with liberals are the Republicans, the Electoral College, and the Senate.

    The Republicans have their version of these problems, but they are less severe because the GOP is a far less diverse party, both racially and ideologically. The Democrats’ tent has always been bigger, going back to the days when it included crusading liberals and reactionary segregationists. But that was a time when capitalism was doing pretty well, and when it had a global enemy, so all Democrats at least agreed that the system was working. There is no such agreement today.

    —February 27, 2020

    1
    David Freedlander, “One Year in Washington,” New York, January 6, 2020. 

    2
    I have sometimes found this word confusing. I first encountered it as a young reader of The Washington Monthly, and so I accepted the definition advanced by that magazine’s founder, Charlie Peters, who wore the label proudly. He meant “neoliberal” as still working for traditional liberalism’s goals but simultaneously casting away some prejudices that had come to hurt Democrats politically (being seen as antimilitary, for example). But in economics, the word has an older meaning, going back to the 1930s, and in this meaning, neoliberal is pro–free market, antiregulation, anti-Keynes—very much akin to what we more commonly today call supply-side conservative economics. The “liberal” in this “neoliberal” is the liberalism of the late eighteenth century, of Adam Smith and his contemporaries, a liberalism built around the concept of protecting the free individual from the coercive power of the state and enabling him to work for his economic self-interest. In this essay, I use “neoliberal” in this sense”

    So any merit to Tomasky’s prediction/idea?

    • Loriot says:

      I don’t take it seriously, since Duvager’s law means the two party system isn’t going anywhere. It’s a lot more fun (and click worthy) to predict meltdown than the status quo, but that doesn’t make it any more likely.

      At best, we might see the borders of the party shift a bit, like in the last four years when working class whites when to the Republicans and educated suburbanites went to the Democrats.

    • Mondale was the last old-fashioned Keynesian to capture the Democratic nomination

      I don’t know what the author of this piece thinks “Keynesian” means, but it doesn’t sound as though it has much to do with the economic theories of Keynes. Obama’s “stimulus” program was what a 1960’s Keynesian would have recommended to deal with a recession.

      • Joseph Greenwood says:

        Maybe the operative phrase here is “old-fashioned”? I’ve generally heard Obama’s economic policies described as “neo-Keynsian”, which I generally take to mean “In the philosophical spirit of Keynes, but with some innovations and embellishments.”

        • Loriot says:

          I’m not an expert, so I just assumed that “neo-Keynesian” meant “like what Paul Krugman advocates”. I’m not sure what the difference is, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the role of monetary policy and the zero lower bound.

    • Guy in TN says:

      The demographics are stark, aren’t they? The Michigan exit polls showed 80/20 splits for Sanders in the young, and roughly the same for Biden in the +65.

      And no, this isn’t just about the candidate. Poll after poll shows stark ideological divides on many issues.

      And no, the young Democrats aren’t going to “grow up” into being just as conservative as they age. This is a story centrists and Republicans like to tell themselves to help them sleep at night. The actual evidence shows that ideologies are largely entrenched, with only a slight shift towards conservatism with age. We are looking at the ascent of the most left-wing generation in modern history.

      So what’s going to happen? Unity seems impossible. A third party seems impossible. I predict a bitter, decades-long infight with sputtering victories and losses distributed between the two factions. And if nothing significantly changes (a big “if”), then eventually the left wins, and the centrists get the choice of either playing along or staying home (just like the left had to do in 2016, 2020, and the latter half of the 20th century).

      I’ve ran the numbers on this myself, and it looks like if the demographics stay steady, it will be nearly impossible for the Democratic centrists to score victories by the 2040s. (Of course, if today’s teenagers/children turn out to be significantly more centrist then that date gets pushed back indefinitely, but if they swing even more left-wing then the date comes sooner.)

      • Loriot says:

        > And no, the young Democrats aren’t going to “grow up” into being just as conservative as they age.

        For what it’s worth, I used to identify as liberal and complained that Obama was too conservative and once literally commented that “we need someone like Sanders”. Now I identify as moderate and I voted for Clinton and Biden in the primaries.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          “But this time it’s different.”

          • Guy in TN says:

            There are people who study this question for a living. The data is easily accessible through basic googling.

            Both things are simultaneously true:
            1. People become slightly more conservative as they age.

            2. People of the same birth year become “entrenched” as political cohorts. For example, people who became politically aware in the Reagan years will be more conservative on average, at a given age, than other cohorts when they reach that age. A 50 year old “Reagan era” person will be more conservative than the corresponding “Kennedy/LBJ era” person.

            The people who make the argument that the left is demographically ascendant are not unaware of the first concept, or saying “this time its different”.

            They are saying that, like the “entrenched conservatives” of the Reagan years, we have had a long period now (Bush-Obama-Trump) of entrenched liberals, and it doesn’t seem to be tapering off.

      • gph says:

        But one of the major phenomenons is that the majority of the youth doesn’t vote. And I don’t think it’s a bunch of leftists that are too lazy/uncaring/demoralized. On the contrary I think that’s the reasons they give, but really they are sort of proto-centrists. Those with extreme ideologies that ‘know’ they have the right answer vote their beliefs. But most people at that age aren’t super confident in their own knowledge/world-view, etc. In surveys and amongst their peers they’ll skew generally leftist, but once they grow-up a bit and are more confident with their place in the world they become the moderate/undecided/swing voters which actually is probably the biggest voting bloc in America.

      • Deiseach says:

        We are looking at the ascent of the most left-wing generation in modern history.

        If they can just bother to drag themselves to the polling booths and actually cast that vote. Sanders’ overwhelming support from the young radicals online hasn’t translated into “getting to physical places to express that support”, so far as I understand (you may know differently).

        And “the left” that wins, this firebrand young generation, are not immune to the passage of time. They will get older, and finding themselves now entrenched as the party in power, they will accommodate themselves to that – see how Labour became New Labour in Britain.

        Ocasio-Cortez is DSA rather than Democratic Party because of convenience, but the DSA is never going to be much greater than a rump or splinter movement, even if they do have hopes of being the tail wagging the dog via candidates like Ocasio-Cortez. Let her come back after retaining her seat in the 2022 midterms and we’ll see how her ascent will continue; personally, I think even if she does retain it, she’ll settle into the mould of a local politician: her brand will resonate with the voters in the patch she has staked out, but she will not be the influence within the Democratic Party that people were imagining in the wake of her election victory. She did manage to slap Nancy Pelosi around a bit, but Pelosi has recovered, and whoever succeeds Pelosi is not going to be in the Ocasio-Cortez mould but one of the party centrists who has spent decades climbing the greasy pole.

    • DeWitt says:

      The Republicans have their version of these problems, but they are less severe because the GOP is a far less diverse party, both racially and ideologically.

      I’m sorry, what?

      The party currently housing populists, establishment business types, all twelve libertarians, and white Christians is somehow not ideologically diverse?

      • I would have echoed this objection in 2016, attributed it to out-group homogeneity bias. Now I agree with it as far as the GOP is ideologically homogeneous in practice. Whether the Trump-supporting populists, Christian conservatives, or establishment Republicans won the 2016 nomination and then election, actual policy would have been much the same and dominated by the latter group.

        • DeWitt says:

          I suppose that’s fair, and I guess it remains to be seen whether or not this will prove true among the democrats as well.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          President Jeb would not have built a wall, imposed tariffs on China, renegotiated NAFTA, killed TPP, met with Kim Jong Un, bullied NATO into paying their fair share, or signed a peace deal with the Taliban. You would still get judges and tax cuts, though.

          You’re still doing the outgroup homogeneity bias thing, and your conclusions are completely false.

          • Loriot says:

            The wall and trade deals I’ll give you, but I suspect Jeb would have pressured NATO members, just more diplomatically, and the NAFTA, North Korea and Taliban things were meaningless stunts anyway.

            One more: He wouldn’t have pulled out of the Iran deal either.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Loriot

            As with any primary, there is a fight between the base as to which things make the party plank.

            There was an ongoing fight in the Democrats in the 80s and 90s between closed borders Democrats and open borders Democrats.

            Clinton in the 90s was really harsh on the border, for example. The open borders Democrats won, and those Democrats who really cared about closed borders went independent or Republican, while those who didn’t really care just shrugged their shoulders and accepted the new planks.

            Similarly with Republicans and abortion, free trade, etc.

            It’s easy with the outgroup to say things like “Democrats have always wanted open borders to import socialism!” or “Republicans have always been theocrats who want to control women’s bodies!”

            But in actuality there are strong internal debates about those policies, then the team marches together to the new beat after the debate is resolved, with members for whom that’s a dealbreaker falling off to the other party or the political void.

            Trump changed the party plank, which is the big reason that NAFTA and NATO mattered, not just because of the policy changes, but because Republicans now stand for different things.

      • The party currently housing populists, establishment business types, all twelve libertarians …

        Four of them are in the LP, and four more are nonvoters on principle.

    • zardoz says:

      When the Republicans were having their contentious primary in 2016, some people were making the same kind of predictions that the party would split. It didn’t seem credible then, and the same prediction for the Democrats doesn’t seem credible now. A third party competing for left-wing votes would be a huge spoiler.

  3. theodidactus says:

    Without using the past 4 weeks as the only way to frame the situation, to what extent might Coronavirus alleviate political polarization? To what extent might it exacerbate political polarization?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      to what extent might Coronavirus alleviate political polarization?

      None.

      To what extent might it exacerbate political polarization?

      Quite a bit. The topic is entirely politicized.

      • Nick says:

        (Epistemic status: thinking aloud)
        Will anything alleviate political polarization?

        I have to imagine that an external threat like China could. And the coronavirus has some potential there. To be sure, it will be treated in a highly political way by some, even most, but it seems to me like a consensus might form among the less mindkilled. We already saw this briefly with the NBA, when everyone from The American Conservative to National Review to Vox was railing against China!

        • theodidactus says:

          I’m very ambivalent about the whole thing.

          On one hand, my general approach to most political disputes post-1995 is that they are to a large extent a luxury good. Most political principles are very “big picture” attitudes, which are impossible to actually apply in practice. We can only afford to think of “the other side” as some sort of orc horde with no principals, morals, or good ideas because nothing makes us actually have to engage with them. My pet theory for what’s driving a lot of polarization is the end of the old earmark regime in the early Bush administration. Prior to that, people had to routinely compromise to acquire things like funding and pork, and this was a large part of what drove bipartisan consensus. Similarly, in our daily “real lives”, we routinely compromise political principles when we EG have family over for dinner or have to navigate formal niceties. I think this explains a lot about why, for example, vegetarians and meat eaters, or Trump and evangelical protestants, or immigrant muslims and the social justice left, and compromise in ways that Paul Ryan and I can’t seem to.

          The argument here is that, to quote orwell, in many areas of life, 2+2 can equal whatever you want, but in a real war, 2+2 has to equal 4 (or you’ll get beat by the other guy, who rationally appraises the situation). now I don’t think it has to be anything as dramatic as a “real war”…but we suddenly find ourselves in a situation where the problem requires pretty explicit renegotiation of social expectations: maybe I won’t be at work this week. I promise I’ll get my work done, you don’t fire me. Maybe my kids can’t go to school…but you need to feed them somehow, or accept that huge portions of the population won’t be coming into work. I’ve been *amazed* at how quickly consensus formed on the right course of action to take here.

          On the other hand, as Honcho points out, current reporting on this crisis has been fairly partisan in the states in ways it hasn’t been abroad, and I see this in my own social circles. My liberal friends claim that nebulous, unnamed, mysterious “trump supporters” think the disease is a hoax (I know of no Trump supporter who believes that). My conservative friends think the Democrats are deliberately trying to sink the economy to pin this whole thing on Trump (I’m not even sure how you’d go about doing that). Both sides, as they have since 2016, accuse the *other* side of being the anti-vaccine, anti-science crowd, and specifically accuse anti-vaxxers of having some grand-but-unspecified role in the current health crisis.

          So who knows?

        • noyann says:

          Any shared enemy will that/who is (perceived as) strong enough. Until the danger’s over.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’m not sure we could ask for a better shared enemy than a virus.

          • noyann says:

            An intelligent one with their own agency, operating also with psychological and social strategies in multiple varied and adapting ways?

          • Nick says:

            An intelligent one with their own agency, operating also with psychological and social strategies in multiple varied and adapting ways?

            I think there was one of those in Farscape.

          • noyann says:

            @Nick
            Had to look up FS. Now I got another reason to live longer. Thks!

        • Nornagest says:

          To be sure, it will be treated in a highly political way by some, even most, but it seems to me like a consensus might form among the less mindkilled.

          Let me know when that starts happening. From here, it looks like everyone’s got exactly the same opinions they had two months ago, but with the threat of mass death and the actuality of mass quarantine to back them up.

  4. An interesting article about using data from the Diamond Princess, where everyone got tested, to estimate mortality rates from the Coronavirus. Their conclusion is that the age adjusted rate is about .5%, the rate for those aged 70 or over 9%.

    • doubleunplussed says:

      This is death rate with treatment by a healthcare system not yet under strain.

      I don’t think these numbers are necessarily inconsistent with the higher death rates we’ve seen in Italy and China, and I don’t think they necessarily imply undercounting cases in those places. Death rates with a strained healthcare system that cannot treat everyone adequately is much higher.

      It’s like talking about the R0 of a disease. Every diseases that is still with us and not in the midst of an outbreak or vaccine in the process of wiping it out has an R0 of *exactly one*. The R0 is context-dependent. So is the death rate.

      When people are worrying that millions will die, it’s because the death rate may be 10 – 20 % if the healthcare system is overwhelmed (which at the current rate will occur within weeks in the US, UK, Australia).

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m also concerned about increased deaths among people who need medical care buy don’t have coronavirus.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      It is important to note that the death rates are of old people who are healthy enough to board cruise ships. This seems pedantic, but is actually quite salient as health status is actually quite diverse in these age ranges.

      • JayT says:

        My prior was always that less healthy older people prefer cruises because they don’t need move around as much to still get to see and do a lot of things. Whereas, healthier older people are more likely to go on a traditional vacation.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Presumably a lot of the older people on cruises are in middling health for their age. They aren’t the most able and they aren’t the most debilitiated.

        • Kaitian says:

          In elderly people (70+) health levels are very diverse, there are people who don’t like walking due to a bad hip but are otherwise fine, there are people who run marathons, and there’s the (average?) old person who takes 10 pills a day and requires oxygen when they get the common cold. Then there are those who can’t take care of themselves and are extremely fragile. The marathon runner might find cruises too boring, and the bed bound probably can’t go, but all those between the extremes, I’d expect to find them on a cruise ship.

  5. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I just reread “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation” by Raphael Carter, a short science fiction story about an imaginary genetic variant which sometimes causes problems with gendered adjectives. It doesn’t have a plot, it’s just about researching it, and finding that some of the people with the gene can identify hormonal variations just by looking at people. They can do it better than endocrinologists. There’s a deep dive into how knowledge works. And the story is funnier than I’d previously realized.

    I think fiction about research is a worthwhile topic, though I’m not sure how to define things so that all the mystery stories don’t show up on the list. Maybe solving crimes shouldn’t count for these purposes unless some larger aspect of the universe is also uncovered.

    Anyway, there’s Possession by A.S. Byatt, which is about people researching a Victorian poem.

    Ash by Mary Gentle, in which a historian finds some very odd things in medieval France.

    The movie Arrival and the short story “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang that it was based on.

    As I recall, The Heart of the Comet by Brin and Benford had much more research than most science fiction.

    Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

    • theodidactus says:

      I’m really hoping to do a Borgesian type story someday which is about researching a wondrous fantasy society the author cannot directly participate in. If you make research a part of any science fiction story, it gives you a much better opportunity to gracefully lorebuild and expodump.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        This is a reminder of the beginning of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a wonderfully snarky description of a way for research to go wrong. A bunch of English gentlemen have a hobby of researching magic, with the assumption that (I can’t remember which) either it was all fakery and delusion or that it used to be real but it never happens any more.

        As might be expected, real magic intrudes. And part of magic is that it requires emotional sanity-risking involvement which isn’t consistent with calm examination from the outside. And yet, if I recall the book correctly, their research wasn’t entirely a waste.

    • Loriot says:

      HPMOR spends more time on Ender’s Game pastiches and standard fantasy adventure sequences than it does on anything resembling actual research.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        It’s true that most of HPMOR isn’t reserch, but there’s some. I’ll settle for fiction where there’s *some* research.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Yeah, it was little, but it was memorable. Trying to find the rules for magic with the experimental method… How was that quote? “The long march of science will just have to start from the beginning, that’s all”, or something like that.

        Edit: Ah, and the Draco bit about why the magic was weakening. One of my favorite parts.

    • dpm96c says:

      The Aspern Papers, by Henry James, is a short novel about a writer trying to obtain letters from a famous poet’s mistress.

  6. SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

    So, I believe the UK’s plan is right in stressing the importance of isolating the elderly. What people have missed about Italy and now Spain is the high incidence of multi generational households: usually grandparents live with their children/grandchildren. Northern European states and the US have the elderly living alone or in retirement homes. This is a potential god send in this scenario, because isolation becomes much easier, IF you prevent it from spreading in retirement homes.

    A means to do that is to prevent sick employees coming to work in retirement homes. Usually, as far as the situation in Europe is concerned, these are terribly understaffed, and put high pressure on employees to come into work even when feeling a bit sick.

    Crazy idea: Let volunteers/low skilled people chip in (after some very short training).

    Some tasks like handing out medications or attending to medical emergencies can obviously not be taken over by low skilled people. But as far as I understand, nurses spend most of their times cleaning residents in retirement homes, which given my experience doing so with family members is not that difficult. Furthermore, if volunteers/helpers team up with experienced nurses, cleaning can be done much faster presumably.

    Given a whole bunch of unemployed people in the service industry, the supply of helpers might be sufficient for this. Are there reasons why this might be a bad idea?

    • DeWitt says:

      Retirement homes and the like can basically do that as it is. They might already be on it.

      Of course, most of the actual retirement homes in my country have gone away due to governmental policy changes, but that’s a whole other can of worms entirely.

    • Secretly French says:

      This is a potential god send in this scenario

      Would it be unbearably facetious of me to suggest that if I were old, I’d rather live in a multi-generational household and then die of [a very special kind of, if you like] the flu, than live in a nursing home and live longer?

      • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

        I much prefer the multi-generational arrangement myself, and this was not meant as an endorsement of sending our old folks to wither away in nursing homes, but the quoted sentence does include the “in this scenario” part.

    • Garrett says:

      > nurses spend most of their times cleaning residents in retirement homes

      This is *not* true, at least in the US. There is a category of staff known as a Certified Nursing Assistant which has even fewer hours than EMTs. These are the folks doing the majority of the “hands-on” work and get paid roughly minimum wage. Indeed, they are the majority of the staff in most “nursing homes”.

      > handing out medications

      A process which requires a nurse. And given how bare-bones the staffing is at many facilities, it’s the *only* reason legitimate nurses are actually working there.

      > attending to medical emergencies

      [Insert snark here].

      > Are there reasons why this might be a bad idea?

      Not at all. Except that you are years? decades? behind actual medical practice. Nursing is a highly-skilled profession. Like every [skilled|compensated] profession in the US, there has been a huge push to replace them with lower-[skilled|compensated] providers for a long time.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        Where my wife works, the CNAs hand out medications.

        • Elementaldex says:

          Same here. I think the CNA’s just have to be supervised by an RN to be able to do medications.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            If supervision means an RN on staff who never visits the site but has access to the online records, then yes. (I shouldn’t say never. I’m sure that the RN visits so many times per year. And probably goes over the records weekly.)

        • Garrett says:

          Interesting. Is it all possible medications, or limited to a certain subset?

          • Toby Bartels says:

            I don’t know what it is in theory, but in practice, it’s all of the medications that the residents take. This is a group home for developmentally disabled adults, some of whom need constant supervision and some of whom go out and live their lives during the day (although not now). A lot of the work is wiping people’s butts.

  7. Lodore says:

    OK, I’m going to be the goat that tethers himself for the T-Rex.

    I remain of the view that most of the European Covid-19 response remains disproportionate and counterproductive. The only country that seems to have a sensible policy that I can see is the UK, in which I live. The cognitive dissonance of lauding the Tories is causing me some pain, but there you have it.

    My argument centres less on facts than on values. Everyone agrees (more or less) that C-19 is lethal; everyone also agrees that this lethality disproportionately impacts on the elderly and the unwell. Where I seem to disagree with everyone concerns the fairness of the economically vulnerable picking up the tab for protecting the elderly and unwell. (And no, this is not some anti-boomer thing: I have elderly relatives too.)

    So let’s consider Brenda. She’s a single mother with two kids; she works as an office temp worker and lives week-to-week. If she stays at home in a complete lockdown (à la Italy or Ireland), she loses her income, misses her mortgage/rent, and falls into debt she cannot easily get out of. If Brenda gets C-19 she’ll feel a bit shitty but she’ll get over it; moreover, with precautions she may avoid it altogether.

    Then there’s Phil. Phil is retired on a modest pension; it would be a pain for him to self-isolate, but his income is secure and the government has committed to helping him. If Phil gets C-19 he could very well die, but it is generally accepted principle that those with susceptibilities have primary responsibility for not putting themselves in harm’s way.

    I don’t see how Phil’s needs trump Brenda’s when Phil can self-isolate. So it seems to me that the responsible policy is to (1) mandate that the elderly and ill self-isolate with as much help as they need; and (2) ensure that businesses, schools, and reasonable forms of social life continue with higher precautions. After all, C-19 isn’t Ebola.

    Why am I wrong?

    • DeWitt says:

      Lethality isn’t the full picture here. Living through your spell of corona doesn’t look like sitting at home and taking it easy, it looks like requiring hospitalisation and active care for a double-digit percentage of cases. Unless you have a plan for stuffing fully 20% of your country’s population into hospitals so they can receive oxygen, your plan is one in which you’re going to see many more people die than the one where we try to do at least something about the virus.

      • Purplehermann says:

        Do you have a source the double digit comment?

      • Lodore says:

        Unless you have a plan for stuffing fully 20% of your country’s population into hospitals so they can receive oxygen

        Is this what will happen? I’ve heard that 2 in 10 cases become serious, but that includes the elderly and sick. I’m proposing that exactly these people self-isolate. Is it the case that 20% of younger, healthy people require hospitalisation?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Unless you have a plan for stuffing fully 20% of your country’s population into hospitals so they can receive oxygen

        Lodore’s plan was “mandate that the elderly and ill self-isolate with as much help as they need.”

        Once you are throwing gigabucks at a problem, a lot of previously-impractical ideas become practical. For example, Caregiver Carl is taking care of old people at a nursing home. He lives on site and his only interaction with the outside world is Delivery Dave. We monitor both Carl and Dave for any signs of fever, and if either shows sign, we pull both of them.

      • Watchman says:

        The UK worst case scenario is 20% of the workforce (presumably analogous to population) unable to work at any one time. That’s quite different from them requiring hospital treatment, never mind intensive care treatment.

        I’d say the flaw in the plan is relying on the elderly to self-isolate. That’s the bit that caused my wife to ask “have they ever met any old people?” There’s a pretty strong strand of bloody-minded individuality in a lot of older folk, so I’m interested to see how thus plays out.

        • Garrett says:

          > There’s a pretty strong strand of bloody-minded individuality in a lot of older folk

          It’s win/win/win! If they survive it’s because they followed government advice. If they don’t, it’s because they failed to follow government advice *and* it’s one less pension they need to pay for.

    • Purplehermann says:

      You’re wrong because of a lack of available medical support (oxygen machines, operators, beds..), and not just the elderly are going to need that support.

      Also because there might be permanent lung damage for some percentage of those whom were hospitalized even after recovery

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You’re assuming that people in lowest-risk demographics (Chinese CDC says 0.2% of infected 10-39 year-olds and 0.4% of 40-49 YOs died) won’t need hospitalization. If someone has the data for what percent of those cohorts needed normal hospitalization (which things like empty hotels could be turned into if we can ramp up the health care labor supply) and what percent ICU beds and oxygenation, we could say more.

      EDIT: A Google search for information on people under 50 hospitalized in China or Italy first led me to, God help me, Vox.
      “On Friday, an ICU physician in Lombardy — the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak — told JAMA there have been only two deaths of people under the age of 50.”
      That’s ~1/600, even after Italian ICU capacity got swamped a couple days before Friday 3/12. It doesn’t directly tell us how likely you are to need hospitalization if under 50, but it’s a clue.

    • Loriot says:

      Elderly people are more at risk, but the deaths and severe cases are by no means limited to them. Remember the 31 year old doctor in China who died?

      The correct answer is to due everything to stop or slow the outbreak and have the government step in to help people who are vulnerable economically.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      You probably aren’t wrong.

      The real reason for Brexit was exactly to be able to make this kind of policy decisions. Politically it is risky as hell, and the general left (blue tribe etc) would absolutely never go for it. Once again, I find Haidt’s Moral Foundations theory to be a perfect tool in explaining how each group will align. People centered on the harm/care foundation would absolutely never do anything like that.

      I wasn’t in the room when they made their decisions, and I’m pretty sure UK’s strategy is NOT as simple as “let it burn through the young ones”, but I just can’t see how hitting pause on everything for a month when a vaccine is at least half a year away is going to solve the problem. It’ll save lives now, yes, but not the problem.

      I guess steelmanning the conventional “flatten the curve” strategy is: delay the first hit of the exponential increase while we can make operational and social preparations for the long term. But I hope to god that’s how the governments are seeing it too, because if their plan stops at step 1, we’re not going to be ok.

      • Lodore says:

        I guess steelmanning the conventional “flatten the curve” strategy is: delay the first hit of the exponential increase while we can make operational and social preparations for the long term. But I hope to god that’s how the governments are seeing it too, because if their plan stops at step 1, we’re not going to be ok.

        Yeah, this is the real problem to my mind. And I fear that governments do not see flattening as part of a longer-term strategy, as much of what they’re doing looks like Robin Hanson style health signalling. Other lines of evidence come from the shame-policing that’s emerged on the topic. I’ve personally got it in the neck from family members about my “lack of empathy” and the Irish outrage over the British response suggests a clash of values that’s political rather than practical.

      • InvalidUsernameAndPassword says:

        The real reason for Brexit was exactly to be able to make this kind of policy decisions.

        Then how come that the UK was able to make it during the transition period when it still has to abide by all EU rules?

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Fair point. I actually meant it more in an abstract way – and in all fairness, their decision some years ago probably also covered freedom for “this kind” of incidents as well. Even if in this particular case EU regulations might not get in the way (or they may, actually. We don’t really know).

          But I think it’s more interesting how absent EU has been in all of this. I know the chiefs of state kept in touch – ours waited until after a teleconference to hold his first public address of the crysis, so I guess it was pretty important (for him). But other than that, I didn’t see much EU.

          • Watchman says:

            Health is not an area of EU competency in general though is it?

          • Desrbwb says:

            See, this is the sort of thing which leads/led to the pro-remain side believing the pro-brexit side are either not thinking about the issues or deliberately lying about them.

            The UK clearly had the freedom to do whatever in situations like this before brexit. Because that’s what the rest of Europe has been doing. They’re all making their own decisions, despite still being EU members. For better or worse, there doesn’t appear to have been a ‘Pan-European’ response to this virus. Just a lot of individual national governments doing exactly the sort of stuff the Leave campaign wanted the UK to ‘take back control’ of, like full on closing the borders.

            To me, far from showcasing “The real reason for Brexit”. This just highlights that so much of the hysteria the leave campaign generated was empty guff and lies all along.

  8. FrankistGeorgist says:

    What should we call the crop of babies to be born around 9-12 months from now? Coronababies? Quarantine Kiddos? Wuhan Bat Rugrats?

    • Skeptic says:

      Special Ed, short bus class of 2039.

      If they’re affected then they’ll be the Zika of our time. Globalism marches on, and we need to defend it. Utilitarianism demands it.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        I thought that this coronavirus didn’t hurt babies? A baby was born infected in China on February 5, but I can’t find any updates. And reports of the baby born infected in London on March 14 are written as if that February baby never existed!

        • Watchman says:

          I’d guess that’s because it’s a better news story to mention a newborn born with it than to go on to mention that the effect on babies seems to be a bad cold at worst thankfully, and undermine the horror of your plague-type story.

        • Kaitian says:

          It doesn’t seem to cause symptoms in currently living babies, but we don’t know what effects it has in early stages of pregnancy, because the virus hasn’t been around long enough. Though it seems to affect young people the least (and pregnancy doesn’t seem to make it worse) , so there’s no particular reason to think it leads to birth defects.

      • Watchman says:

        Any evidence for that. Colds and flu (our comparators here) are not generally seen as causing learning difficulties after all, and Zika is something totally different. I suppose respiratory problems could theoretically lead go lack of oxygen reaching the brain, but there’s been no reports of this happening.

    • mobile says:

      In 2033, they become the Quaranteens.

  9. Purplehermann says:

    I just watched Angry Birds 2 and am confused. Does anyone have an idea what was going on there? It felt like getting hit by a rainbow sludge of mixed up memes and propogandas

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Ex-girlfriends are crazy, and over-react to things like being dumped at the altar.

    • toastengineer says:

      I just watched Angry Birds 2

      Why did you do that? Did you really expect anything good to come of that?

      • Purplehermann says:

        Haha much younger siblings decided on the activity.
        My rexpectations, aside from bright colors and ridiculousness, were imploded and/or subverted.

  10. roflc0ptic says:

    After reading Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now, I became convince that the best way that I can help is to alter the social reality that is keeping people from reacting appropriately.

    1. reach out to individuals I know, and try to convince them to buy food, isolate as much as humanly possible, and encourage others to do so.
    2. use social media to encourage the same
    3. Mount a campaign at the local and state level to encourage drastic action (curfews, lockdowns, massive public health response).

    To that end, I’m putting together a google doc outlining a strategy, putting together talking points, and aggregating contact information for local government. It’s here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BZaAqVIu8Pl9i8_CuVf1qd4b5nvrN-OWz7UsTDSn0j0/edit

    I’d love input, or your potentially your participation. I don’t really grok the mechanics of state government, so my strategy is to focus on executives. I’m preparing a stock message, which I’m not super confident in – my writing tends towards the dense and obtuse. It’s Florida centric cause I’m in Florida. Happy to break it down by state or something.

    My intuition is that calling e.g. the department of health is probably useless, and most likely detrimental, because they have important stuff to do, and they’re not the “deciders”.

    • tossrock says:

      I would recommend a “social proof” strategy – bring up the fact that all the cutting edge tech firms have already issued “work from home” guidance.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      It would be nice if the governments announced that they would deliver supplies (especially toilet paper and paper towels) to elderly people who have to self isolate.

      • roflc0ptic says:

        This sounds like a great thing. Added it to our generic contact your rep message.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          On your “don’t touch your face” point:

          If you can’t help but touch your face, what I do is grab the hem of my shirt-neck with my fingers, with the thumb pressed into the cloth further down. I then flip the inside of my shirt outward, and touch my face with the cloth-covered thumb (the inside of my shirt is touching my face, not the outside of the shirt). I don’t know if this helps much, but it’s probably better than using a bare finger, and is more comfortable than letting the itch continue.

          OCD FTW!

          • Beans says:

            I do the same. I made this habit years ago after being a teenager with bad skin and learning that touching your face tends to worsen acne.

    • Deiseach says:

      So in Ireland we’re now well into the exponential growth phase – 40 new cases announced today, total for the entire island (North and South) 214 cases. 2 deaths so far in the Republic, both people with underlying health conditions.

      As of tonight, the government is shutting down the pubs for the next two weeks (or rather, “calling on them” to shut down), as well as recommending people do not have private parties at home. Asking people not to have house parties probably won’t go well, as the kind of people who have house parties tend to have drink’n’drugs’n’sex going on at them as well as getting violent when drunk, so we’re not talking the most socially responsible citizens.

      They’re also calling people home from Spain to fly home by midnight on Thursday and they’ve struck a deal with both Aer Lingus and Ryan Air about changing flights to get home.

      Recommendations for Florida? Simple list of “social distancing applies to you, yes you, yes that means no hitting the bars at the weekend, yes that means no heading out to Joe’s for the house party, yes that means no flying out for foreign holidays. Drink at home if you must, practice hygienic measures, and don’t be a bollix”.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Oh, so you are shutting down the pubs after all, good for you. Czechia reports 253 cases, so far thankfully no deaths (but I am afraid they are inevitable).

        • Kaitian says:

          If you can prevent the young travelers who bring the disease into the country from infecting elderly or sicker people, you might get away without many deaths. Let’s hope the lockdown does this.

          • AlesZiegler says:

            Unfortunately gin is out of the bottle already. Besides, more important than foreign tourists appear to be Czech tourists returning from northern Italy. 16 % of those infected are over 65. Hope is that travel restrictions will stop new infected people from coming here and shutting down of social life will bring R down. But people are of course undisciplined and are trying to find ways to get around restrictions, since many of them do not understand seriousness of the situation, which is a reccuring problem in Western countries during this pandemic.

      • roflc0ptic says:

        Florida is most likely in equally bad/worse shape – we have very little insight into it because the testing recommendations basically recommend not testing for community spread. I think that shutting down the pubs definitely an insufficient response.

      • Aapje says:

        The Netherlands just closed down pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, sauna’s and sex clubs, as well as schools.

        There were lines at the coffee shops, apparently weed is an important thing to have a supply of.

        People have been hoarding a lot, the shops have a lot of empty shelves.

        ARMAGEDDON!!!!11!!

        or not.

        • Buttle says:

          I realize that “coffee shops” is a euphemism, but I’ll have a very hard time not stopping in for an espresso. Restaurants and bars I could more easily live without.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        People have been jamming into bars in America, too. We are full of idiots.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      You probably should contact your elected representatives. At least this is what I did.

    • oriscratch says:

      Another thing to take into consideration: most of the coronavirus warning stuff I’ve seen going around right now (articles, tweets, some YouTube videos) seems to be directed at people who are online a lot, are well-informed, and are probably already taking good measures to prevent spread. How do we most effectively convince people who don’t fall into those categories (I’m tempted to say ignorant/stupid people, but I’ll withhold judgement for now) to change their minds and start social distancing?

      • roflc0ptic says:

        I tried to talk to people at work about it when they were saying “It’s just like flu!!!” I got called a nerd. I tried to talk to my boss about implementing work from home for her department. She said “Well, my concern is that there are going to be people who take advantage of it.” Otherwise a pretty decent boss, but absolutely terrible ability to prioritize there.

        After that, I feel like I’d rather focus on getting educated people to talk to their educated friends and their reps. We’re about to have an easy, friendly conversation with my liberal, educated family about it, and a painful convo with my girlfriend’s conservative mom. Perhaps I’ll be able to report back with what not to say.

    • roflc0ptic says:

      So I’m going to try to get everyone I can to call elected officials. This is the script I’m leaning towards:

      “I’m calling you as one of your constituents who is deeply concerned about Florida’s insufficient response to COVID-19. This is a public health emergency without precedent in recent memory. The number of cases are doubling every two days, increasing five-fold every week. The only countries that have effectively controlled this emergency have done so through drastic action: banning public and private gatherings, imposing curfews and quarantine zones, and providing a massive public health response, including committing necessary supplies to individuals who are isolating/quarantined, especially the elderly. The countries that have failed to take these actions in time have seen their hospital systems overrun, causing a massive, needless spike in patient mortality.

      You have two choices: encourage and take drastic action now, or take drastic action after our health infrastructure is overwhelmed. Failure to act will cause hundreds or thousands of unnecessary deaths. Please act now.”

      Just want some social validation that I’m not being crazypants

      • Loriot says:

        > Just want some social validation that I’m not being crazypants

        This might not be the best place then, since you’re more likely to run into people worrying about the economic costs of closing bars or whether the media is being unfair to Trump.

        But for what it’s worth, I support this effort and wish you luck.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        Curfews are probably counter-productive; if people are going to be out, we want to keep their density as low as possible. Reducing the hours in which people can be active has a concentrating effect.

        In terms of overall tone, I recommend running your script past some people in your area who are about the same age as the representatives you’ll be contacting. There is a fine line between sounding like you’re taking the situation seriously and calling on others to do the same vs sounding like you’re panicking and should be ignored. The script you have here sounds panicky to me, but might sound different to the people you are actually trying to convince.

        In particular, I would recommend rephrasing “hundreds or thousands of deaths” to something less easily mistaken for “hundreds of thousands of deaths”. You also might consider varying the script – people tend to start discounting repeated verbal information, so having many people read the same script is likely to be less effective than giving them a short list of talking points with a few scripts to fall back on if they aren’t comfortable using their own words.

        Just want some social validation that I’m not being crazypants

        The actions you have described intending to take seem to be strategically consistent with the worldview you have described (being convinced by the “Why You Must Act Now” article). So from that perspective, you are not being crazypants.

  11. Nick says:

    We don’t call him Boss Ross for nothing!

  12. Toby Bartels says:

    Sorry for spamming, because I just posted this on the previous open thread a few hours ago. But now that open thread is stale, so I’m posting it again, because I need an answer fast, and this is the best place that I know to get a good one.

    My parents, age 70, live in Lincoln NE (population 285 thousand, no reported cases of Covid-19 yet, 17 reported cases in the State, schools just closed and are preparing to go online). They pretty much run a bridge club, most of whose members are in their 70s but generally in good health. The club has an event planned for tonight (March 15 Sunday), at which 26 people are expected to show up and sit at card tables in close proximity, moving from table to table over the course of the evening. There will be hand sanitizer available at the tables.

    Question: Should they cancel the event?

    Please give reasons for your answer as if you’re trying to convince a stubborn Boomer (but not a Trump-supporter). You may assume that your audience is mathematically literate. If you know any data on age-related risks that controls for other risk factors, then that would be a big bonus. (Because since heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease are all risk factors for Covid-19, and since they’re also all more prevalent among older people, maybe age alone is not much of a risk factor all.)

  13. JayT says:

    I posted this in the last thread, forgetting that the new one was already created, so I’m reposting.

    As of March 1st, the US had 70 confirmed cases*, Spain had 76, France had 100, and Germany had 117. Now, two weeks later, The US has 60 deaths, Spain has 291, France has 91, and Germany only has 11.

    What is Spain doing so wrong that they are so far ahead in deaths? What is Germany doing so right?

    * I’m guessing the US probably had a lot more than the reported number due to the testing issues.

    • JayT says:

      Douglas Knight posted in the old thread:

      One theory I’ve heard is that Southern Europe has multigenerational families, whereas Northern Europe has nuclear families and nursing homes, making it easier to quarantine the elderly.

      Which seems plausible, but do we have any actual stats on this?

    • Beans says:

      I think a comment in another open thread suggested that the higher prevalence of inter-generational households in countries like Spain could be the issue here, in contrast to northern Germanic nations and those colonized by them who kick their old people out. This probably makes predictions about higher elderly deaths in other nations with a family structure like that of Spain, which I don’t know the accuracy of.

      Edit: Oops, beaten to the punch by seconds.

      • gph says:

        >in contrast to northern Germanic nations and those colonized by them who kick their old people out

        That’s kind of backwards isn’t it? More like we kick out our young adults.

        • Beans says:

          Aren’t both true, actually?

          • gph says:

            No? At least in America I’d say the most common practice is to move out/be kicked out of your parents house when you become an adult, and it’s somewhat rare for parents to then move in with their children/grandchildren afterwards. This is changing a bit, especially for those who can’t afford a retirement community or getting in-home support. But I don’t know of many situations where kids kick their parents out of the house when they get old.

          • Beans says:

            Well not “kick out”, per se, but my impression was families sending their elderly off to facilities designed to care for them is, or at least recently was, quite common. In addition to adult kids being strongly expected to leave the house. Neither of which are as common in nations like Italy or Spain, was my impression.

          • John Schilling says:

            Well not “kick out”, per se, but my impression was families sending their elderly off to facilities designed to care for them is, or at least recently was, quite common.

            Those are usually geographically dispersed families where the eldest generation has been living independently for a few decades and, when they are no longer capable of doing so, their adult offspring stage an intervention and say “Mom, Dad, come look at the nice nursing home we’ve picked out for you”. I’ve seen that scenario play out many times; I’ve never seen old people who were still living with their adult offspring being sent off to a nursing home.

    • A1987dM says:

      IIRC Germany only count people who died because of COVID whereas all other countries count everybody who dies while infected, whether or not they were going to die anyway.

      • JayT says:

        That would be a pretty big deal if true, no? Where did you see that?

      • Kaitian says:

        I am pretty sure that at least one death in Germany is considered a corona death even though he probably died of pre-existing conditions and wasn’t tested until after he died (because his wife tested positive). This would contradict your claim.

      • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

        German poster here. This strikes me as false, particularly based on the fact that we include people in the count who are found to have the virus only after they died.

    • mobile says:

      Fun fact: the 1918 pandemic was called the “Spanish flu” because journalists in Spain had fewer restrictions on publishing information about the illness, which made it seem like the progress of the disease was worse in Spain than everywhere else.

      • Buttle says:

        The reason they had fewer restrictions is that Spain was neutral during the Great War, combatant nations had taken control of their presses. In war, the first casualty is the truth.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      A friend from Madrid keeps being amazed on how people there ignore any form of social distancing. He’s been talking about it for two weeks.

    • fibio says:

      I’ve lost the article that laid out the statistics, but one thing that appears divergent is the spread of ages infected in the various countries. Germany I believe has isolated its elderly well and 80% of cases are in the under 60’s (approximate numbers). Italy got caught on the back-foot at 60% of cases are over 60 and these people are much, much more likely to require intensive care. This requirement has compounded the issue as the lack of equipment is causing the death rate to spiral upwards.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      In addition to the multigenerational families theory, it also seems like German retirement homes are now prepared better than the American one where half(?) of the residents got infected. Germany had a few cases of coronavirus in retirement homes, but I think usually not more than 5 people were affected, including the staff.

      • JayT says:

        I only know of the one nursing home in Washington that was hit particularly hard though, and I think that only accounts for five deaths. That wouldn’t explain why Germany is doing so much better on fatalities.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          These numbers only go up!

          This says that 25 had died. Here is something more official and more detailed, but less definite. Of the 120 inmates, 26 had died (compared to 3-7 in a normal month). 2 tested negative and 11 don’t have results.

          (Half tested positive and half have been transferred to hospitals, but not the same half. Why were they transferred? To get them away from the outbreak? But then why only half? Or are they sick but testing negative? Because that sounds suspicious.)

    • Robin says:

      I heard the theory that in Germany the inquest (Leichenschau) is often done sloppily. Therefore they might have missed a few cases.
      Could this play a role?

  14. AlesZiegler says:

    I am interested in reading some high quality critique of General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by Keynes. I´ve read that book pretty thoroughly two times, and find it pretty impressive.

  15. Plumber says:

    @Atlas >

    “Between new books from Ezra Klein, Christopher Caldwell and Charles Murray, it’s been a good year so far for serious political non-fiction. In that spirit, I highly recommend Ross Douthat’s new book The Decadent Society….”

    Are any of the Caldwell, Douthat, Klein, and/or Murray books worth buying to re-read and reference over and over again, or are they just get from the library worthy (yes, I could buy books and then just get rid of them but I find that emotionally difficult, and my wife is already unhappy with how many books I hoard)? 

    “…One area where I disagree with the book is that I think the Marvel movies, and superhero movies in general, have been a good or neutral development in film..”

    Good? GOOD!? Those movies are so very BORING! 

    Good would be resurrecting the genre of ’50’s style sci-fi films (Forbidden Planet, Them, This Island Earth, War of the Worlds, et cetera) instead (Them in particular, the U.S. Army fights giant mutant ants underneath Los Angeles! That is the kind of film our age calls for, not special powerful people fighting other special powerful people lameness! GIANT ANTS! GIANT ANTS! GIANT…)

    • Nick says:

      They’re not boring movies, but they are safe. That seems to me like a bad thing, a sign we aren’t trying for artistic excellence so much as ticking boxes on a list of marketable features. I think however that there are more daring movies Atlas could be praising. But I’m interested to hear his argument!

      • Loriot says:

        That was my biggest impression of Star Wars 9. A completely safe generic movie, much like 7, but with less nostalgia goodwill behind it. (Well, that and the almost hilarious levels of retconning, like the movies were written by people who don’t get along at all and are duking it on on the silver screen)

        • Nick says:

          Ross has elsewhere called Star Wars 9 the ultimate decadent movie. He seems to think that’s most of JJ Abrams’s shtick.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Would anyone care to explain what Douhat means by decadent?

          I think we have a decadent society, but I’m thinking of music making people deaf and bodybuilding contests where people show off their muscles while being weak from dehydration because the standard is purely visual.

          On music making people deaf…. I was thinking about decadence and the phrase came to me, and I was imagining it as being something from a Leigh Brackett story. Drying, dying Mars and ancient races and shrilling flutes. And then I realized *we* have music that makes people deaf.

          For those of you who aren’t familiar with older pulp sf, one of the convenient tropes was that the solar system cooled from the outside in (not a crazy idea, and might still be sound for all I know), so Mars and Venus were habitable, with Mars having older civilizations which were generally in bad shape from resource loss and deteriorated social structures, and Venus was a jungle (humidity because we didn’t know what the clouds were made of) with savages. Humans from Earth were in between and Just Right.

          It wasn’t always that simple. C. S. Lewis and Heinlein both used Old Mars/Young Venus in interesting ways.

        • @Nancy

          He has a four part definition:

          1) Economic stagnation
          2) Lack of fertility
          3) Institutional dysfunction
          4) Repetitive cultural output

          All of this is sustained in a peaceful, relatively prosperous society. It can be condensed to the idea that there is a closing of the frontier, whether economically, spiritually, or culturally.

        • Nick says:

          Ross is following a definition by Jacques Barzun, quoted in the introduction:

          All that is meant by Decadence is “falling off.” it implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense. On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. The forms of art as of life seem exhausted; the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result. Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces.
          It will be asked, how does the historian know when Decadence sets in? By the open confessions of malaise…. When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label.

          Ross tries to refine it a bit:

          Decadence, deployed usefully, refers to economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development. It describes a situation in which repetition is more the norm than innovation; in which sclerosis afflicts public institutions and private enterprises alike; in which intellectual life seems to go in circles; in which new developments in science, new exploratory projects, underdeliver compared with what people recently expected. And, crucially, the stagnation and decay are often a direct consequence of previous development. The decadent society is, by definition, a victim of its own significant success.

          Most of the introduction is actually on Amazon as a preview. You can skim this section if you like.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Thank you for the explanation of what Doubat means by decadent.

          It seems to me that there’s usually a lot of repetitive cultural output because there’s always more demand for cultural output than there are plausible variations. It’s possible that some eras are more repetitive than others, but it’s a hard thing to measure.

      • JayT says:

        I think that the Marvel movies are only seen as safe because they have been so popular. If I told someone in 2004 that the biggest movie of 2014 would be a movie starring a talking racoon and a sentient tree, no one would believe me. The avengers movies require that you’ve seen almost all the movies that preceded them. They had an overarching story told over the course of 20+ movies.

        The Marvel movies have taken far more chances than almost any popcorn flick that preceded them, it’s just that pretty much every one of the chances they took worked out exceptionally well. A “safe” movie would be something like Toy Story 2-4 or something, where there is no real connection from movie to movie, and it’s just cashing in on a popular brand.

        • cassander says:

          I think there’s more to it than that. You need to know who the major characters are to enjoy the latest movie, but I don’t think you really need to know the plots. If you dropped someone who’d never seen a single marvel movie into Homecoming, almost everything they need to know is explained. Sure, you miss some inside jokes and references, but as long as you have a vague idea of who tony stark is, you’re pretty much there.

        • Marvel movies are the most formulaic movies out today. Even when they “take risks”, they’re still using the same formula. That doesn’t mean they are bad, but they certainly are not innovating.

        • JayT says:

          The individual movies Like Homecoming are largely stand-alone, but the Avengers movies wouldn’t make much sense to someone that is coming in cold.

          They are fairly formulaic, but in comparison to their competition, think about something like the Transformers movies, they have taken far more risks.

        • cassander says:

          @jayT

          Do you? The plot of infinity war is the bad guy (who basically didn’t exist in previous movies) chases after macguffins and gets them. While we know the stories explaining why several of those macguffins ended up where they are and that background makes what happens more meaningful, I don’t think it’s necessary to appreciate the movie. All the major character relationships that matter are explained in the movie, as long as you know the basic character outlines, you’re in pretty good shape.

        • JayT says:

          Well, knowing the basic character outlines wouldn’t exactly be going in cold. As far as the movie, sure, you could watch it and be entertained because lots of things blow up and the characters say funny things, but I doubt you would really understand what was going on in more than a cursory level.

        • Loriot says:

          Heck, I’ve watched a third of the movies and I’ve still been pretty confused at points. For example, I had no idea what was going on in opening sequence of Infinity War because I hadn’t seen Thor: Ragnarok and thus missed the fact that a) Thor lost an eye and b) was on the run in a spaceship with the surviving Asgardians. I didn’t even recognize that it was Thor in that scene. And of course, there’s tons of cameos from the minor characters of all the various movies which just leave you going, yep, those are some cameos all right.

        • Toby Bartels says:

          I want to jump in here to provide an anecdatum for cassander’s thesis. When I saw Infinity War, I had seen only two previous MCU movies (Dr. Strange and Black Panther, neither part of the main plot) and none of the TV shows. I was more or less familiar with the characters from pop-culture discussion and my memories of comic books from the 1990s, but I didn’t know the plots of any of the movies that I hadn’t seen. I found the movie very satisfying and did not feel like I was missing anything. (Much like Loriot, at first I thought that Thor most be Odin because of the eye, but the dialogue soon set me straight, and I didn’t mind entering a fight scene in media res. Nothing after that opening scene was confusing.)

          On the other hand, when I saw Endgame, even though I had previously caught up on a couple more of the earlier movies (Ragnarok and Civil War, both relatively plot-central), I had a much stronger sense of missing something. Probably I would need to watch some Iron Man to get all the feels. That one was a grand finale, however.

        • Loriot says:

          Also, Endgame directly references scenes in the previous movies. Luckily, the one it focuses most on is The Avengers, which most people were likely to have seen. GotG, Thor 2, and Dr. Strange not so much.

        • AG says:

          Superhero films are not innovative within the scope of all film industry, but they are very much about expanding what is acceptable mainstream fare, nothing which to say of the kinds of technology development they’re advancing. It blows my mind to see the scenes with Rocket, Thanos, and Hulk interacting with the regular human actors. Aquaman was a revelation, and their CGI studio had to entirely rewrite their engine to do the hair simulations. As JayT said, things that would get you mocked as a weeb a few years ago are now highlights of their respective superhero films (albeit sometimes in watered-down form).

          Writing-wise, of course they’re nothing special. Neither were the comics they draw from. (Even Watchmen was only innovative within the context of comics, not in the context of storytelling.) Superhero film writing is about proving why the textbook is the textbook, and affirming what gets to go into the textbook.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Probably just get them from the library. (Or, uh, wait until the herd has been culled the pandemic has abated and then get them from the library.) Unless you get on them on the Kindle app, the use of which has completely removed the previously dominant physical space constraint on my acquisition of books.

      ¿Porque no los dos? My library has this one as an eBook. It’s checked out right now but I put a hold on it so as soon as it’s back in it’ll download to my kindle.

      Aside: twenty years ago I would have been on Slashdot screaming about how evil it is to create artificial scarcity of 1s and 0s at public libraries and linking The Right to Read and now I’m just like “meh, at least this is mostly convenient.”

      • Loriot says:

        One thing I’ve been struck by lately is how in 20 years, Right to Read went from crazy scifi dystopia to reality that largely passes without comment. It seems so crazy when you think about it.

      • Nick says:

        The ebook industry is awful in a lot of ways, but practically speaking, it has gotten easier from year to year for me to find pdfs.

    • Nick says:

      P.S. I agree with Atlas you can just get them from the library. I actually spent an Audible credit on Ross’s book, so I don’t even have the ebook. (That’s part of what’s stymied my writing more substantive replies; it’s all fresh in my head, but I don’t have the text to reference.) I’ve done the same thing with a couple of other political books. I might buy the ebook later.

  16. The problem is that the book covers too much in not enough detail. At only 200 something pages, it’s way too short for what it needs to be. For example, he covers the fecklessness of our institutions, one of the four major issues, in 22 pages. This book needed to be at least double its length to give more than a cursory glance at all the things he wants to say.

    • SystematizedLoser says:

      Do you have suggestions on an “extended bibliography” that collectively gives Douthat’s argument the length it requires? If yes, I’d also be interested in a “four or fewer books, nine hundred of fewer collective pages” compression of said list.

  17. Bobobob says:

    Gigantic nonfiction history books to read while you’re stuck in the house with your family and have nowhere to go but inside your own head:

    Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government. A five-pound brick of hardcover history, over 1100 pages. Interesting perspective on Bolshevism as a state religion, complete with idols, martyrology, iconography, etc. May be more interesting to the people on this board than it was to me. I got about 80 percent of the way through.

    B. Netanyahu, The Origins of the Inquisition. Read it for the father’s erudition, not the notoriety of the son. 1400 pages. I read this one quite a while ago, I think I reached the 80 percent mark. TL;DR, the Spanish church didn’t much like Jews.

    Norman Davies, God’s Playground. A history of Poland in two volumes, about 1200 pages total. It goes into great depth about, well, Poland, so your mileage may vary. I think I read the whole thing. (There’s a slow section where a couple of paragraphs only consist of words only starting with the letter P.)

    Winston Churchill, Marlborough: His Life and Times. About 2100 pages, over two volumes. A really well-written biography, though I wonder how much Churchill whitewashed his famous ancestor’s depredations. I read it all the way through.

    Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. About 47,000 pages, if I recall correctly, but a surprisingly easy read. I think I gave up around the slog through Justinian’s conquests, re-conquests, and re-re-conquests, then picked up again with the rise of Islam. Maybe 90 percent?

    • SamChevre says:

      Strong second to the recommendation of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Reformation. I grew up Amish-Mennonite, so know the Anabaptist history well from primary sources (I remember reading the Martyrs Mirror in second grade)–and to the extent he talks about it, he gets it right. That’s rare. His Christianity: the first 3000 years is also great.

    • cassander says:

      There is an audible version of the Decline and Fall that I highly recommend. I also can recommend Reformation, which also has an excellent audio version.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Note, however, that Decline and Fall is not really considered a great source of Roman history anymore. It is, however, an important historical document in its own right, due to its influence.

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. About 47,000 pages

      That can’t be right. Maybe you got an extra zero in there.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Or he’s got an edition with very small pages.

      • Anteros says:

        The “if i recall correctly” told me it was a joke. As in, it felt like about 47,000 pages.

      • Deiseach says:

        About 47,000 pages

        That can’t be right. Maybe you got an extra zero in there.

        The Duke of Gloucester would probably think that’s about right: “Another damn’d thick, square book! Always, scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?” (On publication of Vol. 1 of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire 😀

    • bean says:

      Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. About 47,000 pages, if I recall correctly, but a surprisingly easy read. I think I gave up around the slog through Justinian’s conquests, re-conquests, and re-re-conquests, then picked up again with the rise of Islam. Maybe 90 percent?

      I feel compelled to point out that Gibbon’s reputation among modern historians of that period is extremely low. He often crosses the line from history (even history as understood 200+ years ago) to polemic.

      • Bobobob says:

        Understood, but he was a great writer.

        • bean says:

          That’s a reasonable position to take. I’d just make sure that any recommendation was paired with “read it for the writing, be extremely skeptical of the history.”

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m reading Diarmaid MacCulloch’s history of the Reformation

      Any interest in doing a review of it? I’m interested to know what the Protestant scholarship side of the aisle has to say on it, but unfortunately I am congenitally incapable of reading anything by MacCullouch, even though (even because?) he’s liberal CoE and nothing at all as Presbyterian as his name-heritage would suggest.

      I’m probably prejudiced due to his biography of Thomas Cromwell, which again I have not read, but which Hilary Mantel wrote glowing recommendation for. And since she’s a total Cromwell stan and I very much am not, that unhappily means that I took agin’ him with the (possibly) mistaken view that he’d be a Cromwell fanboy too. So I could definitely use an unbiased judgement here 🙂

      • Liam Breathnach says:

        I’ve only read a little of his history of Christianity as an iBooks free excerpt but I was impressed. His use of ‘BCE’ and ‘CE’ was annoying, but maybe that’s me. Liberal CofE indeed.

        I also recommend the recent Dominion by Tom Holland which I have just started, and In the Shadow of the Sword by the same author.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yeah, I still mentally switch “BCE” and “CE” to “BC” and “AD” but I’ve relaxed enough about it to stop gritting my teeth, so long as the user isn’t making a Heavy Political Point out of using the terms. I can see why academic usage would have switched to it and “Common Era” is probably about as neutral a term as you’ll get for “calendrical system adopted for use/reference by majority of modern global society”.

        • JayT says:

          I just want to know why we still have a day named after Thor!

        • Nick says:

          @JayT
          These days I think it’s just to peeve Loki.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Yeah, I still mentally switch “BCE” and “CE” to “BC” and “AD” but I’ve relaxed enough about it to stop gritting my teeth, so long as the user isn’t making a Heavy Political Point out of using the terms.

          I still grit my teeth and protest. “Common Era, huh? So what, Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 Uncommon Era?”

        • The Nybbler says:

          Certainly not. Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March in the fifth year of his consulship.

        • John Schilling says:

          I just want to know why we still have a day named after Thor!

          Do you want to take even the slightest chance of insulting Thor? Keep in mind, Actual Thor isn’t played by Chris Hemsworth, and is the true “Please don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” superhero of the pantheon.

          The real question is, why didn’t we make Thor’s Day the start of the weekend, because what better way to celebrate than bottomless pitchers of ale and mead and subsequent drunken barfights?

  18. johan_larson says:

    The year is 2120, and you are still alive. That’s surprising, since most of us were born back in the 20th century. What happened?

    • BBA says:

      The calendar got set forward.

      Why? I dunno, maybe a Y2038 exercise that got out of hand.

    • Nick says:

      I’m a spry 125. Ah, what medicine can do in 2120.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      The increasing popularity of cryonics lead to the government reclassifying it from “weird thing you’re allowed to do to a corpse” to a special legal status which involves being technically not dead.

      • johan_larson says:

        Maybe it’s a tax issue. If you are expecting to be revived, you aren’t dead-dead, which means you can be taxed. And while you may not have income, you do have assets, namely the funds that you transferred to whatever organization is keeping you frozen.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          They were fed up with billionaires freezing themselves in order to dodge the wealth tax.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The Basilisk is real.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Rejuvenation tech turned out to be easier and cheaper than we expected.

    • Secretly French says:

      Aubrey de Grey was right all along and I was not strong enough to resist his corrupt magicks.

    • JayT says:

      All our brains were uploaded into machines.

    • Chalid says:

      I made it to 2065 by natural means, had my body cryonically preserved using much more advanced techniques than were available in 2020, then got revived in 2100.

    • Garrett says:

      I’m being tortured for a heinous crime by being kept alive.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      Hmmm, well, I’m only 130. My great-grandmother lived to 105, so I’m going to say I inherited her good genes, plus modern medicine has continued pushing the maximum age steadily older, and I didn’t get in any accidents or otherwise get unlucky (my tendency to avoid visibly risky sports at all cost may have actually helped!), but I’m probably not long for this world.

      (That, or nanotech and we’re all immortal. That would be nicer.)

    • Evan Þ says:

      I somehow got onto a spaceship traveling at relativistic speeds. How, I’ve very little idea – maybe as a software engineer to patch the not-yet-AI computer as needed? I’m probably no older than 80 biologically, even though much more time than that has passed on Earth.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      Unexpected coronavirus side effect: immortality. If it doesn’t kill you, nothing will.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not much. There was that $15 injection in the 20s (2020s) that turned out to actually add about 20 years, to everybody’s surprise. The telomere thing. After that a long slog in curing every kind of cancer that pops up. A couple more genetic therapies. The breakthrough came in the 70s, with an efficient brain plaque cleaning technique – so most dementia is no longer a thing. By that time we already had replacement organs – some printed, some grown. Printed ones are a lot cheaper, and get better every year – newer kidneys don’t even look like a sponge in a bag anymore.

      So we looked around one day and just saw people in their 120s playing volleyball.

      • kai.teorn says:

        Telomeres are so 2005. Right now senolytics and cell reprogramming are all the rage.

        Irony aside, this is of course the most realistic answer. Rejuvenation seems increasingly real. This may be another boom-and-bust cycle, and there are no real results still, but the background understanding and urgency to act are on the rise. Diseases that, like COVID, preferentially kill the elders add to the urgency to cure aging as a disease.

    • Purplehermann says:

      The End of Days, The Mashiach, Tchiat Hametim has come.

    • Deiseach says:

      What happened?

      Neither Heaven nor Hell would take me, and so like Jack O’Lantern I wander the countryside moaning and crying (so, not much change there) 🙂

      • You are telling us that your real name is Tomlinson and you’ve been misrepresenting your gender all these years?

        • Deiseach says:

          Dear sir, I have been (un)reliably informed that gender is only a social construct, so for all I know to the contrary I could in fact be a large mass of carboniferous limestone (the predominant rock in my locality) and indeed, if you take a prospect of me from the south-east, the resemblance will strike you! 🙂

    • Iago the Yerfdog says:

      It turns out quantum immortality is a real thing.

      Unfortunately, while I’m alive, my body is quite decrepit and paralyzed. Neural implants let me spend most of my time in virtual reality, where I live a mostly-normal life. At the back of my mind, however, I know that eventually the resources needed to sustain the virtual world will run out, the stars will go dark, and my consciousness, somehow just barely sustaining itself, will be all that’s left in an otherwise dead universe.

    • Plumber says:

      @johan_larson says:

      “The year is 2120, and you are still alive. That’s surprising, since most of us were born back in the 20th century. What happened?”

      Medical care in the U.S.A. has transitioned from a “pay for services” to a “pay for results” model, and at 152 years old I am one of thousands nominally kept alive in chambers in order for “health care providers” to continue to receive payments for a heartbeat, I long ago descended into madness, what consciousness I have left are of dreams and pain.

    • ryubyss says:

      died, didn’t achieve Nirvana and reborn in a different body.

  19. Canyon Fern says:

    @Conrad Honcho,

    In response to your question from the previous Open Thread, “How does a fern type?”.

    My human typist/editor/whipping boy, Ludovico, takes care of posting my comments and stories here on Slate Star Showdex. He is most helpful.

    [Hello, Conrad! -L]

  20. Guy in TN says:

    A follow up on the hand sanitizer price gouging situation from last thread, for the curious:

    Statement from TN Attorney General

    The simple solution of state redistribution of hand sanitizer in action.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Do you know where the hand sanitizer will be going? I hope it’ll be donated to hospitals and nursing homes.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Did they “volunteer” him for the donation? Looks like it…

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        Given he faces $1000 – $3000 fine for each of the 300 sales of ultra-marked up hand sanitizer he publicly admitted to making on Amazon, I’m sure he’s trying to cut his losses with a feel good story to tell the judge.

  21. AlexOfUrals says:

    Let’s say one homeless person in San Francisco gets the coronavirus. With hygiene and healthcare nonexistent and quarantine impossible among this population, is there any way it won’t be all over the city in a few weeks?

    • Beans says:

      How much contact with other people do the San Francisco homeless have?

      I’m sheltered enough to not really know what the daily life of the homeless is like, but here on the east coast, their life seems to consist of finding a spot to sit where they won’t be harassed and occasionally passing through wherever they can get some food. Not much contact with random people that I see, outside of the latter thing there, I guess.

      • AlexOfUrals says:

        Well afaiu they use the same pharmacies and grocery stores – if only as public restrooms – as everyone else, touching door knobs and shelves and whatelse on their way in and out. Even if you shop at Whole Foods, the stuff there may shop somewhere else. And grocery stores is the one thing most people can’t realistically avoid visiting. Also in SF you just encounter them on the streets pretty regularly, and the virus can be transmitted through air (I believe it’s droplets actually, but the result is the same).

      • JayT says:

        THe homeless tend to ride on public transportation quite a bit, especially on days like the last few, when it’s raining. I’m personally not all that worried about catching anything at work, I’m worried about safely getting to work.

      • ryubyss says:

        How much contact with other people do the San Francisco homeless have?

        homeless people often use public libraries. it varies according to the person but they often socialize a lot with each other. I live not far from a nexus of stereotypical alcoholic (and/or drug-using) homeless people and on a typical day they spend a lot of time hanging out with each other. I volunteered in a soup kitchen and observed the same. others go to the subway to keep warm.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The Bay Area is one of the American coronavirus hotspots and nothing is being done to contain it besides Gov. Newsom asking all California senior citizens to stay home and asking bars to close.
      Let’s assume no senior in the Bay Area goes around catching and spreading coronavirus, but everyone 64 makes no social distancing behavior changes. That’s about 7.75*0.88*0.5 = 3.41 million infections, though maybe not all within 3-4 weeks.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        A lot of things are being done in the bay area.
        – Greatly increased telecommuting.
        – BART ridership has dropped by about half.
        – BART cars and turnstiles are being periodically disinfected.
        – Various actions taken at workplaces to minimize shared contact surface usage.
        – Updated communications at workplaces on SARS-CoV-2 status.

        • Loriot says:

          Also, most schools in the area have been closed. Some libraries are closing as well.

          Santa Clara County had previously banned large events (this was a topic of debate in a previous open thread, so the omission here is especially notable). Now the ban has been extended to all gatherings of 100+ people.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Also, most schools in the area have been closed. Some libraries are closing as well.

            Santa Clara County had previously banned large events (this was a topic of debate in a previous open thread, so the omission here is especially notable). Now the ban has been extended to all gatherings of 100+ people.

            That’s certainly good.
            I ignored the Santa Clara County measure because the Bay Area is, what, six counties connected by rapid transit (with feces on the paths) so wasn’t thinking of a county-level measure as containment.

    • Plumber says:

      @AlexOfUrals says:

      “Let’s say one homeless person in San Francisco gets the coronavirus. With hygiene and healthcare nonexistent and quarantine impossible among this population, is there any way it won’t be all over the city in a few weeks?”

       “San Francisco will temporarily house members of its homeless population who are infected with the coronavirus in RVs for self-quarantines

      “On Monday, the mayor announced that the city would spend $5 million to deep-clean homeless shelters and SROs”

      I work for the City and County of San Francisco, and I’d describe the mood as “of resignation”, my boss has ordered custodians to act as elevator operators and push the buttons themselves while frequently disinfecting them, the public libraries (where many homeless stay when they’re open) have been closed for a week in San Francisco, and next week they’ll be closed in Alameda County, The City of Berkeley, and The City of Oakland, public schools will be closed Monday, the grocery stores I’ve been to this weekend have been crowded and with shelves far emptier than I’ve seen before, telecommuting is encouraged – but no one I know qualifies, my wife is frightened that I’ll bring home a disease from the Jail where most of my work is, and she’s right to be, you may think of them as sealed off, but the jail hardly is, new inmates are brought in all the time for court appearances, many lawyers and civilian workers visit most every day, it’s crowded and the virus will spread quickly, what needs to be done is to close the courts for a while. 

      I strongly guess I will be (or am already) infected, there just isn’t enough disinfectant to go around.

      People will die because of this.

      • Creutzer says:

        my boss has ordered custodians to act as elevator operators and push the buttons themselves while frequently disinfecting them

        So… he’s trying to kill them? Because being in a confined, badly ventilated space like an elevator is surely immensely helpful to infection.

        The real issue you’re facing is masks, not disinfectant.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        my wife is frightened that I’ll bring home a disease from the Jail

        🙁

        I’ve seen public defenders screaming that many prisons don’t even have soap, to say nothing of the hand sanitizers that were banned because prisoners tried to drink them. Do the people being held at least have that?

        • acymetric says:

          People in holding (i.e. just arrested): almost certainly not. People that have been processed and are officially “in jail”: maybe.

          I’m a bit surprised we haven’t seen more cities suspend weekend jail sentences (I have seen some, but it appears to be a minority).

        • Plumber says:

          @Edward Scizorhands >

          “..
          ..soap…

          …Do the people being held at least have that?”

          @acymetric has it right.

          Except for when they flush ‘m “overnight guests” have bars of soap, those in holding cells for court typically don’t.

          Courts should close.

          • acymetric says:

            I believe in my particular county courts did close, which is kind of a bummer for anyone in jail pending their first appearance (which is done via video, which it seems like they could still accommodate, but whatever).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Courts should close, and anyone you think isn’t going to assault someone else in the next month should be released on their own recognizance.

            But judges are used to being Top Dog and no one gets to tell them what to do or what to think. They’ll need to be dragged into this kicking and screaming.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      The CDC has specific advice for homeless shelters: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/homeless-shelters/plan-prepare-respond.html (not that this answers your question).

  22. Well... says:

    The Blackberry Curve I’ve had since 2011, although perfect in all other ways, no longer meets the “reliable” part of point #4 (below), and so I’d like to replace it with a device that has all four of these characteristics:

    1. Comes loaded with, or can easily be loaded with, some kind of local/non-cloud-based word processing software that can output *.doc or *.pages files
    2. Has a physical keyboard
    3. Not larger than 22cm x 11cm and not more than 1cm thick (when folded, if it folds)
    4. Will, for at least another 3-5 years, likely be reliable and easy to find parts/batteries for

    …As many of these characteristics as possible (in descending order of importance):

    5. The user does not have to sign up for anything or log into anything to open programs, save files, or store files
    6. Able to not be used as a phone, ever
    7. Can play audio through a headphone jack
    8. Can store files on a removable SD or MicroSD drive
    9. Can be found, from a legitimate seller, for under $50
    10. Comes loaded with, or can easily be loaded with, some kind of local/non-cloud-based spreadsheet software that can output *.xcel or *.numbers files

    …and these characteristics are nice but I really don’t care if they’re present:

    – Camera
    – Bluetooth
    – Internet connectivity

    Does such a device exist anymore?

    • toastengineer says:

      I’ve been toying with the idea of building “the smartphone for FOSS tubonerds” since the inception of such, but the fact that no-one else seems to have tried strikes me as evidence that it isn’t something really practical.

      • Loriot says:

        I think there have been some attempts, but they were not commercially viable for obvious reasons.

    • BBA says:

      Are devices with physical keyboards even being made?

      There are (or were a couple of years ago) miniature Bluetooth keyboards, which when paired with a compatible “slate” smartphone can roughly approximate the Blackberry experience.

      • Well... says:

        Are devices with physical keyboards even being made?

        A coworker from India visited recently. His phone looked like a regular full-touchscreen smartphone but extending from the bottom of it was a physical keyboard. So the answer to that question is “yes” though that alone does not get me very far.

        There are (or were a couple of years ago) miniature Bluetooth keyboards, which when paired with a compatible “slate” smartphone can roughly approximate the Blackberry experience.

        I’d be open to this but the keyboard and phone would have to link together in such a way as to approximate a permanent physical connection.

      • Yes. Planet Computers has two models of a smartphone inspired by the old Psion pda, with a keyboard designed by the same person who designed the Psion keyboard. It’s about the size of a large smartphone, and you can actually type on it.

        • Well... says:

          I’m not seeing any of these used on Ebay or Amazon. Any other ideas where to get one?

          Also, how well do they fulfill #4 above?

      • DinoNerd says:

        Are devices with physical keyboards even being made?

        https://www.www3.planetcom.co.uk/cosmo-communicator

    • JayT says:

      The Gemini PDA is the closest thing I know of, but I wouldn’t guarantee that it satisfies your #4, and it definitely doesn’t satisfy #9.
      https://store.planetcom.co.uk/products/gemini-pda-wifi-only

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      What you need is a small laptop. Maybe you can get something old and used for close to $50.

    • zardoz says:

      I hate to be “that guy,” but what are you planning on doing with this device? The requirement to export Word files makes it sounds like you want to do word processing. But an 22 cm (~8.5 inch) keyboard is going to be pretty uncomfortable for that. On the other hand, some of the other stuff, plus the mention of the Blackberry, makes it sound like you want a cellphone from the pre-iphone days, back before Apple courageously took away our headphone jacks and SD card slots. And then you top it off by asking for something that costs less than $50, a price point that I don’t think even the cheapest off-brand Chinese Android phones can hit in the US.

      Conclusion (?): I think you should just buy a bunch of new old stock of Blackberry phones. Buy half a dozen, and then you can party like it’s 1999 for the next few decades.

      • Well... says:

        I think you should just buy a bunch of new old stock of Blackberry phones.

        This would be my default option, but I’m not sure how reliable they’d be at this point. And I’m also uncertain of the availability of batteries etc.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          I bought a circa 2012 Motorola ex431G late last year off of ebay (new in box) and it works fine (except the battery charging is kind of wonky. It won’t hold a charge for more than 2-3 days without recharging, even with a brand-new Batteries+ purchased name-brand battery. So note that the 7 year old battery still in the box was just as good as a brand new battery in this phone.). And my wife’s same model is working fine after her having purchased it 3 or 4 years ago.

          So I think you’ll be fine with these Blackberries, and Batteries+ is a great place to find a variety of brand new batteries for old phones. https://www.batteriesplus.com/productdetails/cel11260

          I will, however, be looking for an equivalent phone in 2 years when AT&T switches off their 3g network. Maybe someone outside of India will make one then? Otherwise it’s a flip phone again or maybe a Lightphone II.

    • Robin says:

      There are people who macgyver their own devices based on a Raspberry Pi. You can get miniature keyboards and screens for them.

      • Well... says:

        I doubt I have the technical skills for that.

        • Robin says:

          Well in principle, you need:
          * a Raspberry Pi
          * a MicroSD card on which you put the Raspbian (or similar) Linux system
          * a mini keyboard and touchpad, a Rii or something like that
          * a small screen
          * a battery pack

          Voilà, your own pocket Linux computer, fit for word processing and whatnot.

  23. Nicholas Weininger says:

    I’m an experienced software engineering manager with rustyish-but-viable coding skills still, recently between jobs, and available (via remote work, natch) to do volunteer engineering, project management, team coordination/coaching etc if there are COVID-19-fighting efforts that could use such things:

    https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6645055696998146048/

    I have no idea whether this will actually lead to anything useful, but it seems worth a shot.

    • cassander says:

      I have nothing to add to this, but it does seem like it might be a good time for another classified thread.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        FWIW this has already resulted in a plausible outreach-nibble, so thanks once again to SSC readers for being such an awesomely multitalented and multi-interested group.

  24. alchemy29 says:

    Not sure if this is too much culture war, but Trump has done the impossible. He’s reversed the polarity of a partisan issue. Usually the right wing are more fearful of new infectious diseases and more in favor of aggressive action, while the left wing prefer a more measured response. See Scott’s previous piece. But now we have the opposite.

    • Loriot says:

      Reversing the polarity happens all the time. Back in 2016, Trump changed wariness of Russia from a rightwing or neutral position to a left wing position. Likewise, free trade used to be a Republican position.

      There’s also a lot of stuff like views on budget deficits or executive overreach that seemingly depend solely on who is in office to begin with.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Free Trade is a weird one, that had pretty bi-partisan support, at least among the party establishments. Bill Clinton signed onto NAFTA before the Republicans took over Congress, and Rush Limbaugh supported this move.

        • JayT says:

          Bill Clinton was pretty much the first major figure “on the left” that supported free trade. In the decades before him the Democrats were largely protectionists. Michael Dukakis, who was the Democratic presidential candidate before Clinton, was very Trumpian in his trade stance.

    • Iago the Yerfdog says:

      I’ve read several people over the last few years who have pointed out that what counts as “left” and “right” are being redefined, as they have been many times before. For example, a century or so ago, protecting the environment from rampant industrialism used to be a right-wing issue, and I’m told that opposition to homosexuality used to be a left-wing issue.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        The left used to be against immigration because lower wages/fewer jobs for labor. The right was for it because cheap labor for capital, and the establishment right still is.

        • Plumber says:

          @Conrad Honcho says:

          “The left used to be against immigration because lower wages/fewer jobs for labor…”

          To personalize it even more, in 2015 Senator Sanders explicitly said he was against “open borders”, but in 2019 he said he wanted to “decriminalize border crossings”.

          Seemed a big flip in just a few years.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            That’s not so much a shift in policy as a shift in rhetoric. That crossing the border improperly is a criminal offence makes almost no difference to immigration policy. They still have to catch you before they can prosecute you; conversely, they can still deport you either way.

    • Clutzy says:

      I don’t think its so confusing. The right wingers are the ones who drove the anti-Corona intellectual movement in the US in the early times. Apparently a visit from Tucker Carlson was a major driver in convincing Trump to take it much more seriously. They were the ones defending the Travel bans, etc.

      Its only in the era of the corona freakout (strarting around March 1 or very late Feb) that certain parts of the right have started talking about the reaction as an overreaction. I don’t agree with that segment, but it is coherent, because the left was either not talking about corona or actively downplaying it until this shift happened. No one has demonstrated other people had all these awesome ideas in January and February (unless you go into the right wing nationalist zone of punditry), so what is the point?

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        At least one left-wing blogger I know of has been strongly warning about the coronavirus since January.

        • Clutzy says:

          For sure there are some, but people like her never really broke onto CNN. Also, I would note Jan 30 is kinda late to have a first post. That is basically when the China travel ban went into effect.

      • EchoChaos says:

        This is pretty much right. The right-wing has been at a 4-5 on “we need to do more” since January, with the ultra-right at a 7-8 (mostly because to them “do more” means “close the borders”, which they want anyway)

        Now everyone has stampeded to a 9 and the right hasn’t moved, so we’re the ones who are getting yelled at for not taking it seriously.

        It could be that 5 is too low and we need to be more at the 7-8 range. I’ll remember to listen to the ultras more often in the future.

        • Matt M says:

          Have we actually closed the borders?

          It’s unclear to me. But it does seem clear that in some jurisdictions, the police are forcibly enforcing bar closures (with no due process), individual quarantines, and forcibly confiscating the legitimately purchased property of individuals because they were deemed to have probably totally been about to price gouge…

          • EchoChaos says:

            Have we actually closed the borders?

            Some of them, yes. Interestingly, Mexico is considering closing their northern border to prevent the spread.

            But it does seem clear that in some jurisdictions, the police are forcibly enforcing bar closures (with no due process), individual quarantines, and forcibly confiscating the legitimately purchased property of individuals because they were deemed to have probably totally been about to price gouge…

            Most modern libertarians don’t realize how strong America’s quarantine laws are because they haven’t been strongly used for a generation or two.

            But remember, this is a country that lived through LOTS of serious disease waves, from polio to measles to various flus, etc. Once health emergencies are declared, the government has a huge amount of power that they don’t have otherwise.

          • woah77 says:

            I think, if we’re being honest, pandemic containment is one of the rare cases where having a strong government temporarily suspending freedoms is something everyone can appreciate in the long run. You don’t have time for due process when someone might be carrying a virus than can kill people. Obviously, there is an expiration date on such powers, but judicial usage of extreme power is why we form states in the first place.

    • aristides says:

      It might depend on your sources. All of my right wing contacts have been at defcon one for a month over the coronavirus, but I work in the healthcare industry, so we’ve been across the board more aggressive. Not to mention, my right wing sources were very critical about how the FDA restricted coronavirus testing, even more so than my left wing sources which put more blame on Trump and CDC funding. Which of these is the bigger problem is up to interpretation, but I’m general, the right wing is still pretty aggressive on this.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I knew some uiltra-right people who were “get your n95 masks now” two months ago.

  25. Rolaran says:

    Online tabletop roleplayers of SSC!

    A friend of mine is looking into running the rest of his currently in-person TTRPG online. What services do people recommend for doing this?

    The system is a Powered By The Apocalypse game set at a professional wrestling show. This means there’s no need for a tactical map, and the only dice rolls it needs to be able to handle are 2d6+X. However, it does need to be able to do voice chat.

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      How many people? In my experience, running an online game with voice chat is about as stressful as running in person for a 50% larger group.

      Discord is probably the best free option, and is what I recommend they try first (assuming they want audio only). If that fails, TeamSpeak is still around and you can get a server for pretty cheap (~$5 per month for a small one).

      If they want video, Zoom is the best software I’ve used for video conferencing by a considerable margin. Webex is ok but not great. I strongly recommend you avoid Skype.

      (This assumes they trust their players to make and report die rolls)

      • Rolaran says:

        Five players in addition to the DM, but being a wrestling show means that most of the “encounters” are one-on-one matches. Something fancy like a tag team match could happen, but it would be very rare for a fight to involve all of the players.

    • ECD says:

      Discord with one of the many dice roller bots will probably be good enough. Otherwise, Discord for chat + Roll 20 for images/maps/rolls is what I generally use.

    • Evan Þ says:

      I’m in a longstanding half-online game (four of us in-person, plus another two across the country). We just open a video call in Discord or Facebook Messenger, and the DM uploads photos of notes in the text channel.

      I was in one other all-online game which we did all through Discord; Avrae bot worked well enough for us there.

    • FLWAB says:

      I have used a combination of Discord and Roll20 for years. Roll20 is great for shared visuals: it can do grids and hexes, or just imported images files for flavor. It has a good system for making player and npc tokens and tracking statistics like health, and it lets you easily make multiple boards you can switch to throughout the game. Plus they have tools for character sheets and fog of war and a lot of other things a GM may find useful. And it’s free (you can pay for better stuff, but I’ve never found it necessary). It has a built in voice chat system but I never use it. Discord is definitely the most stable VC I’ve used for large groups.

  26. mtl1882 says:

    I was also very impressed by this book, which was also an easy and enjoyable (as much as it can be, given the subject matter) read. I agreed with almost all of it, and I think “decadence” is a useful concept and an accurate assessment. It’s not a matter of institutional failure or late capitalism–those are pieces of it. It is the ability and desire to sustain widespread let’s-pretendism. Been reading a lot of somewhat similar books lately, and one suggestion that was unique to it, though a very minor point toward the end, was that Americans seem to be trending really hard into various New Age stuff.

    I would not lump Emerson, Nietzsche, and Jung with self-help magical crystal stuff (he sort of does this, saying they are different strains of pagan thought–there are similarities, and their ideas can be repackaged into anything, but I consider it crucial that the former emphasizes an unsettling awareness and autonomy that the latter IMO actively discourages). But I do think it is part of the same trend, in that it is filling the void of traditional religion, in response to a spiritual need that is natural in most people.

    I am noticing a resurgence in both, and a resurgence of the former is interesting to me, and I don’t think as far from traditional Christianity as he thinks, and probably has more potential to influence society. The latter has been more dominant but is also accelerating. In recent years several people I know who thought of themselves as proudly science/fact-based, utterly non-spiritual people seemingly went overnight into believing a few “magical” things. Some of it is as simple as suddenly claiming lemons or vitamins have universal (or oddly specific) healing properties after reading something online, as though this could have just been discovered, and with zero curiosity as to the mechanism of this. They blend this with their science talk in an uncritical way, saying something about inflammation or whatever. But these people tend to check out of larger of social projects–it’s an escapist, consumer-culture impulse.

  27. Iago the Yerfdog says:

    Can anyone point me in the direction of materialist rebuttals of a particular argument for eliminative materialism about intention? Put somewhat crudely, the argument is (1) configurations of matter cannot by themselves be about anything, (2) brains states are simply configurations of matter, and therefore (3) brains states cannot be about anything. The upshot was that thoughts and beliefs do not exist and even sentences don’t actually mean anything.

    What makes the argument plausible is that we don’t count the JFK Profile Rock as a genuine picture of JFK, since no one intended it to look like JFK. Arguably, if a bunch of branches fell off a tree and seemed to form the letters, “JFK,” it wouldn’t be a reference to JFK because no one intended it to be a reference. But if materialism is right (so this argument goes), then people are just clumps of particles, and thus someone thinking about, writing about, or making art of JFK is not actually different from the previous two cases.

    Keep in mind that this is a crude reconstruction of an argument I saw years ago. There was an atheist philosopher whose claim to fame was in part for making this argument; I forget his name but remember that he was also known for suggesting that people who find atheism or eliminative materialism depressing (and he included himself) take antidepressants to deal with it. (If anyone else remembers this guy and names him, I’d appreciate it.)

    My question is: has there been any robust rebuttals to this argument from a materialist perspective? Pointing out that sentences obviously mean things doesn’t count, because someone could use that while accepting the above argument as a reductio ad absurdem against materialism itself.

    EDIT: To clarify further, I’d prefer a rebuttal that shows conclusively where the argument goes wrong, rather than a particular account of how intention works, since those tend to be speculative and controversial and if they don’t work we’re back at square one.

    • crh says:

      The philosopher you’re describing is Alex Rosenberg, I think.

    • ahenobarbi says:

      (1) configurations of matter cannot by themselves be about anything, (2) brains states are simply configurations of matter, and therefore (3) brains states cannot be about anything.

      (1) Is just assuming the conclusion. How does the philosopher show that configurations of matter cannot be about anything? By giving some examples of configurations of matter that aren’t about something? I don’t think that works – I could give many examples of configurations of matter that are not food (toy pizza looks a lot like food but isn’t food, what do you say?) and that wouldn’t prove that no configuration of matter can be food.

      Also what about books, paintings, movies, music… Do they also have souls? Or do they have no meaning?

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        (1) Is just assuming the conclusion.

        This is a nitpick, but strictly speaking, it isn’t. You could turn the argument into one against materialism by accepting (1) and arguing therefore that thoughts aren’t just configurations of matter.

        How does the philosopher show that configurations of matter cannot be about anything? By giving some examples of configurations of matter that aren’t about something?

        I chose the JFK Profile Rock because I seem to recall Dawkins once used it as an example of something that looked designed but isn’t. My point is that had a human artist sculpted the rock, we would count it as being about Kennedy, but since no one did, we don’t. Likewise with the branches example.

        The eliminative materialist argument, as I understand it, is that the case of the human artist creating something is not significantly different from the case of natural processes creating it, since on the materialist account the artist is simply a bunch of natural processes.

        Also what about books, paintings, movies, music… Do they also have souls? Or do they have no meaning?

        On the non-materialist side, books etc. were at least created by someone who does have a soul, and get their meaning from them. But an eliminative materialist would, if I’m understanding their position correctly, say that they don’t have meaning.

    • newcom says:

      I agree that it is point (1) that is wrong. I would point you towards Douglas Hofstadter’s books for a comprehensive explanation, but here is the short version:

      In GEB, Hofstadter begins by explaining the simplest proxy to the problem: formal systems in mathematics. In formal systems, the symbols used don’t mean anything intrinsically, but by choosing the right ‘rules’ for how the symbols can be used, meaning can be ‘forced upon’ the symbols.
      His example is a formal system which exist only of the symbols ‘p’, ‘q’ and ‘_’, with following rules:
      1. Valid words are those that consist of any number of ‘_’, followed by ‘p_q_’, followed by the same number of ‘_’ (axiom rule)
      2. From a valid word, a new valid word can be created by changing ‘p’ to ‘p_’ and ‘q’ to ‘q_’

      So, now you have a system for creating valid words, like ‘_p_q__’, ‘_p__q___’, etc. Seems pretty meaningless?
      Upon closer inspection though, you will notice that this behaves isomorphic to addition of 2 natural numbers (just replace ‘p’ by ‘plus’, ‘q’ by ‘equals’ and any string of ‘_’s by the number of ‘_’s it consists of).
      In fact, this system can only express correct additions (there is no way to create eg. ‘_p_q___’: ‘1 plus 1 equals 3’), and it’s possible to express any possible addition between 2 natural numbers in this system.
      Due to the isomorphism with addition, the meaningless symbols ‘p’, ‘q’ and ‘_’ were automatically imbued with meaning. It doesn’t even matter that any observer would look at this system and doesn’t understand what is happening: the isomorphism with addition is there either way.

      This ‘pq-system’ is just a toy-example of course, but something complex such as spoken language behaves in a very similar way: any syllable by itself is meaningless, and while the ‘rules’ of language are way more numerous and complex then those of the pq-system, it’s clear they exist in some (implicit) form.
      Why does the sentence ‘this bread is stale’ seems to mean something, while ‘this bread flies yellow’ doesn’t? Each concept in both sentences (‘this bread’, ‘being stale’, ‘flying’ and ‘yellow’) is some sort of axiom (similar to those made by rule 1 of the pq-system).
      These axioms can then be modified or strung together by other rules (similar to rule 2 of the pq-system). In the end we end up with a ‘language-system’, which (should) behave isomorphic to reality itself: with each ‘symbol’ corresponding to some object in thingspace (see: Yudkowsky’s sequence on language). And this correspondence is not just a convention, a meaning is ‘forced’ on each symbol by dint of how the rules allows it to behave.

      The final step is to carry this line of thinking over to brains, which are just ‘configurations of matter’ as you state. But they are configurations of matter which can take input from the environment, ‘translating’ some external event to signals in the brain, and the way these signals can interact with each other are regulated by exactly how the neurons are connected in the brain.
      It’s hard to tell exactly what the equivalent of ‘a symbol’ would be in the brain (a pattern of neural activity, maybe?). Still, similar to a ‘language-system’, there are rules (the morphology of the brain) which dictate how these symbols can interact with each other, creating a system where meaning is ‘forced’ on brain activity, despite the fact that brain is just a configuration of matter.

    • newcom says:

      I agree that it is point (1) that is wrong. I would point you towards Douglas Hofstadter’s books for a comprehensive explanation, but here is the short version:

      In GEB, Hofstadter begins by explaining the simplest proxy to the problem: formal systems in mathematics. In formal systems, the symbols used don’t mean anything intrinsically, but by choosing the right ‘rules’ for how the symbols can be used, meaning can be ‘forced upon’ the symbols.
      His example is a formal system which exist only of the symbols ‘p’, ‘q’ and ‘_’, with following rules:
      1. Valid words are those that consist of any number of ‘_’, followed by ‘p_q_’, followed by the same number of ‘_’ (axiom rule)
      2. From a valid word, a new valid word can be created by changing ‘p’ to ‘p_’ and ‘q’ to ‘q_’

      So, now you have a system for creating valid words, like ‘_p_q__’, ‘_p__q___’, etc. Seems pretty meaningless?
      Upon closer inspection though, you will notice that this behaves isomorphic to addition of 2 natural numbers (just replace ‘p’ by ‘plus’, ‘q’ by ‘equals’ and any string of ‘_’s by the number of ‘_’s it consists of).
      In fact, this system can only express correct additions (there is no way to create eg. ‘_p_q___’: ‘1 plus 1 equals 3’), and it’s possible to express any possible addition between 2 natural numbers in this system.
      Due to the isomorphism with addition, the meaningless symbols ‘p’, ‘q’ and ‘_’ were automatically imbued with meaning. It doesn’t even matter that any observer would look at this system and doesn’t understand what is happening: the isomorphism with addition is there either way.

      This ‘pq-system’ is just a toy-example of course, but something complex such as spoken language behaves in a very similar way: any syllable by itself is meaningless, and while the ‘rules’ of language are way more numerous and complex then those of the pq-system, it’s clear they exist in some (implicit) form.
      Why does the sentence ‘this bread is stale’ seems to mean something, while ‘this bread flies yellow’ doesn’t? Each concept in both sentences (‘this bread’, ‘being stale’, ‘flying’ and ‘yellow’) is some sort of axiom (similar to those made by rule 1 of the pq-system).
      These axioms can then be modified or strung together by other rules (similar to rule 2 of the pq-system). In the end we end up with a ‘language-system’, which (should) behave isomorphic to reality itself: with each ‘symbol’ corresponding to some object in thingspace (see: Yudkowsky’s sequence on language). And this correspondence is not just a convention, a meaning is ‘forced’ on each symbol by dint of how the rules allows it to behave.

      The final step is to carry this line of thinking over to brains, which are just ‘configurations of matter’ as you state. But they are configurations of matter which can take input from the environment, ‘translating’ some external event to signals in the brain, and the way these signals can interact with each other are regulated by exactly how the neurons are connected in the brain.
      It’s hard to tell exactly what the equivalent of ‘a symbol’ would be in the brain (a pattern of neural activity, maybe?). Still, similar to a ‘language-system’, there are rules (the morphology of the brain) which dictate how these symbols can interact with each other, creating a system where meaning is ‘forced’ on brain activity, despite the fact that brain is just a configuration of matter.

    • newcom says:

      I agree that it is point (1) that is wrong. I would point you towards Douglas Hofstadter’s books for a comprehensive explanation, but here is the short version:

      In GEB, Hofstadter begins by explaining the simplest proxy to the problem: formal systems in mathematics. In formal systems, the symbols used don’t mean anything intrinsically, but by choosing the right ‘rules’ for how the symbols can be used, meaning can be ‘forced upon’ the symbols.
      His example is a formal system which exist only of the symbols ‘p’, ‘q’ and ‘_’, with following rules:
      1. Valid words are those that consist of any number of ‘_’, followed by ‘p_q_’, followed by the same number of ‘_’ (axiom rule)
      2. From a valid word, a new valid word can be created by changing ‘p’ to ‘p_’ and ‘q’ to ‘q_’

      So, now you have a system for creating valid words, like ‘_p_q__’, ‘_p__q___’, etc. Seems pretty meaningless?
      Upon closer inspection though, you will notice that this behaves isomorphic to addition of 2 natural numbers (just replace ‘p’ by ‘plus’, ‘q’ by ‘equals’ and any string of ‘_’s by the number of ‘_’s it consists of).
      In fact, this system can only express correct additions (there is no way to create eg. ‘_p_q___’: ‘1 plus 1 equals 3’), and it’s possible to express any possible addition between 2 natural numbers in this system.
      Due to the isomorphism with addition, the meaningless symbols ‘p’, ‘q’ and ‘_’ were automatically imbued with meaning. It doesn’t even matter that any observer would look at this system and doesn’t understand what is happening: the isomorphism with addition is there either way.

      This ‘pq-system’ is just a toy-example of course, but something complex such as spoken language behaves in a very similar way: any syllable by itself is meaningless, and while the ‘rules’ of language are way more numerous and complex then those of the pq-system, it’s clear they exist in some (implicit) form.
      Why does the sentence ‘this bread is stale’ seems to mean something, while ‘this bread flies yellow’ doesn’t? Each concept in both sentences (‘this bread’, ‘being stale’, ‘flying’ and ‘yellow’) is some sort of axiom (similar to those made by rule 1 of the pq-system).
      These axioms can then be modified or strung together by other rules (similar to rule 2 of the pq-system). In the end we end up with a ‘language-system’, which (should) behave isomorphic to reality itself: with each ‘symbol’ corresponding to some object in thingspace (see: Yudkowsky’s sequence on language). And this correspondence is not just a convention, a meaning is ‘forced’ on each symbol by dint of how the rules allows it to behave.

      The final step is to carry this line of thinking over to brains, which are just ‘configurations of matter’ as you state. But they are configurations of matter which can take input from the environment, ‘translating’ some external event to signals in the brain, and the way these signals can interact with each other are regulated by exactly how the neurons are connected in the brain.
      I don’t know exactly what the equivalent of ‘a symbol’ would be in the brain (a pattern of neural activity, maybe?). Still, similar to a ‘language-system’, there are rules (the morphology of the brain) which dictate how these symbols can interact with each other, creating a system where meaning is ‘forced’ on brain activity, despite the fact that brain is just a configuration of matter.

      • Nick says:

        Who decides what the rules are? If your pq-sentences expression addition, they equally well expression quaddition.

        • newcom says:

          The rules can be anything, but most rules result in systems that aren’t isomorphic to anything real, and thus won’t imbue meaning into the symbols. Just like there are presumably uncountable ways to link neurons together in a way that doesn’t produce a functioning brain.

          Also, if quaddition is what google seems to indicate, the pq-system does not behave like this, since it cannot form a sentence with 57 or more ‘_’s in the first or second slot and only five ‘_’s in the third.
          Interestingly, another interpretation of the pq-system is possible: when you interpret ‘p’ as ‘equals’ and ‘q’ as ‘subtracted from’. The symbols in this system thus have multiple meanings, which is possible since addition and subtraction are related.

          • Nick says:

            The problem is that you’re privileging a particular formal system. You privileged addition, even though it’s obvious the pq-sentences you chose could express quaddition. And closer to the matter (ahem) at hand, you privileged a particular formal system for language. But you could come up with any language-system you like for a given collection of inputs and outputs. The same goes for the brain, modeled as input-output.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            @Nick

            Just so everyone’s clear, I think what you’re saying is that newcom is presenting the “p_q_” words and the rules for the words as a package deal. But the rules don’t apply themselves; in the absence of someone specifying what the rules are, infinitely many different rules could apply to any given set of “p_q_” words.

            So your objection is that the words + the rules are meaningful, but only because someone has intentionally chosen the rules to make it meaningful, which is cheating. Is this correct?

            (I know Wittgenstein addressed something like this in Philosophical Investigations, but I admit to not being able to make much sense of that book.)

          • newcom says:

            Oh, I agree that the pq-system is a very specific formal system, designed to illustrate a point. I brought it up to show that it is possible for a system (a lexicographical system such as ‘pq’, or a physical system such as a brain) to ‘be about something’, without:
            -Need for the constituent parts of the system to have intrinsic meaning: the symbols ‘p’, ‘q’ and ‘_’ had no intrinsic meaning before their use in the system; syllables/words don’t have intrinsic meanings (neither does a single neuron firing).
            -Need for meaning to be bestowed upon the system by an agent.

            From a realist perspective: there is a reality, with real things in it which behave in very specific ways. It is possible for a system to be isomorphic (to varying extent) to some subset of reality, in which case the system as a whole mirrors that aspect of reality. From there, this ‘mirroring’ streams downwards to symbols constituting the system, ‘forcing’ meaning on them. (Hope that made sense)

            To illustrate:
            -(Condition: the addition of natural numbers is an abstraction of an aspect of reality, as having 1 countable object and adding 1 countable object will always result in 2 countable objects, etc.)
            The pq-system mirrors the properties of the addition of natural numbers: having 3 apples and adding 1 will always result in 4 apples (never 3 or 5), just as ‘___p_q____’ is a valid sentence (and ‘___p_q___’ or ‘___p_q_____’ are not). This will be true for all additions (why the pq-system is isomorphic with addition, and not with quaddition), which forces meaning upon the symbols: ‘_’ behaves in the pq-system like countable objects behave in reality, and this is the case whether or not any agent comprehends it.
            -When a basketball players throws a ball to the hoop, in some sense a (non-conscious) part of his brain is (to some extent) isomorphic to the ‘ how objects move’-aspect of reality, as it can send the right signals to the body to result in the ball hitting its target. In this case it’s hard to exactly point at what the ‘symbols’ in the brain are which are involved in this representation (higher level than a single neuron, lower level than all activity in the brain). But with a sufficient level of understanding, it should be possible to explain exactly what the brain was doing, and discover the meaning of the constituent symbols.

            Once again, I would really recommend ‘Godel Escher Bach’ by D. Hofstadter, which does this line of thinking way more justice than I can.

          • Nick says:

            @newcom
            Sorry, but you are just repeating yourself. I already understood what you were saying, and I’ve read GEB. But every time you say reality is isomorphic, you are assuming there is one particular formal system that gives things meaning. That’s not materialism!

          • newcom says:

            @Nick
            Could you specify how such a description falls short of being materialistic?

            Just to clarify: the pq-case is just a sanitised example, where the system is fully isomorphic and we fully understand the system which is giving rise to the statements. Do you agree that in that case the system can be said ‘to be about something’, and that the symbols have meaning?
            I agree that, when importing this situation to the real world, everything gets more messy: brains and language are only partially related reality, and their full workings (or rules) are not known to us. But I feel like the same line of reasoning that works in the pq-case carries through: it just takes a lot of data and context for someone discern whether meaning is to be found. (eg. The difference between a Chinese sentence and a random sequence of Chinese sounding vocalisations: I might not be able to tell one from the other, but it still remains that only one stems from a system that, however imperfectly and incomplete, relates to reality and thus gives a meaning to that sentence.)

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            @zqed

            Well, you finally got me to read through that whole thing. I hope you’re happy. 😛

            I would disagree that Yudkowski doesn’t appeal to a formal system: the formal system he appeals to is arithmetic on the natural numbers.

            When Mark takes a pebble out of the bucket and Yudkowski declares the collection of pebbles to now be the pebbles in the bucket plus the pebble in Mark’s hand, he glosses over the fact that he’s changing how he’s counting and thus how he’s applying the formal system. That strikes me as sneaking his own agency in.

            Then there’s the issue that David Chapman brings up, which is that what counts as a pebble is itself not a trivial issue: what if one shatters into dust when you drop it in, but you don’t notice?

            My point being, and I think Nick’s point being, the rules don’t apply themselves.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I would disagree that Yudkowski doesn’t appeal to a formal system: the formal system he appeals to is arithmetic on the natural numbers.

            Exactly; this is the immaterial real thing Yud is appealing to in an argument for materialism. It’s incoherent.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat: Perhaps EY is not fully a “materialist” (which to be fair does indeed mean “one who believes that nothing exists except matter”), but rather a believer that all physical things are material, or something like that. On the other hand, maybe EY would want to press the point that believing in “one pebble” and “two pebbles” doesn’t mean that you believe in “one” and “two” as independently existing entities. I don’t think the difference really matters here.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            @Dacyn

            all physical things are material

            I’m genuinely curious what views would contrast with this. Aren’t “physical” and “material” synonyms in this context?

          • Nick says:

            @Iago the Yerfdog
            You have me basically right, yes. About Wittgenstein, check out Kripke’s interpretation of him. That’s where my talk of quaddition comes from. But Kripke makes a different argument than I do; he argues that the rules proposed (say, addition) are susceptible to a higher level interpretation problem, and so on in a vicious regress. That’s a stronger argument, since it’s a problem for the rules approach whether you’re a materialist or not. The reason I started where I did is that your question is how the materialist salvages this.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Iago the Yerfdog: Apologies for being imprecise: my point is that EY may say things like “thought is matter” without saying things like “numbers are matter”. Is there a name for this?

          • Viliam says:

            @Le Maistre Chat:

            Exactly; this is the immaterial real thing Yud is appealing to in an argument for materialism. It’s incoherent.

            I feel like you might have redefined ‘materialism’ from “unbelief in fairies and gods” to “unbelief in numbers” at some moment.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I feel like you might have redefined ‘materialism’ from “unbelief in fairies and gods” to “unbelief in numbers” at some moment.

            “Materialism” has never meant just “unbelief in fairies and gods”. In fact, it’s never even meant that much — there have been philosophies/religions (Stoicism, Manichaeism) which believed in material deities, so you could be both a materialist and a theist if you were so minded.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Viliam:

            I feel like you might have redefined ‘materialism’ from “unbelief in fairies and gods” to “unbelief in numbers” at some moment.

            Uh, that’s not redefining. Materialism is defined as a type of philosophical monism that believes only matter exists (contra idealism, monism that believes only thought exists). “I Fing love science and math; fairies and gods are delusions” is not and has never been a rigorous definition.

            @Mr. X:

            there have been philosophies/religions (Stoicism, Manichaeism) which believed in material deities, so you could be both a materialist and a theist if you were so minded.

            What he said.

          • Nick says:

            Uh, that’s not redefining. Materialism is defined as a type of philosophical monism that believes only matter exists (contra idealism, monism that believes only thought exists).

            Right. To be clear, many materialists have defended intentionality arising somehow from matter, as a derivative feature of the world. Not all materialists are eliminativists, after all. But pace my critics in this thread, no one here has yet shown how this avoids determination issues like quaddition.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I feel like you might have redefined ‘materialism’ from “unbelief in fairies and gods” to “unbelief in numbers” at some moment.

            “Belief in numbers” is actually a very tricky problem for Materialism. What is the relationship between the abstract world of mathematics and the physical world? In what sense is “3” more real than “pink” or “good,” if it is at all? If you’re not careful, it’s pretty easy to recreate Platonism, just as Computationalists recreated animism.

          • Nick says:

            @zqed

            AFAICS that issue is a red herring. Quaddition is a perfectly good mathematical operation, as is addition. Newcom’s argument (that material can be about other material by virtue of correspondence in form) works with either (in all cases where addition and quaddition do share the same form), and the pebbles-about-sheep variant requires neither.

            Addition and quaddition do not share the same form. They are different operations. For some inputs their outputs coincide; for others they do not.

            The point is this. newcom introduced a formal system (your “correspondence of form,” I take it) in order to explain his pq-sentences’ intentionality. But his pq-sentences equally well express quaddition. If you need me to show you how his pq-sentences can be interpreted as quaddition, I will, but let me proceed first. Now, addition and quaddition are different operations. Yet, if newcom wants to say that addition arises out of his pq-sentences, he must admit that quaddition arises out of them, too. And paddition. And raddition, and infinitely more such operations, because there is nothing special about the upper bound we define quaddition with, and we could define as many similar operations as we like. So there are an infinite number of such operations that can be read out of his pq-sentences, and those pq-sentences are about addition in no stronger sense than they are about any of these other operations. And we can come up with much more exotic operations than quaddition. Indeed, no matter how large the collection of inputs and outputs we’re asked to model is, or what sort of inputs and outputs they are, we can come up with as many perverse operations like these as we like.

            What I’m getting at is that newcom’s argument has a determination problem. He concludes that meaning has been ‘forced’ on the pq-sentences, and by analogy language and brain states, but his argument has only established that matter “is” about literally anything we would like it to be. newcom’s response to this was to privilege one particular formal system his pq-sentences are about. But per what I’ve said he has no grounds to do so.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            EY gives what appears to be a counterexample, a configuration of matter where a certain bucket of pebbles is about sheep.

            It’s only “about sheep” because the shepherd set it up in order to count sheep. IOW, this is just another variant of the robot arm question discussed below.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That’s plain-and-simple wrong if “about” refers to the is-about predicate discussed above. You are welcome to disagree on whether the is-about predicate discussed above is any good. However, if impose your own desiderata on the “is-about” predicate, that further decreases the domain of validity of the original argument: it will get harder to defend the argument, not easier.

            On this topic, I agree with Nick that your account of aboutness is unable to deal with determination issues, and is therefore useless. Saying “As long as there can be is-about relations between matter, the materialist won’t have to take all of them, she can pick and choose between them using systematic criteria” doesn’t help you here. If you need to appeal to something outside the formal system, bucket of pebbles, or whatever, in order to explain what and how it’s about, then it evidently doesn’t have aboutness in itself.

            More importantly, it still makes for a circular argument: materialists claim that shepherds are configurations of matter.

            No it doesn’t. You pointed to the bucket of pebbles as “a configuration of matter that seems to be about something by itself”: pointing out that you need to appeal to the shepherd in order to account for the bucket’s aboutness is sufficient to refute that, regardless of whether or not the shepherd himself is material.

            If anything, it’s your materialist response that begs the question: whether or not the shepherd is just a configuration of matter is part of the matter under dispute, so appealing to the materialist position that he is in order to justify materialism is circular reasoning.

            If you know an argument that shows shepherds aren’t purely be matter, just present that argument, disprove materialism, and we can skip the part about pebbles and robot arms.

            If you think the bit about pebbles is a distraction, maybe don’t bring it up in the first place.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Assuming that a shepherd holding a bucket is not a configuration of matter cannot form a meaningful part of a materialist rebuttal, because it presupposes that materialism is in fact false.

            I wasn’t making a materialist rebuttal; I was pointing out that your attempted rebuttal doesn’t actually work. “You’re appealing to the intentions of the shepherd to explain the aboutness of the stones, therefore the stones don’t have aboutness in themselves and don’t form a valid example of ‘a configuration of matter that seems to be about something by itself'” doesn’t require taking any particular position on whether or not the shepherd himself is just a configuration of matter, a Berkeley-esque immaterial object, or anything in between.

            ETA:

            Materialism is not on trial here, except to the extent that eliminative materialism inevitably follows from materialism (since if that was the case, Iago would take that as a reductio argument against materialism itself).

            Since most of the discussion so far has centred on whether eliminative materialism inevitably follows from materialism, it follows that materialism is in fact on trial here.

          • Nick says:

            Since most of the discussion so far has centred on whether eliminative materialism inevitably follows from materialism, it follows that materialism is in fact on trial here.

            True. But I’d also add that I don’t have to be trying to refute materialism here to try to refute newcom’s answer. I think zqed has been reading things into newcom’s view that aren’t there and substituting (accidentally, I am sure, on account of trying to take the conversation closer to Iago’s top level question) a hypothetical stronger form of materialism, which is not what I was arguing against.

        • Dacyn says:

          To say that one thing is “about” another is to say that they are related in some important or relevant way. But the notion of importance (or relevance) is subjective, which is to say, “we” decide what the rules are, and it’s OK for us to do that. PQ-sentences only “equally well” express quaddition if them doing so equally serves our purposes, which is far from clear here.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            But the notion of importance (or relevance) is subjective, which is to say, “we” decide what the rules are, and it’s OK for us to do that.

            Who are “we”? Consciousnesses that are an epiphenomenon of meat, per computationism? Then there’s no reason to exclude other matter with epiphemonenal consciousness from the set “we” (see Jaskologist below).
            “it’s OK for us to do that” is incoherent without a consistent definition of “us”.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat: “We” = “denizens of SSC”. (Or at least that’s how I meant it, no claims about others in this conversation.)

            ETA: Or what might (or might not) have more relevance to your point: There’s only no “reason” if you refuse to consider what is important to us [1] as part of what constitutes a reason. Once you do so, it’s clear that the existence of an arbitrary correspondence does not constitute a good reason for saying that rocks think.

            [1] Again, here I mean people part of the (currently SSC) conversation,

          • Nick says:

            @Dacyn
            You’re aiming to solve the lack of intentionality by appealing to minds. The problem, as Iago said from the beginning, is that eliminativists have been arguing there is no intentionality in minds, either, by analogy with other matter. That was the problem he wanted materialists here to solve. You can’t solve it by presupposing we, i.e., configurations of matter, have purposes.

            ETA:

            @Le Maistre Chat: “We” = “denizens of SSC”.

            This is a brand of solipsism with which I am unfamiliar. 😉

          • Dacyn says:

            @Nick: Ah, thanks. Yeah, you would have a harder time of it if you want to get rid of all intentional language (rather than just explaining it in terms of other language), since that would require getting rid of all language that requires interpretation. I guess I am not an eliminative materialist then 🙂

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        Hmm. I have to admit I kind of like this answer. But I see a couple of issues:

        First, it seems like it might prove too much. The JFK Profile Rock is isomorphic (at a low resolution) to (part of) JFK’s face. Does that mean it really is an image of JFK, despite not having a sculptor?

        Second, whether or not language is isomorphic to reality is a very contentious issue. It’s been a while since I looked into it, but I remember finding the anti-representationalists’ arguments more convincing at the time.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      Given the locus of meaning is within individuals who are interpreting things (as is the locus of all value judgements whatsoever), and not on the creator*, this argument you are referring to seems on its face absurd.

      * – in English classes isn’t literary analysis generally described as “what did the author intend”, not “what is the actual meaning of this work”?

      • Nick says:

        That doesn’t solve anything. Where are these ‘interpretations’, if not in brain states? What are these brain states, if not configurations of matter?

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Here’s how it “solves” it:

          configurations of matter cannot by themselves be about anything

          Of course they aren’t. It takes another configuration of matter called a living being to assert within the self of that being that the other configuration of matter is about something.

          You need a tautology former. Tautology formers aren’t about anything, but within themselves a tautology can be formed about some other object that makes that places that other object within a value relationship in which the other object is about something.

          So basically an abstraction is necessary. How can you make a materialistic abstraction? I don’t know if you can. But at least I’m pointing out the fundamental limits of this kind of materialism. (If I am. I am not the kind of philosopher that definitionally learns what categories of philosophy are about, so ?)

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            It takes another configuration of matter called a living being to assert within the self of that being that the other configuration of matter is about something.

            The argument is that there is nothing special about a living being that makes their brain states capable of being about something else.

            Put another way, you’re saying that meanings are all in the mind, but the argument is that there are no such things as minds on a genuinely materialist conception of the universe.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Put another way, you’re saying that meanings are all in the mind, but the argument is that there are no such things as minds on a genuinely materialist conception of the universe.

            +1

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Yes.

            I don’t see why people think this is a materialistic slam-dunk instead of someone pointing to a literal explanatory hole in materialism.

            Incompleteness theorem, anyone?

            Cogito, ergo sum, man. I do have the ability to attribute meaning, ergo my configuration of matter has the ability to attribute meaning, ergo, while postulate A may be correct that there is no “aboutness” to my configuration, but it says nothing about my configuration’s ability to postulate “aboutness” on other things.

            but the argument is that there are no such things as minds

            That is not what postulate A is saying at all. It is merely saying that the configuration of matter resulting in a mind is “cannot by themselves be about anything,” (I’d argue more strongly that such configuration cannot, even in the context of other things, be about anything, period.)

            However, this “brains states cannot be about anything.”, does not follow, as the meaning of “be about anything” seems to change from postulate A through postulates B and C. “Be about anything” is distinct from “have about anything”. Postulate A is “be about anything”, while postulate C is “have about (contain) anything”.

            This also literally ignores the existence of emergent properties, which we know exist (easily demonstrable by igniting a flame).

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            If it hasn’t been pointed out above, I want to point out one more absurdity of this argument before leaving this open thread to do others things:

            The argument ignores time (it’s literally talking about configurations of matter, not changing configurations of matter). It can easily be argued materialistically that while a frozen moment of course has no “aboutness” to it, the moment you have these configurations of matter change, then you add context, you add causality, and causality itself as a materialistic concept imposes “aboutness” to changing matter configurations.

            I’ve seen it stated elsewhere that consciousness may arise through feedback loops in the brain. Which would be another example of the need for change-through-time for any “aboutness” to exist.

            Stop getting hooked up in semantics. The universe is moving models, not moving words.

    • Jaskologist says:

      The materialist position reduces to panpsychism as its logical conclusion. You may either bite that bullet or reject materialism in response, but I don’t think it’s avoidable as a conclusion.

      Scott Aaronson describes this in the section Computationalism and Waterfalls, although I think he dismisses it a bit too patly.

      I’m not aware of any Computationalists who have properly grappled with the fact that the very ground under your feet is performing infinitely complex calculations if only you choose the right ruleset. Do you know of any?

      • Nick says:

        A good primer is the two papers Feser wrote: “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought” and “From Aristotle to John Searle and Back Again: Formal Causes, Teleology, and Computation in Nature.”

        I remember first hearing that Feser wrote about this and figuring it would be very silly. But I read Feser’s papers, and went back and read Ross’s, too, and I was converted. (I don’t think that’s a story I’ve told here before.) Anyway, I’ve defended parts of the argument repeatedly here at SSC, and I’ll probably be able to dive into the weeds again this week if folks are so inclined.

        • rahien.din says:

          I would be so inclined!

          But expect me to come at you.

          • Nick says:

            Yes, here’s where we left off. You can start over if you like.

          • rahien.din says:

            Haha! You have… really kept track of this discussion. How should we resume?

          • Nick says:

            Sure, I guess I’ll start off. So in your last reply, I would reiterate that I believe this part is wrong:

            So, if the intellect says “add!” but physically the brain can only quadd, then the brain will quadd.

            Maybe I’m just getting hung up on this example (since it seems to me we can do both), but there’s no material difference between the brain’s adding and the brain’s quadding, so there’s no way to get into this state; that’s what it means that matter isn’t determinative. So we need to posit an immaterial intellect whose formal causation is responsible for determining whether the material operations in the brain are adding and not quadding.

            (This is the reason, I take it, for Aristotle’s seemingly bizarre suggestion that the intellect is a kind of thing that can “take on” the forms of other things. Normal formal causation is responsible for a basketball being round or my desk being wood-textured; the intellect is responsible for its matter, presumably some part of the brain, being additive and not quadditive.)

          • rahien.din says:

            You say that there is no material difference between addition and quaddition.

            Presumably, you would also say that there is no material difference between pure form and incompossible form.

          • Nick says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by either pure form or incompossible form.

          • rahien.din says:

            You say that there is no material difference between addition and quaddition.

            What do you mean by that.

          • Nick says:

            I mean no number of facts about matter will tell you which of the two I have done. If you take a look at pp. 13–14 of Feser’s first paper he walks the reader through Ross’s argument.

          • rahien.din says:

            no number of facts about matter will tell you whether I have added or quadded

            Stated more generally : syntax cannot be determined simply by looking at input and output.

            Is that fair?

        • Iago the Yerfdog says:

          Reading through the first paper you linked, I think Feser actually rebuts the argument, but at the cost of giving up a mechanistic sort of materialism. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, myself, but I wonder if it’s acceptable to most materialists.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        Hmm. I always thought panpsychism was simply universalized property dualism: that everything has mental characteristics. I gather you mean by it a much stronger idea: that basically everything counts as a mind. A kind of materialist animism.

        I’m not sure what to make of Aaronson’s response to the waterfall argument. On the one hand, he’s obviously right that for any algorithm you might impute to a waterfall, the heavy lifting is being done by the translation instead of the waterfall itself. On the other hand, he doesn’t elaborate on the significance of this or go into how this differentiates the waterfall from a brain.

        • Jaskologist says:

          It’s both weaker and stronger than that. One of the questions commonly posed to Materialism is “where does consciousness come from?” because the one thing I have direct experience of is myself, sitting inside this handsome sack of mostly water. So what’s the thing sitting inside there that comprises “myself”?

          The common answer is something along the lines of Computationalism, wherein consciousness “arises” out of an information processing system (like our brains), presumably after it passes some sort of complexity threshold.

          Everything above this paragraph is an assumption. The stuff below is not, it’s just applying what we know about computation to draw out some weird implications of those assumptions.

          The thing about “computation” is that it can be done by anything. We’re familiar with using electricity to do computation, but it is possible to build to a computer out of nearly anything in the world. You can implement one yourself using a pencil and note cards. You can build one out of water. You can build one out of the movements of live crabs. And within any of those systems, you could run Minecraft, then implement Conway’s Game of Life inside of that, then implement a computer inside of that and run the same computation in there.

          The possibilities are literally infinite. We just use electricity because it’s fast. With me so far?

          If it’s the computations in your brain that makes it conscious, we could replicate your consciousness by running those same computations in a computer program (most Asp-Rats think this is obviously true). But we could also replicate it on the crab-puter, or a water-puter simulated inside the crab-puter. And once we’ve made that jump, why are we leaving out the infinite other rule sets which implement your consciousness in the world around you? The movements of air particles in the wind have a computation that is Turing-equivalent to your brain, if we just find the right ruleset.

          We can map any arrangement of matter to any computation. Those computations are happening even if we don’t harvest the results. So your mind is already being simulated in an infinite number of ways. And everything you do kills an infinite number of copies of yourself, but also spawns an infinite number of new ones.

          Or maybe materialism isn’t true after all.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            That’s really interesting. I’ve always rejected the idea of conscious persons made out of Magic: The Gathering cards or lambda calculus, but the idea that any sufficiently-complex system would implement every possible person is… bizarre.

            Clearly, computationalism’s assumption of subtrate independence is flawed. As I read him, even Aaronson admits that, but he thinks it can be mostly-salvaged by adding additional stipulations like participation in the arrow of time.

            But I think your conclusion that the only way out is to reject materialism is a little too hasty. Computiationalism is only one form of materialism, after all. On the other hand, if the eliminative materialists are right and materialism implies eliminative materialism, I’d count that as a strong reason to reject it.

          • Jaskologist says:

            You’re right. Jumping to rejecting materialism when the claims involved are materialism+computationalism is fallacious.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            @Jaskologist

            For what it’s worth, I’m not a materialist either. My suspicion is simply that the particular argument I initially posted about is wrong, both as an argument for eliminative materialism and as an argument against materialism.

      • Dacyn says:

        So, I want to make the same argument as I made above: saying that a certain thing is a thought pattern is ascribing some significance to it, which is a subjective notion, so it’s not surprising that we think some things are thought patterns and don’t think other things are thought patterns. Is there any particular reason the argument doesn’t work here?

        • Iago the Yerfdog says:

          So are you saying that the things that we do think are thoughts really aren’t, or that the things we don’t think are thoughts really are, or that there’s no fact of the matter whether they are or aren’t?

          In the first case, if thoughts don’t exist how is it that we think they do? If the second, this seems like it collapses into the sort of materialist animism Jaskologist and I were talking about. If the third… I’m honestly not sure how that would work.

          I feel like I’ve misunderstood you.

          • Dacyn says:

            There’s only a fact of the matter whether they are or not once you sufficiently specify what you mean by “thoughts”. This is clear by an appeal to edge cases, but in many realistic cases we can appeal to common sense to get us started [1]. There’s no reason common sense has to respect rules like “treat an arbitrary correspondence between a rock and the world in the same way it treats correspondences between our brains and the world”, so it’s perfectly possible for it to define one as a thought and the other as not a thought. But common sense is actually playing a role in defining the notion of thought here, not just in interpreting it.

            [1] The fact that common sense can get us far can mislead us into thinking that there was a fact of the matter before we started.

      • rahien.din says:

        The materialist position reduces to panpsychism as its logical conclusion.

        Not if you can distinguish a pattern from a process.

    • Viliam says:

      (1) configurations of matter cannot by themselves be about anything

      This seems more like a confusion than an argument. The book “Lord of Rights” cannot be about hobbits? (Or is this an argument for books having souls? Checkmate, materialist!)

      I suppose the argument is rather something like: regardless of the information encoded somewhere, unless there is someone there to actually use it, it is useless. Which I kinda agree with, but before we proceed, please notice how we are moving from “cannot be about” to “cannot be usefully about”.

      So, let’s try to see information in action. Suppose we have a factory robot that operates in the following way: There is a conveyor with some objects, for example apples. There is a camera that checks each apple, and if the apple is damaged somehow, the camera sends a signal to a mechanical arm, which removes the apple from the conveyor. Would it be okay to say that the signal from the camera to the arm is about the apple? I mean, the signal is generated depending on the properties of the apple, and the consequence of the signal is that something happens to the apple. Is this what “about” means?

      The obvious counter-argument is that the mechanical arm does not understand the signal. It has no concept of “damaged apple”, or even “apple”. We could move the same arm to a different machine, which would use the same signal to separate green cubes from blue cubes, and the arm would function exactly the same. Therefore, at least for the arm, there is no “about apple”. — Well, okay. But the system as originally proposed is still suspiciously efficient at removing damaged apples based on the signal, considering that the signal is “not really about apples”, isn’t it?

      So let’s move the goalpost again, and say that “about” requires the recipient having a mental model of the encoded thing. Only if you have a concept of an apple, and you get an information about apples, and you recognize that the information is about those things that you know as apples… only then the information was truly “about” apples.

      But now the debate turns into circular reasoning, I am afraid. When I say “well, if you insist on configurations-of-matter that construct mental models of things, humans are an example”, you could say “stop right there; you are assuming that humans are only made of matter, but that is the exactly the thing I am arguing against”, and you would have a point. But I could make exactly the same point “you are trying to prove that humans are not only made of matter, by assuming that configurations-of-matter cannot have mental models… in other words, you are assuming the thing you are trying to prove”.

      If I were a philosopher, I could suggest that we need to define “about” precisely, before we proceed, because unclear definitions lead to unclear debates. But as a person who dislikes philosophy, I would suspect that this would only lead to more clever verbal arguments, i.e. more bullshit.

      Instead, we should examine how “about” works in the real world: to study specific examples of… robots, viruses, plants, animals, humans. How they process information; how they store it. Hopefully, there we could find how “about” is gradually constructed from not-about. Not in a philosophical sense, but in the this-is-how-it-actually-works sense.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        This seems more like a confusion than an argument. The book “Lord of Rights” cannot be about hobbits? (Or is this an argument for books having souls? Checkmate, materialist!)

        That is what the argument implies, as I understand it. Remember this is an argument made by an eliminative materialist against non-eliminative materialists. It’s a modus ponens argument; the anti-materialist argument is the modus tollens version. I’m looking for a good rebuttal to both.

        One thing to note about the examples of the repurposed apple-counting machine is that someone set up the machine to count apples, and then someone (else?) set it up to count cubes. In each case, the “aboutness” of the signal is only obviously present because someone put it there.

        (Related: Donald Davidson’s response to the Chinese Room Argument that the thing that knows Chinese is whoever wrote the book/algorithm.)

        If eliminative materialists are right, then the machine’s signals are not about anything, because the actions of the human-shaped clumps of matter that set them up are not about anything either.

        • Viliam says:

          One thing to note about the examples of the repurposed apple-counting machine is that someone set up the machine…

          Yes, but that’s just because I said “robots” to avoid the argument “but X has an immaterial soul”. If the robots evolved… or if they are bacteria instead of robots… the argument stays the same. (Do bacteria have souls?)

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            Well, as you say in your original comment, that’s the question, isn’t it?

            To repurpose a creationist thought experiment, imagine a tornado blew through a pile of scrap and assembled the machine. Furthermore, a second tornado causes a bunch of apples to fall onto the machine’s conveyor belt and it starts up.

            Should we count its signals as being about apples then? I honestly don’t know.

            EDIT Thinking about it more, I think this might be a genuine counter-example to the first premise of the argument.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        This seems more like a confusion than an argument. The book “Lord of Rights” cannot be about hobbits? (Or is this an argument for books having souls? Checkmate, materialist!)
        I suppose the argument is rather something like: regardless of the information encoded somewhere, unless there is someone there to actually use it, it is useless. Which I kinda agree with, but before we proceed, please notice how we are moving from “cannot be about” to “cannot be usefully about”.

        I assume you mean “The Lord of the Rings”, not “The Lord of Rights”. Regardless, though, the reason books have meaning is that it’s imparted by conscious agents — in this case, presumably, the author. If you had a universe with no conscious agents whatsoever, in which a load of atoms just so happened to get arranged into an object identical to the copy of “The Lord of the Rings” currently sitting on my shelf, that object wouldn’t be about hobbits, or anything else, really.

        The obvious counter-argument is that the mechanical arm does not understand the signal. It has no concept of “damaged apple”, or even “apple”. We could move the same arm to a different machine, which would use the same signal to separate green cubes from blue cubes, and the arm would function exactly the same. Therefore, at least for the arm, there is no “about apple”. — Well, okay. But the system as originally proposed is still suspiciously efficient at removing damaged apples based on the signal, considering that the signal is “not really about apples”, isn’t it?

        Again, because a conscious agent or agents — the engineer, the workers in the factory making robot arms, etc. — designed the arm in order to perform this task. IOW, the robot arm’s “aboutness” is derivative of that of conscious agents, not inherent to the arm itself.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          IOW, the robot arm’s “aboutness” is derivative of that of conscious agents, not inherent to the arm itself.

          It’s teleological?

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            To put on my Ed Feser hat for a second, it’s specifically an artificial teleology, instead of a natural teleology.

            Is artificial teleology problematic to anyone other than eliminative materialists?

          • Nick says:

            To put on my Ed Feser hat for a second

            It’s a good look on you. Wear it more often. 😉

        • Viliam says:

          I assume you mean “The Lord of the Rings”

          Yep.

          Again, because a conscious agent or agents — the engineer, the workers in the factory making robot arms, etc. — designed the arm in order to perform this task.

          Same as the previous comment, imagine that I said “bacterium” instead of “robot”.

    • rahien.din says:

      Your bullshit detector is ringing because the argument invalidates itself :

      1. configurations of matter cannot by themselves be about anything
      2. [philosophical proofs] are configurations of matter
      3. [philosophical proofs] cannot be about anything
      4. this set of statements is a philosophical proof
      5. this set of statements is not about anything

      All you need to understand is 1. the mind is utterly dependent upon configurations of matter, and 2. the world is normal and thus materialism sums to normality. Then you can beat a tortoise in a footrace.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      As others have said, the flaw is in (1).

      Configurations of matter can be “about” something, but for this to be the case, there has to be some causal connection to the configuration of matter from the thing that it’s about.

      For example, there is a causal chain from the real likeness of JFK to paintings made of him, even those painted long after his death:
      1. Pictures are taken of JFK (Real likeness –> image in photograph)
      2. An artist looks at photographs of JFK (Images in photographs –> ‘image’ in artist’s mind)
      3. The artist paints their picture of JFK (Mental image –> painted image)

      There is no such causal chain for the JFK Profile Rock, so as you say the rock is not really a genuine picture of JFK, even if it coincidentally happens to vaguely resemble him (in a way that’s greatly assisted by our brains’ overactive face detectors).

      • Nick says:

        I don’t think that will do the trick. It won’t for instance let you distinguish between being triangular and being trilateral, which have all the same causal connections but mean different things. If you tried to determine which one the configuration was about, there would be no fact of the matter which one it was.

        (This point is raised in the course of Feser’s article on Ross’s argument and immaterial aspects of thought.)

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Also, the causal-connection view runs into problems when something is about fictional characters or objects. “The Lord of the Rings” is about hobbits (amongst other things), but since hobbits don’t actually exist, there can’t be a causal chain between a hobbit and a copy of LOTR.

          Again, there are cases where there’s a clear causal connection, but where we wouldn’t say that there was any aboutness involved. E.g., if I’m going for a walk and leave a footprint in a patch of mud, there’s a clear causal connection between the configuration of matter that is my shoe and the footprint in the mud, but it’s hard to see how the footprint is “about” my shoe.

          IOW, having a causal connection is neither necessary nor sufficient for aboutness.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            I believe it’s necessary but not sufficient. So I don’t need to address your footprint example (I agree the presence of some causal chain alone is not sufficient) but ought to address the question of hobbits.

            As you say, hobbits do not exist in reality; they are a fictional construction from the imagination of one J.R.R. Tolkien. So how can there possibly be a causal chain to anything meaningful?

            Well, how do imaginary things come about in our imaginations? I’m inclined to agree with Kirby Ferguson that everything is a remix. We imagine things by combining both concepts from the real world, and the fictional constructions of others, in new and interesting ways. I’d say hobbits in particular combine the idea of a “relative” race of Man (perhaps inspired by the notion of subspecies of animals) with the concepts of being very short, walking barefoot, living in holes, and being hospitable. All of these individual ideas clearly have links to the real world; Tolkien simply combined them into a composite and called them Hobbits.

            So anyone who speaks of Hobbits today must have some causal connection to Tolkien’s imagination, and Tolkien had connections to the real world (or to other stories whose attributes in turn link somehow to reality) for each of the attributes of the halflings he imagined. If this wasn’t the case, how could he have written sensibly about them in a way that millions of readers understand?

            I think a similar process is going on when I imagine, say, a “regular 23-gon.” I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one, but I can conceptualize it by combining the concepts of “regular polygon” and “23”. (Also possibly “circle”, since that’s what higher-order regular polygons start to look like.)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I believe it’s necessary but not sufficient. So I don’t need to address your footprint example (I agree the presence of some causal chain alone is not sufficient) but ought to address the question of hobbits.

            I’d be interest to hear what you think needs to be added to make it sufficient. I’m having trouble thinking of any possible extra ingredient which doesn’t somehow smuggle in intentionality from elsewhere, but that might just be a lack of imagination on my part.

            Well, how do imaginary things come about in our imaginations? I’m inclined to agree with Kirby Ferguson that everything is a remix. We imagine things by combining both concepts from the real world, and the fictional constructions of others, in new and interesting ways. I’d say hobbits in particular combine the idea of a “relative” race of Man (perhaps inspired by the notion of subspecies of animals) with the concepts of being very short, walking barefoot, living in holes, and being hospitable. All of these individual ideas clearly have links to the real world; Tolkien simply combined them into a composite and called them Hobbits.

            I agree with all this, but I’m not sure it helps you to refute “(1) configurations of matter cannot by themselves be about anything”. If the LOTR-shaped configuration of matter currently sitting on my shelf is “by itself” about hobbits, then it should be possible to explain its aboutness without having recourse to any third object, like JRR Tolkien or his mental activities. Nobody doubts that configurations of matter can be about something, just that they can be about something without getting that aboutness from some external source.

        • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

          Initially, I didn’t understand how this was at all a counterargument to my point. But after skimming through the paper and thinking about it, I think I get what you’re saying. So allow me to restate your argument, and let me know if I’m misunderstanding you and Feser:
          1. We define a “triangle” as a polygon with three angles, and a “trilateral” as a polygon with three sides.
          2. Due to the laws of geometry and to basic common sense about how sides form angles, every polygon has three sides has three angles and vice versa; i.e. the set of triangles must be exactly equal to the set of trilaterals.
          3. Every triangle has the exact same properties and thus causal connections to our brain as a trilateral, since every triangle is a trilateral.
          4. Yet we have different definitions, and perhaps separate concepts* for the two in our minds. If I really twist my brain around, I can imagine a situation that would convince me the two sets of polygons were not equal.
          5. Therefore there must be different “symbols” in our minds that represent triangularity and trilaterality.
          6. But from whence do those different symbols arise, when the causal connections from external reality must be identical for the two?
          7. Thus, meaning cannot be determined solely by causal connection, when two concepts have distinct meanings in the mind but the same causal connections to reality.

          My boring, evasive response to this dilemma is that, contrary to point 4, I don’t think of triangularity as distinct from trilaterality (see my footnote below) and virtually never even use the latter term at all. For the equivalent problem of quadrangle vs. quadrilateral, I use the two terms completely interchangeably, with a slight preference for “quadrangle” regardless of the situation because it’s more fun to say.

          But that’s dodging the question. Assume, for sake of argument, that I did have separate concepts for triangles and trilaterals. (I’m sure that there’s some real-life example in which I have two concepts for the same thing, but I’ll stick with the geometric example because it’s simple.) How could this come about, in terms of causal links? Well, when determining the triangularity of a polygon, the chain goes something like:
          Look at shape –> count angles –> get three –> categorize as triangle
          whereas for determining trilaterality, it goes:
          Look at shape –> count sides –> get three –> categorize as trilateral
          These two processes will yield the same result for any polygon. So, I would say that thinking of triangles and trilaterals as separate categories is a bucket error (in the reverse direction from what Anna talks about in that article: having two separate ‘buckets’ that should be merged into one). The possibility for a bucket error arises from having two distinct processes or causal chains that lead from the same place, to the same place.

          But I think that it still might make sense to have separate concepts of triangularity and trilaterality, since the causal processes for determining those two attributes are distinct. They do imply each other, but only through additional geometric reasoning. To spell out a possible chain of such observation and reasoning: “I counted the number of sides on this polygon, and there were three, so I know it is trilateral. Since any polygon has the same number of sides and angles–because they alternate cyclically–I know that if I were to count the number of angles, I would find three. Thus this shape must also be triangular.” Of course, after proving the geometric reasoning in the general case (or, as most do, implicitly understanding it without needing to formally prove it), I freely go straight between triangular and trilateral without repeating the intervening reasoning each time.

          Here’s some flowcharts I made of the the “confused” and “resolved” causal chains.

          Hope I’m not entirely missing your point!

          *I think the “triangle/trilateral” example is subideal, since I don’t really have separate concepts for the two. I pretty much only ever think of “trilaterals” in the course of proving that it’s an equivalent definition to “triangle”. In fact, I’m almost certain that as a child I learned that a triangle was “a shape with three sides”, and further have never even heard the word “trilateral” outside of this discussion. Perhaps “quadrangle” vs. “quadrilateral” would be a better example, since I have at least heard both of the terms used.

  28. johan_larson says:

    Binkov’s Battlegrounds is a YouTube channel devoted to analyzing various counterfactual military matchups.

    modern US carrier vs Japanese WWII navy
    Kirov battlecruiser vs Burke destroyer
    a platoon of US Marines vs a Roman legion

    I’m not sure how accurate the analysis is, but the host marshals a lot of information and seems to have thought about each matchup carefully.

    I’d be particularly interested in hearing what the local military enthusiasts make of his two scenarios pitting Russia against most of the EU and the whole of the EU. Binkov has Russia winning against a divided EU but losing to a united EU.

    • bean says:

      I’ll have to take a look at those. My prediction on the Final Countdown scenario (yes, I saw what you did there) is the US wins so long as the bombs hold out. The second is probably going to the Kirov, which is bigger and has more weapons. The tech gap there is a lot smaller. On the third, probably the Marines because even Roman discipline is unlikely to hold in the face of completely unknown weapons.

      On the EU, that’s going to depend a lot on your assumptions. He might well be right, if we somehow write the US out of the picture.

      • bean says:

        The first one was pretty decent. I definitely didn’t see any glaring errors, although I would have looked at interactions with the wider war. What impact will this have on the USN in the Atlantic, for instance?

    • FLWAB says:

      I really liked those videos! Great find! I was surprised exactly how detailed his analysis was, especially compared to other YouTube “what if” types I’ve watched.

    • Wency says:

      For the EU scenarios:
      This is mostly just a hardware analysis. Which isn’t nothing (and I found it interesting), but I’ll observe that if you ran this same sort of analysis prior to the WW2 Battle of France, it would probably suggest that the Anglo-French were heavily favored, or at least were at rough parity, depending on the degree to which you weigh their advantage in tanks, artillery, and fortifications over the German advantage in aircraft. Of course, the Germans won largely on the efforts of their Panzers, an area in which they were theoretically badly outclassed.

      I think the comparison to the Battle of France is apt if you’re looking at a roughly symmetric state vs. state war, because we haven’t had anything like that for generations, so probably the winner would be the side with tactical/strategic doctrine that’s best adapted to the new technology, and both sides would face some big surprises. That is, if we ignore political factors — which side has a home front best prepared to support the war. But we should probably assume that morale and willingness to fight are rather low, which amplifies the cascading effect of these surprises.

      Naval warfare is more hardware-driven; the Final Countdown scenario is basically a turkey shoot, assuming the US carrier group doesn’t burn through supplies (which I know he spent some time addressing). I don’t know that the WW2 IJN would present much more of a threat to a fully-supplied carrier battle group than the Roman Navy.

      If I were to add anything to that video, it would be a discussion of subs, including what would happen if the carrier were accompanied by 1-2 nuclear attack subs (answer: even more of a turkey shoot). The IJN’s subs might be the biggest threat, but they spent the vast majority of the time on the surface and would probably be picked off from long distance like everything else (I didn’t hear him say this), before the sonar net even came into play.

      Modern carriers are basically big fat targets that allocate a tremendous effort to defense against missiles and submarine-launched torpedoes and yet still have a tendency to fail at this in wargames. My guess is in a real naval war, they would get sunk very quickly and the key fighting would move under the waves. But against a WW2 navy, that defensive effort should stop pretty much anything.

      • cassander says:

        Of course, the Germans won largely on the efforts of their Panzers, an area in which they were theoretically badly outclassed.

        I’d disagree pretty strongly there. You shouldn’t ascribe a single cause, but if you are, I think the best choice is the luftwaffe, which massively demoralized the french forces in the conflict and paved the way for the relatively weak german mechanized forces to advance fast enough to cut off the bulk of the french army before they could react.

        Modern carriers are basically big fat targets that allocate a tremendous effort to defense against missiles and submarine-launched torpedoes and yet still have a tendency to fail at this in wargames.

        They’re big fat targets that move at 30kts, which makes them much harder to destroy than you think. Moving that fast renders them basically immune to any diesel submarine it does’t drive right over except in narrow waters, and makes any nuclear boat trying to approach them much louder than they would like to be. And it dramatically complicates the targeting problem of any long range missile. That is not so say that one should be complacent, but carriers aren’t as vulnerable as you think.

        • Wency says:

          I agree you can’t ascribe German success in France to a single cause, but to say the armor was decisive in the rapid collapse of France doesn’t seem too controversial.

          The Luftwaffe was key at Sedan, and the armor was mostly useless in the actual fighting there, but without the prospect of an armored breakthrough, it might have looked like just another local victory as happened periodically in WW1 until enemy reinforcements delayed the advance. And I wonder if perhaps Germany could have still won at Sedan even if the Anglo-French air forces were more evenly matched to the Luftwaffe, by simple virtue of the fact that the Germans were so prepared to concentrate force at that single point (what they called Schwerpunkt).

          The overall point, which again shouldn’t be controversial, is that the conquest of France — particularly its ease and speed — was largely a matter of German strategic and tactical doctrine, especially with regards to use of armored forces, and this sort of hardware-based analysis misses how decisive this can be.

          As to the point about carriers (also made by bean below), I’ll allow for the possibility that maybe carriers perform exceptionally if there’s ever another real naval war. I wasn’t trying to make a high-confidence assertion about what would happen to them in a real naval war, and I don’t think anyone should have very high confidence here, one way or the other. US naval doctrine clearly recognizes that carriers are targets and is obsessed with their protection. Has that obsession given them enough tools to prevent their sinking in the face of determined enemy efforts, including possible creative wartime ingenuity and a little luck? Hard to say, but it’s at least plausible the answer is “no”.

          Realistically, I think if the US loses a carrier or two, it pulls the rest of them back and never puts them at serious risk again, so all it takes is one (un)lucky break to basically prove the point.

      • johan_larson says:

        Yes, assuming equal morale at the start of the war is a big deal. Defense willingness varies hugely from country to country, and that becomes increasingly important as a conflict drags on.

        Another issue Binkov doesn’t really consider is readiness. “100 tanks of type XYZ” could mean 98 tanks ready to go and 2 waiting for parts that have already been orders, or 30 tanks ready to go, 30 that run but aren’t really fit to fight, and 40 that are basically assemblies of spare parts. Although getting access to that sort of information is a really good way to get shot as a spy, which would deter many YouTubers.

      • bean says:

        Modern carriers are basically big fat targets that allocate a tremendous effort to defense against missiles and submarine-launched torpedoes and yet still have a tendency to fail at this in wargames. My guess is in a real naval war, they would get sunk very quickly and the key fighting would move under the waves. But against a WW2 navy, that defensive effort should stop pretty much anything.

        I beg to differ on this one.

  29. Chalid says:

    Robin Hanson is looking pretty smart right now. He saw the need to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections over a month ago, well before most of the world had even begun to realize that coronavirus was going to be a big problem outside of China. Now half of twitter consists of “flatten the curve” articles and memes. (Naturally, his solution was “weird,” and thus Hanson’s reward for his insight was a ton of social-media abuse.) I’ll pay even more attention to him in the future.

    Who else was right, and not in a stopped-clock sort of way?

    • sty_silver says:

      Kelsey Piper. She was right both about Corona Virus and about Biden winning the nomination (she predicted it with a 60% chance in January).

    • Purplehermann says:

      Flattening the curve by infecting people purposely still seemslike it’s not worth it imo, mostly because extreme mitigation measures are better and because we don’t know what the disease does long term to those who recover from more serious cases – it looks like organ damage/reduced lung capacity might be a common effect.
      If it is permanent, then social distancing is a far superior solution.

      (For the record I thought about this idea too and bothered people around me about doing it, but thought it wasnt necessarily worth it, just an option to be kept in mind.)

      • Theodoric says:

        Can we make social distancing permanent? No more dine-in restaurants, no more theater, no more movie theaters, no more watching sports live?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          To be honest I feel like I’ve been training for this “social distancing” thing my whole life. This is like my Olympics now, and it’s time to shine. “Conrad, can you stay in your dark computer room and not talk to anyone for two weeks?!” “Yes…yes I can.”

          • Deiseach says:

            Honestly, this whole “social distancing” thing is just “normal weekend for me” 🙂

            “Don’t go out to any pubs or clubs! No live events! Keep your distance from other people! Best recommendation is to stay indoors in a (well-ventilated) room on your own with no human contact!”

            “Okay, and what special measures do you want me to take for the COVID-19?”

          • Randy M says:

            Honestly, this whole “social distancing” thing is just “normal weekend for me” 🙂

            You think you are just going to live your introverted life normally, then suddenly church is online only and the supermarket is out of all non-vegan, non-Irish meat.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            My son and I did church on YouTube on Sunday.

            Is there a way in Skype or Facetime to co-watch a YouTube stream with my parents? They aren’t going to church, either, and I really want to help them socialize. I think it would be a nice thing for us and them to “go to church together” 1000 miles away, so I want a way we can sit/stand/pray/sing in real time with the church service.

            If we just both watch the stream independently, one of us is going to get an echo.

          • matthewravery says:

            @ES-

            Applications like Zoom allow you to share a screen with folks in your group. The plan would be for all parties to join the call/group/thingy, then one person to stream the service and share the screen. Everyone can still talk/chat/whatever, and everyone’s watching the same stream. Ideally, this means less lag/desync.

          • Deiseach says:

            suddenly church is online only and the supermarket is out of all non-vegan, non-Irish meat

            (1) There have been Masses televised and broadcast over radio for years now for the sick and elderly who cannot get out to attend Mass in their local church. This has just been extended during this period – the bishop of my diocese has said no public Masses (i.e. the general public not to attend) but the priests will still say Mass and people can follow along on TV/radio and of course, people can make spiritual Communions

            (2) Fortunately, I am not a vegan so there is plenty of good Irish carnivore-fodder still on the supermarket shelves! I am baking a ham and roasting a chicken for St Patrick’s Day and will have accompanying vegetables, gravy and so forth 🙂 There has been an increase lately in the number and range of vegan products in the shops, but most people round here still eat creatures with cute faces (just to remind everyone it’s lambing season now, folks, so the fresh lamb chops etc. will soon be in the butchers!)

          • The Nybbler says:

            The Bee has you (err, us) all covered.

          • Randy M says:

            This has just been extended during this period – the bishop of my diocese has said no public Masses (i.e. the general public not to attend) but the priests will still say Mass and people can follow along on TV/radio and of course, people can make spiritual Communions

            imo, “just” is underselling this. It’s a fairly big difference to me to switch from communal gatherings to televised, as nice as the latter is as a stop gap or assistance to those who need it.

            There has been an increase lately in the number and range of vegan products in the shops, but most people round here still eat creatures with cute faces

            Right, and at times like this, when the shelf stockers can’t keep up with demand, you get a good idea of what many people want versus what’s on shelves for niche markets. Grocery near me has plenty of “beyond” products and the seasonal corned beef brisket (which I made for myself on Saturday) but not an ounce of ground beer or chicken on the shelves.

            The Bee has you (err, us) all covered.

            There’s also this:
            Churches Switch To Remote Drone Delivery For Communion

          • Loriot says:

            > you get a good idea of what many people want versus what’s on shelves for niche markets.

            Reminds me of how my local supermarket had a full selection of cherimoyas but not a banana anywhere to be seen.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Grocery near me has plenty of “beyond” products and the seasonal corned beef brisket … but not an ounce of ground beer or chicken on the shelves.

            Ground beer sounds pretty niche to me.

            There’s also this:
            Churches Switch To Remote Drone Delivery For Communion

            Good Christian drones!

          • pansnarrans says:

            My longstanding policy of “wash your hands every 15 minutes, ignoring the fact that it’s destroying your skin for no very good reason” is making me feel like a hell of a trendsetter right now.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            My hands have been drying out from the washing. I know I have rather dry skin, and have an array of lotions and creams, to try, but do you have specific experience with this? Is something besides hand soap better?

          • FLWAB says:

            @Deiseach

            Fortunately, I am not a vegan so there is plenty of good Irish carnivore-fodder still on the supermarket shelves! I am baking a ham and roasting a chicken for St Patrick’s Day and will have accompanying vegetables, gravy and so forth

            I’m not a Catholic (though this time of year I cosplay as one), so help me understand: aren’t you all supposed to be avoiding such succulent meat dishes during Lent?

          • Nornagest says:

            Ground beer sounds pretty niche to me.

            Malted barley is ground beer. It needs a little encouragement first, though.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @FLWAB

            Abstinence from meat is only a required thing on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Any other day you can eat a whole cow if you want.

          • acymetric says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            you can eat a whole cow if you want.

            I double-dog dare you.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Maybe a very, very tiny cow?

          • FLWAB says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Abstinence from meat is only a required thing on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Any other day you can eat a whole cow if you want.

            Aren’t Catholics supposed to not eat meat every Friday of the entire year? I really know much more about medieval than modern practice.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Back in the day, yes. That hasn’t been a rule for a long time. My entire life at least.

          • Nick says:

            It’s not the rule, but it ought to be.

          • Deiseach says:

            aren’t you all supposed to be avoiding such succulent meat dishes during Lent?

            FLWAB, by the old rules yes, but those do not apply during Sundays and feast days that happen in Lent, and the Feast of St Patrick is one such! Technically, in Ireland the feast of St Patrick is a Solemnity, in other countries it’s a Feast Day or an Optional Memorial. It is also (in Ireland) a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning that you are bound to attend/hear Mass on that day just like Sunday. Here’s a link to a Traditional Catholic site (SSPX, very TradCath) which gives a handy rundown of the current versus old rules.

            There is also such a thing as the corned beef indult in the USA, I have learned, for those bishops of Irish heritage to give a dispensation to their flocks to eat meat during Lent on that day 🙂

            A lot of the old rules on fasting/abstinence got relaxed (though to be fair, there were also a lot of dodges/dispensations from fasting even when the rules were in force) with the Vatican II reforms; the idea of ‘fish on Friday’ being replaced with ‘meaningful penance’. Naturally, this just meant that people gave up being sure to only eat fish on Friday but didn’t take on new penance/prayer obligations 🙂

            It’s a bit complicated since; technically the mandatory obligation to abstain was never abolished but it was replaced by exceptions and there was a movement to return to voluntary abstinence, with varying levels of success (once you break a habit, it’s very hard to re-introduce it).

            The Western Church for a long time (as in “centuries”) has been nowhere near as rigorous or disciplined about fasting as the Eastern Church, though.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

        • albatross11 says:

          Indeed, I expect that after the dust settles, there will be far fewer restaurants, bars, theaters, etc., around….

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Restaurants and bars are small businesses with a high rate of failure. They could spring back up to the same density in 2022.
            Theaters are run by publicly-traded corporations and an important part of the bottom line of several megacorps (AT&T, Comcast, Disney on NYSE, Sony in Japan). So far fewer theaters would be interesting times.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Universal is making some of their current theatrical releases available for online rental now so they can still try to make money while people are social distancing. Killing off theaters would probably just accelerate the replacement of traditional theaters with streaming services.

          • acymetric says:

            @LMC

            Of course you have your AMC/Regal theater types, but there has been a trend of smaller local sort of…boutique(?) theaters popping up that may go by the wayside, at least in my area.

        • pansnarrans says:

          @ Edward

          Hand lotion might be better than soap if you buy the creamy “gentle on hands” stuff rather than the see-through blue “murders all bacteria” stuff. Although perhaps that’s just psychosomatic. I generally just try to remember to use moisturiser on the backs of my hands a lot.

    • Beans says:

      If I’m recalling things right he did not simply advocate to “flatten the curve”, but specifically wanted to do it by intentionally infecting the young and healthy in advance. And THAT is what came off as “weird”, I think, not the “flattening” concept in of itself.

      The fact that (as far as I know) it remains unclear how long immunity lasts post-infection means that his idea is indeed unreasonable, since it could be a lot of huffing and puffing and suffering with no benefit.

      • Toby Bartels says:

        So flattening to the left instead of (or as well as) to the right? Yeah, only Robin Hanson would think of that!

        • Deiseach says:

          I think the virus is still too recent and unknown to try intentionally infecting people. If it were better established, then yeah – things like “expose healthy young people to it” would be like the ideas of “expose your kids to chickenpox so they get it now and are immunised hereafter”. I’m one of the generation that got measles the old-fashioned way before our national immunisation scheme got under way, but I still think vaccinations are better than “ah sure, let them get measles/mumps, they’ll be grand!”

          A few years from now, if there’s a vaccine and vulnerable people have been vaccinated, then sure – let the young’n’healthy get it for herd immunity. Right now? Not a good idea at all.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            Don’t worry, I’m not considering whether it’s a good idea, I’m just checking whether I understood it!

            Speaking of trying to establish herd immunity, would it send you off on a tirade if I asked you how the border in Ulster is doing?

          • Deiseach says:

            how the border in Ulster is doing?

            That is a very good question. Our fella is acknowledging that this is an all-Ireland, all-island problem.

            Now, thing is, stuff we’re doing down here the North is not doing and vice versa. We’ve closed the schools, the North has not, and one woman is taking legal action over that.

            At the moment, there is infection in both parts – North and South. There does not seem right now to be cross-border transmission, but who knows how long that will last? I note the USA has added Ireland to the banned list precisely because of the open border between the UK and the North/Republic, though Boris Johnson and the UK government seem to be implementing tougher measures as of now.

            Things really are changing from hour to hour. There’s some mild concern but nothing has really happened to start friction between North and South as yet, and hopefully both administrations will start co-ordinating and working together.

            EDIT: Though, it would appear, the Brits are at it again. Honestly, between Brexit and this, I am now thinking ST: TNG was dead-on about when Irish re-unification happened 😀

            To clarify for any confused persons out there, we do indeed have a public health service. It’s not exactly the same as the NHS, but we do have one!

  30. Tuesday says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’m a grad student at [East Coast university] that’s right now going through the process of shutting down and sending everyone home. Since I can easily do all my research from home and my parents are getting up there in years, I’m planning to return home to [West Coast city] with my girlfriend to be close by in case they need my help sometime in the near future.

    (There is already a plan in place for us to self-isolate upon getting back to my hometown. I won’t be seeing my parents until at least a few weeks after my return.)

    For a variety of reasons we cannot leave until at least next weekend.

    I’m trying to decide whether we should fly or rent a car and drive cross-country. We have a pair of P100 masks and ski visors and, if we fly, plan on wearing these on the plane (will these actually protect us? I don’t really know). However, it is hard for me to evaluate the relative risks of flying vs. driving in a situation like this. Any advice would be appreciated.

    — Tuesday

    • theredsheep says:

      I strongly advise driving. Even before you get on the plane, you’ll be stuck in the airport, where lines and crowds are normal (and could conceivably be worse in a week). I would want a hazmat suit for going through an airport right now. The rental car option will have you mostly in the company of your GF, maintaining a significant distance from others at gas stations, etc. It will be really slow, somewhat expensive, and unpleasant, but probably safer from a disease perspective.

    • metacelsus says:

      I definitely recommend driving, for the reasons theredsheep outlined. My mom recently had to travel from Minneapolis to Boston and I told her to drive (which she did). And she slept in the car to avoid hotels.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      I’m glad you stated you’d only wear these masks if flying. Do not wear them (or the goggles) if driving.

      If you’ve got disposable gloves, use them when filling up. Otherwise try to have a hand sanitizer of some sort for use after you’ve filled up (and have it ready for use without opening your doors).

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I am going to steelman flying.

      1. Going cross-country by car means you are potentially dragging viruses along your whole route. You will be eating/sleeping/transacting at lots of points along the path. Can you keep up strict hygiene for a week? (Sleeping in your car one night is reasonable. Sleeping in it cross-country is not.)

      2. Flights might be very lightly attended. You can see how many seats are free on the plane when you try to select a seat.

      3. Security lines are not necessarily crowded at every airport. Especially since traffic is down. If you arrive early, you can isolate yourself in view of the security line, and then go when lines are short.

      (It is a shame we are still standing in line for screening instead of sitting in a big room with a number.)

      • zzzzort says:

        I respect the steelman, but would you really spend a whole week? With two youngish drivers, and a car rented by the day? Two day would be sort of pushing an e.g. Boston to LA drive, but 3 is eminently reasonable.

        • mitv150 says:

          With two drivers, 3 days is very easy from LA to Boston. Very little discomfort doing 1000 miles a day.

        • acymetric says:

          I think you and @mitv150 are…typical driving? 2 days is literally the least amount of time it could take if you only stop for gas and nothing else (driving in shifts, sleeping in the car while not driving). If you actually want to sleep at night (both of you) 4 is probably the minimum realistic number of days (not necessarily a full 96 hours, but you would arrive on the fourth day for sure.

          A comfortable pace (that doesn’t put you constantly in go-go-go mode) probably pushes you to the fifth day.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Hmmm. 43 hours. I did some crazy road trips in my early 20s, getting across areas of the country at seemingly impossible speeds (according to other people) by swapping drivers. But we also had sleep in hotels to supplement naps in the car.

          16 hours on day 1 is fine. Maybe 15 on day 2. 13 on day 3. Possibly a few less hours if you speed. (Are the traffic cops more active or less active these days?)

          So that’s only 2 nights. Do the first in the car, and the second in a hotel.

          You still have food and bathroom stops, each of which has risks. You can carry a good deal of food with you to skip some of those stops. Maybe even most of them if you prepare well enough.

          When nature calls, if you only need to pee, use some bushes instead of using public bathrooms.

          • acymetric says:

            That certainly doesn’t sound comfortable, and only borders on reasonable (responding as much to the two commenters above as to you).

            It is doable, but I wouldn’t do the trip that way unless I absolutely had to.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            At my age now I wouldn’t even try it. It’s just asking for trouble.

            Maybe we were dumb to do it as college students and we didn’t know what kind of trouble we were asking for. But a young body can pull off a lot if it sees it as an adventure.

            (Wait, wasn’t I supposed to be steelmanning taking the plane ride??)

          • albatross11 says:

            I’d drive and I wouldn’t try to be silly about it. Pack some food and a cooler for the drive, use public restrooms and wash your hands afterwards, hand sanitize when you get into the car after going anywhere.

            I’d stay in hotels to sleep, and take reasonable precautions. I think hotels are quite empty right now, and the virus seems to survive about three days on surfaces if not treated. Most likely, your only exposure is to the hotel maid who cleaned your room, as long as you wash your hands after checking in and stay out of any crowds. That’s a pretty low risk, and you get a sink to wash your hands and a microwave to cook something (you can pick something up at the local 7-11 when you get gas) and a bed and shower every night. With two young healthy drivers, you can make good time.

            I’d worry a lot more about the airport–lots more exposure, and lots of situations where you don’t have any control over what’s going on–you have to stand in the security line even if there are sick people in it, when you sit down it’s possible there’s someone behind you coughing constantly, the TSA goons are likely to paw both you and your stuff, etc.

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11

            I’d drive and I wouldn’t try to be silly about it. Pack some food and a cooler for the drive, use public restrooms and wash your hands afterwards, hand sanitize when you get into the car after going anywhere.

            I just want to cosign this post by albatross11 (not just the quoted part). Take every precaution, and I would certainly much rather drive than fly, but we aren’t in “Walking Dead, everyone is infected” terrorist. Take reasonable precautions, enjoy your road trip, and you will probably be fine.

      • Chalid says:

        I’d expect a hotel to be quite low risk. Go to a good national chain hotel and not some mom-and-pop place. Call ahead and ask to be given a room that hasn’t been used for several days. Hotels are doing miserably badly right now, so there will almost certainly be such a room.

        If you’re really paranoid you can prepack all your food in the car, then you don’t ever have to talk to anyone the whole trip except a handful of hotel clerks, and you can talk to them from six feet away. Certainly you will be near to *far* fewer people than you would at the airport.

    • JayT says:

      Rent a van and take your time going cross country. It will be like half your self quarantine, and a ton of fun. Campsites are super cheap too, so it will be safer and cheaper than hotels.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      I’m generally with the people who want you to drive, but I want to point out that this epidemic has a history of things suddenly getting worse with little warning. So you might be on your trip, taking good precautions, then something happens or some new evidence comes in, and suddenly all long-distance travel is banned, at least out of wherever you happen to be. Planes in the air are allowed to land, something will be set up to allow long-haul trucking to continue under careful monitoring, but you are required to stay in Podunk now. I’m not predicting this by any means, but keep your eye on the news, because you never know what’s coming next these days.

  31. Kaitian says:

    I’m in one of the areas that started a really severe lockdown this week. Schools, shops and bars closed, all events cancelled, borders closed…

    If you had asked me a month ago, I’d have said “there’s no way this is going to happen here, the government can’t do that”. But now it’s just like “eh, I guess we’re all Italy now”.

    I think seeing drastic measures taken in other places makes you more amenable to similar things happening in your own country, state or region. So maybe the “we have to be a positive example” argument from people arguing for drastic climate change prevention in their own small polity does hold some water.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      In the previous thread, Bobobob called this a “liability cascade.” I think that’s a very useful meme for explaining the current situation.

      • Loriot says:

        I think in this case it’s more of a respectability cascade. Companies and governments generally aren’t doing this out of a fear of getting sued.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I think “liability” means “blame” in this context. Nobody’s going to sue the company/government if they get sick, but they are going to blame them for not doing the things everyone else is doing.

      • Kaitian says:

        I’m not talking about the reasoning of the people who decided to take these measures, more the psychological reaction from the affected citizens. If you told me last year that I’d be in mandatory home office while politicians are on the radio talking about how the distribution of food is totally secure, no reason to be concerned, I don’t think I would have believed you. Now that’s just how things are.

        I’m definitely not arguing that the lockdowns are inappropriate, just that they were unimaginable a few weeks ago.

  32. EchoChaos says:

    What’s the name for the phenomenon where everyone runs to loudly shout that their preferred policy would’ve prevented today’s crisis de jure?

    For the current pandemic, Sanders folks are yelling for Medicare for All, nationalists are crying for more border controls and onshoring, introverts are asking for more work from home and social distancing, etc.

    This is not actually a post about whether any of these specific measures would work (although the subthread may end up being about that), but just a look at the “never let a crisis go to waste” phenomenon.

    • Garrett says:

      Opportunism?

    • Bobobob says:

      It’s called “opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one.”

      Sorry, stuck in the house with the kids (for two months, I’m guessing) and not in the best mood.

    • Iago the Yerfdog says:

      If I can suggest a term: “hobby horse derby.”

      The only downside is that a search online reveals that that’s apparently a real thing.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      The Onion had a great article on this long ago (I think just post 9/11) with a headline like “This Crisis Demonstrates Why We Must Enact My Preferred Policies”. Sadly I can’t find it either on their site or by Google search.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        There was an article, possibly from the Onion, about how people though 9/11 might the policies people already wanted should be enacted, or possibly that it was evidence for theories they already held.

    • Deiseach says:

      What’s the name for the phenomenon where everyone runs to loudly shout that their preferred policy would’ve prevented today’s crisis de jure?

      “I’m the only one who can see the Emperor’s got no clothes!”

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Assuming we’re talking about people doing that today, I call it “Monday”.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I’m talking in general, but of course this is inspired by our ongoing visit from Corona-chan.

    • cassander says:

      What’s the name for the phenomenon where everyone runs to loudly shout that their preferred policy would’ve prevented today’s crisis de jure?

      Politics

  33. mitv150 says:

    Looking for contrarian and/or counter-intuitive Covid-19 thoughts/arguments. They don’t have to be novel, but just ones that people aren’t talking about as much.

    For example…

    Regarding quarantining, shut-downs, etc., I’m seeing a lot of people saying “better to over-react than under-react.” They say this without considering the massive economic fallout of overreaction. There is massive economic fallout to under-reaction and just-the-right-amount-reaction as well, of course.

    On the guy with all the sanitizer – if he bought that sanitizer from random markets in the middle of nowhere and assisted in distributing it to parts of the country where it couldn’t be found, he was doing a real service. I don’t know enough of the details to know whether he was doing this – but there is a real and significant difference between price-gouging and arbitrage.

    I saw an analysis that suggested that Covid-19 saved an order of magnitude more lives than it took in China, due to the reduction in pollution.

    • Bobobob says:

      I don’t know if it’s counterintuitive, but the fact that millions (tens of millions?) of people are going to be working from home over the next couple of months is going to have a huge effect on attitudes vis-a-vis teleworking and urban decentralization. As in, “hey, if I can work from home for this NYC company, why do I have to live in NYC and pay NYC rent?”

      • mitv150 says:

        Good point – a friend of mine also pointed out the following:

        Half of the nation’s school children are at home right now. What if they find out they learn better at home? My kids have assignments from their teachers, but no actual lessons as of yet.

      • John Schilling says:

        As in, “hey, if I can work from home for this NYC company, why do I have to live in NYC and pay NYC rent?”

        You’re assuming that expanded telecommuting will in fact work just as well as regular commuting.

        If it doesn’t, millions (tens of millions?) of people are going to find that they’ve been quietly sidelined from key decisionmaking processes by the core meatspace team, resulting in a realignment of de facto leadership vs. individual contributor roles. With lots of complaining by the people on the short end of that stick.

        • Bobobob says:

          Right, but what if key members of the core meatspace team also work remotely? I have encountered that situation at other jobs.

          Maybe, to phrase what I said better, managers and staff who haven’t worked from home for years (or ever) will discover in the coming weeks how sophisticated modern teleworking has become. Not perfect, by any means, but much better than the state of the art five or ten years ago, and supported by a much more entrenched high-speed internet infrastructure.

          • John Schilling says:

            Right, but what if key members of the core meatspace team also work remotely?

            The definition of “core meatspace team” is the ones that aren’t working remotely.

            There will be some environments where literally everyone is remotely, or everyone save the nominal manager to the same effect. But if there’s three people in the same room, then they’ll have an easier time coming to a consensus than any of the online participants, because body language etc matter and the sophisticated teleworking systems are as you note not by any means perfect at substituting for that.

            Depending on how strong that effect is, the set of people in the office (even if it isn’t the nominal manager) could wind up making all the decisions and getting all the credit because everyone else sees themselves as lone dissenters to an established consensus. Still making useful individual contributions, but leadership and related power dynamics rearranged by the new circumstances.

          • Bobobob says:

            I dunno, I can imagine a situation where one mid-level employee acts as the core meatspace nexus for a distributed leadership team. Kind of like Tank in the first Matrix movie.

            (Though it occurs to me that if one employee is the meatspace nexus, he is by definition “not” the meatspace nexus, since he can presumably do his job anywhere outside HQ. Call it the Meatspace Paradox.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Right, but what if key members of the core meatspace team also work remotely?

            I asked my brother about this – could he not work from home? And he said he could, except it doesn’t work for what he has to do (production management in pharma manufacturing). They have to be on-site because you really can’t run bulk manufacturing remotely (right this minute, they can’t manufacture paracetamol fast enough because of the demand, plus the disruption to their supply chains).

            So there are definitely jobs where it’s “I have a work laptop and technically I could be doing all this paper-shuffling at home but in reality I need to be on-site to oversee things or else”.

        • noyann says:

          You’re assuming that expanded telecommuting will in fact work just as well as regular commuting.

          For this, the infrastructure needs a little more resources.

        • voso says:

          My intuition is that most people have their productivity bottlenecked by their conscientiousness, and that commuting to an office is one of the only ways most of these people can keep it together enough to be productive.

          • Toby Bartels says:

            So we could learn the wrong lesson from this. Responding to a crisis also increases conscientiousness. Maybe everybody works from home just brilliantly, but when the crisis passes and we try to continue working from home, it flounders.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I was already a fully remote worker and my productivity has crashed because I cannot help reading up about coronavirus every time I am at a computer.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I think for both WFH and schools, it’s not going to matter much. Those who oppose it don’t really care much if it works. NYC companies often aren’t willing to do expansion just outside NYC even when there’s no reason that wouldn’t work and offices are half the rent. (there was some post 9/11 expansion to Jersey City, but financial companies moved only their lower-paid back-office people there). For schools it might make a difference on the margin with homeschooling, but that’s about it.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      On the guy with all the sanitizer

      I would agree with you if we were talking about the people who truck bottled water into disaster zones after a hurricane or something and jack up the prices. If it were not for their actions, there would be no water, so, sure the “price gouging” incentivizes people to fill a need that would otherwise not be met. For the hand sanitizer guy, he’s the one creating the shortage by buying it all up. Not the same thing.

      • mitv150 says:

        Agreed if he actually created a shortage – do we know he did? Or is this just piling on?

        There is certainly is a world in which buying all of the sanitizer in Walmarts throughout some rural section of the country and selling it to San Franciscans via Amazon is a net good and not a net bad.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Agreed if he actually created a shortage – do we know he did?

          . . . Maybe?

          People pointed out in the last thread that he’s a very very small part of the market.

          But when he says that his strategy was to buy up every single bottle he could find, yes, at some point he is causing the panic.

          Stores need to stop people from clearing out their stock.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          You’re positing some kind of EMH violation by suggesting Walmart was leaving money on the ground with suboptimal logistics for some random guy to pick up.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wal-mart knew they would be visited by men with guns if they started charging $20 for a bottle of hand sanitizer. even if that was the efficient market-clearing price. This guy, thought he could get away with it. If he had, then that would in one sense have made the market more efficient (but see elsewhere about increased transaction costs eating up most or all or more than all of those gains.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            As John Schilling points out, the market is being made inefficient by the price-gouging laws that are more easily enforced against Walmart than random scalpers, but there’s another angle to it.

            If there were no price gouging laws and Walmart started charging $50 per bottle of hand sanitizer, people would hate it: Walmart would be trading goodwill with customers for a relatively small profit (the margins would be huge, but hand sanitizer is a tiny amount of their total volume). It’s possible that trade is not worth making i.e. it would cost them too much long-term profit as angered customers find elsewhere to buy their widgets. If Bob Gougeman buys up all Walmart’s hand sanitizer and sells it a huge markup, he’s facing the same reputation vs money tradeoff, but Bob’s reputation is way less valuable than Walmart’s: with $100k of profit, he can afford for people to hate him.

          • baconbits9 says:

            93 is largely correct, the difference has a lot to do with scalpers looking for one off profits and Wal-Marts looking for decades of profits across thousands of items.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Which is why the government should mandate price increases!

          • Ninety-Three says:

            Which is why the government should mandate price increases!

            Wow, that’s… usually people use the term “galaxy brain” sarcastically, but that’s actually kind of brilliant. I’m not saying it would definitely work, but I really want to see it tried. It’s like a unicorn, a case where price controls might actually make markets more efficient!

          • JayT says:

            I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as a see people complain about price gougers, and I keep thinking we need more of them, and what I came up with is that stores should charge the normal price for the first x number of the item in question, and then each item after that goes up in price. It seems that would satisfy both the people that have the gut feeling that price gouging is wrong, and would also preserve a large amount of the benefits gouging gives you.

          • Cliff says:

            charge the normal price for the first x number of the item in question, and then each item after that goes up in price.

            I like this idea. It’s amazing how easily panic-buyers are put off by higher prices. If they can buy it all now and use it up over time, why not buy it all? But if they have to pay double, they won’t do it. I was just at the grocery store and a lot of stuff was out of stock, but the fancy/expensive stuff was still available.

          • noyann says:

            You’d somehow have to make allowances for those who buy for a large family, group, neighbours, etc. And then you need controls for cheaters.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t think you really would need that. For someone that really needs the item, they would be able to bring a family member along to double their amount, pay the inflated rate on the extras, or they would be able to go to a few different stores. It would be an inconvenience, sure, but not insurmountable. Also, you really wouldn’t have to worry about people trying to game the system because the whole mechanism is based around making it more difficult to buy extras, not impossible. So, if someone wants to spend all day driving around from store to store buying a single pack of toilet paper at each, more power to them. They won’t be able to buy enough to really dent the supply.

    • I saw an analysis that suggested that Covid-19 saved an order of magnitude more lives than it took in China, due to the reduction in pollution.

      The appropriate comparison would be how many lives would be lost to corona if they didn’t shut everything down.

    • It’s better to overreact than underreact because the more precautions we take, the sooner we can contain it and get everything back to normal. That doesn’t mean every place should shutdown everything indefinitely but it does mean err on the side of overreacting.

      I think it’s probably at that time where it’s contrarian to say I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as everyone thinks. Yes, that big exponential line is scary but that is sustained when no measures are taken. South Korea has shown that taking it seriously fast enables you to contain it. China has shown that drastic action does the same thing. Western governments are not as proactive as the former and less willing to take the actions of the latter. But it’s a difference in degree. So I think they’ll be able to get a hold of the Coronavirus before it gets to those really big scary numbers, but the lag is going to be more costly. But that’s more of a contrarian, tentative take than a confident prediction.

      • mitv150 says:

        I tend to agree that overreaction is better than underreaction, because it’s easier to recover from overreaction.

        I’m more getting at the point that I’m not seeing great analysis of the very real downsides to overreaction. In my facebook social sphere, people are seeing overreaction as “I didn’t get to go to a party or see a movie, and now I feel a bit embarassed because I stocked up on all this food,” and not “I lost my job because the restaurant closed and now I can’t make rent.”

      • John Schilling says:

        It’s better to overreact than underreact because the more precautions we take, the sooner we can contain it and get everything back to normal.

        Unfortunately, the more precautions we take, the sooner we will find ourselves highly motivated to reason “It has been contained and we can get everything back to normal” even though it almost certainly hasn’t.

        I’m seeing a lot of precautions being tentatively claimed as two-week or through-the-end-of-the-month things; that’s not going to be enough to eradicate the virus, and it’s probably not going to be enough to knock it down to the level that what should have been normal public-health measures can keep it contained. And it’s probably not the real plan, it’s the home contractor’s “two weeks” which has nothing to do with how long they really expect it to take to remodel your home and everything to do with what they expect will get you to shut up and go along with the program until they say oops, it’s going to be another two weeks. See also the thirty-minute airline flight delay.

        But, unlike airline pilots who already have you strapped into their airplane with the full power of the FAA behind them, these are elected officials – many of whom are standing for re-election in November. “He kept us all on lockdown for two months, when they promised two weeks and the TV news told us things had turned around in two weeks”, is not a winning campaign slogan.

        So we need a reaction that is properly calibrated to be both effective and sustainable. Overreaction and underreaction are both potential killers on this one.

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          I think even two months is optimistic. One article (https://medium.com/@joschabach/flattening-the-curve-is-a-deadly-delusion-eea324fe9727) claimed that flattening the curve would take ten years.

          Since we don’t have any better guesses, I’m going to quote the Revelations 9 which predicts five months. Crowned locusts is close enough to a coronavirus for me.

          1The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. 3And out of the smoke locusts came down on the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. 4They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes. 6During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

          7The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. 8Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. 9They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. 11They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).

          12The first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come.

          • The point of the article is not that flattening the curve will take ten years, so we’re all doomed. He’s critiquing that idea. It’s dangerous to try and do these mitigation efforts that stop the disease. Instead, we should be implementing aggressive containment efforts:

            China has demonstrated to us that containment works: the complete lockdown of Wuhan did not lead to starvation or riots, and it has allowed the country to prevent the spread of large number of cases into other regions. This made it possible to focus more medical resources on the region that needed it most (for instance, by sending more than 10000 extra doctors to Wuhan and the Hubei region). Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, now observes less than 10 cases per day. The rest of the Hubei region registered no new cases for over a week now. It is possible to stop the virus!

            China has learned its lesson: after the lockdown of Hubei, other regions implemented effective containment measures as soon as the first cases emerged. The same happened in Singapore and Taiwan. South Korea was tracking its first 30 cases very well, until patient 31 infected over 1000 others on a church congregation.

            For some reason, Western countries refused to learn the lesson. The virus spread in Italy, until their hospitals collapsed under the load. According to reports from the crisis region, resources became so scarce that older people or those with a history of cancer, organ transplants or diabetes were excluded from access to critical care. The US, UK and Germany are not yet at this point: they try to “flatten the curve” by implementing ineffective or half hearted measures that are only meant to slow down the spread of the disease, instead of containing it.

            There will be some countries that do not have the necessary infrastructure to implement severe containment measures, which include widespread testing, quarantines, movement restrictions, travel restrictions, work restrictions, supply chain reorganization, school closures, childcare for people working in critical professions, production and distribution of protective equipment and medical supplies. This means that some countries will stomp out the virus and others will not. In a few months from now, the world will turn into red zones and green zones, and almost all travel from red zones into green zones will come to a halt, until an effective treatment for COVID-19 is found.

            Western countries are failing but at some point, they are going to take more aggressive counter measures(indeed, it’s already started in some places). That’s why I think it’s going to be worse than China but not apocalyptic.

        • I’m not sure why it’s inevitable that this is going to last as long as you’re suggesting when South Korea has managed to control it without any lockdowns.

          • Loriot says:

            Presumably because South Korea managed to prevent the virus from spreading unchecked in the first place.

          • acymetric says:

            Somewhat cynically, I also think people in the US are in a bit more hysterics over it than S.K.

            I don’t expect things to start operating vaguely normal again here until there are 0 new reported cases for at least a couple weeks (note that this is different than seeing a decrease in total cases).

      • baconbits9 says:

        China has shown that drastic action does the same thing.

        I have really been chafing at this, and China released some economic data this morning so I’ll post it now.

        It is premature to say that China has shown dramatic action stops the virus until they get back up and running. The data they reported pretty clearly shows that their approach is short term at best. Retail sales were down 20%+ y/y, and industrial production fell 13.5%, in the US during the GFC retail sales fell 14% and industrial production fell 17%, so we are looking at a decline in one month that was as large as the 2 year decline during the financial crisis in the US (probably worse really since China was reporting growth of 6% 2019). I wouldn’t be surprised if these numbers were worse than the worst months of the Great Depression and there is no expectation of a quick recovery as China’s trade partners are going into lock-down/recession now. ‘We stopped the virus’ would be a cold comfort if they also kicked off a major depression to do so.

        • EchoChaos says:

          It also assumes that China’s numbers are accurate and they have actually stopped the spread. I believe that they have several major cities still on lockdown.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      I saw an analysis that suggested that Covid-19 saved an order of magnitude more lives than it took in China, due to the reduction in pollution.

      Did the math for Bucharest and ended up with 1200 lives a year. If fewer die due to COVID19 in the city, we’re in the black.

      Started with a facebook political ad that said “pollution in Bucharest is claiming 4 years of everybody’s life”. Which sounds… reasonable, for the highest polluted city in Europe. Took a lifespan of 80 years and a population of 2 million and that’s what I ended up with. 1200 deaths a year due to long term pollution for that population… sounds sane.

    • zzzzort says:

      Don’t know about contrarian, but at least the silver-linings I’m rooting for:
      -Working from home (as already mentioned). Better for workers and better for the environment.
      -Alternatives to meatspace conferences and seminars, which in my field lead to a lot of travel.
      -Better hand washing practices generally, which might make the next few flu seasons better.
      -Permanently expanded sick leave. Better for workers, and better for public health.
      -Movement from toilet paper to bidets. Toilet paper is a gross concept, people.

      And in the outcomes I’m definitely not rooting for, but which may come to pass:
      -Fewer old people in critical positions. I think the world would be a better place if politicians and business leaders weren’t so old.
      -Lower cost of medicare and social security.
      -Redistribution of wealth, especially housing, from retirees.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        -Movement from toilet paper to bidets. Toilet paper is a gross concept, people.

        My wife got us an electric bidet for the master bath in our new house. You just press a button and it sprays you with warm water, runs a fan to dry, the whole works. It’s amazing. It’s like having your ass gently scrubbed by angels. Highly recommend.

        • Cliff says:

          I had a bidet, but I still had to use toilet paper. Maybe if it’s got an industrial strength blower and you just let the fan run… I don’t know.

      • Viliam says:

        Generally, people figuring out how to do things without having to meet in person is good for us introverts.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I’d like to see my union’s semi-yearly convention go virtual. More people could attend that way.

      • AG says:

        I do not fucking trust bidets to stay clean. You ever look at a drinking fountain directly? And didn’t the studies show that air hand dryers aren’t very sanitary compared to paper towels?

        • acymetric says:

          Theoretically you would clean the bidet when you clean your bathroom. Do you trust your water faucets to stay clean?

          Water fountains aren’t inherently gross, its just that nobody ever actually bothers to clean them.

        • zzzzort says:

          Drinking fountains generally just have scale, which is not unsanitary. Generally if you look at the underside of a faucet you’ll see the same thing.

          To me, the idea of getting poop on my leg and being asked to clean it with just some dry toilet paper is viscerally unpleasant.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve been using toilets for twenty years and never gotten poop on my leg.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’ve always thought that if it were any other part of my body besides my butt that I got poop on, “just wipe it with some paper” would not be sufficient.

          • gudamor says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            I hadn’t thought of it that way. I guess I’ll clean poop off with just toilet paper regardless of the location, now. A real time saver!

          • acymetric says:

            @Nick

            As @Conrad Honcho points out, I think @zzzz(z.*)ort’s post was intended to point out that you are definitely getting poop on you somewhere, and for some reason we are much more tolerant of poor cleaning in that particular place than we would be about poop literally anywhere else, including probably mere inches away in either direction.

          • AG says:

            The idea that the bidet won’t result in poop-tinged water remaining on your skin (sliding down your bare legs when you stand up) that you have to wipe away with something anyways sure is optimistic. With dry-wiping, unless your shit was already more liquid than solid, you have confidence that you know where where any remnant are after you wipe (your crack or your hands), and it’s not getting spread to a greater area by lowering its viscosity, or splashing that you can’t control.

  34. mitv150 says:

    I keep seeing the notion that the U.S. is 10-11 days behind Italy. This is based on the number of cases that Italy had on 2/23 compared to the U.S. on 3/5. I have seen this thought in several different versions.

    This seems off to me for several reasons.
    First, why is the comparison based on total case load rather than a percentage of population?
    Second, the U.S. had it’s first case a week before Italy and, until Feb. 22, had more cases than Italy. It was only after this that the Italy numbers took off.

    Is there any insightful thought process behind the notion that the “U.S. is 10-11 days behind Italy” other than arbitrarily selecting portions of the case load curve that are superficially similar? Doing this requires ignoring a significant portion of the U.S. case load data. Is there reason to believe that, given the relatively close match in the curves for the cited portion, the U.S. will follow Italy’s trajectory going forward?

    Or is the point of this comparison meant to be a cautionary tale that can be consumed quickly on Facebook and Twitter?

    • matthewravery says:

      I do think the media is struggling to contextualize things for us, in part because there remains tons of uncertainty about exactly how screwed we are. (It could be ‘Not much’!)

      We don’t really have any “useful” comparisons for our current situation because of (1) differences in the number and frequency of our tests, (2) differences in our interventions and their timings, (3) differences in our demographics, and (4) differences in our population structures.

      We’re much bigger than Italy and Spain, so one-to-one comparisons don’t seem particularly apt. We’re roughly the same size as Europe (depending how you slice it) but have half as many people. But we do have tons of people in dense cities. But those cities aren’t as dense as most population centers in Europe. But we tend to be older. We have outbreaks across the whole country, not heavily localized (as in China). We had very little testing for weeks (unlike Korea) and haven’t been able to control and track individual outbreaks, leading to (apparent) large-scale community transmission (unlike Japan or Singapore).

      So there aren’t really any one-to-one analogues out there, AFAIK.

      We also don’t know how effective social distancing campaigns will do in the US relative to other countries that have tried them. It appears that institutions (sports leagues, many employers, etc.) are successfully implementing policies to eliminate the most egregious opportunities for transmission, but I think the populace writ large is confused about what they should be doing. This adds further uncertainty about how successful, both about the efficacy of this type of countermeasure and the timing for their uptake.

      What this means is huge uncertainty bounds around projections. In the case of exponential growth, this means multiple orders of magnitude in your error bounds. Personally, I’m at “between 1,000 and 1 million dead” for my 90% bounds. (And in the space of writing this, I went from 99% to 95% to what you see now.) I’m sure the experts have better data and have built some useful mathematical models, but I don’t know that they’re going to be able to give estimate that are too much more precise than the above. Most of this shit is just unknown.

      All that said, I think the “two weeks behind Italy” thing is in reference to the parts of the curve where exponential growth became apparent, but I don’t really know.

      • mitv150 says:

        All of this makes sense.

        The official numbers are probably pretty confounded by the lack of testing and awareness initially.

        I took another look at the numbers, comparing U.S., Spain, Germany, and Italy on three day centers (because that happens to be how I jotted down the data).

        Each of these four countries shows pretty similar percentage increases every three days (something like 1.7x every three days). The difference is that both Italy and Spain each had 6 day periods where there was a massive spike (maybe due to increased testing?).

        But then there is reason to believe that, due to the stress on their health care systems, Italy and Spain have gotten behind in testing again and there real increase rate is higher.

        Given how sensitive the exponential growth timeline is to that rate of growth and how difficult it is to figure out that rate of growth, I’m taking the claim as a cautionary tale rather than an actual prediction.

        Conclusion: not enough data for me to draw a conclusion, but I’m skeptical of the 10-11 days behind Italy claim for all of the potentially confounding reasons (and more) listed above.

    • zzzzort says:

      For the initial period of exponential growth, the total size of the population doesn’t matter. Exponential growth is what you expect when the rate of additional transmissions is proportional to the number of infected people, without any corrections for saturating the number of people infected, double counting people who become infected from multiple sources, or having people already infected travel to the country. The cross over to community transmission as the major source of infection is why the early numbers are not exponential and not very comparable. The fact that the data fits exponential growth suggests these factors aren’t very important (which in turn means there’s still a lot of potential growth). Reporting I’ve seen suggests that if we get to the point where it does saturate it would be catastrophic (~million deaths).

      If you want to rescale by population it would increase the ‘number of days behind’ by about 6, but it wouldn’t change the time constant of the growth.

      The density of cases will be important in terms of local healthcare capacity (5,000 extra ICU cases is a disaster in the bay area, but a fluctuation across the country as a whole). This would show up as a different mortality rate, but in a way obviously dependent on the details of healthcare capacity and how the cases are distributed.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      zzzzort makes the good case for caring about total numbers: 1 lily pad will grow to 2 lilies pad will grow to 4 lilies pad no matter how big the pond is.

      But for things like disease spread, density and network effects really do matter. 1 sick person in a community of 100 isn’t the same as 1000 sick people in a community of 100,000, which is different from 1 million sick people in a community of 100 million. Those latter situations are much worse despite having equal proportions.

      But being spread out helps, too. 100 out of 10,000 people in Seattle being sick doesn’t scare me much if I’m on the East coast. I will never directly interact with them.

    • 10240 says:

      Second, the U.S. had it’s first case a week before Italy and, until Feb. 22, had more cases than Italy. It was only after this that the Italy numbers took off.

      The period when there were only a handful of cases is not very informative, because it is influenced too much by random chance. E.g. in Italy, the first 3 known cases were quickly isolated and didn’t spread. The main outbreak was independent of them, and started (or at least was discovered) several weeks later.

      • mitv150 says:

        That thinking seems accurate, but I’m not certain it’s complete. Consider the following:

        1) What is the number of cases that should be used to make a comparison of timelines? The common comparison with Italy is 150 cases. Why this number and not 25 or 400?

        2) Given the initial restrictions on testing (at least in the U.S.), how much of our data is driven by infection rates and how much is driven by testing availability?

      • noyann says:

        The period when there were only a handful of cases is not very informative, because it is influenced too much by random chance.

        Right. You’d need a day with the same relative (I sense a growing obsession with that) numbers of infected, corrected by the relative number of tests done by then. Then, maybe, some meaningful differences in curves may be seen.

      • zzzzort says:

        You just need enough cases that the trend empirically fits an exponential. If you use 400 you get the same result.

  35. noyann says:

    Relative numbers for SARS-CoV-2 for the general public.

    World (scroll to Current COVID-19 test coverage estimates)
    (Also good: frequency of the symptoms)

    Germany

    Any other maps/dashboards?

  36. Well... says:

    Imagine a small town wants to boost their economy. They decide to elect a dog to the position of mayor. The dog is elected, and on paper at least he is the mayor. (All actually important mayoral duties are carried out by a more quietly-elected human.) After a rush of national interest, a few local businesses change their names to reflect that “this is the town where we have a dog for our mayor”. As tourists pour in, more economic activity grows out of this novelty governmental arrangement. Additional hotels and restaurants open, producing new jobs and opportunities. People move and settle in the town and it receives the boost it wanted.

    Is there a term for this variation on the broken window fallacy? (And, is it actually one?)

    • Randy M says:

      That’s just a publicity stunt.
      It would be broken windows fallacy if they actually tried to enact the dog’s policies somehow, and then pointed to economic activity that flourished in mitigating the harm done when they killed all the squirrels, cats, and small birds.

      • Anthony says:

        That depends. If Mayor Dog decreed bringing in more squirrels or cats so the dog residents could have more fun chasing them, there might be a net positive benefit despite some squirrels and cats getting caught.

    • baconbits9 says:

      It doesn’t sound like a broken window fallacy, more or less its a zero sum game. The ‘town with a dog for its mayor’ becomes a tourist attraction and brings dollars in, but those dollars generally are going to come from other tourist attractions receiving fewer visitors.

      • It isn’t zero sum. The reason the tourists come is that they enjoy visiting a town with a dog for a mayor, enjoy it more than wherever they would otherwise have gone, which is a benefit.

        • Anthony says:

          But unless the visitors increase their tourism, the towns which they would otherwise have visited lose their custom. Only if more people overall go touristing because of the town with the dog-mayor will it be a positive-sum change.

          • sentientbeings says:

            No, as the issue is one of allocative efficiency. Note that even your alternative example would probably fall into that category (you seem to have conflated diversion of funds to tourist activities with expanded consumption in that case, so it is hard to say precisely).

        • baconbits9 says:

          If you assume that tourists want a specific thing such as ‘I want to see a dog that is mayor’ and value that more than specific thing #2, such as ‘failing to see a dog as mayor I want to see a cat a mayor’ then yes. My guess is that what is being sold here is novelty, not highly specific wants that were previously unsatisfied by the market.

    • eric23 says:

      It’s not a fallacy. It could actually work for the first town that tried it. Much less likely to work for the second and such third towns…

    • Bobobob says:

      This is like the New Yorker cartoon contest. I’m trying to think of the perfect dog-related pun to sum up the situation, but sadly, I’m more of a cat person.

    • add_lhr says:

      This is apparently a thing in Japan – it’s called nekonomics according to Wikipedia. Famous example here.

      • Nick says:

        In January 2010, railway officials promoted Tama to the post of “Operating Officer” in recognition of her contribution to expanding the customer base. Tama maintained the station master’s job while taking over the new job, and was the first cat to become an executive of a railroad corporation.

        This is the diversity we need.

    • Buttle says:

      I do not know, but electing a dog mayor does not seem much crazier than appointing a cat railroad station master:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tama_(cat)

      Supposedly a smashing success for the station:

      The publicity from Tama’s appointment led to an increase in passengers by 17% for that month as compared to January 2006; ridership statistics for March 2007 showed a 10% increase over the previous financial year. A study estimated that the publicity surrounding Tama has contributed 1.1 billion yen to the local economy. Tama is often cited as part of a phenomenon known in Japan as Nekonomics (ネコノミクス, nekonomikusu, lit. cat economy), a play off the term Abenomics. Nekonomics refers to the positive economic impact of having a cat mascot.

      So, on second thought, perhaps the proper term is “inunomics”.

    • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

      The real life version is giving your town a stupidly long name.

      Longer versions of the name are thought to have first been used in the 19th century in an attempt to develop the village as a commercial and tourist centre (see below). The village is, however, still signposted Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, marked on Ordnance Survey maps as Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll and the railway station is officially named Llanfairpwll, a form used by local residents. The name is also shortened to Llanfair PG, sufficient to distinguish it from other places in Wales called Llanfair.

  37. smocc says:

    I have a friend who lives in a major American city that is in a pretty general lockdown for the next few weeks at least. He has been making most of his living driving for Uber, but demand for that has already dropped significantly. I have suggested that he look into Door Dash, Instacart, etc. as he already has a car and demand for delivery might be higher than for Uber. Are there any other suggestions I can give him?

    • baconbits9 says:

      Possibly offer to pick up groceries for people? If he can sanitize things like the exterior of bottles/jugs/cans he could offer a service to pick up those types of goods, sanitize them and then deliver them to people.

    • 10240 says:

      Here a hypermarket already rations delivery for old or sick people because of the spike in demand. Perhaps ask a local hypermarket with delivery service if they are hiring delivery men.

      • Beans says:

        Is a “hypermarket” a thing in the Anglosphere? I’ve only seen the term used in Russia (гипермаркет).

        • Tarpitz says:

          UK English would be “supermarket”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a native English speaker from anywhere use “hypermarket”, though Wikipedia does have a page for it. French “hypermarché” is definitely a thing, though.

        • BBA says:

          I think I’ve seen “hypermarket” in the US, but it’s much less common than “superstore” or “big box” or just “Walmart” or “Target.”

  38. matthewravery says:

    Not sure if anyone has posted this here, but I thought this deck was very informative:

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1DqfSnlaW6N3GBc5YKyBOCGPfdqOsqk1G/view

    Alt link

    Dr. Lin’s twitter

    It had a lot of the data and analysis that (IMO) should be being broadcast and discussed on the 24-hour networks. He’s does a decent job at pointing out areas of knowledge where there is lots of uncertainty and where there is less uncertainty and what useful data we have. (Mostly from Wuhan and the Diamond Princess.)

    At the end, he even gives you a home-bake recipe for hand sanitizer!

  39. theodidactus says:

    Counterpoint to what I just said above: What i’m seeing here (and in China) might suggest that it’s maybe more the middle class that wins, while the upper extremes and lower and lower-middle classes both get hosed.

    We all have to deal with terrible bosses in our lives, but substantially *NONE* of the middle and upper class folks I know have had to deal with a boss specifically ordering them TO come into work. I’m in law school, and maximum slack has set in here: because we’re mostly all privileged elites, we know that everyone can take a break for a few weeks, nothing will burn down or close up, and we can get back to work whenever things resume. Our seats are still available. Meanwhile my friends in the delivery business are being told to keep working, and many are afraid of losing their jobs.

    Similarly, what i’m seeing in my social network in the east looks a lot like what you’re seeing in italy: the already-comfortable are locking themselves in their apartment and playing video games and stuff. the previously-uncomfortable are starting to worry they’ll get left behind like in 2008, when this whole thing blows over. In 15 years, when everyone has forgotten when the coronavirus happened, exactly, this period could just look like a job termination followed by a resume gap, and that stuff sticks with you.

  40. addastra says:

    Question about talking to roommates about coronavirus: how do I give my housemate the coronavirus talk? She doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously, is inviting (very social) people over and going out. She thinks I’m over-reacting to coronavirus; at the same time she says she “understands abstractly” that it will grow exponentially, etc., but “can’t conceptualize it”. We have a good relationship and I don’t want to waste my “weird credit” with my roommate or she’ll ignore me, but my girlfriend’s parents live in the same city and we’re freaking out. For context, roommate is a 30yo CS/stem person, international, wealthy, non-political but organic/hipster-leaning.

    • Loriot says:

      Maybe show her stories about what it’s like in Italian hospitals?

      • MrApophenia says:

        That’s what worked for me. When I explained to my family that Italy is basically a sneak peak of where we are likely to be in a week or two, that got their attention.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I’ve seen lots of people saying this, but I don’t understand why. We had our first cases before Italy did, we were actually ahead of them in deaths for a bit.

          https://twitter.com/AGHamilton29/status/1239324428623847424

          We’re simply not seeing a similar curve.

          • mitv150 says:

            I mentioned this same issue downthread. You get a similar curve between U.S. and Italy if you call day 1 for each of the U.S. and Italy at something like 150 cases. If you set day 1 for each based on 1 case or 10 cases, you get wildly different curves between the countries.

            Basically, in the 52 days since the U.S. confirmed it’s first case, there is a 12 day period of confirmed cases that matches a section of Italy’s confirmed cases.

            I don’t think either exercise is terribly instructive, as discrepancies in testing rates gives me very little confidence in the ‘confirmed cases’ data.

          • Viliam says:

            The curves are not exactly exponential, so you can nudge the result in the direction you want by choosing the right metric.

            Judging by the tweets, if your metric is “how many deaths X days after death #1”, USA is better than Italy; if your metric is “how many deaths X days after death #100”, Italy is better than USA. The second metric seems a bit more robust to me maybe, but I suppose the proper conclusion is that the curves are very similar.

            (Note: here I am blindly trusting the arguments made in the tweets; I didn’t verify the numbers myself.)

            By the way, speaking about misleading statistics, I wonder how much young people should feel comfortable after learning that almost all deaths were very old people, when the fact is that many people in Italy die because the hospitals are overwhelmed, there are fewer respirators than people who desperately need them, and in triaging old age counts against you. In other words: we decide not to spend scarce resources on old people, and then report the outcome as “well, old people are simply more likely to die from the coronavirus” as a force of nature.

            (I assume that old people would still be more likely to die even if resources were allocated by fair lottery. But the ratio could be less overwhelming… the question is, how much.)

          • mitv150 says:

            if your metric is “how many deaths X days after death #100”, Italy is better than USA.

            AFAIK, the U.S. hasn’t yet hit 100 deaths.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            We’re simply not seeing a similar curve.

            Might be a testing issue.

          • Eigengrau says:

            That data tracks deaths, not cases. Cases are more important as they indicate the number of hospital beds needed. Italy is likely seeing more deaths than average due to the lack of medical treatment available.

            Luckily the US has a much higher ICU bed capacity than Italy. That will buy you a few more days.

            I threw this together last night to track per capita cases:
            https://twitter.com/SmackTrout/status/1239597054852096005

          • matthewravery says:

            “First confirmed infection” is a data set of one. “100th confirmed infection” is a data set of 100. Given that we don’t perfectly observe cases, “Case #100” is a better point of comparison than “Case #1”. Not perfect, (or even necessarily good or useful, given the vagaries of testing and asymptomatic cases) but better.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I’m actually less interested in whether the specific graphs between Italy and the US line up, and more in the fact that a bunch of medical experts keep saying the US is in the exponential growth stage and we’re almost certainly going to wildly overrun our hospital capacity in some regions of the country the same way Northern Italy did.

            The lack of testing probably does mean that exercises in trying to line up confirmed US cases against anything are futile because that’s an almost meaningless number.

          • Clutzy says:

            The lack of testing probably does mean that exercises in trying to line up confirmed US cases against anything are futile because that’s an almost meaningless number.

            I sort of agree, but I do kinda think the testing portion of this has been way overblown. The testing kits in South Korea have extremely high false negative rates (some places have it quoted as high as 49% false negative), but they are able to contain it well with the other measures really pulling the weight much more. Testing is helpful in that it helps us measure if we are winning or not, but it doesn’t really help you win, and in the case of some of the tests, it could actually be anti-helpful if the false negative rates are really as high as some estimates.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Which is why deaths are the most significant, because deaths (unlike cases), can’t be misread (either good or bad) by tests.

            If the US does in fact have five times the number of cases that we think, that’s good news, because it means it’s substantially less virulent here (for whatever reason).

            Because at the end of the day, all we really care about is preventing Americans from dying. The number who get a moderately bad chest cold is basically irrelevant. The number of total cases matter because x% need constant medical care for a couple of weeks and recover, and if we do become overwhelmed, some of those may die who otherwise wouldn’t have.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @anoymousskimmer

            I don’t disagree. But those are almost certainly related numbers.

    • Matt M says:

      I don’t want to waste my “weird credit” with my roommate

      Dude, this kind of thing is why you build up your weird credits in the first place. If you aren’t going to cash them in now, what exactly are you waiting for?

      • yodelyak says:

        Also yes, this. If you use your weirdness points in places where you will soon be proved correct, you don’t become a weirdo, you become a prophet. Use your points, dammit.

        • woah77 says:

          Seconded. If you’re a “prophet” not only did you not end up spending them, but you will get a great allotment for the next thing.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I read it as “I am willing to spend my weird credits, but I only get one chance to spend them, so help me do it right.”

    • yodelyak says:

      I think there’s a three-part thing to do. One, show her the McCardle story in the WashPost about how exponential growth means there isn’t any warning except the warning you (may) get from public health officials who understand exponential growth. Two, show her the list of tech clubs that have canceled everything (listed at https://stayinghome.club). Three, show her the latest out of Italy, ideally something with a few numbers, like 1000 deaths / day or what not, but mostly with the visceral story of doctors deciding who to save.

      Maybe also think about who in her life is in an especially vulnerable demographic, and get her better angels on your side. She can save a life as a blood donor, but only if she’s healthy. She can do a lot for small businesses she cares about by buying from their online stores (especially gift cards she will not use for a while), and encouraging others likewise, but only if she’s healthy enough. She can be available to go nurse relative-that-she-cares-about if they get sick, and drive them to a hospital and stay with them if the hospital can’t see them right away, but she can only do that if she’s healthy enough herself to get around.

    • ryubyss says:

      She thinks I’m over-reacting to coronavirus; at the same time she says she “understands abstractly” that it will grow exponentially, etc., but “can’t conceptualize it”.

      show her a chart.

    • Alejandro says:

      This video comparing Italian newspaper obituary pages before and after the rise of the epidemic made it visceral for me in a way that exponential curves did not.

    • J Mann says:

      True story: On Friday night, my right leaning brother in law thought it was a massive overreaction and was loaded to the gills with common flu and H1N1 statistics. On Saturday morning, we saw him again, after he had gone to the CDC website, which apparently includes a possible death range of 250,000+, and he’s now a convert.

      My sister is mostly frustrated that there wasn’t a day or two where he was somewhere in the middle.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        “If we have no chance to prepare, it is hitting about 200 million people at around a 1% death rate. 2 million dead people is a lot. That’s a 1/3 Holocaust just in the US.”

      • mwigdahl says:

        No one is as zealous as a convert.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      30yo CS/stem person

      Does she like spreadsheets? I saw this google doc some place

      https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lxbx2FI2Jq-VpPLRSSeUlVe9X1CewL046cLzNHWlGZ4/edit?usp=sharing

      I don’t know if that will help or hurt, showing that dropping from 25% to 20% 10 days earlier buys us 2 or 3 extra days at the end.

      Probably play around with that and copy it or edit it to make the numbers stark enough.

    • AG says:

      Start violently coughing the next time she has very social people over. /s

  41. ryubyss says:

    the coronavirus, even more than most things, will punish poor people. white collar workers will get to work from home. service workers will not. those who cannot afford to stockpile food will (I think) suffer. I wonder if this could kickstart a leftist revolution or at least an attempt at one, not immediately but in the next couple of years. many far leftists would love that to happen and could try to instigate one.

    • HarmlessFrog says:

      I highly doubt it.

    • Erusian says:

      I doubt it. Plagues generally get seen as exogenous and at any rate it’s more a failure of the Chinese health system than American. Also, living standards tend to rise for plague survivors once the disease burns itself through. And unskilled people will have access to some higher paying jobs due to disease risk in the short term. Wages are a negotiation and coronavirus increases working class bargaining power vis a vis purchasers of labor.

      More broadly, revolutions tend to happen because of economic disruption, a weak state, and a lack of legitimacy. Anti-capitalist movements specifically tend to spawn directly as a result of economic disruption, which is why the 1920s was such a fertile time for Communism, Fascism, and other less remembered movements like the Social Credit types. And frankly, the last two decades have been pretty placid by comparison. 2008 was bad but the 1920s had a worse crisis than 2008 every other year for a decade.

      • ryubyss says:

        More broadly, revolutions tend to happen because of economic disruption, a weak state, and a lack of legitimacy.

        I don’t know about the weak state part but we have the other two (or will soon).

        • HarmlessFrog says:

          Compared to early XX century Russia, you have none.

        • Erusian says:

          I seriously doubt you could even charitably describe the US state as weak. And I don’t think the economic disruption or lack of legitimacy is as severe as all that. (Keep in mind, it would be legitimacy of the US system, not Trump specifically.) Even if it were, a strong state with the other two is a recipe for a failed revolution.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I think a lot depends on how much the rich throw the poor to the wolves or not.

      Mitt Romney is now publicly calling for Andrew Yang’s UBI proposal for the duration of the emergency, which is kind of a head trip in and of itself but is also a very smart move – if the poor are actually seen as taken care of as well as possible during the crisis I think that blunts a lot of the potential outrage.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        The IRS (and SS) and state tax authorities know generally what everyone’s job is and how much their income generally is.

        I’d much rather the poor with non-essential jobs get $2000, than everyone get $1000.

        Not only is this cheaper, but it helps those who need the help the most.

        If I got an extra $1000 it would go right into the bank, or at this point possibly right into the stock market. There would be no trickle down for those who need it.

        • Loriot says:

          Yeah, the only reason to do $1000 for everyone instead of the needy is that defining who the needy is highly controversial and takes resources.

        • JayT says:

          There are a lot of people making median income, or more, that live paycheck to paycheck. They are arguably more in danger of permanent effects due to no pay than the poor. A poor person could just not pay the rent and suffer few consequences, a middle class person unable to pay the mortgage might have their whole life turned upside down.

          • acymetric says:

            This is understating the impact of not paying rent by rather a lot. Banks are also generally more willing to work with mortgage holders going through a temporary difficulty than landlords (banks aren’t actually eager for people to foreclose on homes, they would prefer to keep the mortgage payments coming in).

          • Toby Bartels says:

            @acymetric : Landlords would rather not evict people either, because they’d rather keep the rent coming in. I agree with your overall conclusion, however, because banks have bigger pockets and can ride out the storm better than a lot of landlords.

          • JayT says:

            I should have said “fewer” consequences. Obviously, losing out on your pay for even a month is a very trying thing for a lot of people. That said, neither one is going to be kicked out any time soon, so the next month the immediate issue isn’t a loss of housing. I was thinking of things like credit scores. If the lockdown goes past April, I’m not sure anyone will really be doing well.

    • zzzzort says:

      Economic effects will hit the poor hardest, but the health effects will will be worst for the oldest, who tend to be wealthier. I guess this depends on your expectations about the course of the virus and response which will have the biggest impact.

      You could imagine a cold-hearted leftist advocating for keeping businesses open both to support wages and to kill off the bourgeoisie/junkers/boomers/etc. but mostly the response has been calls for paid sick leave and other forms of monetary support.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Disease breakouts simply don’t lead to societal collapse in the absence of external invasion. We’ve seen this worldwide. Heck, the Black Death killed a third of Europe but didn’t collapse European governments.

      The Native Americans that didn’t go to war with the United States mostly came out of the horrors of meeting European diseases for the first time pretty okay (e.g. the Pawnee), although again, you’re talking a massively powerful external force at the same time.

      I may have forgotten one, but in a generic sense, massive disease epidemics are not societal transformers.

    • Well... says:

      Can someone explain to me the rationale behind why someone in an American city or suburb (rather than out in the cut or somewhere where supply chain is otherwise unstable anyway) should stockpile food or really anything else right now?

      • acymetric says:

        If your tolerance for exposure risk is 0 or approaches 0. It isn’t that there will be no food, it is that you won’t want to go out to get more at the risk of catching the virus while you’re out.

        *Outside chance of all stores being completely shuttered by government order, I suppose.

        • Well... says:

          The number of people whose tolerance is 0 or near 0 (the elderly, people with serious illnesses, etc.) seems to be much smaller than the number of people stockpiling.

        • Garrett says:

          Alternative possibility: you’re worried that *you* might be forced into quarantine/isolation at which point you won’t be able to go out and get stuff.

          • albatross11 says:

            In descending order of importance (IMO):

            a. Having your kids home from school and university and nobody eating meals out/at the work cafeteria means you need a lot more food at home. Being stuck at home makes you want to do stuff like baking at home, too.

            b. Things that are being panic-bought are potentially going to be out later, so you’d better buy them now so you’re not stuck with no toilet paper or no milk/bread/rice. If you see hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes on the shelf, you should grab a bunch because you know you won’t have another chance to get them for awhile.

            c. If the spread of COVID-19 continues, the risk of going shopping increases day by day. You’d be safer minimizing your shopping trips, but that means stocking up on stuff so you don’t have to go to a store half a dozen times next week.

            d. The authorities may impose a shelter-in-place order that forbids you going out for anything but essentials, and maybe there’s stuff you’ll really wish you had.

            e. The grocery stores near you may shut down or reduce hours due to lots of sick workers or inability to get supplied.

      • JayT says:

        I wouldn’t say I’ve “stockpiled”, but I have bought way more than I normally would, and that was so I wouldn’t have to go back to the store for a couple of weeks, in the hopes of lowering my exposure.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          We are gradually reducing our stockpile, combined with infrequent shopping trips.

      • gudamor says:

        If you’re sick, you should avoid going out in public. Grocery shopping tends to be done in public. You should therefore have enough stockpiled to be able to avoid going out while you’re recuperating.

        • SamChevre says:

          This.

          It isn’t to protect you from starving: it’s to protect other people from you needing to go buy groceries while sick.

          • Well... says:

            But what if you’re not sick? Should we all be expecting that we’re going to get sick and that nobody else in our house will be able to go out and get groceries?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Well…, yes, you should be prepared for the possibility you will get sick. And if you do get sick, everyone else in your house should be assuming they also have it and might be contagious even if they don’t yet show symptoms.

          • Well... says:

            Let’s say I get sick then. Worst case scenario my wife goes grocery shopping with gloves and a facemask on, while I lie on the couch and supervise my kids’ hour of TV. I suppose I see why it’d be more expedient to stockpile, but I still don’t see the need for it, and I’m still confused about why the hoi polloi, who normally don’t do much in the way of prepping for outside chance scenarios, suddenly are willing to rush out and spend a bunch of extra money hoarding things that are probably still going to be available down the street.

            My hypothesis is someone on Social Media said “if you’re smart you’ll do this” and that meme spread like a virus.

          • Matt M says:

            spend a bunch of extra money hoarding things

            If you’re buying mostly things you would normally buy anyway, and if you are still able to consume them before they perish, you aren’t really spending any extra money or “hoarding” anything.

            You’re just, like, pre-buying.

            My hypothesis is someone on Social Media said “if you’re smart you’ll do this” and that meme spread like a virus.

            I mean sure, this is definitely a thing that happened. And then spread to mainstream media as the local news shows up in the parking lot of your Wal-Mart with a report on “EVERYONE IS BUYING STUFF! THERE’S NOT MUCH LEFT!” which makes it even worse.

            But even so, pre-buying is never really a bad idea. There’s really no harm unless you’re buying excess perishables that will rot before you consume/freeze them.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            If this all blows over in a month, it will just be a little longer till we need to buy laundry detergent or rice or something–there’s not a big cost here! As long as you’re not buying weird stuff you’d never use, and you’re not buying stuff that will go bad before you use it, you should be fine.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @Well…

            Worst case scenario my wife goes grocery shopping with gloves and a facemask on, while I lie on the couch and supervise my kids’ hour of TV.

            FYI, according to this:

            The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that if anyone in your house has tested positive, everyone in the house should self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days or longer until the patient has no more symptoms and tests negative.

            and

            The CDC recommends that infected family members stay in one room away from others as much as possible and use a separate bathroom if available. Visitors should also be kept away from the house.

            The door to the sick person’s room should be kept closed and only one family member should attend to that person, according to CDC guidelines.

            The person caring for a sick relative should also leave food outside of their room and when the caregiver enters the room both people should wear facemasks.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          How hard is it to call the police non-emergency number, state that you’re sick and in self-quarantine and have run out of groceries, and ask them to deliver some?

          • Evan Þ says:

            (A) Will the police in fact do that?
            (B) If so, will they do that without embarrassing the person who called them, and without pretending they smelled drugs to get an excuse to search the person’s house?
            (C) If so, will they pick out good groceries, abiding by the person’s dietary preferences?
            (D) If so, does everyone know they’ll reliably do that?

            I live a couple miles from Kirkland, in the center of the US outbreak. There’s a real possibility I’ll be sick and in self-quarantine any day now. And I don’t know the answers to any of these questions.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The only way to find out in advance is to call them in advance.

            Given they are the legal authority responsible for enforcing quarantines, they have every incentive to do A, B and C.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Evan: Do you have friends of neighbors that can bring you groceries?

            anonymousskimmer: The police will skip responsibility for this unless some other power forces them to.

          • anonymousskimmer