Open Thread 150.5

This is would usually be a hidden open thread, but I’m promoting it to front page to say a couple of things:

1. Future of Humanity Institute asks me to advertise their free pandemic modeling software for hospitals, policymakers, and anyone who just wants to play around with free pandemic modeling software.

2. People seem to be confused whether my face masks post last week was coming out against or in favor of face masks. Although it’s a complicated issue, I meant for it to conclude that (modulo the importance of reserving them for health care personnel), wearing face masks is probably helpful.

3. On Friday, I stated that people should stop smoking to reduce their risk of serious lung complications of coronavirus. Although that conclusion was supported by one Chinese study and by common sense, a few people have pointed out to me that more recent studies show the opposite. This study of Chinese patients finds that smoking and vaping are not dangerous in coronavirus and may have “a protective role”, possibly due to downregulation of ACE (but note that the lead author has a history of getting funding from e-cigarette companies). This study from China finds that although never-smokers have better survival rates than current-smokers, former-smokers do worse than either, which would argue against quitting right now. And this study confirms that quitting smoking can upregulate expression of coronavirus receptor genes (though it finds that smoking does as well).

I’m pretty suspicious of this research. It’s new, lots of it isn’t yet peer reviewed, and it contradicts itself in places. The former-smokers-do-worse effect is reminiscent of the teetotalers-do-worst effect in alcohol research, which is probably because very sick people get told to stop drinking, and so teetotalers are a disproportionately sickly population. Everything is working off a few heavily-biased mortality numbers in China. And also, even if quitting smoking increases your coronavirus mortality risk it will still be very good for you on net.

Still, the most recent research does apparently show that the advice I gave you yesterday was diametrically wrong and could kill you, so I figured I had better get that out there.

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1,423 Responses to Open Thread 150.5

  1. Beans says:

    In celebration of being stuck inside as the world burns, I demand your opinions and spicy takes about one of humanity’s old friends: alcoholic beverages.

    Fact: Whisk(e)y is the best one.

    • EchoChaos says:

      Fact: Whisk(e)y is the best one.

      Scotch is overrated. Americans perfected whiskey (this is the only valid spelling) when we made it out of corn and rye.

      • Beans says:

        Allow me to be confrontational: No. Bourbon can be great, but so much of it is just re-arrangements of the same basic flavor notes. There’s not enough variety. I drink plenty of it, since I’m in the US and its the cheapest way to get something high quality, but scotch has a lot more interesting tastes to explore.

        I’ll withhold my opinion on rye, because I’m definitely biased against it. I think it tastes like dust.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I drink plenty of it, since I’m in the US and its the cheapest way to get something high quality, but scotch has a lot more interesting tastes to explore.

          Peat, heavy peat, and then smoky peat?

          I’ll withhold my opinion on rye, because I’m definitely biased against it. I think it tastes like dust.

          Now this is a vile hot take. Truly offensive.

          • Lambert says:

            >Peat, heavy peat, and then smoky peat?

            There’s a controlled moorland burn in my mouth and everyone’s invited.

            What rye whiskey is good?
            Rye is the objectively best grain for bread and it makes good beer but i’ve never tried its whiskey. Not easy stuff to find in the UK but i’ve seen bulleit rye on shelves from time to time.

          • rahien.din says:

            Bulleit is a quintessential rye. Good one to begin with.

            Rye is spicier and drier than bourbon.

          • Beans says:

            Peat, heavy peat, and then smoky peat?

            It’s a misconception that all scotch is smokey. Almost all scotch from the islay region is very smoked, but there are a handful of other regional styles, all of which are either not smoked at all, or only slightly sometimes. The problem is that the islay scotches are quite famous, so a lot of people get exposed to very intense and weird tasting scotch before they ought to. In contrast, a Glenfiddich, Glenlivet or Glenmorangie (yes, all “glen-“) would be sweet and smokeless and easy to drink for most anyone who doesn’t just have a hatred of strong liquor.

          • Deiseach says:

            Peat, heavy peat, and then smoky peat?

            Tsk, tsk, tsk! You’re forgetting the seaweed notes!

          • EchoChaos says:


            I have had many scotches. The only unique flavor they have that bourbon and rye don’t is peat was my point.

            This isn’t quite true, of course, and I do genuinely enjoy a smooth scotch.

            My wife likes her scotch almost offensively smokey (Laphroaig), whereas my favorite scotch is Glenlivet.

            Of course, we’re at the point where if you want a single-malt, Japan does it better than Scotland does anyway. It’s hard to find a scotch as good as Yamazaki at the same age.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Rye seems to be a hell of an acquired taste. I’m working through my first bottle of American Rye and the spice surprised me after the first Manhattan.

            Definitely prefer my bourbons

          • JayT says:

            Highland Scotches have a great maltiness that I really enjoy. In most cases I’ll take one of those over any other Scotch. Though, Scapa is a personal favorite and it isn’t a Highland.

            I am not a big fan of Bulleit Rye. It’s fine and it is cheap, so if you don’t want to spend a ton to try rye it’s fine, but it is not very balanced, and it’s quite harsh. Michter’s Rye is usually my suggestion.

          • Desrbwb says:

            Japanese whiskey is by far the most overrated in my experience. Overhyped and overpriced for what it is. When I’ve had expensive, award winning Japan malts I haven’t thought much of them, about on the level of a standard Glenlivet 12 yo or Glenmorangie 10 yo. Far from unpleasant, but hardly the paradigm shift ‘better than Scotland’ it was billed as.

          • EchoChaos says:


            That’s interesting. I haven’t had the big ticket and award winning stuff, just basic Yamazaki 12 and Hakushu 12. It’s really solid compared to similarly mid-grade scotch.

            I’m not a big spender that gets top ticket stuff from either country, but I see reviewers are on board with Japan, so I assume that the difference runs to the top.

            Again, rye is my preferred whiskey and nobody makes rye like Americans, so I get to be patriotic and have the best drink anyway.

        • rahien.din says:

          Allow me to be wrong

          Allow me to be more confrontational : whatever flavor notes bourbon can’t give you, you don’t need them.

          You don’t need your steak to taste like a pork chop. You don’t need your laptop to make julienne fries. You don’t need your bourbon to taste like anything but bourbon.

          Or just light a Lucky Strike and stir your whiskey with it, I can’t help you.

        • Rick Jones says:

          My maiden post on SSC is on a topic where I have some professional expertise. How nice!
          Putting aside aesthetic preference, I find scotch a more diverse beverage than bourbon. Primarily due to the variation in oak used and the amount of peatiness in the malt. Bourbon is dominated by Whiskey Lactone and Vanillin coming from the use on new white oak on one axis and and the amount of corn in the mash on the other, so it’s a 2 dimensional spirit. Scotch has the added dimension of the amount of peat (smokiness) used in kilning the malt. Some like Islay are very smokey but I find blended scotch to be more subtle and frankly mostly prefer it to single malts. Scotch is 3 dimensional in that you have the malt, the peatiness and the wood all in balance, plus you can use wood from different sources (e.g. sherry barrels) where bourbon is mandated to be aged new American white oak.

          • EchoChaos says:

            That’s true, and of course white oak is the superior wood in all cases 🙂

            Seriously, that’s one advantage American ryes have over bourbons, which is their diverse casking.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t think it really even makes sense to compare bourbon vs “scotch”. That would be like saying seafood has more variety than beef. Well, yeah, because you are comparing many different things to one thing. The better comparison would be to either compare Scotch whisky vs American whiskey, or something like Islay scotch vs Bourbon.

    • Anonymous` says:

      This is the best I’ve found so far.

    • Secretly French says:

      Not only is the world not burning, I am sure that the air round here is fresher than ever, due to less driving around going on, and I imagine most of the non-human life is loving it. What is burning is only a temporary epiphenomenon which I am secretly enjoying seeing creaking, whether I owe it my existence or not.

    • rahien.din says:

      Málà Jiǔ

      Vodka infused with Sichuan peppercorns, taking on their particular combination of sour, spicy, and floral flavors – as well as the tingly mouth-numbing effect for which they are known. The name comes from Google Translate but I am the first person to use these terms together (thanks, Google!) and so I claim the name.

      It’s actually really tasty. I make this every year and give it away for Christmas. It stays at peak flavor for at least a few months.

      What can you do with it, you might ask?
      – Sip it cold, straight out of the freezer
      – Spike an American barleywine. This is genuinely delicious
      – Get your wife to try it blind, you bastard
      – Mix it. And when you are drinking something as weird as málà jiǔ, you aren’t going to drink much of it, so anything goes! The combination of málà jiǔ, pecan liqueur, and St. Germain is enticingly aggressive and arrestingly cromulent
      – Fill a squirt gun so you can drive away raccoons from your garbage cans
      – Bloody Mary’s or something? Ugh, whatever, that’s so not creative, you’re better than that. Mix it with raccoon liqueur and make your wife try it blind, straight out of the freezer.

      You’ll be glad you did.

      1 : 1 :: cups of vodka : tbsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
      or, 236 : 15 :: mL of vodka : mL whole Sichuan peppercorns

      Add both ingredients to a glass container and stir to combine. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours, then remove and discard the peppercorns. Take that, Saddam raccoons.

      Spicy take : the Imperial system is clearly superior to the metric system, because of the ease of making this absurd concoction

      • broblawsky says:

        I actually made a homebrew wheat beer with Sichuan peppercorns. It works really well with the clean, hoppy, yeasty flavor of a good beer, especially paired with some spicy food.

      • Anthony says:

        The American system of units for fluid volume measure has the advantage of being mostly binary, once you’ve made the jump from teaspoons to tablespoons, until you get past gallons. If you used drams, it’s 4 to a tablespoon, though I’m not sure there’s any getting around 63 gallons to a hogshead.

        And in US units (but not Imperial!), the gallon is a nice convenient 231 cubic inches.

    • achenx says:

      Not sure how hot a take this is: you will almost always do much better buying liquor from one of the big guys than from “microdistillers”. Sometimes people assume the same dynamics are at work as in beer brewing, where generally you’re better off with the small guys, but it’s almost the complete opposite in liquor.

      This applies in the US at least; I’m not as familiar with the ownership structures of e.g. Scotch distilleries.

      Aging is part of it, so this may start to change as more microdistillers start to have been around for a long enough time. There’s also an experience thing, personal and organizational. Microbreweries often grow out of home brewing, while home distilling tends to be discouraged. The scale issue that waters down (metaphorically, though perhaps literally too) mass-market beers seems to be less of an issue in liquor, and the resulting economies of scale mean that even when a micro distillery product is good, there will be mass distilled products equally as good, for cheaper.

      • acymetric says:

        If this is true at all, it would be only for the very highest end pricey liquor (which I don’t buy, so advice in that range doesn’t matter to me). I can get Knob Creek/Makers Mark level whiskey from a distillery in my state for $10-$20 less.

        • Well... says:

          Knob Creek/Makers Mark level whiskey

          Whoa, whoa, whoa there. Those are not the same level.

          • acymetric says:

            That was intentional, I was trying to indicate a range between the two, but maybe I didn’t do that very clearly. Was not trying to say they’re the same, but that I can find something in the range between one and the other cheaper from a local distillery.

          • Well... says:

            Such a huge range though…like, I’d say that’s as big a range as is meaningful to most liquor drinkers.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t consider the differences to be that large between Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek. Price wise they are only like $5-$10 difference, and quality wise I’ve always enjoyed both. I would think most bourbon drinkers would consider them somewhere between “interchangeable” or “Knob Creek is a slight upgrade”. Why do you think there is such a big difference? I would think the big jump most drinkers would notice is the difference between something like Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark.

          • Well... says:

            Maybe I’m weird? If Black Velvet or Jim Beam are a 1 and, say, Gentleman Jack is a 10, I’d put Knob Creek at least at 7, maybe 8. Makers Mark would be a 2. Seagrams is a preferable 3 or 4.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t think that is the general consensus, but I could be wrong. I don’t read whiskey reviews. I think you’re the first person I’ve ever seen rank Maker’s behind Seagrams.

            For me the ratings would be something like
            1-2: Old Grandad, Black Velvet, etc. I don’t drink these.
            3-5: Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Jack Daniels*, Wild Turkey. I’ll drink it with soda if that’s all that’s available.
            6-8: Maker’s Mark, Buillet, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses Single Batch. This is where the best values are. I have my preferences, but I wouldn’t turn any of these down.
            9-10: Knob Creek, Michters, Basil Hayden. These are the ones I’ll reach for if I want to go up a notch.

            For me, I don’t think Maker’s can be beat on value, at least where I live. I can get a bottle for $22, when something like Jim Beam or Jack are around $18. It’s a no-brainer for me. Bulliet is close in price, but I prefer Maker’s, so the extra dollar or two usually isn’t worth it, unless I’m just feeling like a change. Though, in that case I’ll usually grab a rye.

            * I know Jack isn’t a Bourbon, but it basically fills the same place as a bourbon for most people.

          • gbdub says:

            Gentleman Jack is your 10? I think you just have a unique palate.

            Knob (the regular kind) and Makers are both middle shelf bourbons. They do have different flavor profiles but are of similar “quality”.

            JayT’s list is a decent ranking of perceived quality, although I’d say his list stops somewhere around 6 or 7… your 10s are William Larue Weller and Pappy 15, 7-9 are gonna be a personal preference ranking of all the great $50-100 bourbons out there. Personally I really like Booker’s, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, store picks of Four Roses Single Barrel.

            Also, Wild Turkey 101 is an underrated value, regular Four Roses Single Barrel is the best bourbon readily available under $50, and Basil Hayden is watered down and bland (nice package though).

          • Well... says:

            I don’t mean Gentleman Jack is the best possible whiskey, just that it’s the best whiskey I might plausibly buy for myself. That’s why I put it at 10.

          • JayT says:

            Four Roses is my least favorite of the ones I mentioned in that range. I haven’t had Wild Turkey 101 since I was in college, so maybe it’s worth revisiting.

            There are some very expensive whiskeys that are nice, but I’ve always felt there are some pretty quickly diminishing returns on expensive bourbon. I’ve tasted $10 bottles that I wouldn’t choose over Maker’s if both were offered to me for free. So that’s why my 9-10 ends at fairly cheap whiskeys. I just don’t buy bottles that cost more than $50 with any regularity.

        • JayT says:

          Where do you live that your local distilleries are selling ~$10 bottles of whiskey?

      • Lambert says:

        > the ownership structures of e.g. Scotch distilleries.

        Mostly Diageo. 🙁

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Beer, obviously. It’s incredibly broad and no matter the season nor the occasion, there’s a beer that goes with it. They are also easy to drink, compared to the fiddling I tend to do with spirits.

      Within that…stouts, porters, and trappist. In the summer, marzens and pilsners. Not really a fan of hop-forward American beers.

      For spirits, bourbon is the fall-spring drink of choice, and rum for mojitos in the summer, with some gin martinis here or there.

      Wine is only for table drinking, and vodka is for clubs and yuppie women.

      • Well... says:

        I think liquor is easier but that’s because I only ever drink it straight — don’t even need to refrigerate it. Any smooth reposado tequila is my drink of choice.

        I like beer though, and I agree with you about the hop-forward beers. I wish that fad would end.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      Opinions: Positive, basically.
      Hot take: Beer and wine snobs are equally annoying. Liquor snobs less so.
      Spicy take: If wine is the blood of Christ what does that make grappa? I for one smell heresy.

    • toastengineer says:

      I kinda like cognac. Last booze that’s left in the house is a bottle of homemade limonchello that I forgot about for a while.

    • bv7bd says:

      Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol, but “no smoking” ad campaigns seem to have worked pretty well for smoking. ( shows a drop from 42% smokers to 14% smokers, with young people down to 8.8%.)

      Why haven’t we started a “no drinking” ad campaign for alcohol? It could save a lot of lives.

      It also would make me personally happier. Many drunk people are loud and obnoxious and I don’t like being around them; if drunkenness decreased, then the number of social events I could attend would increase.

      • Spookykou says:

        I would never attend social events without alcohol. I assume the large and immediately obvious benefits from alcohol(for some), make it harder to attack than smoking, which has more mild and slower burn medicinal effects, although I think smokeless tobacco alternatives are also helping, I used to vape as a sort of diet aid/anti anxiety treatment and it was very pleasant, I wish I could still do it where I live now.

        • I would mildly prefer social events without alcohol.
          The problem with alcohol, from my standpoint, is that I get into a conversation with someone, am offering an argument or explaining something, he doesn’t seem to understand it, which is frustrating. After several rounds of this I eventually realize that he is part drunk — not drunk enough to be obvious but drunk enough so that he cannot follow what I am saying.

          Liking alcohol, and preferring to socialize in places with a lot of noise, are features of many other people’s behavior that I find it hard to understand.

          • Spookykou says:

            I think it depends a lot on the context of the social interaction and what you are trying to get out of it. For example when I am playing D&D I think being buzzed is better in every possible way, overly analytical siege mindset D&D planning is tedious i’ll gladly take a hammer to my higher brain functions if it prevents that kind of play, and being just a little too shy to do voices or RP all detract from the experience. I assume that most of the difference in people who do or don’t like alcohol though actually just comes from how they experience it. For me, alcohol is amazing, it instantly makes me feel relaxed and happy and outgoing, silencing all my little anxieties. This is not the universal reaction to being tipsy, my friend just gets mean, he also does not like drinking. I can’t imagine anyone who feels the way I feel after a couple shots thinking that alcohol makes anything worse, because it just makes everything so much better(I might be worse at arguing, if that is a core function of my social interactions, but i’ll still be having more fun doing it).

      • silver_swift says:

        The big advantage alcohol has over smoking in terms of public perception is that with alcohol you might be killing yourself, but with smoking you’re killing yourself and everyone in the same room (or at least that’s the perception, I have no idea how much harm second hand smoke actual caused).

        That said, I have seen the effects of prolonged alcohol abuse up close and it is not pretty, both for the in question and for their loved ones. So I might be biased here, but I wouldn’t mind alcohol going the same direction as smoking. Also:

        It also would make me personally happier. Many drunk people are loud and obnoxious and I don’t like being around them

        Yeah, same here.

      • Antistotle says:

        > Why haven’t we started a “no drinking” ad campaign for alcohol? It could save a lot of lives.

        Not a given.

        First off there are significant beneficial benefits from a very moderate level of consumption. This seems to hold true across beer, wine and liquor with the mechanism being as yet unclear.

        Secondly there is a drive in some people to get Fucked Up. Many of those who drink to excess on a regular basis *might* switch to other things–we’re finding Marijuana isn’t as safe as some thought, Cocaine and Opioids are probably worse, and things like huffing are DECIDEDLY more problematic.

        The campaign against smoking is working *mainly* by preventing new smokers from entering the system. This works because smoking smells bad if you’re not a smoker, and the first couple cigarettes *taste* bad, so there has to be some compelling reason to get over the hump. The effect you get from cigarettes isn’t as compelling to most people as the effect from alcohol, which doesn’t always have a hump to get over.

        Alcohol is a social lubricant for a lot of people. A drink or three (depending on body mass) and they’re a little more outgoing, a little happier and etc.

        So you’re just NOT going to get a lot of traction with that.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          First off there are significant beneficial benefits from a very moderate level of consumption. This seems to hold true across beer, wine and liquor with the mechanism being as yet unclear.

          Latest large scale study, I think last year, finally put it to rest: alcohol is toxic regardless of quantity. Of course you get carbs from beer and, as my dad keeps telling everybody that drinks his, red wine is full of good stuff, but as far as strictly alcohol is concerned it seems the old myth of a drink a day is better than none doesn’t really hold up.

          I still drink though – but it did affect my habits. For example I stopped trying to cultivate my taste in whiskey – I don’t enjoy it much now, and getting to that point would be a strict negative. Good wine is just tasty as fuck especially with the right food, and beer is chill and a social lubricant. So I’m generally more aware of tradeoffs.

          Sorry for not looking up a source, it’s about time I get to work 😐

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        Because smoking is provably bad for you, and the fumes are bad for everyone around? The first is debatable with respect to alcohol, except in massive excess – and the second is definitely untrue.

      • JayT says:

        I think the most likely thing is that in the past there were very few “social smokers”. Smoking was something that a huge number of people did all day, every day. Drinking on the other hand, has a dominant culture around it that you drink at parties, on weekends, or on special occasions.
        If you’re going to drink, you’re probably going out to do just that, or you’re going to be doing it with food. If there were more people that started drinking Winner’s Cup vodka at 8:00 am, and continued throughout the day, then I think an anti-drinking campaign would work. As it is though, the vast majority of people that drink, don’t drink a particularly unhealthy amount.

      • Civilization was built on alcohol. The world would be worse without it.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Except that your animal friends run away from you if you drink and have sex with Shamhat.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          But Enlightenment was build on coffee.

          Hmm. Maybe we should all drink more Irish?

    • Lambert says:

      Just found some 2017 vintage Chateau de Lambert’s crappy dorm room cider in the back of a cupboard. Time has rounded the edges off nicely. Now it only tastes like rocket fuel.

      Might have to stock up on dark rum, since it’s decent both for drinking and marinating/deglazing salmon.

      And the local microbrewery remains open. And the farm shop next door that has damn near the only eggs or flour left in the country.

    • Well... says:

      I’ve ceased drinking at home in support of my pregnant wife, but this thread, plus an afternoon of yard work, has got my mouth watering for a tall Miller Lite. I wonder if I could sneak out…

    • drunkfish says:

      My new favorite drink, having discovered amaretto a week before shit hit the fan and immediately becoming obsessed:

      1.5 oz Amaretto
      1 oz Gin (I use bombay sapphire)
      1 oz lemon juice
      1/3 oz campari
      1/3 oz grenadine (original recipe called for passionfruit syrup, which I still haven’t tried but I bet it’s good)

      • Controls Freak says:

        That’s an interesting sounding mix. I’ve made brandy gumps (like a boozy cranberry pomegranate juice) and jasmines (like a dark, boozy grapefruit juice), but this is sort of a combo of them, slammed with a huge helping of amaretto. Most of this comment is simply to recommend the other two cocktails, and also to say that if you’re into amaretto, you can try one of the simplest drinks, that I find is also a very good digestif – the French connection. It’s like the brandy version of a rusty nail. Start with equal parts brandy/cognac and amaretto. Can adjust from there (usually to make it drier). Simple enough to order at a bar and not have it screwed up (if we ever get another chance to do this); tasty enough to come back to time and time again.

    • block_of_nihilism says:

      If you like bourbon barrel-aged beer, but don’t feel like going the standard “heavy stout aged in bourbon barrels with 15% alcohol content” route:

    • Spookykou says:

      I have a strong preference for tequila, specifically tequila shots. Part of it is probably just that I am Mexican and my family drinks it all the time, but with drinking I am not particularly impressed by the flavor of any hard liquor(except baijiu which is impressively horrible, far and away the worst liquor). Although I do enjoy drinking liquor, it is mostly about the aesthetic and wanting to be drunk/tipsy. Whisky neat is my go to ‘classy+manly’ drink, but if I want ‘manly’ by itself, then simple tequila shots (no salt and lime dressing) are my go to, and generally what I drink at bars between beers(this all might be heavily biased by the time I walked up to a bar ordered two tequila shots, downed them right there, and someone instantly started flirting with me).

    • Bobobob says:

      As someone currently drinking a manhattan with Knob Creek bourbon, I strongly recommend…manhattans with Knob Creek bourbon.

      • Beans says:

        Despite bad-mouthing bourbon up above, I’ll say that Knob Creek is very good for the price. Also since “knob” means “penis” in the UK it’s just a little better still.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Fact: Whisk(e)y is the best one.

      Counterfact: Beer is an acquired taste. Neat vodka is an acquired taste. Sticky little drinks with names thought up by people with a poor sense of humour are an acquired taste.

      Whisky is Stockholm Syndrome.

      • gbdub says:

        If it’s Stockholm Syndrome then it’s the Beauty and the Beast version. Put me in a yellow ball gown and let me waltz the night away with that hairy bastard.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          Enough of it will do that to you. I’ve seen the bars on Fleet Week.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          If it’s Stockholm Syndrome […] let me waltz the night away with that hairy bastard.

          Like I said…

    • Sankt Gallus says:

      I think that all alcoholic drinks taste worse than any non alcoholic drink, and I can’t imagine touching the stuff unless you’re actively trying to get drunk. The only booze I’ve ever even considered drinking for taste rather than intoxication was a daiquiri I got in Cuba, and I can’t find anyone who makes them to that quality anywhere else.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        It’s pretty hard to disentangle motivations, but “really craving a beer” is a very common feeling.

        • Spookykou says:

          A light wheat beer is a carbonated but not sweat or overly flavorful drink that doesn’t taste like someone put rocks in my water, and cuts through grease, a cold modelo especial is the perfect pair to any greasy dish IMO.

      • Kaitian says:

        Some wine is pretty good in a way that grape juice isn’t, but it’s possible I’ve just never tried artisan grape juice with a fancy meal.

        • gbdub says:

          Straight grape juice will always be too sweet… all that alcohol in wine used to be sugar.

      • JayT says:

        My big motivation for alcoholic drinks is that they are not (by themselves) sweet. Almost all common, non-alcoholic, cold drinks are sweet, and I just am not a huge fan of sweet drinks. If there were no health concerns I would drink nothing but black coffee and bourbon 99% of the time. As it is, those are really the only flavored drinks I drink, I just force myself to also drink water, which I don’t enjoy. If I could replace it with coffee and bourbon with no downsides, I would in a heartbeat.

        • Chalid says:

          What I don’t get is people who do drink soda or fruit juice, but turn up their noses at sweet alcoholic drinks.

          • JayT says:

            Whether or not it’s true is debatable, but the main reason I’ve always heard was that people thought sweet alcoholic drinks gave them a worse hangover.

        • Lambert says:

          Tea? You can drink only tea, coffee and bourbon and be fine.

          • JayT says:

            I do drink tea fairly regularly in the afternoon, when I want less caffeine than coffee has. I like it, but it’s definitely inferior to my tastebuds than coffee.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      As Nietsche said that time when a viral outbreak compelled him to move to a cabin in the forest with a few crates of beer: “When you gaze long into the stockpile, the stockpile will gaze back at you.”

    • brad says:

      We can all agree that vodka snobbery makes no damn sense, right?

      • Beans says:

        Eastern Europe makes some very good vodka, much better than what I’ve tasted in the Occident. That said, in this case quality just kind of comes down to degrees of “tastes like nothing” so I don’t see the point of getting to worked up about it.

        • Spookykou says:

          Higher quality vodka is just a question of how long did you distill this, right?

          • ana53294 says:

            Also how good quality the leftover water is.

            The tastiness and quality of the water they use apparently matters a lot for good vodka. The best vodkas are made with water from specific aquifers.

          • brad says:

            Right you can sneak flavoring in through the water. Vodka producers also use additives, usually sugars.

            I don’t have a problem with flavored liquor—that’s every liquor—but vodka marketing likes to pretend it isn’t.

            We know how to make the “perfect” vodka, it’s not even terribly difficult. It turns out that people don’t actually want that. Instead of yammering on about triple distillation producers should talk about their additives, like gin producers.

          • EchoChaos says:


            But vodka marketers have figured out that people want to be told that they have “perfect” vodka when they’re being served flavored liquor.

            Which is why we get what we deserve.

            I mostly just use Sobieski because the rye flavor is wonderful, but I don’t exactly have illusions about it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I like Grey Goose because I think the bottles look pretty. But when I’m drinking vodka I’m drinking a dirty martini (Goose, shaken, extra dirt, hold the vermouth) so all that really matters is the brine.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            I think the sane thing to do is to find a vodka whose glass bottle you like best, and if it’s expensive when it runs out refill it with whatever’s cheap and available.

            The only reason to specify glass is pure classism – it looks better on a bar or frosted with ice from the freezer.

    • SamChevre says:

      Best for sipping plain: scotch
      Best in an old-fashioned: bourbon
      Best for a Manhattan: rye
      Best for not waking up with a headache: gin

    • physticuffs says:

      My opinion is that it’s very expensive to try to be interested in liquor! I like watching videos about whiskey, but can’t buy a wide variety of anything. Luckily, beer exists. I love every stout I’ve ever tried, and `Guinness is cheap and delicious. IPAs are incredibly overrated, especially microbrewery IPAs, which taste just as bad as mass-produced IPAs but at twice the price.
      I kinda like rye and dislike bourbon; apparently it’s usually the other way around for non-experienced drinkers.
      But my actual hot take is that the ideal drink is tea: being a tea snob is fun, social, delicious, and relatively doable on a student salary. Yunnan and Fujian discovered the epitome of the human drinking experience. We can be done coming up with drinks now.

      • Lambert says:

        Tea snobbery is cheap till you start looking at 10 year old 7542 and the like.
        Good-quality coffee isn’t ruinously expensive, either.

        These hobbies also combine well with liquour, so long as you don’t mind the caffiene once the sun’s over the yard-arm.

        Rum with breakfast (Assam, low-altitude Ceylon etc.) tea, fairly light scotch with earl grey, something smoky with lapsang souchong or Russian caravan, peat with pu-errh, bourbon with rooibos. Not sure about green, white or afternoon (Darjeeling, Nilgiri etc.)

        • psmith says:

          Good-quality coffee isn’t ruinously expensive, either

          It ain’t cheap. But it’s a lot cheaper if you roast your own.

    • dodrian says:

      Gin is the most vile drink mankind has come up with. The quintessential gin cocktail was originally medicinal, and gin only comes out as the better half of it because the mixer has a literal flavor profile of “bitter”. Why anyone not warding off malaria would choose to drink this is beyond me.

      The only good gin is a gin that’s been mixed (or “infused”) with so much else that you can’t taste the gin bit.

      • Deiseach says:

        It depends on the gin! Granted, I’m a sucker for juniper so hit that heavily and I’m happy, but everyone and his dog is making gin nowadays so (over the last summer anyway) I was trying a few different ones.

        One surprisingly nice one is the Beefeater Pink Gin which I expected to be sickly and awful because they use “natural strawberry flavouring” but no, it wasn’t (unlike a different distillery’s pink gin which was watery and flavourless). I never thought I’d be the gin-drinking auntie but heck, this is what middle age is for, I suppose 🙂

        I also have a terrible partiality for sherry and port, and no sophisticated palate to go with it (sigh). I like rum too, generally rum and coke. The one thing I can’t understand is vodka – maybe I haven’t had a good one, or one sufficiently cold, but apart from its use as antifreeze in Russian winter conditions where it keeps people from dying of cold, why else drink the stuff?

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Sour beer is the best kind of beer.

  2. noyann says:

    Short story by D. Brin about #virus #altruism (and a tiny touch of Camus).

  3. Software for Virtual Meetups

    I’ve been thinking about how one could do something like a meetup, or an SF convention, or the Students for Liberty LiberCon, all of which are things that have been being cancelled, online. Some of those events include talks with an audience, which are easily enough replaced by a speaker in front of his computer speaking to an audience in front of theirs, ideally with the speaker able to see many members of the audience. But a large part of such an event, almost all of it in the case of the SSC meetups we host in the South Bay, is casual conversation, small groups of people talking with each other, with individuals free to wander around listening for interesting conversations to join. How do you replicate that?

    You do it by having a virtual building, size depending on the number of participants — our first floor would do for up to forty, since it has in realspace. Each individual has a location in that building and is free to move around. A fancy version would look like WoW, perhaps with individual figures based on photographs of the actual person. A simpler version would be a top down map showing where everyone is, with everyone labeled by what he would put on his name tap — real name for most of us.

    The software allows speech, as do various WoW addons. But instead of having a fixed group of people who can all hear each other equally well, how well you could hear someone would depend on how close to him you were. So you could have a cluster of people in one conversation, other people wandering around looking for conversations to join. A feature you don’t get in realspace that might be useful would be the option for a pair of people to link so that they could hear each other but not be heard by anyone else.

    A higher tech version would permit VR headpieces. One couldn’t expect everyone to have them, but it should be possible to let those with the technology see an illusion of a realspace meetup while those without see the less immersive version on their screens.

    One problem with doing it in immersive VR is that if you tried to walk very far you would bump into something. The solution would be to have a way of moving your position in the virtual world without moving your realspace location.

    All of this pretty clearly could be done. Is there currently available software that could be configured to do it, at least in one of the simpler versions?

    • Lambert says:


      But I don’t think tracking physical space is either necessary or sufficient. Something like a Discord with many different chats might work better.
      I wonder whether we, as a society should think more about the nature of derailed threads. On a forum with a big thread title specifying the topic, it’s frowned upon. But meatspace conversations are expected to wander.

    • Caroline says:

      Mozilla Hubs does basically what you are describing. You can use a computer or VR headset.

    • AG says:

      I’ve attended fandom online “conventions” that were just a series of IRC rooms for various topics. I could be in as many IRC rooms as I wanted at any time, so long as I had the monitor space. And you could start a PM with anyone at any time for a one-on-one conversation.
      Google Hangouts or Microsoft Teams allow you to make new groups of any size, and Discord allows access to multiple servers, but for any of these, you can only look at one “room” at a time.

    • Dissonant Cognizance says:

      Seconding VRChat. It’s full room-scale VR with spatial audio and lip sync, and you can move around with your controller if you’re playing in less than a warehouse-sized space. Also free and accommodates non-VR users. You can get 40+ people into an instance, though framerate starts to drop if people aren’t using aggressively optimized avatars.

      I’ve spent most of my Saturday nights for the last two years in VRChat, and it definitely occupies the same headspace as a realspace meetup. One of my friends pointed out that her memories of events in VRChat are of being in a place with other people, as opposed to sitting at a screen playing a videogame. You just have to allow for the adjustment to ~90% of your attendees being anime girls.

  4. Maxander says:

    I recently encountered a problem on which I would appreciate comments;

    There is evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can spread via fomites (i.e., virus particles sitting on things) and some reasonable-seeming papers quantifying how long fomites last on various surfaces and circumstances *. On the face of it, this seems like immediately actionable data for the broad public, letting people know the basic outline of how they should be thinking about infection risk from doorknobs, takeout food, etc, but I haven’t seen any materials out there translating this research for a broad audience. It occurred to me that I (with the help of some artistic friends) could put together a nice infographic or similar to summarize those results in a form conducive to broad understanding and general social-media-sharing.

    All well and good. But getting deeper into this, I’m getting hung up on some of the (for lack of a better word) ethical aspects of the project. For instance:
    – Researchers seem pretty sure that fomite transmission is possible, but it’s not known if it’s important. Presenting data on fomites is liable to make a “possibly existant” problem seem more important, giving people something new to worry about and thereby making their lives worse (especially, e.g., people with OCD.)
    – Additionally, aside from uncertainties about fomite transmission, there’s the quality of the particular research on coronavirus fomites. I, doing the research, see “a couple of pre-prints by unremarkable research institutions” and roughly understand how seriously I should take them. It’s not at all clear how (or whether) I could convey that level of confidence in broader-public-targetting media. Lack of this might be more misleading than useful (especially if the research happens to have been wrong somehow.)
    – I don’t think recommendations on how/whether to disinfect takeout containers counts as “medical advice” enough to worry about lawsuits, but it’s close enough that I, a mere software engineer, might just be out of line by presuming to give it (especially in a “real”-looking form such as a well-produced infographic.)

    Am I overthinking this? I mean, since the particular subject is producing a pretty graphic and putting it on Twitter, I’m very plausibly overthinking this particular case, but more in general- how much (and how in general) should we worry about adverse impacts of efforts to “communicate scientific opinion” about things like COVID19?

    (* For the curious, the key papers are at and .)

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think John Schilling pointed out that estimated R0 and the observed spread of this disease don’t support the idea that the “possible” vectors of transmission are particularly virulent. The likely transmission route of direct contact with recently exhaled droplets is sufficient to explain the existing spread, so … that’s probably the vast bulk of the cases.

      If someone coughing/breathing on a surface could easily infect those who contacted the surface later, we’d be looking at much faster spread. Nor would the kind of social distancing measures which are producing results be very effective.

      Grain of salt, I’m not an epidemiologist nor is John, etc. Definitely engage in due diligence, wash your hands, etc.

      • keaswaran says:

        “If someone coughing/breathing on a surface could easily infect those who contacted the surface later, we’d be looking at much faster spread. Nor would the kind of social distancing measures which are producing results be very effective.”

        I thought that a decent amount of spread was from “superspreader” events. A famous superspreader event during the first SARS involved a doctor staying on the ninth floor of a hotel, where a dozen or more other guests contracted it, which suggests a mechanism like leaving virus particles on the surface of the 9 button in the elevator. If most people never leave any contagious particles on surfaces, and a few people occasionally do, wouldn’t we get patterns like what we see? And wouldn’t the measures currently being taken help check that, since people aren’t handling office and shop doors?

    • albatross11 says:

      I think your first link was also printed as a letter in the NEJM–I’ve linked to it on the face mask thread. The second one was nice for telling us something about temperatures. I’m curious whether raising a surgical or N95 mask to 140 F/ 60 C for 30 minutes would do any damage to the mask. I assume not (while it would probably inactivate any virus on the mask), but it would be nice to find out.

      If the main source of transmission is close contact (I find a sick person and give them a wet, sloppy kiss, or at least sit close to them during a conversation and get splattered with/inhale occasional droplets from their mouth into my lungs), then keeping a 2m distance from everyone and making people wear makeshift masks is probably enough to get R_0<1.

      If the main source of transmission is surfaces (You cover a sneeze with your hands, open the door with the doorknob, and an hour later I use the same doorknob and then touch my eyes), then everyone using hand sanitizer all the time, not touching their faces, and having people spray disinfectants on high-touch surfaces a lot can reduce R_0. Add in getting people to wear masks so their sneezes don't go into their hands, or at least getting them to cough/sneeze into an elbow, and maybe we drop R_0 below 1.

      If the main source is airborne (You cough in the middle of the grocery store, tiny droplets hang in the air for 20 minutes until I come along and inhale them), then we need N95/P100 masks, HEPA filters, or to do all our interaction in the outdoors with lots of sunlight. Measles apparently transmits this way, and it has some obscenely high R_0 and spreads *way* more quickly than SARS2. But I think it matters a lot how long infectious droplets hang around, and that can be different for different viruses–we might have airborne transmission but the virus in the droplets decays after a few minutes or something.

  5. Briefling says:

    People need to wear masks!

    I think you — and the blogosphere in general — should be signal-boosting “everybody wear masks all the time” a lot harder than you are right now.

    Common sense suggests this is a really good idea. Coronavirus severity by country suggests this is a really good idea. Studies suggest this is at least a pretty good idea for individual healthy people, and a really good idea for sick people (who often think they’re healthy!). And it’s very easy for almost everybody to get into a makeshift mask.

    This message needs to be amplified much, much more than it is right now. The upside seems enormous, and the purported downside seems tenuous or outright fictitious. (Why should we be worried about a run on surgical masks when it’s already impossible for regular people to buy surgical masks?)

    And yet nobody seems willing to push this much at all.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      >Why should we be worried about a run on surgical masks when it’s already impossible for regular people to buy surgical masks?
      Doesn’t this argument also imply that there’s no use in convincing regular people to wear masks since they can’t buy them anyway?

      • Briefling says:

        They can wear makeshift or cloth masks.

      • actinide meta says:

        In the short run, people need to make their own masks. In the medium run, if the government doesn’t try too hard to stop it, industry could make tons of masks that aren’t certified for health care use.

        • Brett says:

          This. It’s not about making masks that can function as well as a properly worn N95 – just stuff to keep people from coughing and sneezing into the common air in groups, and to keep them from touching their faces before washing their hands (although if you touch the mask to remove it without washing your hands first, you’ve just undone all the protective value of it unless you can clean it).

      • 205guy says:

        I think Briefling and actinide have found the solution: homemade masks for everyone.

        I think that the opposition to masks was 2-fold: individually, people thought it was unusual/foreign, and they resist doing it, just like the lockdowns. At the higher level, officials looked at supplies and realized if they told people to get masks, the hyper-efficient market would manage to create a critical shortage for health workers (just when they are most vulnerable with new cases arriving) before production could ramp up.

        The first can be overcome if there is a bit of peer pressure and it’s seen as the right thing to do for America. The second is a continuing problem, but that can be overcome if the crafty people start sewing face masks for everyone. They are already making them for first-responders (firemen, police, etc.) who didn’t get them from their government employers, so they should just keep making them for everyone. It should be seen as patriotic and community-minded to wear a homemade mask whenever you’re outside the house.

    • actinide meta says:

      Jeremy Howard wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post on this subject.

    • John Schilling says:

      I think you — and the blogosphere in general — should be signal-boosting “everybody wear masks all the time” a lot harder than you are right now.

      I believe that masks offer some value to the uninfected. I do not believe that this value is sufficient to justify a major and probably futile effort to try and convince the whole of western civilization (or whatever) to adopt a norm of absolute mask-wearing. I think you have latched on to a marginal good with fanatic intensity.

      • Briefling says:

        Differences in COVID spread within countries suggest that masks are a major, not minor, factor. And a priori, it is completely plausible to me that getting everybody into masks could reduce R0 by a factor of 3+.

        What makes you think it’s a marginal good?

        Czechia will be the best country to watch for clarity on this point.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          I agree with wearing masks. But it could be (and I think so) that wearing masks is part of a cultural complex that on the whole helps fight the epidemic. Not merely conformism, as tend to see it in the west, but a mix of better adherence to one’s duty, being more considerate of others and at the same time much more social distance by default. I doubt you’ll see many people kissing on the cheek in Japan.

          • Loriot says:

            Perhaps the Czech Republic will provide a data point in this area. What happens if a Western country forces everyone to wear masks?

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Czechia will be the best country to watch for clarity on this point.

          This is nonsense. Many measures were introduced in Czechia in addition to compulsory mask wearing, and they were introduced in an early stage of the outbreak. If Czech example will prove to be succesful you should NOT take from it that masks are some kind of a silver bullet.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Which measures?

          • AlesZiegler says:

            @Evan Þ

            Normal stuff like in many other countries. Only essential stores remain open, external borders closed for people but not for goods, closing of all restaurants and schools etc.

            Of course mandatory wearing of masks is to a certain extent distinguishing factor, but on the other hand, whole package of those measures came into effect on 16 March (except actually mandatory mask-wearing outdoors; that came I think two days later, before that they were mandatory only in public transport), when there were 300 confirmed cases and zero deaths in the country; first death occured on 22 March. And some measures were adopted even earlier than that.

            So if Czech approach will turn out to be sucessful compared to, like, Italy, it will not be clear whether it is because of mask wearing or because standard lockdown measures were introduced here (as you might guess from increased frequency of my comments, I am under lockdown in Prague) early in the outbreak. See also Saint Louis and Spanish flu.

          • Robin says:

            Germany introduced the same measures, minus the masks, on the same day. Czechia seems to be doing better.

          • AlesZiegler says:


            Germany introduced the same measures, minus the masks, on the same day. Czechia seems to be doing better.

            That seems wrong, according to my sources. Wikipedia claims that German federal level lockdown started on 22 March. In Bavaria on 20 March. As I said, in Czechia what you might call full lockdown (although it is less severe than in Wuhan and probably than many other places like Italy in last few days), started on 16 March, and very significant measures like closing schools, borders, shopping centers and pubs started few days earlier.

            Also, even if German lockdown would have started on 16 March, that would mean that it would be later in the progression of an outbreak than Czech lockdown, since according to worldometers, Germany had 13 dead by that date compared to zero in Czechia.

            Also, it is not at all obvious to me that Czechia is currently doing better than Germany. By number of dead people compared to population, Czechia so far looks better (7 per million in Germany, 2 in Czechia), but given that there is significant number of critical cases in Czechia and fewer in Germany, that might quickly change; and by numbers of recovered compared to dead, Germany is doing way better.

            I do not put much stock in comparing numbers of detected cases between countries, since those are mainly a function testing, and Germans are testing a lot, for a long time. Czechia ramped up testing in a last few days, but before that testing was grossly insufficient, so Czech cases are certainly way undercounted.

          • Aapje says:

            There are also factors outside of post-outbreak measures that matter. For example, it seems that The Netherlands had an undetected outbreak in Catholic territory shortly before Carnival, resulting in a major spread during that feast.

            A different country that had taken the same measures after having the same apparent outbreak (with the true level of infection becoming clear with a delay) would have been much better off, if that outbreak had spread with a relatively low R affair aside from the measures.

  6. Bobobob says:

    Anyone else’s social fabric starting to fray at the edges?

    The Nextdoor app is usually a good proxy for my suburban neighborhood. Mostly yard sales, restaurant recommendations, high-school kids looking for work. Now we have:

    –Hysterical leftist ninnies posting stuff like “I saw three teenage girls walking down the sidewalk less than three feet from each other, someone should talk to them! Don’t they know this is serious?”

    –Angry Trump supporters (a minority in this nabe) lashing out at people who “get all their news from CNN” and deliberately trolling otherwise helpful quarantine threads because they are bored

    –Snotty gen-Z’ers taking advantage of the general breakdown of civilization to post “OK, Boomer” when someone asks them to, say, drive slowly in neighborhoods with kids

    One guy (one of the red-state trolls mentioned above) started a thread warning that soon he expected people to start knocking on doors asking for money, the implication being that he had his gun loaded and ready and wouldn’t be afraid to use it. I can imagine an innocent neighbor kid asking for a couple of eggs and getting her head blown off.

    We are not quite at Mad Max levels of civilizational disintegration, but the early returns are worrisome.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      The most recent posts on my local Nextdoor are a neighbor complaining about dog poop, a neighbor complaining she can’t get groceries delivered until April 1st, and a neighbor offering Free Masks. Basically, the usual.

      I will say re: congregating, we got a message from our mayor that was very clear that you should call 911 if you see more than a few people hanging out with each other, and also call 911 if you see anyone playing in the parks because all the parks are closed.

      • Loriot says:

        we got a message from our mayor that was very clear that you should call 911 if you see more than a few people hanging out with each other, and also call 911 if you see anyone playing in the parks because all the parks are closed.

        I find this astonishing, since the local governments keep sending me emails telling me *not* to call 911 to report suspected shelter in place violations. There’s a different number for that. It doesn’t make any sense to overload 911 for non-emergency situations.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Different communities have different policies and attitudes about 911.

          In some places, you are encouraged to call 911 even for basic things, because they built a huge routing capacity into 911.

      • Bobobob says:

        On further reflection, it may be that my neighborhood is pretty much normal, except for a couple of people who are deliberately trolling Nextdoor and raising everyone’s hackles. My wife wonders if they signed in from Russia.

    • BlazingGuy says:

      So I just checked, and our neighborhood Nextdoor seems really reasonable. There are a couple of questions about the best ways to help small businesses, someone looking for cheap/free craft supplies for their kids, and someone else looking for a lost cat. (Update: they found it, Toby had accidentally gotten locked in a neighbor’s garage.) Also there are the usual buy/sell/trade posts, and people looking for a place to rent.

      Not Mad Max-like at all, not even the first one when things were still relatively tame.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      If you’re upset about people being close in public, just assume they live together, or are otherwise already sharing microbes.

      • MVDZ says:

        This seems to be an American thing. As a Dutchman living in Norway I see a lot of videos of people applauding emergency services personnel, singing songs together and generally trying to make passing time in lockdown a little less dull. Here in the North of Europe we still get to go out for walks, and while there is some minor annoyance at people not keeping distance, overall the atmosphere is as amicable as ever.

        Any other Europeans or Americans having similar observations?

        • Loriot says:

          I sometimes see couples or families out walking, but I haven’t seen any cases of groups of people who obviously don’t live together.

          Last week, I saw people playing tennis at the nearby park, but the local government has since shut down all the tennis courts, (as well as playgrounds and public restrooms).

    • fibio says:

      One guy (one of the red-state trolls mentioned above) started a thread warning that soon he expected people to start knocking on doors asking for money, the implication being that he had his gun loaded and ready and wouldn’t be afraid to use it. I can imagine an innocent neighbor kid asking for a couple of eggs and getting her head blown off.

      And the gun owner’s fantasy of getting to shoot people consequence free continues on to another crisis…

    • keaswaran says:

      This sounds like approximately what Nextdoor has always been.

      Anecdotally, Nextdoor in my town (Bryan/College Station, Texas) had a few days with some of the “Don’t Tread On Me” types accusing the governor and mayor of being commies for issuing orders closing down bars and restaurants, but now it’s mostly concerned PTA moms either offering to sew masks for hospitals or suggesting putting teddy bears in the window for kids to look at while they go for socially distant walks through the neighborhood with family.

  7. Gerry Quinn says:

    Just linking a few ideas:

    *Food-based transmission isn’t worrying the experts, for reasons not obvious when you think about it
    *Variolation (inoculation with a small dose of virus) can be useful
    *Iran (still licking those sacred stones) had their infection die down fast
    *This is a respiratory virus
    *There may well be no vaccine

    What if the best public health outcomes are if the virus is around but we get acquainted with it via our digestive systems, which are poor hosts for the virus but maybe give the immune system a heads-up?

    Maybe this *is* what we mean by ‘herd immunity’ for coronaviruses.

    Touch your mouth, not your eyes?

    • bullseye says:

      Did you mean to include links?

      • M.C. Escherichia says:

        No, he means to link together the 5 ideas, and is suggesting that maybe we’re all eating coronavirus that’s in our food, and becoming immune without it getting into our lungs.

    • Kaitian says:

      Very few people were licking sacred stones, that’s basically a racist meme in the same vein as “Chinese people eat bats”. Like, yeah, some people do that, but it’s really not widespread.

      In the past I’ve read an argument that getting a normal cold virus in your mouth (by kissing your partner who has it) makes you less likely to get sick from it, because of basically variolation. So hypothetically, if that wasn’t bs to begin with, it might apply to Covid as well.

      But it’s not what we mean by herd immunity, although herd immunity is expected to include a lot of asymptomatic infections. But so far we’re expecting that to happen through the usual paths of transmission.

      • fraza077 says:

        I can see the danger of generalising about culture when that culture is primarily made up of a different race, but must the term “racist” really be used here?

        People are hypothesising different countries’ experiences with COVID-19 with a host of cultural explanations. “Americans are too obstinately freedom-loving”, “Germans like order”, “East Asians wear a lot of masks”, “Japanese bow instead of shake hands”.

        Very few people think that this has much to do with race. Of course there are some. And there may be some who subconsciously correlate the two.

        But in general, the actual same mechanism is taking place. When Germans are judging American cultural norms, nobody thinks it’s racist, but when white people are judging Iranian or Chinese cultural norms, it apparently is. Why?

        • EchoChaos says:

          but must the term “racist” really be used here?

          Especially since Iranians are also Caucasians. It’s literally where the term “Aryan” is from.

        • Kaitian says:

          Eating bats and licking shrines are not “cultural norms” in China or Iran. For better or worse, Americans and Germans are rarely racist against each other, but there’s certainly racism against Iranians (that they’re “Aryans” has nothing to do with it) and Chinese people.

          I think “racist” is a reasonably good description for “making a demeaning generalization about an ethnic group based on questionable evidence and using that to explain misfortunes that befall them”. Whether they’re “actually” a different race is irrelevant because race is a fiction in every case and the borders of a race can change at any moment.

          The other reason to call it a racist meme, of course, is because it’s spread by racists to support their feelings of superiority over Iranians, although I’m not accusing the person who referenced it here of that motivation.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Your claim that Americans are racist against Iranians doesn’t ring true. There’s a lot of animosity towards the country of Iran, mostly dating back to 1979, but not towards Iranians. There is also animosity towards Islam and Muslims, but Islam’s not a race.

            The reason licking shrines became a meme is because the shrine-licking Iranians made it such, by making and distributing videos of just that. It has nothing to do with racism.

          • keaswaran says:

            “There’s a lot of animosity towards the country of Iran, mostly dating back to 1979, but not towards Iranians.”

            It is very rare for me to see any evidence of this sort of subtlety in people’s distrust of other nations. Only a very tiny fraction of people distinguishes between a country and the citizens of that country in any meaningful way. Even their own country, at times.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Only a very tiny fraction of people distinguishes between a country and the citizens of that country in any meaningful way.

            I could go back to the Cold War and show you East Germany, Cuba, and even Russia as other examples. But even today there’s the obvious example of North Korea. It’s very much an American thing to hate a country while not hating the people thereof.

          • John Schilling says:

            In the particular case of Iran, it helps that a large fraction of the Iranian-American population that Americans are in a position to actually interact with are the ones who fled Iran in response to the 1979 revolution. And then settled in relatively cosmopolitian urban areas, where even the conservative subset of the local population wasn’t seeing them as flag-burning terrorists or Islamic fundamentalists.

            Think Cuban-Americans in Miami, where basically nobody was saying “Born in Havana, eh? Must be a Castro-loving commie!”

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        I know it’s not what we usually *mean* by herd immunity. But maybe it’s what herd immunity actually consists of. As distinct from some possibly over-simplistic model of long term immune memory. That was my point.

        As for Iranians licking sacred stones, somebody mentioned it, and I have no reason to believe that it isn’t a thing there. Seems pretty harmless – I am Irish and we have some unhygienic habits too. I was going to riff on Iranians being Aryan, but someone got there first. I have nothing against Iranians, in fact I think they are pretty cool.

        A few years ago I read a piece in Salon by an Iranian woman. She was way racist against Arabs and implied that that’s how her whole culture feels. And nobody there gave a hoot, because not white, male, cis, whatever.

        • Loriot says:

          China and Japan are also horribly racist by Western standards. But that doesn’t mean we should attempt to become them (especially since we already have a highly ethnically heterogeneous population)

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            But have you noticed that the policy of continually beating yourself up about it has started to lose ground at the polls?

      • Robin says:

        About “catch a cold by kissing”:
        One of thirteen (not a lot of test persons, is it?) is infected with rhinovirus by kissing.
        Yes, colds can be transmitted by kissing
        No, they can’t
        No, they can’t. Holding hands is more dangerous.

        I would love to know more about “kissing as a form of oral vaccination”, but all I found was this:
        Tip 4 to improve immune system is kissing, because you exchange 80 million microorganisms which is a form of “mini oral vaccination”.
        Unfortunately, I’ve found nothing in English.

  8. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Weird fiction review: “Ubbo-Sathla” by Clark Ashton Smith, part of his Hyperborea cycle. First published in Weird Tales, July 1933.

    For Ubbo-Sathla is the source and the end. Before the coming of Zhothaqquah or Yok-Zothoth or Kthulhut from the stars, Ubbo-Sathla dwelt in the steaming fens of the newmade Earth: a mass without head or members, spawning the grey, formless efts of the prime and the grisly prototypes of terrene life

    We start with some bad theology from The Book of Eibon: Ubbo-Sathla is praised as “the source and the end” because (she?) is the cause of Earth life’s single-celled prototypes, while Yog-Sothoth “came from the stars.”

    In 1932, Paul Tregardis found an interesting crystal in the London curio shop of a Jewish small businessman. Asked about it, the owner “gave the impression of being lost to commercial considerations in some web of cabbalistic revery.” (This is some cute stereotyping – “Running a business is boring, I’d much rather think about the Kabbalah!”) It seems “A geologist found it in Greenland, beneath glacial ice, in the Miocene strata. Who knows? It may have belonged to some sorcerer of primeval Thule.”
    Tregardis was startled. Sounds like something he read in The Book of Eibon, “strangest and rarest of occult forgotten volumes, which is said to have come down through a series of manifold translations from a prehistoric original written in the lost language of Hyperborea.” (How would one know that a book being the rarest or most obscure has any correlation to truth value? Hipster epistemology?) Tregardis is the sort of guy who owns a medieval French manuscript of it and has collated passages with the Necronomicon. There was a reference to the cloudy scrying crystal of the wizard Zon Mezzamalech, in Mhu Thulan. Dealer, I’ll take it!

    Tregardis smiled at himself with inward irony for even conceiving the absurd notion. Such things did not occur—at least, not in present-day London; and in all likelihood, The Book of Eibon was sheer superstitious fantasy, anyway.

    At home, he checked the one brief reference in The Book of Eibon: “he could behold many visions of the terrene past, even to the Earth’s beginning, when Ubbo-Sathla, the unbegotten source, lay vast and swollen and yeasty amid the vaporing slime…” but Zon vanished, and the crystal was lost. He stared into the crystal, which glowed with an inner light, and it hypnotized him into a sense of dreamlike duality where Paul Tregardis was also Zon Mezzamalech, who sought the crystal because all past years can be seen in it.

    Zon Mezzamalech had dreamt to recover the wisdom of the gods who died before the Earth was born. They had passed to the lightless void, leaving their lore inscribed upon tablets of ultra-stellar stone; and the tablets were guarded in the primal mire by the formless, idiotic demiurge, Ubbo-Sathla.

    When Paul regained consciousness as himself, he resolved never to to gaze into the magic crystal again. So of course, the next day, he gazed in!
    Zon grew annoyed that he “beheld nothing more than a few fragments of the years of Mhu Thulan immediately posterior to the present-the years of his own life-time;” – time to disregard all dangers of magic and go diving into Deep Time! The orb past-life regresses him through Hyperborea’s rise from savagery to high civilization, then a man-like beast, a pterodactyl, an ichthyosaur, then a serpent-man who “bowed with hissing litanies to great serpent-idols”, then a crawling thing too primitive to build or dream. At last he becomes an amoeba-like thing in the shallows of landless primal Earth, somehow sensing Ubbo-Sathla and tilted in the mire the tablets of “the pre-mundane gods.” But a single cell has no eyes, and will only crawl mindlessly on the tablets, never read them.
    Of Paul’s vanishing, there was a curt notice in several of the London papers. No one seems to have known anything about him.

    This is a simple short story, condensing the meditation on Deep Time Lovecraft used as an element in several much longer tales. And as short story, its genre seems to be moral fable. Don’t be an occultist or you could die/vanish from what you mess with.

    • Spookykou says:

      Don’t be an occultist or you could die/vanish from what you mess with.

      Isn’t that at least half the reason to be an occultist in the first place?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I guess that depends on the value you place on staying alive.
        (Paging David Friedman on individual freedom in cosmic horror…)

    • Silverlock says:

      CAS is a lot of fun to read if only for the chance to expand one’s vocabulary.

    • broblawsky says:

      As Lovecraftian explanations for Earthly life go, I prefer “cast-off detritus of shoggothic experimentation by the Elder Things” to this.

    • Deiseach says:

      The twist is a classic “deal with the Devil/genie” trope – you get what you asked for, but not in a way that benefits you at all: casting your consciousness back through time by re-visiting all your past lives is an old notion, but the price of that is that you don’t retain your evolved intelligence – if you’re going back to the primordial past via race-memory or whatever genetic linkage, then you’re going back to the same level as that past being.

      And as you point out, a single-celled organism can’t read. So even if you manage to get back to the time when the lost knowledge of the gods is accessible, unless you’ve got a working time machine to physically transfer your modern-day self to that place, it won’t do you any good at all.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The twist is a classic “deal with the Devil/genie” trope – you get what you asked for, but not in a way that benefits you at all:

        It’s a classic “deal with the Devil/genie” story of a type that could only be written post-Darwin.
        Without that seismic shift in people’s beliefs, it would have been hard to write a horror story that doesn’t presume Christianity is true (maybe Islam if it’s a literal genie?), except for the crime type of horror where the monster is a perfectly natural serial killer.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      “How would one know that a book being the rarest or most obscure has any correlation to truth value? Hipster epistemology?”

      If your world suppresses arguments, and filters Chulthu adherents as trolls, it makes a lot of sense.

  9. tg56 says:

    Lock downs should get more effective with time, right? The way I figure, at the start of the lock down there’s still new hosts in unaffected family members / other close contacts, but a couple of transmission generations in those should start getting saturated and the rate of spread should slow.

    I mention it because I’ve seen referenced a number of times that the lock downs applied in most of the West won’t be effective because in Wuhan they did a lock down like that for a week and it only dropped R0 to 1.3 (so still exponentially increasing) and it was only after they started e.g. welding the apartment doors closed and housing infected in special quarantine facilities that they got R0 < 1 (to 0.3) and that various stronger measures will be needed in the West. I've seen those exact number repeated a number of times, but ignoring other differences (Wuhan being dense relative to a lot of Western cities, prevalence of multi-generational households etc.) this doesn't seem to take lock down effectiveness over time into account.

    It all presumes that lock-downs are evenly respected over time, and I could see lock down fatigue or the like playing a role (but also people getting better at being lock downed as well), but my theory is it's more a function of how overwhelmed the local hospitals are the any particular time window.

    • actinide meta says:

      Yes. This is also one reason why the idea of turning lockdown on and off repeatedly isn’t ideal.

  10. cuke says:

    About “reopening” after “lockdown”: Scott Gottlieb and AEI have just now put out a “Roadmap to Reopening” in the U.S.

    It’s based around when localities have met certain trigger conditions. So for instance:

    “Trigger to Move to Phase II. To guard against the risk that large outbreaks or epidemic spread could reignite once we lift our initial efforts to “slow the spread,” the trigger for a move to Phase II should be when a state reports a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days (i.e., one incubation period); and local hospitals are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization without resorting to crisis standards of care4; and the capacity exists in the state to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms, along with state capacity to conduct active monitoring of all confirmed cases and their contacts.”

    I imagine there will be critique and commentary about this document in the coming day. Andy Slavitt seems to be generally supportive.

    • acymetric says:

      and the capacity exists in the state to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms, along with state capacity to conduct active monitoring of all confirmed cases and their contacts.”

      So…like 3 years from now?

        • acymetric says:

          My concern with getting everyone tested and tracked is not the number of tests. It is actually doing the testing and tracking (and doing it thoroughly/accurately).

      • acymetric says:

        I meant to edit this into my original response, but got distracted and didn’t save the addition for 15 minutes and figured I should just make a new post at that point, but treat this as an extension of my first comment:

        move to Phase II should be when a state reports a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days (i.e., one incubation period);

        Why would we think this is sufficient. Unless the virus is totaly eliminated (it wouldn’t be) the spread will just start ramping up again when things open back up, right?

        • robdonnelly says:

          That’s why you need Phase II (rather than immediately switching from lockdown to doing nothing). Phase II is how we try to keep things in check at a manageable level without continuing a full lockdown.

    • John Schilling says:

      Burying “active monitoring of all confirmed cases and their contacts” at the bottom of the executive summary and in the fine print of the full text, without the sort of quantitative definition used for e.g. “sustained reduction”, is practically an invitation for this part to be ignored. Which is likely to mean that the lockdowns will be lifted prematurely and so do no good in the long run, but that’s OK because nobody is planning the follow-up work that would make this round of lockdowns useful in the first place so we might as well get it over with.

      Or not, but if so it will take someone better than Scott Gottlieb and the AEI to get us on track for a true recovery. If it takes a premature lifting of the lockdowns and a massive rebound to do that, it’s going to be ugly in both the death toll and civil-liberties aspect.

      • Chalid says:

        Agreed. Producing lots and lots of tests is the sort of thing that America is really good at once the government gets out of the way. The tracking and monitoring is the sort of thing that America seems likely to be bad at relative to other countries.

        OTOH America’s strengths can compensate for its weaknesses in that truly *massive* testing would simplify things – if everyone is getting tested regularly then there’s no need to trace contacts since the contacts are all getting tested anyway. But ubiquitous testing runs into its own set of cultural problems here.

  11. Loriot says:

    Apples are supposed to be a very satiating food, but in my experience, the opposite is true. When I eat an apple, I often end up hungrier than before! Has anyone else noticed this?

    • bullseye says:

      I’ve never heard that they’re supposed to be satiating.

      • j1000000 says:

        Yeah agreed, never heard that as a selling point for apples.

        The only food that seems to makes
        me hungrier is delicious food that’s awful for you, because I don’t get tired of it. I get tired of eating steak or fruit or vegetables, but I could eat Doritos or ice cream or chicken nuggets all day (and have).

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          Maybe that’s the fundamental problem with this stuff?

          Re apples: yeah they can help out if you need a pulse of blood sugar and your liver and pancreas aren’t yet on the job. But they are not satiating. If you have no other food for a week, they will deliver some sugar and fibre.

    • Acedia says:

      Yes, fruit in general makes me hungrier than if I had eaten nothing.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Diabetics know that there isn’t any difference between fruit and a candy bar, as far as sugar content. The fruit gives you a little bit more, most especially the fiber, maybe some vitamins, if you even need them. Not super surprising.

    • Leafhopper says:

      Today, I didn’t eat until midafternoon, at which point I ate half an apple. Afterwards I was still hungry and found myself compelled to eat more food.

      I interpret this as evidence in support of your hypothesis.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      One apple also has very low cals, so it’s more like “I ate 100 cals and I’m still hungry”. A meal would be around 4 apples.

      But yeah, fruits are hit and miss. Still very worth it to experiment, IMO. The combo I reached (before the fresh fruit shops around me all closed down) was one banana and one orange. Somehow the combination manage to satisfy more than any one kind of fruit could.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        Don’t supermarkets sell fruit where you live?

        Fruit gives you fibre and sugar, If it’s fresh it gives you more vitamins, but the other things are unaffected.

        I used to think that it’s insane to fret about the freshness of meat, because the things you need it for – proteins, minerals, fat-soluble vitamins – are unaffected by age, But honestly, it’s true for fruit and veg too, unless you are deficient in the water-soluble vitamins. Really stopped caring about whether food is fresh over the last few years.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Supermarket fruit is shit here, no idea why. I have yet to buy oranges what didn’t spoil in 3 days. Not subtly either.

          Not a subjective opinion, common knowledge. Tried several. Very willing to pay extra.

          Anyways, ordered online from a specialty shop, will receive good oranges tomorrow.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            Makes no sense,from the supermarket’s point of view!

            I keep fruit and veg in separate cupboards, they last for ages and if something goes mouldy (I hate that, but it happens occasionally) it doesn’t affect stuff outside its packet (I open packets). Some things last for months. It is just ordinary food from Aldi. I buy extra when they have a special.

            I have oranges in there that are a fortnight old, right now. Oranges can sometimes give you a nasty green smelly surprise, even if they seemed fine before. Still, they should last a while. If you have an issue with oranges, maybe put them in the fridge.

            [I have an apple that is six months old. I ate its partner a couple of days ago, and it was fine, albeit a little chewy.]

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            In my experience apples last a long time — until one of them turns, which makes the whole bunch go bad, and any produce near them, too.

            I had two bags of apples in the house shortly before the coronavirus mass-buying began, and one of them had the apples start to be soft. So I emptied out the bag onto a big platter and ate them at 2x normal rate.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Gerry Quinn

            Yeah, can’t explain it either. Since I started using the street corner fruit shop, oranges last… no idea how long, never spoiled yet. On the other, tried using the fridge and it adds a few days, but makes it more inconvenient to eat.

            Not sure why it’s so bad at supermarkets. They also have peaches made of cardboard, and most apple is… just not tasty.

            Rest of the merchandise is pretty much on. Not France levels of food quality, but still very much ok.

  12. Deiseach says:

    Re: stopping smoking. I’m going to rant and rave, so anyone who wants can skip this.

    First, about “a few people have pointed out to me that more recent studies show the opposite” – fuck you all who did this.

    Why Deiseach! How very intemperate! These are plainly only honest persons who are purely impartially interested in the science of it!

    Yeah, and fuck them doubly.

    I’ve had a close family member who died of lung cancer due to smoking. This person tried and failed to give up smoking over a period of decades. When they did temporarily stop smoking, they were miserable and angry and so unable to deal with quitting their addiction they started smoking again. Eventually it killed them.

    And if you’ve never seen anyone dying from lung cancer, it is HORRIBLE. IT IS TERRIBLE. IT IS AWFUL. THROW YOURSELF UNDER A TRAIN FIRST BEFORE DYING LIKE THIS.

    So anyone who wants to stay smoking, okay! But be honest! Say “I prefer my addiction to nicotine to the side-effects up to and including dying a horribly painful death, so I would rather die than quit”. But don’t fuck around with “studies say that smoking has nothing to do with how bad you may get a respiratory infection”. Come out and say “yeah well I don’t care what you think, I prefer getting my fix”.

    Thank you and good night.

    • theredsheep says:

      I would add that COPD is also horrifying, and way more common. It’s basically slow-cook nuclear death asthma. Your lungs become crappier and crappier and it takes forever to kill you; you just get weaker and more pathetic, starting in your forties or so. I remember a clinical where I came into the room to give a neb treatment and the COPD patient said he was out of breath because he just got dressed.

      Want to get out of breath putting your clothes on every morning? Smoke!

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        Indeed, my father had that. He died at 52.

        I’m 60 and I drink a lot of beer. Much, much more than doctors recommend. At least since Edwardian times. But I don’t smoke.

      • Garrett says:

        I deal with a lot of COPD patients. It’s absolutely terrible. I suspect that having kids interacting with them would reduce smoking rates.

        (Then you get the special cases who alternate between using their oxygen mask and puffing on a cigarette).

    • mwigdahl says:

      And if you don’t get lung cancer or COPD, you might get esophageal cancer or pancreatic cancer — also horrific ways to die. Quit if it is at all possible for you.

  13. block_of_nihilism says:

    On the subject of smoking, Scott mentioned the atypical antidepressant bupropion as being a highly effective aid for quitting. One alternative is varenicline (Chantix), but there was previously concern that varenicline might lead to increased suicide and other psychiatric problems. However, a recent study in The Lancet suggests that this concern is unfounded, with patients in the varenicline arm showing slightly lower complications than the other treatment arms (bupropion or nicotine patch) or placebo. This study also showed that the varenicline treatment had a significantly higher rate of abstinence than any other group.

    Something to think about for those who want to quit! Also, for those who have tried to quit/have quit smoking, what method(s) did you use? Which ones were effective?

    • McClain says:

      I quit smoking 16 years ago, at the beginning of 2004, by switching to nicotine gum. Had smoked for about 20 years previous to that (mostly Camel Filters, then Pall Mall unfiltered for the last 4 or 5 years). Tried & failed to quit cold turkey several times. I don’t even miss cigarettes anymore – the smoke smells bad to me, not tempting. But I am still chewing the gum, and god forbid I run out of that! I chew about a dozen pieces of the 2mg-nicotine version over the course of a day, every day. It’s a lot cheaper than cigarettes these days, and you can do it inside without bothering anyone.

      • acymetric says:

        It’s a lot cheaper than cigarettes these days

        You either live somewhere with unusually high tobacco taxes (NY, Chicago, etc) or you are getting a killer deal on the gum. That stuff is not cheap (or at least it wasn’t the last time I bought some, which was admittedly 5-6 years ago).

    • Dog says:

      I quit about 15 years ago, almost accidentally, with a combination of bupropion and nicotine gum. I had started the bupropion for depression, and around the same time my living situation changed such that smoking frequently was less feasible. I figured I would substitute the gum for smoking, and ended up quitting. I think I chewed the gum for about a month.

      Supposedly simply reading the book “Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking” is an effective method of quitting. I read a bit out of curiosity, and it was sort of a guided meditation on how smoking actually feels that tries to get you to realize it isn’t enjoyable. This matches my experience – smoking would relieve my cravings but was not pleasurable beyond the initial few weeks.

      • j1000000 says:

        I know two people who quit through that book — and both did it decades ago when smoking was common and temptation everywhere.

        Presumably others I know tried the book and failed and I never heard about it, but given how famously difficult it is to quit smoking, two successes from a book impressed me.

        • John Nerst says:

          Seconding that recommendation. I read it once out of pure curiosity after hearing a friend rave about it (I’ve never been a smoker), and part of me almost wanted to start smoking so I could quit.

  14. Aapje says:

    Some more Dutch fixed expressions:

    ‘Nu komt de aap uit de mouw’ = Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve

    This means that a rather obvious deception is exposed and your initial suspicion is proved right. For example, when you get a compliment from someone that doesn’t like you, as a lead in to criticism. This expression probably derives from jesters who would carry a monkey under their cloak to surprise people.

    ‘Broodje aap (verhaal)’ = Monkey sandwich (story)

    An urban legend. Refers to a story about restaurants selling monkey meat sandwiches.

    ‘Uit de mouw schudden’ = Shake out of the sleeve

    Doing something effortlessly.

    ‘Ik snap er de ballen van’ = I understand the balls of it

    I don’t understand it at all.

    ‘Achter het net vissen’ = Fishing behind the (standing) net

    Being too late for something, because others beat you to it. For example, can be used when the supermarket ran out of toilet paper.

    ‘Met de deur in huis vallen’ = falling into the house with the door

    Getting straight to the point. Refers to not waiting until getting invited in, but stepping inside while the door is still opening.

    ‘Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest’ = As if an angel pees on your tongue

    Very tasty.

    ‘Het regent pijpenstelen’ = It’s raining pipe-stems

    It rains cats and dogs.

    ‘boter op zijn hoofd’ = butter on his head

    He is himself to blame, but blames others.

    ‘Met je neus in de boter vallen’ = Falling with your nose in the butter

    Turning up at an opportune moment (without having planned it), when you can share in something nice.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I love these! English expressions aren’t so hard to understand are they, or am I just used to them?

      • 10240 says:

        As a non-native speaker, there are lots of English expressions whose etymology is not obvious, and as such they can’t be understood from the words that make them up. Some of the first that come to my mind come from sports I’m not familiar with (par for the course, off the bat).

        • Aapje says:

          ‘Par for the course’ is completely straightforward if you understand golf, though.

          • nkurz says:

            A cultural-level knowledge of golf may be misleading in the sense of a “false cognate”. “Par for the course” as an English expression means something close to “the outcome you would expect”, with the implication that it’s not a surprise. Whereas the average golfer probably won’t ever come close to shooting par on a 18-hold course in entire life spent playing, and only about 1% of golfers break par regularly:

            So rather than being “straightforward”, I’d guess that English learners who play golf probably get the connotation wrong much of the time, and non-golfing English-speaking natives probably have misconceptions about average golf scores. On a deeper level, though, it may make an interesting statement about overconfidence: most golfers do “expect” to shoot par on every individual hole, even if it rarely happens in practice.

          • Aapje says:

            Golf treats par as the default, with any better or worse scores being described relative to par. Going par for the course literally means that there was no hole where one did better or worse than the benchmark.

            I agree that the shift to regard this benchmark as easy is misleading/incorrect.

          • Statismagician says:

            How are par scores assigned and how regularly are they re-thought? Possibly the golfers of yesteryear were greater than those of the present, such that no two current golfers could lift one.

          • littskad says:

            Par scores are calculated essentially this way: How many strokes does it take to move the ball the basic distance from the tee (where you start) to the hole? Add two to that. The idea is, you take those strokes to get to the vicinity of the hole, one to get practically next to the hole, and one to finish.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. Par assumes that you successfully execute each shot very well, but does not require any particularly absurd amount of luck.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          Covid came off the bat, dude. Too soon!

      • Aapje says:

        They seem more straightforward on the whole.

        PS. I’ve got a bunch more prepared that I will release in installments, to dilute the corona comments a bit. There are so many Dutch expressions that I can keep going to ‘sint-juttemis*’ anyway.

        * A fictitious Catholic saint and holiday, used to indicate that something will never happen (first known use in 1577). In old Dutch, ‘jut’ means fool. There is even a statue for this fictitious saint.

      • silver_swift says:

        There’s definitely non-obvious English expressions, thought they tend to be less bizarre than the dutch ones.

        For instance, would you be able to tell what any of the following meant if you didn’t already know or were able to infer the meaning from context:
        – Spilling the beans
        – Breaking the ice
        – Biting the bullet
        – Being over the moon or under the weather
        – Getting the short end of the stick

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m not convinced English expressions like this are any more inherently reasonable. For example:

          “Let the cat out of the bag” = let some secret slip out
          “on the take” = corrupt, being bribed
          “on the make” = ambitious and on the way up in the world
          “on the rag” = a woman having her period
          “on the lam” = a fugitive from justice
          “fat chance” = not gonna happen
          “slim chance” = same thing but used a little differently
          “lost his head,” “lost his temper” = got really out-of-control mad
          “blew his top,” “blew his stack” = same thing
          “pulled his chestnuts out of the fire” = saved him from a bad outcome of some kind
          “saved his ass,” “saved his bacon” = same thing
          “X goes pear-shaped” = X goes badly wrong
          “the wheels come off” = things go badly wrong
          “wrapped around the axle” = screwed up, confused
          “blowing smoke” = trying to deceive you
          “little pitchers have big ears”, “little pitchers” = the kids are listening
          “speak of the devil” = something you say when the person you were talking about shows up
          “until the cows come home” = never or not for a very long time
          “when hell freezes over” = never
          “a snowball’s chance in hell” = no chance
          “bright eyed and bushy tailed” = eager and ready, how you show up to work in the morning if you’re enthusiastic.
          “burning the midnight oil” = staying up all night/very late working
          “elbow grease” = hard work (approximately)
          “like a chicken with its head cut off” = acting crazy, running around in chaos
          “Chinese fire drill” = a bunch of people running around in disorder, probably too politically incorrect to be used much today
          “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” = a lot of fun
          “madder than a hornet” = really mad
          “seeing red” = really mad
          “blue” (as an emotion) = sad, depressed
          “to have a big head” = to be conceited
          “to piss something away” = to waste something
          “pissed off” = angry

          • Loriot says:

            “saved his ass” is just standard synecdoche.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            I’m familiar with all of those, with one exception: I never heard “Chinese Fire Drill” in my life. And I’m 60.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I always thought a Chinese fire drill was when the car is stopped at a red light and everyone gets out and changes seats real fast.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            To me “Chinese fire drill” is specifically a road trip game where at a stoplight if someone shouts Chinese fire drill everyone gets out of the car and quickly moves to another seat I don’t know why that’s specifically a game but I assume the name comes from the idiom?

            Little pitchers have big ears is completely new to me and thus clearly a wicked gaslighting attempt and I will have no part of it.

            Edit: Ninja’d

          • Loriot says:

            I’ve never heard “on the make”, “on the rag”, “the wheels come off”, “wrapped around the axle”, “little pitchers have big ears”, or “Chinese fire drill”.

            Another idiom suggestion: “That time of the month” – menstruation. Speaking of which, it just occurred to me that “having her period” is itself an idiom!

          • bullseye says:

            Some of these seem straightforward to me:

            “slim chance”
            “the wheels come off”
            “when hell freezes over”
            “a snowball’s chance in hell”

          • I think “wrapped around the axle” was the only one entirely unfamiliar to me.

          • albatross11 says:

            “Shanhaied” = sent off to some faraway unwanted location. (Probably also a little politically incorrect by now, who knows?)

          • Nornagest says:

            “Shanghaied” refers to getting pressed into involuntary labor, but for once there’s nothing particularly politically incorrect about the backstory — it happened to sailors of all ethnicities and nationalities, and the etymology has more to do with Shanghai being a major shipping destination than with anything you’d expect to happen there.

            Of course, when “niggardly” is too politically incorrect to say because of a phonetic coincidence, maybe that’s too thin a reed.

    • Spookykou says:

      Hey a Dutch person, time to collect my 8th and I am surly at least slightly different explanation for what exactly gezellig means!

      • Aapje says:

        A pleasant and warm atmosphere of togetherness in a cosy setting.

        • Related to the German word for comrade?

          • silver_swift says:

            It’s from the Dutch word for Journeyman (Gezel), presumably the same etymological source as the German word.

          • Aapje says:

            Genosse? No.

            It comes from the guild system. In the guild system, someone started as an apprentice, learning basic skills. Once proven skilled and talented enough, he would graduate to journeyman (‘gezel’ in Dutch and ‘geselle’ in German). At this point the student would get more advanced training, in closer contact with the master and hopefully graduate to master himself one day.

            This is a bit akin to the bachelor/master distinction in college.

            The journeyman/gezel would live in a hall (‘zaal’ in Dutch, ‘saal’ in German) with the others, in contrast to the student, who would live at home. So they might enjoy a lot of ‘gezelligheid,’ being in a big hall with people of a similar age. So gezel refers to the hall these people would live in, which most clearly distinguished them from apprentices and masters.

            Fun fact: ‘vrijgezel’ (= free journeyman) is Dutch for an unmarried/single person. A requirement to become a master was typically to be married, while an apprentice was typically too young, poor, etc to marry. So the important distinction for the lady folk was between the journeymen that were married and those that were still single.

            PS. Freemasons still use the apprentice/journeyman/master model.

          • The German word I was thinking of was Geselle. Wiktionary gives “Journeyman” as the first meaning. I’m familiar with it from a Heine poem where the meaning is closer to “comrade.”

          • Lambert says:

            I wonder whether the concepts of a Batchelor and a Batchelor’s Degree are the same thing.

          • anonymousskimmer says:


            According to , yes. They both derive from a root meaning “young man”.

          • Aapje says:

            In Dutch, you also have ‘metgezel,’ which means companion (first known use in 1477). ‘Met’ = (together) with.

            It was common for masters to take a journeyman along with them on trips, but not all of them, so the metgezel was the gezel that was with the master on a trip.

            German doesn’t seem to have a similar construct.

      • silver_swift says:

        Gezellig is easy, try finding a decent English translation for nuchter.

        • silver_swift says:

          To make that a little more clear. It’s the Dutch word for sober (in the not-drunk sense), but it also means something like being down to earth, having a good graps of reality or being smart in a simple, common sense-ey way.

          It’s not nearly as ill defined as gezellig, but it really feels like it should have a nice, clean, one word translation and it doesn’t. So if you ask people to translate it on the spot you mostly get stumbled half-explanations.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s the Dutch word for sober (in the not-drunk sense), but it also means something like being down to earth, having a good graps of reality or being smart in a simple, common sense-ey way.

            I think the English word “sober” is used this way too, though. Consider the phrase “a sober analysis.” This isn’t meant to describe any analysis performed by a non-intoxicated person. It implies the analysis is calm, objective, and rational (as compared to other analyses).

          • EchoChaos says:

            but it also means something like being down to earth, having a good graps of reality or being smart in a simple, common sense-ey way.

            But sober means that in English as well.

            Edit: Ninjaed by @Matt M

          • silver_swift says:

            @Matt M, EchoChaos: Really? I’ve never heard it used in that context.

            Well, in that case I look like an idiot.

            Edit: Google agrees, though it gives the meaning as: “serious, sensible, and solemn”, which sounds a lot more high-status than what I would use the Dutch word for.

          • EchoChaos says:


            Not at all. That’s how we learn things, especially about foreign languages. I appreciated your discussion of it.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      These are fun.

    • alchemy29 says:

      These are always fun to read. The Scandinavian languages have some great ones. For example “let me show you where a chicken pees from” (Swedish) which means let me show you how it’s done.

      More here

      • Aapje says:

        That’s a dark one :O

      • Robin says:

        Some of them work in German, too. Some are slightly different:
        I would rather show somebody “where the frog has the locks” (wo der Frosch die Locken hat).
        And instead of stepping into the spinach, I would step into the little fat bowl (Fettnäpfchen).
        And instead of taking off my clogs, I would give away the spoon (den Löffel abgeben) or go across the Wupper (the river through Wuppertal).

        My favourite is the one about the horse’s birthday, I have to remember that!
        In Spanish, they call a very thin slice of bread “lengua de gato” (cat’s tongue), and by contrast, my wife and I are wont to call a thick slice a rhinoceros tongue. Well, this is not so important in countries of presliced very soft bread.

        Speaking of bread: In the Netherlands they call “eekhoorntjesbrood” (squirrel bread) what in Germany is a boring “stone mushroom”. Dutch language, gotta love it!

    • Robin says:

      Many thanks from me, too!
      Some of these are known in German, too:
      “Aus dem Ärmel schütteln” = “shake out of the sleeve”
      “Mit der Tür ins Haus fallen”

      I can offer a few more:
      “Das war des Pudels Kern” = “This was the kernel of the poodle”
      A secret is finally revealed. This is from Goethe’s Faust. Plenty of these come from high literature, particularly Goethe.

      “Sturm im Wasserglas” = “storm in the glass of water”
      A big fuss about nothing

      “Ein Engel geht durchs Zimmer” = “An angel walks through the room”
      A sudden silence in conversation.

      “Alles ist in Butter” = “All is in butter”
      All is well.

      “Ach du grüne Neune!” = “Oh you green nine!”
      Oh dear! (Probably comes from the nine of spades; spades is sometimes called “green”).
      There are plenty of these, such as “Ach du heiliges Kanonenrohr” (holy cannon tube), “Ach du dicker Fisch” (fat fish), and so on.

      “übers Ohr hauen” = “hit over the ear”

      “Butter bei die Fische!” = “butter with the fish!”
      This comes from the North, so might be known in the Netherlands similarly? It means: No half-measures!

      “Ich bin schwer auf Draht” = “I am heavy on wire”
      I am very agile.
      OK, the eighties called, they want their joke books back. Back then, people would translate such phrases literally to English and say English sentences like “I understand only railway station”, “I think I spider”, “My dear mister singing club”, “With me is not good cherry-eating”, “Me stand the hairs to the mountain”. We used to find it funny.

      • noyann says:

        “Ein Engel geht durchs Zimmer” = “An angel walks through the room”
        A sudden silence in conversation.

        In GDR it was also “A Stasi man is born” (hearsay, never heard it myself).

        “Alles ist in Butter” = “All is in butter”
        All is well.

        From the transportation method of Venetian glass across the alps. It was submerged in molten butter to prevent shocks and vibrations.

      • bullseye says:

        “Sturm im Wasserglas” = “storm in the glass of water”

        In English, “a tempest in a teapot”

      • alchemy29 says:

        I tried guessing what they meant before reading further. I got the first two and none of the rest.

      • Aapje says:


        “Sturm im Wasserglas” = “storm in the glass of water”

        We have the exact same one in Dutch (‘storm in een glas water’).

        “With me is not good cherry-eating”

        We also have this one. It comes from a Latin saying from medieval times: Cum dominis edere debes omnino carere cerusa, peiora dant et comedunt meliora. This means: you shouldn’t eat cherries with the higher placed, they will eat the nice ones and give the bad ones to you.

        One of the main Dutch writers of the Dutch Golden Age, Jacob Cats, wrote a poem about it in 1632, titled: It serves you poorly to eat cherries with the high lords, they pick the biggest ones and shoot the stones (= pits) at you. In the poem, he explains that they will shoot the pits in your nice beard or on your round cheeks, while you can’t complain, but have to bear it in silence. The poem ends with the advice to leave the lords to deal with the council and the kings to deal with their kingdoms, and to keeps yourself to dealing with your peers as much as possible.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, and I have thought some more about why Germans find Dutch funny.

      Sometimes it’s that they use words in normal language whose German counterpart would be rather colloquial. I hear on Radio Twee Limburg that a motorway is “dicht” (tight), which over here could only be heard on the young people’s radio, on their neverending quest to sound cool.

      Okay, consider the most serious situation, a situation were humour is absolutely not called for. Say, you are the prime minister, and a far-right politician is murdered. Deep, deep inside you might be relieved that this terrible person is no longer around, but civilization and decency demand that you say you are shocked. What was the last sentence of Wim Kok’s press statement? “Ik ben er kapot van.”

      In German, “kaputt” is a colloquial word, often used in humourous circumstances. It means that an object is broken, that a person is very tired or neurotically crazy.

      Another example is recounted by the German columnist Harry Rowohlt, who was in Belgium and saw an English detective story on TV. The English detective says: “Quite frankly, I’ve got to admit, I am finding it increasingly difficult to get a grasp on all this.” The Dutch subtitle reads: “Ik pak dat niet!”

      Here is another comedian saying he finds the Dutch cigarette packs saying “Roken is dodelijk” (although it is dead serious) “cute and funny”, but he gives no reason, a pity because German cigarette packs (“Rauchen is tödlich”) are identical, just with a couple more consonant shifts. Is it the reminescence of some dialects or the Low German language? Or is it just the “ij” that makes it funny? But do Britons laugh at äöüß? Well yes, kind of: When Mötley Crüe were in Germany, they were weirded out by the funny way the fans chanted their name. Turns out it makes a change if you sprinkle dots on your words. But that’s a different story.

      Really, is there anything English-speakers find funny about Dutch or German or any other language?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Really, is there anything English-speakers find funny about Dutch or German or any other language?

        “Kaput” is used the same in English as in German.

        The word “gesundheit” is customarily used in English as a response to a sneeze (“bless you” is the other alternative). This makes German words and phrases using it simply to mean “health”, like “Gesundheitsminister”, sound funny.

        Is “coronavirus” or some derivative a Dutch swear word yet?

        • Robin says:

          “Kaput” with one t looks rather Russian to me.

          Good one about Gesundheit, of course we say that too, but would never associate that with Gesundheitsminister Jens Spahn. Of course, there are fun words like “Fahrt” (driving), “womit” (with what), “damit” (with that), “Muckefuck” (malt coffee). Laurel and Hardy are well known as “Dick und Doof” (fat and stupid).

          Which leads us to “Fuzzi” (rhymes with Tutsi, the people in Rwanda), meaning “a funny guy acting important”, also in compositions like “Militärfuzzi”. This comes from “Fuzzy”, Fuzzy Q Jones, portrayed by Al St John in tons of cheap western movies. Is he even remembered in the US?

        • silver_swift says:

          Is “coronavirus” or some derivative a Dutch swear word yet?

          Wikipedia says it is, but I’m not buying it.

          The list of diseases that are swear words is actually fairly limited and doesn’t really change. Of the top of my head I only got ‘kanker’, ‘tyfus’, ‘tering’, ‘pokken’ and ‘pest’ (ie. cancer, typhoid, tuberculosis, small pox and the plague), though that wikipedia article also lists ‘klere’ and ‘takke’ as originally being slang for cholera and a stroke.

        • noyann says:

          Too bad that Gayle Tufts’ Dictionary of delight is (apparently) not free on the web.
          “Who put the dick in the Diktiergerät?”
          “Wie kommt das him in himmlisch?”

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Sometimes it’s that they use words in normal language whose German counterpart would be rather colloquial. I hear on Radio Twee Limburg that a motorway is “dicht” (tight), which over here could only be heard on the young people’s radio, on their neverending quest to sound cool.

        In case you don’t know- they weren’t saying that the motorway was busy or congested, but that it was closed.

      • Aapje says:


        Deep, deep inside you might be relieved that this terrible person is no longer around, but civilization and decency demand that you say you are shocked. What was the last sentence of Wim Kok’s press statement? “Ik ben er kapot van.”

        This actually doesn’t have the connotation that he was relieved, but rather, that he was genuinely upset.

        The English detective says: “Quite frankly, I’ve got to admit, I am finding it increasingly difficult to get a grasp on all this.” The Dutch subtitle reads: “Ik pak dat niet!”

        That’s Flemish dialect, not Dutch. In Dutch, you would say something ‘Ik heb moeite om er vat op te krijgen.’

        ‘Handvat’ is handle, so it this is almost the same as: I have difficulty getting a handle on it.

        • Robin says:

          Sorry if I was unclear. Yes, he said that he was shocked, I would not insinuate that he was secretly happy, in contrast he had to avoid the slightest doubt that he could be. All that indicates how normal a word “kapot” is in Dutch.

          On the other hand, I’m fascinated that the Belgians subtitle films in their dialect. Maybe the translator was just being lazy. I couldn’t imagine that e.g. in Austria, apart from slightly regional words, like “Jänner” for “Januar”.

          And here’s another Dutch fixed expression: difficulty to open a barrel! Jolly good. Much better than literally translating: “Ik vind het moeilijk om al dat te begrijpen” or so.

          • Aapje says:

            Dutch and Flemish seem to be diverging. One piece of evidence for this is that Dutch and Flemish TV is increasingly subtitling Flemish and Dutch, respectively.

  15. Brett says:

    If only I could find some face masks. I think I actually have a mask left over from an open pack of 3 that I might use (I bought them for when I was ripping up my bathroom tile). It’s not perfect for keeping any virus in the air away from me, but it doesn’t need to be perfect. Maybe I could wear it with some cleaned leather work gloves outside.

    Iceland came up in the last one, and it was pointed out that they have a rather low hospitalization and death rate for the estimated number of cases. This study indicates that that might not be too surprising – on average it takes 5 days for someone to show symptoms after they’re infected, ten days after symptoms to be admitted to the ICU, and total estimated time between symptoms and death from Covid-19 is 2-8 weeks. This pre-release paper on the CDC site is a bit narrower – 5 days from infection to symptom onset, then 11 days to ICU hospitalization.

    So if most of the cases in Iceland happened in the past two weeks, it really wouldn’t be strange for there not to be a ton of hospitalizations yet. It would be strange if we see a massive spike in positive cases and very few hospitalizations after 2 weeks, though – if Iceland still has the same low numbers of hospitalizations and ICU cases two weeks from now, then it would be unexpected.

    • broblawsky says:

      A tea towel is likely to be about as good as a mask, if you can get it securely strapped onto your face.

      • [Thing] says:

        I made a quick, no-sewing-skill-required makeshift mask by cutting up an old t-shirt into strips, pinning two strips together with safety pins to make a pouch where it goes over my nose and mouth, and tucking an unfolded facial tissue in the pouch. Breathability wasn’t great, and it smooshed my nose when I tied it on tightly enough, but it was tolerable enough for a quick grocery run.

        I had tried just wrapping a tissue over my face with a single strip of fabric, but direct contact with my mouth caused the tissue to start falling apart after a few minutes. Likewise, pinning the tissue itself to the fabric didn’t work because the tissue didn’t stretch with the fabric and just came loose when I tried to put it on.

      • Aminoacid says:

        Also underpants, at least for community contacts

      • Brett says:

        Turns out I do have a spare N95 mask from an open pack! Got it right in front of me now.

        I read that you can sterilize them with 70 degree C heat for 30 minutes, as long as it doesn’t touch any metal surface directly that might damage it. Although this seems to indicate that at 70 degrees Celsius, the virus becomes undetectable in more than 1 minute but less than 5 minutes – seems like that would be promising information for anyone who has a convection oven and wants to get take-out food.

        • noyann says:

          I read that you can sterilize them with 70 degree C heat for 30 minutes,

          Could have been my comment, and I emphasized that 70°C/30min is not sterilization (killing/incapacitating/de-harming all life and adjacent thingies but is merely sufficient to “kill” (yes, I know, I know, it’s not ‘living’) the SARS-2 virus.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            What about spraying with Windex? Windex is cheap and available and kills the coronavirus. Would a spray on the front and back, and then several hours to air out, suffice? Or does the Windex need to be “wiped” across the surface?

          • noyann says:

            I’d stick with good old soap or washing powder, and have the mask thoroughly soaked for a while. And at a higher temperature — hand washing is 20…35?°C, machine washing was recommended at 60°C.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m sure going through the washing machine is best.

            But even with our accelerated washing schedule from all the dishtowels I go through now, that still means people in our household don’t have fresh masks all the time.

      • georgeherold says:

        How about folding it in half as a triangle and wearing it like a cowboy bandanna,
        (on the dusty trail or when robbing the bank) across the nose, tied in back and end tucked into your shirt. Since the primary function of the mask (AIUI) is to keep your germs away from others, the triangle tucked into your shirt would perhaps do a good job. And we Americans love playing cowboy, so it might become popular.

    • Robin says:

      This one is easy to make:
      Kitchen paper and Kleenex.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Here are the blueprints.

  16. hash872 says:

    Open-ended question, but- what’s the status of these ‘hyped as game changing technologies’ that don’t seem to have broken through to ‘changing the world status’ yet?:

    3D printing- Seems to be on the ‘slow & steady improvement’ track? Several years ago there was talk of how 3D printing would enable a transition where eventually factories don’t exist, because consumers print anything that they need at home. We’re obviously not there yet, but I seem to hear about a more gradual spread to into every industry (not just physical goods manufacturing but also possible organ replacement?) Seems like it is slowly moving into traditional manufacturing as I do hear about SpaceX, ULA, Boeing etc. making more parts via 3D printing. Would be interesting if anyone has a high-level overview of the technology to date.

    Prediction markets- Is the failure of these to take off just a regulatory one? I’d imagine you’d ultimately need a trusted, major institutional/Wall Street-type player as a market maker, and also arbiter of ‘was this condition really fulfilled yes or no’ for all the weird edge cases. I really haven’t heard of any finance industry enthusiasm for this though, which seems unusual/telling.

    I can’t even with blockchain/crypto. From what I’ve heard all of the Wall Street firms that experimented with either basically gave up & lost interest. Blockchain in particular seems like a solution in search of a problem, it really adds nothing of value vs. having trusted centralized parties

    • brad says:

      I can’t even with blockchain/crypto. From what I’ve heard all of the Wall Street firms that experimented with either basically gave up & lost interest. Blockchain in particular seems like a solution in search of a problem, it really adds nothing of value vs. having trusted centralized parties

      The Wall Street use case was so obviously nonsensical that any bank that I lost all respect for any institutions that announced blockchain anything. Inasmuch as it is ever useful for anything it’s open networks of untrusted counterparties, not a closed universe of institutions that are all very capable of suing each other to enforce agreements.

      • matkoniecz says:

        In most cases seemed to be obvious “lets jump on new buzzword attracting people willing to give us their money”.

        Are there cases where serious institutions actually seemed to believe in crypto, rather than attract people that could be drained from their money?

        • Loriot says:

          Overstock’s CEO seemed to be a true believer.

          • Matt M says:

            Mainly for ideological reasons, I’d guess. That guy has long been a pretty hardcore libertarian who travels in some pretty extreme circles.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The banks are switching to blockchain for certain transactions, such as settlement amongst themselves. DTCC is one of the leaders here. I’m a little skeptical, but if you don’t know who DTCC are, you aren’t really qualified to criticize.

          • Loriot says:

            There have been lots of headlines about banks using “blockchain”, but few proofs of concept and zero real world usage (as far as I know).

            Anyway, there’s also a bit of a motte and bailey, since taken literally, “blockchain” just means “merkle trees”, and we’ve been Using Blockchain Technology To Secure Our Source Code since at least the introduction of git in 2005.

            The actual innovation of Bitcoin was the proof of work to avoid double spends, and that’s also exactly what makes it uselessly inefficient for any scenario where trust exists.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Anyway, there’s also a bit of a motte and bailey, since taken literally, “blockchain” just means “merkle trees”,

            Dryads that look like Angela Merkel are a trendy technology?

    • Eric Rall says:

      In terms of industrial usage, 3D printers are on a continuum with programmable machine tools. I’m pretty sure there’s been significant movement towards more things getting made in machine shops or small-batch factories rather than traditional mass production.

      • Another Throw says:

        Sometimes I think it is more appropriate to put 3D printing on a continuum with casting, and argue about whether CNC machining belongs on the same continuum afterwards.

    • matkoniecz says:

      It introduced relatively simple and relatively cheap way to move digital objects into low quality plastic objects. Depending on a situation it can be extremely useful, interesting or useless.

      3D printing is very useful for rapid prototyping, and small batches of products. Especially useful in cases of “I just designed it and I plan to make less than 100 items”. Or “this item is impossible to buy an I am fine with plastic in almost this shape”.

      Main limitation is that 3D printers require plenty of babysitting. Are not worth using if you can buy product from an actual factory.

      “factories don’t exist, because consumers print anything that they need at home” is SF, requiring technologies unavailable today. For example it requires weird production tools nearly without economies of scale.

      • Another Throw says:

        This ignores that metal sintering 3D printers are by far the more interesting area of development.

        • matkoniecz says:

          I admit that my knowledge is from low-end hobbyist position.

          What metal sintering 3D printers change? Would it add anything more than change the first line to “move digital objects into low quality plastic or metal objects.”?

          • peterispaikens says:

            They allow making structures that are impossible to make with standard cutting methods (mostly weird holes inside) so you can make a part that’s just as sturdy but lighter and thus *better* for some purposes than a “traditional” part.

          • Another Throw says:

            You’ll see better quality than you’re going to get out of a hobbyist printer making plastic. For example, you don’t have to worry about the parts sagging under their own weight during printing because the part is supported by unsintered material.

            You can also sinter metals materials that are not practical to machine because they are too brittle, flow under the tool, have chemical compatibility problems, whatever. Or can’t be practically cast because the melting point to higher than your chemically compatible refractory material options or whatever.

            This is where the casting comparison comes in: you get a good enough quality part that you only have to machine in a few high precision fixtures on.

    • matkoniecz says:

      “Blockchain in particular seems like a solution in search of a problem, it really adds nothing of value vs. having trusted centralized parties”

      Blockchain is nowadays sign of gambling pretending to be investing, scam or at least solution in search of a problem.

      But it is actually useful in cases where trusted centralized party does not exist. For example criminals have trouble with using banking system for obvious reasons.

      But it turns out that in most cases trusted central parties are superior to blockchains. For example in case of currency blockchain is slower, riskier and inability to revert transactions makes it perfect for scammers.

      For other uses it is even more pointless.

    • Another Throw says:

      My impression of 3D printing is that there are two reasons to be excited:

      1. It’s made a variety of very complex parts possible (or at least not prohibitively expensive). For example, SpaceX is 3D printing the Super Draco engine bell, and IIRC parts for their turbopumps. I think Space Labs is 3D printing their engines. I’ve seen pictures of 3D printed R&D scale aerospike engines. I’ve hear rumblings of 3D printed turbine parts. These parts are all made out of high strength high temperature alloys that are a real sonofabitch to work with with complex geometries that would be a real sonofabitch to make using traditional techniques.

      2. It has made some simple, low volume parts pretty easy to make. Because for most 3D printing, the object is effectively sliced into layers and each layer is just traced out and then scribbled inside the lines, this is really easy to do programmatically. Compared with having to have a machinist or a couple tool and die makers decide how to make it. Or carving up a wax master to make a mold to cast wax blanks to cast the part. All so you can make a handful of copies. The barriers to making simple, low volume parts is a lot lower.

      If you are somewhere in the middle——making medium complexity or high volume parts using regular materials——you’re probably not going to see much impact, but you may end up with a couple of them in your factory in order to fab any of your tooling that fits into those categories.

      Anybody that was saying that it would make factories, much less all professionally manufactured parts, obsolete was a moron. About as much of a moron as Long Blockchain Iced Tea was.

      • matkoniecz says:

        “SpaceX is 3D printing the Super Draco engine bell” – thanks for that info, I was unaware that 3D metal printing is actually useful for such tasks!

    • John Schilling says:

      3-D printing is making big strides in industrial applications. And the hobbyist machines are following along fairly well within a niche community. The idea that they were going to go mainstream and that everyone was going to have their own “replicator” turned out to be (reasonably predictable) nonsense because,

      A: 3-D printers capable of making even something as basic as e.g. a lawn sprinkler head are actually quite expensive, and most people don’t have much demand for pure plastic, and

      B: Most people aren’t nerds, and

      C: Amazon et al are really good at quickly delivering a broader diversity of professional-quality manufactured goods than most people can sort through, so “you can have something even more personally specialized than the most you-compatible thingamajig Amazon has to offer” isn’t really a selling point.

    • Clutzy says:

      I have worked with a professional 3D printing shop that contracts for people that need custom parts in small batches. That people just want one of these things in their house isn’t really that likely. They are still pretty wasteful when it comes to resin or beads (whichever you are using) and a lot of the time you still need finishing on the product which is kinda annoying, and also they make a smell.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      3d printers are just stupidly important for prototyping currently. Genuine world change already happened, you just did not notice because you are not a design engineer. They are not on track for replacing conventional manufacturing for anything we want more than about a hundred of, and I do not see that happening, pretty much ever.

    • fibio says:

      3D printing seems to me to be in a similar place to computing in the 70s/80s. It’s a relatively mature technology which is used widely within specific industries to great effect, but it has yet to reach a point where it is cheep and accessible enough to be a product used by anything more than professionals and hobbyists.

    • noyann says:

      status of these ‘hyped as game changing technologies’

      The Weinersmiths have compiled a good overview.

    • silver_swift says:

      Prediction markets just turned out to be much more complicated than anticipated. Here is a pretty in depth analysis by Zvi.

      Having an arbiter for weird corner cases isn’t enough. Any time a dispute comes up that requires the arbiter you are going to have one side that becomes frustrated and is probably going to stop using your prediction market. If that happens enough, people are going to walk away preemptively.

      What you need is someone that is responsible for figuring out every conceivable corner case beforehand and who pays out both parties if an undefined corner case does come up (as you can imagine this is a really tall order for most real world scenarios).

      The other big stumbling block is that the domain for your prediction market needs to allow people with better insights to earn money from people with worse insights, but in a way that does not chase the latter group away from your market. This is, I think, one of the main reason prediction markets in sports and politics (and economics, but that one has a lot of other things going for it) work when those in other domains haven’t really taken of.

    • bean says:

      I don’t think 3D printers are ever going to achieve anything like what you describe here. They’re extremely useful for cases when you need to make one-offs or small-volume parts, and they’ve added a new tool to the arsenal of design engineers, allowing them to fabricate parts that were previously impossible to make. The latter is going to be mostly confined to the aerospace and biomedical industries for the foreseeable future. It’s just too expensive relative to other methods to see wide use.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      It was at least 12 years ago that I heard people confidently predicting that 3D printing was about to take off as a home technology. That was stupid then and it remains stupid now: there will never be a widespread “everyone has a 3D printer at home” deal until and unless we’re in a crazy far-away situation where basically everything is unrecognizable. There’s just no reason to need to print your own stuff instead of buy higher-quality manufactured goods for the overwhelming majority of people. Home 3D printing is not fast, it’s not easy, it’s pretty much necessarily lower-quality than actual industrial processes, and it’s very limited in what it can make. Most people will always find that the flexibility that it provides is essentially useless, but the limitations it comes with are quite onerous.

      • silver_swift says:

        Home 3D printing is not fast, it’s not easy, [snip], and it’s very limited in what it can make.

        Those are technological limitations that could well be resolved long before we’re in a crazy far-away situation where basically everything is unrecognizable.

        If home 3d printers do ever get to the point where they are as easy to set up and use as a current day 2d printer I’d expect we’re going to see a lot of the current niche-ish uses become much more prevalent. Think custom cases for phones and other electronics, toys, improved/customized board game components, custom eating utensils and mugs (if the materials become food safe at some point), custom jewelry, etc.

        At the moment all of that is limited by the materials being shitty, the printers needing a significant amount of tech-savyness and domain knowledge to operate and 3d models being limited by the material shittyness and by being designed only by people that have a lot of tech-savyness and domain knowledge. If we can take away those limitations (and, yes, that is very big if), there is no reason we can’t have 3d printers be as ubiquitous as their 2d counterparts (which of course still isn’t quite “everyone has a 3D printer at home”).

        • keaswaran says:

          Incidentally, what fraction of households have a 2d printer any more? I feel like 15-20 years ago, most middle-class homes had a 2d printer, but these days they’re pretty uncommon. It’s possible that this is just an effect of my own stage of life, where I used to lack an office printer but now have one for the rare occasions when I need to print. But it feels like paper copies of things are much less useful than they used to be, so that many people might have gone through this transition.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Those [that home 3d printers are neither fast, easy, nor very versatile] are technological limitations that could well be resolved long before we’re in a crazy far-away situation where basically everything is unrecognizable.

          I suppose they could become fast — but probably not as fast as delivery can become, and it’s a lot harder to make a home 3d printer that’s fast (without sacrificing other elements of it) than it is to scale up delivery.

          They won’t become easy, especially to the extent that they’re fast and/or versatile. That’s a virtue that is strongly in tension with all other vectors they could possibly improve on.

          They won’t become versatile, honestly first, because this is just hard enough that getting there necessarily means crazy advanced tech, but second because the fact that home “print anything” 3D printers are such an obviously bad product right now means that nobody who is really good at 3D printing is investing in home “print anything” printers — they’re investing in industrial specialist tools, which don’t need to print anything.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      3D Printing: make whatever you want, so long as you are fine with things that are made out of shit.

      Prediction Markets: stock exchanges do what they do, faster.

      Blockchains: Eliminate some scams, facilitate others.

      Verdict: one of these hyped technologies is marginally useful. Seriously, that’s a win!

      • Prediction Markets: stock exchanges do what they do, faster.

        When Robin Hanson invented prediction markets, the idea was to do the same thing stock exchanges do but set it up to generate information that stock exchanges were not generating.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          A rare case where the “you will never find a $20 dollar bill on the pavement” adage actually applies.

    • hash872 says:

      I appreciate the replies, but I think people in this thread are being a little too bearish on 3D printers, and specifically are just overgeneralizing from the home ones they may know of. 3D printing is being actively used in advanced manufacturing- SpaceX not only built a rocket engine with one, but has successfully flown it into orbit! I think ‘printing is just for cheap quality plastic stuff’ is being a bit overdone.

      For the next dramatic escalation in the US culture wars (wait can we talk about culture war in this thread? I’m terrible at knowing which is which)- I predict people will start printing guns at home, or at least in a regional illegal factory. (Like, ‘this is the Northern Illinois militia chapter underground armory, we print all the guns for the resistance to the AOC administration in this sector’, etc.) Yes I know it’s already a thing with cheap, one-shot plastic guns, but we all know how technology advances…. (Also, imagine if you could print your own ammo- would be a game changer as well, don’t need centralized supply chains to stay armed & ready to fight)

      • I predict people will start printing guns at home,

        I actually saw some stuff recently about a very clever way of using 3D printing to make a rifled barrel, as part of a way of making a semi-auto carbine (FGC-9) using no parts that are classified in Europe as gun parts.

        The barrel itself isn’t 3d printed, of course. What is printed is a plastic rod with a spiral groove around it. Wind a wire in the groove, drill out the barrel, insert the rod, use electrochemical machining to cut the rifling grooves.

      • bean says:

        Everyone else is well aware of that stuff. I toured SpaceX’s facility a couple years ago, and got to hold one of those parts. It was seriously impressive, because I knew they couldn’t have made it any other way. But that is why they made it using 3D printing, and the aerospace industry is at a way different spot on the price-performance curve than basically everyone else. $1000 bolts aren’t uncommon on airplanes, but you never see them anywhere else, except medical equipment (another market for 3D printing). Metal 3D printers are and will remain expensive, because metal is a lot harder to work than plastic. And it’s always going to be cheaper to produce bulk metal goods with conventional means, even at home. There are a reasonable number of home machinists capable of making guns themselves. It’s just that nobody talks about them, and their equipment is certainly cheaper than a good 3D printer.

        • It’s just that nobody talks about them, and their equipment is certainly cheaper than a good 3D printer.

          The project I described was claimed to cost $300, including the cost of the printer.

          • bean says:

            The problem there is that you need time and skills that go a long way to putting it in the same “serious hobbyist” category that conventional homemade guns fall into. It sounds like a cool technical exercise, but it’s a long way from the “everyone can print guns in their basement” dreams of a lot of gun/3D printing enthusiasts.

      • JayT says:

        I think that 3D printers will continue to increase in use and importance in industrial settings, and I think they will eventually become a big part of manufacturing as well. I don’t think that they will move much beyond the hobbyist market for home use though. The issue is that when you look around your house at the consumer goods that you have, most are made up of a bunch of different pieces, and have a bunch of different materials. So, you will either have to make all the parts separately and assemble it yourself (which I don’t see getting widespread use), or you will need a 3d printer that can print multiple different types of materials with enough accuracy to be able to make something like an integrated circuit (which I assume we are many years away from being able to do). There just aren’t that many finished items that you could make with a 3D printer that will make owning one a necessity.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        3D printing is a useful industrial tool (in specific areas of industry). It’s a terrible home technology.

      • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

        Ankle replacement surgery has become much more widespread & successful lately with the use of 3D printed parts. Although partial ankle replacements have been possible since the 70s, they weren’t often done due to high failure rates and difficulty fitting the implants (there’s ahigh degree of individual variation in all of those fiddly little ankle bones). I know this because my father recently got one. It went great and he’s looking forward to getting his second one as soon as the plague has settled down.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      AUIU from Hanson a couple of years back, prediction markets require subsidies (or some equivalent).

  17. johan_larson says:

    Welcome the grand opening of Chang & Watson Enterprises, purveyors of exotic wonders from ancient Atlantis to near-future Japan for the discerning customer. Today’s auction consists of a single item. Here we have, quite simply, an off-switch for the libido. Imagine the serenity of simply turning off the howl of countless generations clamoring for descendants. Imagine how much you’ll get done without constantly thinking about sex. And of course this off-switch is also an on-switch, when you are ready to get back in the pool.

    Let’s start the bidding at 1000 euro, or 1100 American dollars. Who will give me 1000 euro for this wonder?

    • Leafhopper says:

      I’ll give you 1000 euro to receive this device, attach it to someone else, test its function on this person, and make detailed observations. I expect to document clear evidence of Ironic Plot-Driving Consequences within a week.

      • johan_larson says:

        Yes, you could definitely hang a mid-budget sex comedy off this device.

        Did Shakespeare by any chance get there before us? Does anyone in the plays ever give anyone an anti-love-potion?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Meh, I’m old.

    • bullseye says:

      I’ll happily give you several thousand for this thing, because there’s a billionaire somewhere who really wants it.

      • johan_larson says:

        I see your bid, sir. Thank you.

        We have a bid of several thousand euro. Who will give me five thousand, to make the dangly bits shut up for once?

        • Bugmaster says:

          Just to clarify, is this a personal-use device, or does it have an AoE radius (and if so, what’s the radius) ?

          • johan_larson says:

            It’s an implanted device, sort of like a tiny pacemaker. There’s an external control pad that can communicate with it to receive status information and turn the device on and off. The control pad is applied to the skin just above the device.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Well then, I bid $10,000, because I believe that, given enough time and money, I can reverse-engineer this thing; mass-produce it; sell it for $100/unit; and retire a millionaire.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Damn. I would have gladly bid 1000, was considering 5000, but I’m still making money in Easter European currency and 10k is out of my range. For the record, I just want it because it’s damn useful – for both settings.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        For his wife?

      • AG says:

        Seems the opposite. Billionaires start taking testosterone.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      I’ve had this “power”, and you’re telling me that I was supposed to use it for something productive, and not just spending more time playing video games?

    • HowardHolmes says:

      And of course this off-switch is also an on-switch, when you are ready to get back in the pool.

      I predict the on-switch would never be used.

    • Hefficurious says:

      My husband had a friend who was prescribed testosterone orally because of bits removed on account of cancer. Apparently he *did* choose to abstain because he preferred the calm.

  18. Skeptic says:

    Why can’t the United States simply outsource the CDC/FDA pandemic response to actually competent countries like Taiwan?

    We spend about $12 billion per year in non emergency situations on the CDC. This bought us….nothing..charitably. More realistically the CDC has been an actual net value add for pandemic response. Same with the FDA. Threatening Dr Helen Chu, shutting down PCR testing, etc etc.

    No masks, no ventilators, no respirators, no gowns, and apparently no pandemic plan even though it’s basically a more virulent but less lethal reboot of the SARS epidemic from 16 years ago.

    Taiwan spends about $200 million per year for their CDC, about 1/60th of our negative value add CDC. Apparently that enables them to have a strategic reserve of PPE, an aggressive pandemic response plan to include “test and trace”, and fact based decision making in real time from their CDC and FDA bureaucrats.

    Why can’t we simply pay them an extra $4 billion per year and have our policy outsourced to a non banana republic government ??

    • Loriot says:

      For the same reason we don’t outsource the rest of our government to Taiwan.

      Also, the CDC does a lot more than just pandemic response. Ever wonder whether screening newborns for PKU is cost effective? Probably not, but people at the CDC did.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Just maybe,it matters to these kinds of things how well the executive branch is functioning as whole.

      The 2009 [swine flu] outbreak started in Mexico. The Mexican government reported it to the Pan American Health Organization on April 12 of that year. Two days later, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined a specimen in the United States, and by April 15, the CDC had determined it was swine flu. On April 22, the CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center. On April 26, the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency and began to send antiviral drugs and personal protective equipment to affected states. On April 30, the Obama administration asked Congress for $1.5 billion to fight the virus. By April 28, the CDC had developed a test to detect the virus, and on May 1, the test kits were shipped out.

      • The Nybbler says:

        And all this worked so well that the 2009 pandemic H1N1 “swine” flu was not at all stopped, and in fact the prevalent strain of flu circulating RIGHT NOW is “influenza A(H1N1)pdm09”.

      • Skeptic says:

        Well functioning is blowing through the entire strategic stockpile of PPE set up in 2006 and refusing to restock it for 11 consecutive years (2009-2020?) But regardless..

        It looks much more like the Swine flu was simply much less virulent and therefore less dangerous, rather than the exact same career bureaucrats in the Executive branch becoming magically less competent.

        That’s not logical.

        To Loriot: how do the CDC guidelines compare to a real country? Does the ROC CDC not recommend screening? Or is this simply an overlap with the NIH conducting clinical research?

        I’m focused on pandemic response, that’s the priority mission of the CDC. And if it’s not, it’s one more reason to outsource the entire thing to a competent government.

        • johan_larson says:

          The CDC is a large agency, with a broad mandate. You can see just how broad from this org chart:

          The CDC has a substantial office that deals with birth defects. There’s another that deals with workplace accidents.

          The official mission statement names but does not prioritize various goals. If we are inclined to judge priorities by placement, pandemic response comes at the start of paragraph three (“CDC is responsible for controlling the introduction and spread of infectious diseases”), after five named priorities in paragraph two.

          Judging by these documents, pandemic response is one of the priorities of the CDC, but not the main one.

        • Clutzy says:

          The whitewashing of that incident continues apace.

          In many ways Obama was a master politician. He was not a great leader of the executive in any fashion. His greatest skill in that role was eluding culpability for things he clearly wanted done but had not issued any direct order to do. This skill, of course, is only available to people who’s views generally align with the majority of the civil service, and his did.

          • John Schilling says:

            Regan had it, and his views weren’t all that closely aligned with the civil service. You’re generalizing far too much from one data point.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            How long does it take to restock a supply of PPE? This is a genuine question because I don’t know the answer.

            Maybe Obama fucked up on this. Or maybe he counted on competent successors who, when their own head of HHS asks for $2 billion to be spent to build up supplies on February 5th, doesn’t have their request delayed by the White House for weeks and made much smaller.

            The US has the ability to bring tremendous capacity online quickly, but there are lead times.

          • Clutzy says:

            Regan’s errors were, indeed, located in the part of the service that aligned with him. Or do you think Ollie has been faking it for 4 decades?

            Now, the CIA and Pentagon has swung left pretty hard in recent times, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t conservative in the 80s.

          • John Schilling says:

            Does that include the air traffic controllers?

            Reagan was, broadly and generally, good at this. The claim that Republicans cannot be good at this because the Deep State(tm) won’t let them, is not supported by the evidence. You all just chose the wrong Republican this time – assuming the guy you chose is a Republican in anything but name.

          • Clutzy says:

            Didn’t he have to fire the air traffic controllers? But I have no solid evidence about the politics of air traffic controllers.

            Regan was a good manager at some things, and I am too young to actually have been alive when he was actually bungling things or executing them perfectly. I know there is that hilarious SNL skit which seems to imply that the left thought he was horribly incompetent (the joke of the skit is that he is a master manager on top of everything).

            But when I look at the historic record, Regan appears to me not very good at getting away with things.

          • But when I look at the historic record, Regan appears to me not very good at getting away with things.

            Are you people referring to Don Regan or Ronald Reagan?

          • Clutzy says:

            Ronald of course, who I was coying John’s spelling of because I have extremely low confidence in my spelling prowess.

            I probably could have been Valedictorian in HS if I was a good speller.

      • Clutzy says:

        If executive competency was a deciding factor wouldn’t all the countries run by the technocratic heroes like Macron, Merkel, Sanchez, all have similar and very low crises levels?

        Seems to me as evidence rolls in, the government appears to be less and less likely to be a strong factor of severity, and the country’s culture gaining lots of ground. This is even showing up in the inter-state stats in the US.

        • Loriot says:

          Does SF vs NYC count as a culture difference or a difference in government competence?

          Anyway, the fact that none of the Western European countries seem to have gotten a lid on things definitely makes me more pessimistic. Maybe it is ubiquitous mask wearing, previous experience with SARS, and a complete disregard for privacy that really mattered.

          • Clutzy says:

            If you are like me, and think politics is downstream of culture, you would expect it to be culture 1, and the response 2. And I think that is true with SF-NY. SF’s greatest risk was from the West and that got locked down earlier. Plus they have a high asian population that actually has strong influence (silicone valley in particular) while NY is much more old school. IN addition SF’s tech influence meant that most people already were advocating for telework (or doing it) last year, whereas NY is at its heart a smush people together city. This reflects in their leaders. DeBlasio is a smusher and also an agitator (which doesn’t help at a time like this), Breed talk the talk, but at heart is kind of a Guliani. Before becoming mayor she worked to increase police and the like.

            All that said, the west coast is lucky it isn’t NYC, but all the small things seem to affect C-19

          • Radu Floricica says:

            Don’t read too much into it. Decisions made by one person are hardly statistically relevant.

        • quanta413 says:

          Maybe what makes someone a technocratic hero in the west has very literal to do with actual competence.

          When I hear technocratic competence I think Lee Kuan Yew not Angela Merkel.

          • Clutzy says:

            Perhaps, but that doesn’t make his argument at all. If all the politicians in the West aren’t very good at technocracy, that means its an unworkable political model, not that if only Hillary had won we would have a clean disease free nation.

      • J Mann says:

        It looks to me like the response to COVID-19 is about the same as H1N1. We declared a public health emergency on January 31. The FDA approved the CDC test for Coronavirus on Feb 4, and by Feb 8, people had the test.

        Just like H1N1, no private labs were able to develop their own tests, because (a) you need FDA approval and (b) a public health emergency actually makes it harder for labs to perform their own tests.

        The H1N1 response didn’t stop community spread, and this time, the CDC playbook was disastrously worse because the CDC test didn’t work and US law, operating as designed, prevents private testing during a public health emergency.

        I think it makes a lot of sense to look at our pandemic response and change it. Trump certainly hasn’t been a help (other than the China travel ban), but the biggest problem is that our pandemic response, as designed, just isn’t as good as many South Asian countries.

        • albatross11 says:

          If we get it under control in the US, but it’s still out of control elsewhere, we’re going to need to end up with much more stringent border controls and restrictions on coming to the US. This will look a lot like Trump winning, and that will have all the political consequences that follow.

    • johan_larson says:

      Why can’t we simply pay them an extra $4 billion per year and have our policy outsourced to a non banana republic government ??

      Are you for real? Things just don’t work this way. There is no way the American government would tolerate having a foreign government operating on American soil and directly serving the American people. Put that out of your mind.

      The options here, the real options, are having the CDC do it, having some other part of the federal government do it, leaving it to states or municipalities, having some sort of major NGO like the Red Cross do it, or not having it done at all.

      • John Schilling says:

        For that matter, if you do outsource it to a foreign government they will predictably – and properly – spend most of your money on stuff that’s more beneficial to their people than your own. And if you give them any sort of regulatory or enforcement power over Americans, they will be incentivized to apply it approximately 100% towards “won’t be blamed for failing to carry out their core mission” and 0% “respect silly American ideas of due process and civil liberties”.

        If you have American bureaucrats watching over their shoulder to make them not do that, congratulations, you’ve just reduced the problem to one previously abandoned as insolvable, but with an extra layer of middlemen before you get results.

        • eigenmoon says:

          The exact same argument applies against outsourcing your needs to your own government. For example, if you give your government any sort of regulatory or enforcement power over you, they will be incentivized to apply it approximately 100% towards “won’t be blamed for failing to carry out their core mission” and 0% “respect your silly ideas of due process and civil liberties”. And this is exactly what’s happening.

          • johan_larson says:

            Hold on now, the democratic process counts for something. Agencies are accountable to the elected representatives, and the citizenry can and does change who it elects.

          • Garrett says:

            Agencies are accountable to the elected representatives, and the citizenry can and does change who it elects.

            Isn’t that opposed by the whole concept of the deep state permanent government?

          • eigenmoon says:


            So who do you need to vote for in order to abolish the FDA? the Fed? to stop the spying on the citizens? to end the bombing of [insert a country]?

          • Loriot says:

            If enough people cared about those issues above all else, there would be candidates advocating those positions.

          • Matt M says:

            So who do you need to vote for in order to abolish the FDA? the Fed? to stop the spying on the citizens? to end the bombing of [insert a country]?

            My hope is that this whole situation is teaching Trump (and future aspiring Presidents) that they need to pay a whole lot more attention to the entrenched bureaucracy than they previously might have, because failing to reign it in will result in horrible outcomes that the elected leader will be blamed for.

          • So who do you need to vote for in order to abolish the FDA? the Fed? to stop the spying on the citizens? to end the bombing of [insert a country]?

            Voting for the Libertarian candidate, whoever he is, won’t get him elected and do all those things, but if a noticeable number of people vote for him that will signal politicians in the major parties that they might get votes by shifting their position a little in the direction of the LP policies.

            There are individual Republican and Democratic politicians you could vote for to send a similar message.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Do you think Trump or his appointees think the FDA should STILL be forbidding people from making effective hand sanitizer because they can’t denude it?

            What steps are they taking?

            Trump is in charge of a big machine and maybe he doesn’t know the right levers to pull. Maybe he needs Congress’s help. Is he trying to get it? Has he asked his Cabinet how to change this?

          • albatross11 says:

            The czar can exile any one bureaucrat to Siberia, but he can’t govern Russia without the bureaucracy.

          • Matt M says:

            Yeah. It’s kind of tricky here. Can Trump fire the head of the FDA? Sure. Can he find someone any time soon to replace them who is both plausibly qualified and won’t make the exact same sort of decisions the last guy did?

            Probably not.

            This has been a continuous struggle throughout the Trump administration at all levels. It’s basically impossible to find anyone “qualified” (typically defined as experienced) who also agrees with Trump on much of anything at all. So he has to choose between leaving positions vacant, filling them with people who don’t seem qualified (which entails a PR hit as the press jumps all over it), or filling them with the next swamp creature in line (who will proceed to do the exact same crap the last guy was doing).

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Matt M

            This is kind of the same problem I believe I’ve read that Jimmy Carter had.

            It would have been a heck of a lot easier for a conventional Republican to replace the high-level bureaucrats with conservatives, but Trump isn’t a conservative, and is effectively as much a Republican as Bernie Sanders is a Democrat.

            The more I look at politics the more I like the idea of multi-party election systems. In those the more minor parties have developed networks of “experts” (not talking heads, but subject-matter experts) who also have managerial experience.

          • eigenmoon says:

            This model assumes that votes are all a politician wants. But what if a politician wants to get corrupted instead? If a politician knows that becoming a libertarian will increase his chance to get elected 5% but decrease his income from “lobbying” by 10%, then it’s not worth it for him. And if the libertarians would put a lot of effort to increase that 5% to 6%, the outcome will still be the same.

            Thus I believe that geographical concentration (as in New Hampshire) is necessary to get a nonzero result.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Plus, even if Trump orders a change, the FDA can delay compliance for quite a while.

            That’s what I don’t believe.

            In normal times, yes, the permanent government can resist a lot of change. And if the FDA was simply ordered to stop enforcing this rule, pushback from the rank-and-file would be expected and possibly even good, because Chesterson.

            But if the FDA were refusing to allow people to make hand sanitizer the easy way, and Trump said “let them do it,” would anyone, in this time when National Emergency is part of the Common Knowledge, really refuse just because?

            I can see someone further down the hierarchy saying “wait, hol up, I know that sounds like a good idea, but it’s not because REASON, let’s talk” and maybe we need some moderate solution instead of either complete BaU or complete open season.

            So it kind of matters exactly what regulation on business Trump is trying to disable, and what steps he is taking to try to disable it. It’s why I wondered what a specific case was.

          • Clutzy says:


            What country have you been in since November 2016? There have been many instances of exactly that in other agencies. And its not like the media would just stop celebrating resistance actors because corona. It would be the same story as the fish cleaner drinkers, just with an FDA employee as the anti-Trump hero.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s why I wondered what a specific case was, because it matters what regulation he’s trying to get rid of, and what problems he’s having getting rid of it.

            I would expect one or two iterations of “boss says do X, subject-matter-expert employee says we can’t do X because Y” and then a resolution.

          • Clutzy says:

            The more common scenario is:

            Boss Says do X.
            Person says, can’t because (reason).
            Boss says do it anyway.
            Person says, “sure boss”. Proceeds to do not X.
            Boss asks when it will be done, some time in the vague future is stated. Repeat until person finally does it, or is fired and become a media hero.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I am going to ask in bold because I’m not getting an answer otherwise.

            What is the specific case we’re talking about? What red tape is Trump trying to get rid of currently?

      • Skeptic says:

        We’re talking about policy, right? I don’t think this is that farfetched at all. There’s a large arbitrage opportunity due to our government’s complete incompetence.

        How is this fundamentally different from banana republics’ use of the American dollar?

        They’re too incompetent to have a functioning monetary policy so instead they outsource it to the United States Federal Reserve.

        At the minimum our pandemic policy could be outsourced to a functioning government like Taiwan’s CDC.

        Just mirroring the decisions they have made so far vis-à-vis stockpiling, advising all citizens to wear masks, closing the borders and “track and trace” would have saved thousands of lives.

        • beleester says:

          Using dollars in your economy just requires one person who has dollars and another person willing to accept them. It doesn’t even necessarily need government involvement, just an individual deciding that they’d rather carry around a wallet full of USD instead of a wheelbarrow full of Zimbabwean dollars.

          Giving another country the authority to write your health care policy (and possibly police policy, as pandemic response usually needs some teeth behind it) is considerably more complicated.

        • Evan Þ says:

          What beleester said. Go ahead and copy-paste the Taiwanese policies. If you’re really lazy, don’t bother copy-pasting them and just say “The Taiwanese anti-pandemic policies are valid here; please find-replace their agencies XYZ with our agencies ABC.” That would be equivalent to other countries’ using the US Dollar.

          (In fact, please do that. Or just abolish the CDC and arrest all its chain of command for 2,510 counts of negligent homicide.)

          Actually inviting in Taiwanese bureaucrats is far more invasive. Maybe it’d be a good thing if our CDC is really that incompetent, but it’s even less likely to happen.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you’re really lazy, don’t bother copy-pasting them and just say “The Taiwanese anti-pandemic policies are valid here;

            The only people who actually know what the Taiwanese policies are, are the Taiwanese bureaucrats. And that’s not unique to Taiwan; no bureaucracy actually writes down all or even most of its policies, and some of the things they write down under “these are our policies” are tacitly not their policies.

            Actually inviting in Taiwanese bureaucrats is far more invasive.

            It’s also the only way to implement Taiwanese policies in the United States in less than a decade. If you just tell American bureaucrats to implement Taiwanese policies, you get something very different. And, I suspect, the worst of both worlds.

      • User_Riottt says:

        I suppose this leaves out the obvious solution of not being banana republic level corrupt in the first place. Or perhaps maybe the right walking back some of their overblown self-justifying rhetoric about governments never being able to do anything right. Underfund and appoint unqualified cronies is a great way to watch anything fail.

        • johan_larson says:

          I expect some sort of review and restructuring of the CDC and pandemic response systems in general after the dust settles. There was, to say the least, room to do better.

        • Skeptic says:

          This isn’t logical.

          Taiwan’s CDC budget is about $200 million. The US CDC budget is $12 billion. So it’s not an issue of funds. In fact its funding has increased YoY for…quite a few years.

          It’s also not “under qualified cronies” making the decisions that will soon inevitably lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans.

          Threatening Dr. Helen Chu, this was career bureaucrats. Botching the test kits, this was career bureaucrats. Not recommending immediate shut down of flights, this was career bureaucrats. Not recommending mandatory quarantine of travelers, this was career bureaucrats. Recommending people to not wear masks or N95 respirators, this was career bureaucrats.

          Sure, the thought experiment of outsourcing pandemic decision making to a competent country is extreme, that’s the entire point of the thought experiment.

          Is it policies on a page?
          Is it wargaming?
          Is it strategy?
          Is it a culture of accountability for both action and inaction?
          Is it a lack of pervasive rent seeking?

        • Underfund and appoint unqualified cronies is a great way to watch anything fail.

          Do you happen to know what fraction of current CDC employees were hired after Trump became president? Your argument appears to assume that it was large. My guess, from the general pattern of government employment, would be that most of them were hired under previous administrations.

          • Spookykou says:

            I assumed they are not speaking to the organization being full of unqualified cronies, simply that they are lead by appointees who are unqualified cronies. Cutting the head off the snake speaks to the importance of leaders, but maybe you can’t easily cut the head off the CDC snake, so instead you…transplant..its head…with a mongoose? Sorry that metaphor really got away from me.

          • albatross11 says:

            This assumes that the previous appointees were not also unqualified cronies. Anyone have data either way?

          • Loriot says:

            I’m not sure how many appointees would be left from four years ago. My guess is that the bulk of the CDC is career technocrats, with a few political appointees at the top that change with every administration.

          • User_Riottt says:

            In general I was referring to the guy who wanted to solve AIDS in Africa with Abstinence only, who leads the org now under Trump. I do remember reading somewhere that conflicts with him forced lots of long timers out, and he was just sitting on something like 700 open job listings when the virus hit.

          • JPNunez says:

            You say this as if a low % of people there hired by Trump exonarated him, instead of showing he removed people and left a disorganized unit?

    • Clutzy says:

      I think it would be tough to translate what they did to the US, no matter what their competence level is.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Governments dont run on money. They run on idealism. – that is, you get competent bureaucrats because someone who could make a pile in industry or trade decided making a difference was more important than making more money.

      The US has a really unfortunate idea that the government is inherently incompetent, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy to a scary extent because it cuts way down on the number of such idealists the US governments gets.

      That said, the CDC is a small enough, and keystone enough agency that it really should attract enough of them, even taking into account the previous paragraph. So… maybe review hiring protocols?

      • Clutzy says:

        if this was a unique US problem shouldn’t all of Europe, or at least a majority, be covering itself in glory right now? Its not, they all appear to be doing as bad or worse than us.

      • Matt M says:

        The US has a really unfortunate idea that the government is inherently incompetent

        Do you think this is the view of the class of 2018 Harvard graduates?

  19. HeelBearCub says:

    Those here who are believers frequently object to what they think are unfair characterizations of theists, especially Christians.

    I think perhaps you are either unexposed to the broad charismatic movements (possibly semi-willfully unaware), or think that these believers are somehow irrelevant to any discussion.

    But Charismatics make up about 36% of American Christians, Catholics and Protestants alike.

    And this is the kind of messaging coming out of many of those ministries. Ministers claiming to have ended the current pandemic.

    • Skeptic says:

      Evaporative effect? Regardless…

      Your stats define “charismatics” as Pentecostals + others. Neat trick, but you’ve defined the entirety of the African American community as “charismatics.”

      If conservatively 20% of the Christian community is African American you’ve solved your own statistics puzzle.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Again, 36% of American Catholics are charismatics. This isn’t simply limited to the African American Churches.

        And it’s not a “statistical puzzle”, it’s simply a statement that these believers exist, and in great numbers. No true Scotsman doesn’t cut it.

        This doesn’t imply, in any way, that one can assume The Christian Faith impales charismatic beliefs. But neither can you dismiss the existence of the charismatics.

        • albatross11 says:


          Are there people with silly, counterproductive beliefs among my religion (Catholicism)? Yep, absolutely. Also among people in my state and country, my social class, and my racial group. I’m not really clear what I’m supposed to learn about that, though.

          FWIW, the Church hierarchy where I live, including my own parish, has taken the pandemic very seriously, including shutting down Masses and all other Church gatherings and giving everyone a dispensation to just watch Mass on TV every Sunday. We did that about the same time as the local governments shut down the schools; earlier, we’d started altering our normal practices to decrease risk of spreading the disease.

          I know that’s not as much fun as finding someone being an idiot on TV and laughing at him, but it’s probably relevant to understanding how Catholics in Maryland are responding to the crisis.

          We’ve also prayed for a quick end to the pandemic. I guess if you’re looking for something to point and laugh at, that’ll work. But I’ll admit, I don’t get the point.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m not looking to “point and laugh” at anyone. A good chunk of one side of my family are charismatic Catholics.

            What I’m simply saying is, when it comes to questions like “ Does the kind of belief have impact on things like public policy”, you can’t simply deny the existence of these beliefs. That denial, frequently in a high state of outrage, is not an uncommon tactic here.

            Again, it in no way implies that churches can’t or don’t take differing views.

            This is simply one opportunity to establish that these beliefs exist (and are in fact mainstream in many communities.)

          • This is simply one opportunity to establish that these beliefs exist (and are in fact mainstream in many communities.)

            That might be true, but a single example of one preacher does not establish it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That might be true, but a single example of one preacher does not establish it.

            How many examples do you need? References?

            You are taking quite a tone for someone who isn’t familiar with the religious tradition referenced.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Now you’ve switched from “some Christians believe nutty things” which I’ll grant you, to “the nutty things Christians believe impact policy,” for which you’ve provided no evidence.

          • Nick says:

            That denial, frequently in a high state of outrage, is not an uncommon tactic here.

            Who’s denying it? Were people in past threads denying it? No one here is. You speak with such vagueness about past discussions that I don’t know who you’re trying to contradict.

          • JPNunez says:

            Now you’ve switched from “some Christians believe nutty things” which I’ll grant you, to “the nutty things Christians believe impact policy,” for which you’ve provided no evidence.

            Are we prentending America’s huge fight against abortion isn’t driven largely by christians?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @JPNunez: It being nutty to save the lives of the most vulnerable H. sapiens around us seems like a very subjective value judgment.

          • theredsheep says:

            Opposition to abortion is correlated strongly with Christianity, but it’s far from a fringe position, and AFAIK has hovered around 50% agreement for a long time (if you allow for the way Americans answer very differently depending on how you phrase the poll question). As the country grew less religious, public opinion shifted on gay marriage, contraception, etc. It doesn’t seem to have moved very far on abortion.

          • JPNunez says:

            Regardless of how you feel about abortion, pretending that christians don’t impact policy is at best, naive.

            America is still largely christian; call me back in a few years when christianity has fallen below 40% to see what’s the overall position on abortion then.

            Gay marriage is another (prolly better) example.

          • theredsheep says:

            A high percentage of self-identified American Christians are largely nominal–cultural Catholics, for example–and go to church twice a year if at all. The rise of the “nones” in the last decade or so was due to larger numbers of people dropping the pretense, but some of them are still hanging on as non-affiliated, spiritual-but-not-religious, etc. These are the people who are going to be perfectly okay with abandoning basically all aspects of traditional sexual morality in spite of scripture and tradition being quite clear on the matter. But the average American is still queasy at best about abortion. That means something.

            Thinking extramarital sex is immoral is now a fringe position–and it does not drive public policy in any significant way. Nobody really bats an eye at teenage girls buying contraceptives now, and if they do they’re cranks. Thinking abortion is immoral, while not exactly a majority view, is not at all a fringe position, and public policy reflects that; if it weren’t for Roe v. Wade, abortion would be illegal or very harshly restricted in half the country right now. As it is, it’s increasingly frustrating and difficult to access in those states–and that’s not driven purely by a relatively small fraction of fringe zealots.

        • 100% of American citizens are human. You linked to a video of a human pronouncing a magic spell against Covid. So you cannot object that it is unfair to describe Americans as crazy.

          You have offered evidence that one charismatic Christian said something crazy. That does not tell us whether 36% of Christians are crazy, or 1%, or .000001%

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            You have offered evidence that one charismatic Christian said something crazy. That does not tell us whether 36% of Christians are crazy, or 1%, or .000001%

            I would say way more than .000001% of poor Christians are vulnerable to this sort of crazy, though I’m agnostic (hur hur) on what percect are crazy not just in potentiality.
            And some Muslims lick the tombs or relics of holy Muslims when they think medical science is failing them. It’s not a particularly Christian kind of crazy.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I very specifically did not describe Christian’s as crazy. I didn’t even describe Charismatics as “crazy”.

            On the other hand, Charismatic Christian beliefs can be characterized as follows:

            Charismatic Christianity (also known as Spirit-filled Christianity by its supporters) is a form of Christianity that emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and modern-day miracles as an everyday part of a believer’s life.

            Do you know anything, anything at all, about the tradition of faith healing in the US?

          • JayT says:

            I would say it’s not a particularly religious kind of crazy. There are a lot of people out there thinking that any number of strange things will cure their diseases, religion not needed.

          • Do you know anything, anything at all, about the tradition of faith healing in the US?


            But not a lot.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But not a lot.

            Well then, maybe you shouldn’t so impugn me, by accusing me of unwarranted statements, as your knowledge is lacking.

          • Deiseach says:

            Do you know anything, anything at all, about the tradition of faith healing in the US?

            Not for the US as such, but I do know a metric crapton about the mix of folk religion and relicts of pre-Christian practices handed down as charms in Irish Catholicism.

            While it’s true that the location of fairy bushes can divert the course of roads, I can’t say that public health (or other) policy is being created under the pressure of “use the Brat Bríde in hospitals”, (I was told my maternal grandfather had great faith in the Brat Bríde), indeed it seems that by the most recent speech from the Taoiseach, it’s The Terminator that’s the big influence.

            There were also the beliefs in the powers of the seventh son of a seventh son, such as Finbar Nolan. Or hanging bits of cloth on a sceách, which is a tradition that also gets entangled with holy wells.

            And all this is long, long before we get to official and sanctioned Church prayers for healing or relief from disasters.

        • Evan Þ says:

          On the other hand, how many of those charismatics practice the pseudomagical “name-it-and-claim-it” heresy you’re talking about? Some years back, I visited for several weeks a very large Pentacostal church in North Carolina which didn’t do anything like that but preached from the Bible very much like any other church I’ve been to. I have friends who went there longer, and they back up this description. They did talk about speaking in tongues and expecting the possibility of miracles. But when I asked for prayer for my broken foot, the minister just prayed with me like at any other church. (And my foot healed on the normal schedule several weeks later.)

          I agreed and still agree with every word that church said. For theological reasons, I believe miraculous healings happen. I’ve heard a few stories about healings that sound plausible to me, but nothing that’d satisfy a skeptic. We can ask God for them, but we can’t make demands that He show up on schedule for our experiment. But if a pollster or pastor asks me, I’ll answer “yes, they happen.”

          I don’t disagree; the heresy you’re talking about is out there. I’ve never personally encountered it save a couple online posts. Maybe it’s really popular and the way I find churches and make friends filters it out like dark matter. But maybe it isn’t. What I know is, if surveys want to ask about things like it, they need to use some better questions than “are you a Pentacostal? Do you believe miracles occasionally happen today?”

        • Deiseach says:

          Okay, why the hell not? Since we’re already bored of The Plague, let’s re-fight the Wars of Religion!

          Now, for one thing, the Charismatic movement within Catholicism is something slightly different to its Protestant inspirations. For another, we’re now into third-wave Charismatic movements, of which the televangelist in the linked clip is one example. For a third, Pentecostalism and its ilk and Charismatic Movement of the 60s are slightly different in important ways.

          I’d say that the peak of Charismatic movment (the second wave) within global Catholicism hit in the 80s and in the West then declined throughout the 90s. I can’t speak for the Global South but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was thriving (and cross-fertilising with Pentecostalism) in Latin America and Africa, given the huge inroads that various Evangelical Protestant movements are making in those places, as is the Prosperity Gospel and wilder and weirder syncreticism.

          For a fourth thing, the American versions of Christianity always tend to the extremes of both liberalism and extreme Sola Scriptura ‘our denomination split and split and split until anyway today our church is six persons and a dog’ churches/non-denominational faith communities.

          Anyways, our pal in the linked clip – whom I had to look up, not being familiar with every single American preacher – is linked to both the third wave Neo-Charismatics and the Word of Faith/Prosperity Gospel movement.

          The Prosperity Gospel stuff is controversial and problematic, and the extremes of both have always claimed faith healing and personal struggles with demons and devils. So casting out the demon of COVID-19 or otherwise declaring victory over it is nothing novel.

          For a fifth thing, the popular theological language developed in such non-denominational small-r “reformed” churches and their derivatives is extremely extravagant and unless you are versed in such speech it does sound – even to other Christians not of the same tradition, much less to secular outsiders – like shamans invoking magic spells. GetReligion has a very helpful article on this, from a story about Hobby Lobby in the current time, where the reporter from outside presents the story in a particular way but, once you know the code of the language, is much less “This nutcase thinks God is personally talking to him and/or his wife”( And Hobby Lobby people use evangelical insider language (“prayer warrior”) that turns some (repeat “some”) journalists into pillars of salt.). Myself, I think it’s a case of the ripples still spreading throughout time from the Reformation; once a lot of the priestly powers had been stripped away (because “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” and no mortals may interpose themselves), yet over time it all crept back in so that ministers and pastors and leaders of churches put new names on it and cast it in new language but abrogated the same powers to themselves for blessings and cursings (I am constantly amused every single time by the African-American pastor who set up his own non-denominational church and decided to call himself “Bishop” on the grounds that it’s Scriptural language – see “overseer” – and of course, it’s a very impressive title, much more impressive and important than simply being yet another “Reverend” or “Pastor”. Never mind that the denominations that were the ancestors of his strain of ministry resoundingly rejected such titles on theological grounds about ‘no priests, every believer approaches God directly’ or that he’s in no way a bishop by any measure of apostolic succession – you can’t just decide “I’m a bishop!” any more than you can decide “I’m a cardinal!” or “I’m Pope!” – it sure sounds good doesn’t it?).

          So what you’re doing is the equivalent of “A bishop said this!” “Bishop who?” “Bishop Jakes!” “Yeah, he’s not a bishop” “But he’s a Christian minister and he says he’s a bishop, so you guys have to believe the same things as he does!” “What part of ‘he’s not a bishop and I’m not Protestant’ don’t you understand?”

          For sixthly, heresy is also a thing, you know? “Wow guys, get a load of this thing those weirdo Christians just said!” may only apply to “a small percentage of global and historic Christianity from an exclusively American setting where many more traditional Christians would call this improper theology at best and heresy at worst”.

          • Garrett says:

            For a fourth thing, the American versions of Christianity always tend to the extremes of both liberalism and extreme Sola Scriptura ‘our denomination split and split and split until anyway today our church is six persons and a dog’ churches/non-denominational faith communities.

            If anybody puts together a “congratulations on becoming an American citizen” grab bag, I’m convinced it should have a “found your own religion” starter-pack.

          • Anthony says:

            “that turns some (repeat “some”) journalists into pillars of salt.”

            This would be a useful technology.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        UV lamps? Would fit. Though from what I understand those that would actually kill viruses are also harmful to human skin. But that would just make him uninformed, not crazy.

        • actinide meta says:

          222nm UV light (as produced by Kr-Cl excimer lamps) is very effective at killing viruses, but appears to have very little effect on human skin or eyes (it is absorbed so well that it can’t make it through the outer dead layer of skin, or even all the way from the outside of a eukaryotic cell to the nucleus where the vulnerable nucleic acids are). There are a couple of companies making these in small quantities, but they are not actually FDA approved for use around humans.

          • simon says:

            Most infection is believed to be caused by droplets. 222 nm presumably wouldn’t affect a virus in a droplet, because the surrounding water would shield the virus.

          • actinide meta says:

            Light at these wavelengths has been demonstrated to inactivate viruses in ~1 micron (“aerosol”) droplets. I don’t know about 5-50 micron “large droplets” – you might be right that absorption would be a problem. In any case I don’t actually think it’s realistic that a UV light is going to protect you much if someone coughs directly in your face – even without absorption how much of a dose is there going to be in the very short interval the droplet is in the air? That’s what masks are for. But if these lights are safe they could realistically inactivate fomites and aerosols (and there is some evidence that aerosol transmission is an issue outside of hospital procedures – it’s hard for example to explain the choir superspreading event any other way).

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Oh, and that guy was in the Oval Office at some point during the Trump administration.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Those here who are believers frequently object to what they think are unfair characterizations of theists, especially Christians.

      I think perhaps you are either unexposed to the broad charismatic movements (possibly semi-willfully unaware), or think that these believers are somehow irrelevant to any discussion.

      They’re not irrelevant, but what do you want? The charismatic movement is a Christianity of global poverty.
      Back when the Episcopalian vs. Third World Culture War broke out in the Anglican Communion, Philip Jenkins did some interesting journalism talking about how the typical African Anglican identifies as Charismatic and Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical.
      At least in the Catholic Church, claims of healing miracles are tightly regulated by the episcopate and Roman curia, so you don’t get ministries like this authoritatively expressing or exploiting the thoughts and fears of poor theists toward disease.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        You still have plenty of lay Catholic speaking in tongues and praying for direct intercession. Plus, since you brought up the link between poverty and charismatics, I’d guess that “poor Catholic” is sort of the evergreen of fastest growing segment of the US Catholic population. It’s not like the Irish or the Poles came in straight to the middle class. I’m not actually sure, but I would guess that the only growing demo of US Catholicism today is newly immigrant Hispanics.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          You still have plenty of lay Catholic speaking in tongues and praying for direct intercession.

          Yeah, that’s definitely a thing.

          Plus, since you brought up the link between poverty and charismatics, I’d guess that “poor Catholic” is sort of the evergreen of fastest growing segment of the US Catholic population. It’s not like the Irish or the Poles came in straight to the middle class. I’m not actually sure, but I would guess that the only growing demo of US Catholicism today is newly immigrant Hispanics.

          When I went to the Grotto in Portland, both Hispanics and Asians were over-represented and black people about tracked their low numbers in the general population. In Kentucky, white people are still a shrinking demo and blacks are under-represented (black Protestantism is historically more of a thing).
          The Hispanic church goers may have more kids though, which would make a difference in what demographic is actually growing.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            black people about tracked their low numbers in the general population.

            Are you actually saying that 1 in every 8 people there was black? Unless these were Africans of recent immigrant status, that would be exceedingly surprising to me. I’m not familiar with the Grotto, so I don’t know what kind of gathering this was.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Er, no, like 1 in 20. That’s the local general population.
            The Grotto is a popular Portland church run by the Servite friars. Sunday Mass will often have many tourists as well as local Catholics.

        • Deiseach says:

          Glossolalia is supposed to be under special circumstances, but yeah – a lot of poorly informed and ill taught laity just take the ball and run with it.

          I don’t believe all that much in private revelations either, things such as this, or the trendy Celtic Spirituality crap of Anam Cara (“soul friend” my arse, a concept invented out of whole cloth for the ‘philosophy’ behind this ramp) or the Eat Pray Love secular cherry-picking crap either.

          Folk religion has been around as long as regular religion. It’s the wheat and the tares all over again.

    • S_J says:

      With respect, you’ve mistaken a small, loony fraction of the group ‘charismatic’ with the rest of the membership.

      As sometime who grew up in that tradition, I know that some preachers would (and did, at the church that I attended via internet love-stream) fervently pray for Divine power to bring health to the sick, and end the disease.

      I know that a few preachers would love the spectacle of declaring that not only could God stop the disease, but He would…if the preacher and congregation spoke the right incantation, and appended the phrase “in the Name of Jesus.”

      It’s my impression that this second group is small, but gets a lot of attention. I’m willing to take correction on this one; but I’ll also say that I’m speaking from the experience of growing up in such a group.

      There’s a distinction between treating prayer/proclamation as a form of magic, and treating prayer as a way of requesting Divine help. Some people lose track of that distinction, or never learned it.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Most faith traditions have some form of intercessionary prayers. It’s the belief in the miraculous as part of everyday life, directly related to appeals to God, that is part of the charismatic tradition.

        What church did you grow up in? And where?

        • S_J says:


          with apologies for the late reply: when I was a child, my parents attended a church that was part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. (Geographically and culturally, in the suburbs of a major industrial city in the MidWestern US.) The local leadership had some differences of opinion with the CMA hierarchary. Before I attained the age of six, the local leadership was invited to go create their own, non-CMA church.

          Reviewing the data provided by Deiseach, I think the groups qualifies as second-wave Charismatic. I can’t remember whether CMA was officially Charismatic or not.

          The “movement history” that was told inside the church made lots of references to the pre-first-wave Holiness movement, the first wave Pentecostal movement, and the second-wave Charismatic movement.

          Since the church was (and still is) no longer a member of any larger denominational structure, it’s a little hard to nail them down. As time went on, I began hearing more and more about the teaching and example of Forerunner Christian Fellowship in Missouri, and their House of Prayer initiative. (Indeed, one or two people who are now part of that ministry grew up in the same church that I did…)

          I gathered that the local church had swept in more than a few people who had at one time been part of the Catholic-Charismatic (or a similar, Lutheran-Charismatic) movement in regional churches.

          One thing that I learned: most branches of Christianity have some sort of “Tradition of the Church” about what makes for a valid expectation of a result from prayer, and what expectations are invalid. The more sola scriptura that a church gets, and the more that they question the “Tradition of the Church” and compare to the examples seen in the scripture, the more likely that the believers of that church are to say that miraculous interactions with God are a part of everyday life.

          In reviewing the stories people tell, I realize that a lot of the ‘interactions’ that they speak of seem to be in their own perception of what is supernatural, and what is natural. But there are a few stories that are in the gray zone: a doctor said that cancer/brain-injury/etc had very low odds of recovery, but the person recovered after the church prayed over them regularly for a long time. Or a construction worker has a section of concrete fall off the wall he is working on, knocking both himself and the scaffolding down…and he says a quick prayer, checks his limbs, and finds that none of them are broken. Or a married couple that has been childless for a decade, but felt that they had a promise from God for children; after a decade of prayer, the wife is unexpectedly pregnant. Are these low-probability-but-still-presumably-natural events, or were they Divine intervention?

          I don’t know which they are, myself. But I think it is arrogance to claim that there is no possibility of the miraculous being shown in the everyday life of the believer. I think it is a inverse image of the arrogance shown by Kenneth Copeland above.

    • sharper13 says:

      I have to note that by your definition, Mormons qualify as “charismatics” (I admit I’ve never heard the term before, so I’ll stick with your definition here). As close to 100% of them as it doesn’t matter who have heard of Kenneth Copeland think he’s wrong and evil in general (they have this doctrine of priestcraft which applies and they don’t pay their ministers).

      They’re an interesting case study for your point in that they are organized internationally and have very public pronouncements. Their initial response was to close church down worldwide weeks ago and encourage social distancing. Sure, they asked their members to hold a one-day fast and prayer yesterday about the issue, but they’re also distributing literally tons of food and PPE around the world, ready to take care of not only their church members, but millions of others. They were shipping N95 masks to China back in January.

      So it’s also easy to argue that at least one “charismatic” church community is the most prepared in the United States for this pandemic.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        My sense of the Latter Day Saints is that they wouldn’t be characterized today as charismatic, although it seems they have charismatic traditions. The bulk of the church have de-emphasized their charismatic beliefs in current teaching.

        Where, or if, they are counted in the article I referenced earlier, I don’t know.

        • Evan Þ says:

          By your earlier link, they’d be counted if they used the word “charismatic” to describe themselves:

          For the Barna survey, this included people who said they were a charismatic or Pentecostal Christian, that they had been “filled with the Holy Spirit” and who said they believe that “the charismatic gifts, such as tongues and healing, are still valid and active today.”

          Like I said in my earlier comment, I think this definition is way over-inclusive for how you’re using it. I know a number of self-identified “charismatic” Christians who maybe pray in tongues every few weeks (if that) and admit in theory that God sometimes does miracles these days. I might occasionally describe myself that way if I want to make a theological point, and I wouldn’t even meet that first criterion.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yeah, I don’t think the mainstream of LDS folks would describe themselves as charismatic, but that’s just my impression and I can’t say I have data to back it up (other than Wikipedia saying it has been de-emphasized in the modern LDS church).

            As to your statement, obviously this, like anything else, exists on a continuum, and binary designations only loosely capture the reality.

    • aristides says:

      So looking at that definition, I’m a charismatic Christian, AMA. My current church, and my old, very charismatic, Assemblies of God Church, has shut down service and broadcasting them on the internet. There are constant prayers for God to protect the world from Coronavirus, and prayers to heal specific members and loved one. Everyone is encouraged to practice social distancing. I would argue this is mostly typical for Charismatic Christians, and even is you do not believe any of it, I do not see where this would be a net harm. Any questions for one of this 36%?

    • John Schilling says:

      Effective immediately and forever, HeelBearCub gets to be mocked and then ignored whenever he complains about someone calling attention to some singular example of nuttiness and ascribing it to liberals/progressives/SJWs generally. Mark his words.

      • EchoChaos says:

        His words are indeed marked.

      • CatCube says:

        Ehhh, it’s not like those of us on the right are significantly less guilty of this here. I don’t see any reason to throw rocks at @HeelBearCub specifically on this issue.

        • John Schilling says:

          I should have been more polite in my challenge here, and unfortunately only recognized the better path after the edit window had closed. But when “those of us on the right” do this, HBC is the one most likely to call them out on it. So the hypocrisy here is blatant and notable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Again, I’ve linked you quite a few examples, ones with ties to, and even one with a position in, the Trump administration. The guy in the original video is part of the faith leadership courted by Trump, has been invited to DC, has been in the Oval Office with Trump.

            This is not just a single rando I plucked from nowhere.

          • bean says:


            Trump’s alignment with the prosperity gospel people would be disturbing if I’d thought him anything more than a nominal Christian. I’m much more bothered by the non-prosperity gospel people who have publicly aligned with him as a good choice, instead of “slightly better for us than Hilary”. (There was a recent kerfluffle over the Southern Baptist’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, whose head has been critical of Trump, and who various pro-Trump elements keep trying to shut down.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Can you be more specific about who you mean? Pat Robertson? Folks like Falwell, Jr and Graham? It’s not just prosperity gospel folks that I find disturbing.

            There certainly are conservative Christian leaders who have rejected Trump, fwiw. But, I guess I just don’t view it as surprising that they broadly have accepted him. The decision to firmly link to the GOP was made long ago. There isn’t really an a means to undo that. Not in the current landscape.

          • bean says:

            Graham springs most prominently to mind. Again, though, he’s not Copeland and while I’m sure he’s calling on people to pray about coronavirus, and praying himself, he’s not saying “I rebuked it in the Name of Jesus, and thus it is over”, which seems to be the heart of your criticism.

            One thing I hope comes out of the Trump administration is a greater skepticism in the church about linking ourselves to the GOP. I heard several complains about people who went to the Southern Baptist Convention where Pence spoke (I think 2 years ago) that it was more focused on America than on God.

      • Deiseach says:

        To steelman what I think HeelBearCub is trying to say:

        (1) There’s a very large proportion of the American population which is religious (around 71% of the population are some flavour of Christian)
        (2) The dominant religion is Christianity and the dominant strain of Christianity is (American) Protestantism – the largest single denomination is the Roman Catholics (21%), but the largest grouping is Evangelical Protestants (25%)
        (3) As with any large special-interest group, they have an influence on politics both directly – by voting – and indirectly – by politicians being canny about which way they’ll jump on an issue as to whether it will appeal or not to this group (this goes both “for” the group and “against” the group, depending where our politico is based – we all expect Senator Cluckhorn in the Bible Belt to adopt one set of policies while Senator Slicker on the coasts will carefully avoid anything that smacks of “would go down well in the flyover states”). We even see it in the most extreme form where the Vice President is one of the literalist believers
        (4) A proportion of those Christians, allegedly a small but not insignificant proportion, have nutty beliefs
        (5) These beliefs inform their voting patterns and in turn this influences the politicians
        (6) Hence, the levers of power when it comes to making public policy and policy decisions for the entire nation can be influenced by people who believe in a form of magic (see the Vice President and, presumably, the beliefs influencing him as one of the literalist believer types even if he’s not this particular flavour of third wave Word of Faith Charismatic)

        I don’t necessarily agree with all of this, but I think that’s the best case for what he’s trying to say.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          (Side note: I would object to the characterizations of the beliefs as nutty. They are beliefs, taught, frequently from childhood, and mostly honestly held.)

          That was actually all downstream (or maybe upstream) of my point.

          In the past (and I would predict in the future) when the argument you laid out has been made, the first/most likely criticism has been some form of “these people don’t exist, have no standing, don’t affect anything. How dare you mock Christians beliefs.”

          Evangelical/born-again Christians form perhaps the most important primary voting blocks for Republicans. Half of them are charismatics. Some further portion may not identify as charismatic, but do identify as Biblical literalists.

          • Skeptic says:

            But then the major primary voting block for Democrats also falls under the exact same rubric.

            So is it impacting actual policy or not? I doubt it.

            Just as an explanation of how misinformed the tenor of this stuff generally is (not at HBC in particular) The biggest adherence to prosperity gospel in the US is African American Pentecostalism and then Judaism, in that order.

            Evangelicals are a distant third.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The impact that African Americans make to Democratic policy platforms isn’t particularly religious in nature, and where there is intersection, it’s primarily around the ideas of civil rights and social justice flowing from MLK’s style of combining politics and religion

            Whereas Paula White has a position in the Trump admin.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        I provided a single example, along with references to the general beliefs.

        But the charismatic promotion of directly tying outcomes to spiritual beliefs and actions is hardly limited to one single faith leader.

        Heck, even the Governor of Mississippi is citing his willingness to pray as somehow material to whether criticism of his failure to institute stricter measures in response to Covid-19 is relevant.

        And it’s not as if televangelism doesn’t have a long history in the US. Jim and Tammy Faye and Jimmy Swaggart are still doing their thing.

        • Deiseach says:

          Heck, even the Governor of Mississippi is citing his willingness to pray as somehow material to whether criticism of his failure to institute stricter measures in response to Covid-19 is relevant.

          See point (3) above about tailoring your public image to your constituency; I’m sure a lot of voters and citizens of Mississippi pray themselves, believe in the efficacy of prayer, and would feel more sympathetic towards someone in authority who has the humility (if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made!) to acknowledge that the fate of nations is at the disposition of a Higher Power.

          If I look up Governor Reeves, the controversy seems to be about not imposing stay-at-home regulations earlier and exempting a large number of businesses as “essential” in order to stay open. I don’t think that his religiosity has much to do with that, it seems to be controversial whether governments clamp down early or not, and when they should/shouldn’t relax such strictures. If the guy is using the appearance of devoutness to deflect criticism, I’m sure he’d do the same if he were a more secular politician in a more secular state and find some other means of finding a shield in public opinion – maybe he’d claim “but at least I made the gun stores shut down!” or the likes.

          Jim and Tammy Faye and Jimmy Swaggart are still doing their thing.

          Yes, but in much reduced circumstances from the apex of their influence and power. HBC, I’m not at all sure what point exactly you are trying to make; you claim you don’t think it’s fair to call such beliefs nutty but at the same time you seem to be extremely concerned that religious principles are affecting public decision making, and the religious examples you choose to use are ones that are not mainstream and do seem to be ones you consider irrational or magical or something.

          Can you clarify what you mean? Because to me it does look like you mean “Nutty magical thinking is rotting the brains of an awful lot of susceptible people and they tend to vote Republican and the Republicans are in power and that is why Trump is messing up with how he’s handling the COVID-19 emergency and this is why there aren’t enough masks and respirators and stringent measures because politicians are dancing to the tune of people who think you can cast out the Demon of Coronavirus instead of using scientific medicine”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I’m saying beliefs affect decisions and policy.

            I happen to think those beliefs are incorrect, and lead to some bad outcomes, but I don’t think they are nutty. As I said, I have family members who have charismatic beliefs. I have some understanding of why these beliefs make sense to them. My mother, one of the very best people in the world, although not charismatic, has what I would describe as unshakeable belief.

            I also spent most of my formative years in the Bible Belt, albeit in a college town. My wife’s family has deep, deep small town Southern farm roots, going back all the way to the earliest colonization. Mocking religious belief just isn’t done.

            Here is something of an illustrative anecdote that’s not nearly so topical. My wife had a coworker with poorly managed type-2 diabetes. Mind you, these are coworkers in healthcare. One night she passed away in her sleep.

            She most likely died of diabetic ketoacidosis. Her husband was unconcerned that the previous night she had been speaking incoherently, and simply said she had been speaking in tongues. Confusion is one the warning signs of diabetic crisis.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m saying beliefs affect decisions and policy.


            I also spent most of my formative years in the Bible Belt, albeit in a college town. My wife’s family has deep, deep small town Southern farm roots, going back all the way to the earliest colonization. Mocking religious belief just isn’t done.

            And I grew up exposed to a section of people who fervently believed in Garabandal and later Medjugore and who were pious, sincere, and deeply believed the message of private revelations and ‘end of the world warnings’ they were sharing with us all. That still did not make them more than a fringe, and not official doctrine, or make them more influential than the kind of polite treatment of “you don’t mock religion” that your wife grew up with. If you want to argue that our Department of Health is basing its recommendations on the Third Secret of Fatima because look, there were people driving around Cork publicly reciting the rosary, go right ahead, but you’re deeply mistaken.

            I happen to think those beliefs are incorrect, and lead to some bad outcomes, but I don’t think they are nutty

            So what is your problem with them? There’s a gap between “incorrect” and “crazy”, but the particular example you linked to was treated by the person who posted it, and the people who commented on it, as nutty and not simply “Some denominations of Christianity believe this about divorce, I disagree” level of doctrinal difference.

            Your concern, if I take what you are saying, is that people of this stripe will treat disease symptoms as something that can be prayed away and that medical intervention or treatment is not necessary, and furthermore that their influence due to their beliefs is not alone courted but shared by Trump’s administration, hence the reason Trump is so bad at handling the crisis is because he or his cabinet are brainwashed by “just pray and God will make it all better”.

            As evidence for this, you adduce that this particular purveyor of the Word of Faith movement has been in the Oval Office and you intimate that he has been personally and deliberately invited in by Trump/members of Trump’s administration (oh hell, let’s just go ahead and say “Mike Pence”) not just because he represents a special interest voting bloc but because of shared beliefs in magical healing.

            I’m not going to change your mind on this, so I’m not even going to bother arguing about all the ministers and pastors and similar groups that both Democratic and Republican presidents and politicians have invited in for photo-ops. You’re not even arguing that Trump was cynically using the guy and whomever else was in the group of ministers to appeal to the voters who would be influenced by seeing “Oh look, there’s Pastor Jones! Trump must be one of us!”, you’re arguing Trump/his administration share these beliefs and are allowing them to dictate public policy.

            You want to quote Revelation as to how this is all coded therein and we’re in the End Times while you’re at it? Because that is the level of rigid religiosity you’re exhibiting on this – “No, all you believers who say this is fringe heresy are lying! You all really believe this stuff! And the President believes it too, that’s why he fired the CDC and is instead relying on God to cure the plague!!!”

          • albatross11 says:

            I think it’s more fun to fall back on tribal conflicts than to think about reality. That’s why CW clickbait works.

      • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

        calling attention to some singular example of nuttiness and ascribing it to liberals/progressives/SJWs generally.

        It’s not always pointed at HBC, but this is a (sometimes multiple times) daily occurrence around here.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I agree these people are nutty heretics. But putting them to the thumb screws is “frowned upon” these days.

      • albatross11 says:

        Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! (They’re all locked down at home due to coronavirus.)

    • bean says:

      No. Just no. I’ve been in and out of Charismatic churches throughout my life (currently out, not over theology) and Kenneth Copeland is not typical of the group. The prosperity gospel/God-as-vending-machine/magic stuff he peddles is definitely closer to Charismatism than to other branches of Christianity, but it’s definitely not the whole of that tradition.

      You should be better than this.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Not christian, but the religious leaders in my religion generally seems to be contributing to the message of staying at home.

      The biggest figure in the more extreme stream (which was more difficult for the government to corral than the average citizens, which is saying something in my country) recently said that ignoring the health guidelines is endangering others’ lives, and if someone dies because of an individual’s flouting of the rules, that individual is a murderer.
      The guidelines are very quickly being adapted in that stream now

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I think you would be surprised how large percentage of, for a lack of a better term, nontheists, believes in various sorts of wacky “esoteric” magic. I know what I am talking about since I live in a country where Christians are a minority. Belief in magic is deeply ingrained in human psyche as a sort of default state.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        No, I very well would not be surprised. Crystals, auras, superstitions, lucky socks …

        I’ve consistently maintained that these kinds of beliefs are simply human.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Yeah, but then I feel it is unfair to pick specifically on self-identified Christians for believing that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            No, I specifically said was responding to those who have said that these beliefs don’t exist in the Christian faith.

          • AlesZiegler says:


            Ups, perhaps it is because I am failing my English comprehension test (I am not a native speaker, so it would not be surprising), but rereading your initial comment it is not at all clear to me.

          • HeelBearCub says:


            That is what this sentence is intended to convey.

            Those here who are believers frequently object to what they think are unfair characterizations of theists, especially Christians.

          • Deiseach says:

            Those here who are believers frequently object to what they think are unfair characterizations of theists, especially Christians.

            I still do think it’s an unfair characterisation of Christians and Christian beliefs. You’re taking one particular strand of what orthodox belief would consider dangerously near to heresy if not outright sliding right into it, claiming it’s representative of what theists/Christians believe, that it is much larger than it is, much more influential, and everyone who says “Well, in my denomination we don’t believe that” is just making up excuses.

            It reminds me of nothing so much as The Rapture, which American secularists/non-Christians/atheists seem to think is a central dogma of Christianity and looms large in the spiritual life of all believers, but which is something I never heard of until I started hanging around American discussions of religion. It may be big in certain parts of America, but America is not the world! This argument you are making is like someone arguing “But the Left Behind series sold 80 million copies, therefore the Pope must believe in the Rapture!” Uh, no?

            This is as fair-minded as condemning geology because crystal healers invoke “science” with “vibrational levels at the sub-atomic scale” to explain their convictions. They’re talking about science and rocks, they must be representative of what geologists believe, and any geologists who say otherwise are just trying to excuse away the craziness of their school of thought!

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It may be big in certain parts of America, but America is not the world! This argument you are making is like someone arguing “But the Left Behind series sold 80 million copies, therefore the Pope must believe in the Rapture!” Uh, no?

            This is where I bring up that an X-Men writer wanted to have Nightcrawler on the team but a previous writer had “ruined” him by making him become a Catholic priest. So Nightcrawler was revealed to have accidentally joined a fake seminary that was planning to infiltrate the Roman Catholic Church with exploding Communion wafers to simulate the Rapture, somehow allowing their conspiracy to take over the world when everyone saw on the news that Catholics had been Raptured and updated their beliefs.
            “Oops, my ordination was never valid! Guess I shouldn’t have blundered into the evil fake seminary!”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It may be big in certain parts of America, but America is not the world!

            Yes, but that doesn’t matter if we are not talking about “the world” (where the world is your very European, Catholic view of what religion is). If we are talking about charismatic, literalist YEC Evangelicals, whether they exists, and how their beliefs affect US politics, it doesn’t really matter what Christianity looks like to a Catholic in Ireland.

            I freely admit that Catholicism in Europe is in many way dissimilar to Anglicans in the UK, who are both quite dissimilar to Seventh Day Adventists in America. Indeed, that’s my point.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        If you want to stop people believing in healing magic, you basically need Lenin/Stalin level state atheism.
        Or you could accept belief in supernatural healing that doesn’t contradict medical science, which is where the Catholic Church is at. Someone elsethread brought up burning Kenneth Copeland at the stake.
        Or take no extreme measures because risky levels of belief in supernatural healing aren’t common enough to be a big deal.

        • Matt M says:

          Lenin/Stalin level state atheism.

          Did that even work?

          The resurgence of the Orthodox church following the fall of the USSR would seem to imply that they didn’t really successfully convince people not to have religious beliefs, just scared them into not practicing or professing such beliefs in public.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Very good point.
            People as high-status in Soviet times as Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Putin apparently remained Orthodox, just scared subtle.

          • JPNunez says:

            But more importantly…does the Orthodox Church promote magical healing?

            Genuinely don’t know.

        • albatross11 says:

          Suppose Alice prays for an end to COVID-19, and Bob fervently hopes for an end to COVID-19 in public.

          Suppose Carol organizes a mass prayer for and end to COVID-19, and Dave organizes a mass online rally for an end to COVID-19.

          What’s the difference, in practical terms, to an atheist?

          ISTM that the relevant question isn’t whether you pray, rub a rabbit’s foot, or go dance naked in the woods–it’s whether or not you take the available actions to make things better. If you’re praying *instead of* social distancing, you’re very likely making the world a worse place. If you’re praying *alongside* social distancing, then ISTM the worst an atheist should have to say about that is that you’re wasting your time talking to nobody.

          Similarly, if the COVID-19 taskforce opens with a prayer that the virus will be defeated, or if they open with everyone expressing a fervent hope that it will be defeated, or if they open up with everyone pouring a drink and having a toast to defeating the virus, what’s the difference to a nonbeliever? The thing that matters is what they do after they’re done praying, right?

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:


            Now, I’d bet Mr. “IN THE NAME OF JESUS!” probably isn’t practicing social distancing. But we ought to shame him for his ignorance of medical science and failure to take effective anti-COVID measures, not just mock him for saying funny things.

            And when we do criticize Mr. “GET OUT, SATAN!”, we absolutely should not extend that criticism and shaming to the Christians who do practice social distancing, and are praying for an end to the pandemic in addition to following the recommendations of medical science.

  20. k10293 says:

    Reposting since it got eaten by the spam filter.

    According to Worldometer, San Marino has 648 (!) deaths per million people. Might we use this as a method to calculate a lower bound on the true COVID-19 fatality rate? The herd immunity rate for COVID-19 may be around 60%. The percent of people who have the disease is almost certainly lower than that, and most likely significantly lower. If we divide those two numbers, we get a true fatality rate lower bound of .1%. This is lower than many estimations I’ve seen, but not lower than all of them.

    Some potential concerns:
    1. The sample size is small. However it’s big enough to make inferences like this.
    2. San Marino is unrepresentative of the world population. I could believe this is true, although the one thing I checked shows 15% of people are 65+ as of 2000, which does not seem especially unusual.

    • myst_05 says:

      Could San Marino be accepting patients from nearby towns as well? Also, Diamond Princess gives a better lower bound. They’ve had 3711 passengers and 10 people are dead as of this moment. Presuming that all 3711 were actually infected, this gives us a lower bound of 0.26%.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I think there was an age bias on Diamond Princess.

        The ship’s average age was 58, and 33 percent were 70 or older.

      • 10240 says:

        Most passengers on the Diamond Princess were old. All or most of them were eventually tested, and according to Wikipedia, 712 were positive and 11 have died, giving a mortality rate of approx. 1.5% among them (or 1.8% if we only count those who have recovered or died).

        • Kindly says:

          Up to 3.5% if we count the serious cases that haven’t recovered yet together with the deaths.

        • Buttle says:

          Nearly a third of the people on the Diamond Princess were crew, median age 36. The median age of the passengers was 69. Cruise ship crew seem to have been responsible for much of the spread from one ship to another; I’m not sure if they actually changed stations or just visited each other in port.

          I don’t see anything in the CDC report to indicate that testing levels or protocols were different for passengers than crew.

    • nkurz says:

      > The sample size is small. However it’s big enough to make inferences like this.

      What makes you think this? San Marino seems to have a population of about 33,000. Your numbers imply that about 25 have died (33000 * .0007 = 23.1). Deaths from contagious diseases frequently occur in clusters. If (hypothetically) one outbreak in a nursing home caused the majority of these deaths, what reliable inference can we possibly make about “the lower bound on the true COVID-19 fatality rate” in the world at large? What if it was two independent outbreaks? Three? How would you know, and how does this affect your calculation?

  21. Ventrue Capital says:


    1. When you say “Orange Man Bad” are you referring to Donald Trump or Homer Simpson?

    2. I never complained that FTD (Florists’ Transworld Delivery) is incompetent.

    • SCC says:

      Thanks for the humor.

      I gave up on the internet when almost nobody said anything about the spectacularly evil bigotry driven killing of all the hogs in Egypt. I remember. I am almost certain that you do not remember.

      I don’t expect, when reading comments on the internet, to find more than one in a thousand people who are not being “satirical” or “ironic” or who are not trying to sound smarter than they are.

      Thousands of people are dead, and billions of people are living in fear, because, apparently, a few people foolishly and in an evil hour decided it is ok to kill and eat flying chihuahuas.

      Kudos on your attempt at humor – reread the last books of the Odyssey, the ones who pretended they were just kidding were let off easy by the gods. As they should have been, but that being said ….

      This is serious stuff. There are five billion or so people in the world who know what is going on, in a small way, and I am one of the few out of the billions – my guess is one of a few ten thousand out of those billions – who are truthfully saying we are going through this apocalyptic secular hell because bad people liked to eat flying chihuahuas. AND THAT CULTURAL PRACTICE OF EATING STILL LIVING FLYING CHIHUAHUAS IS STILL GOING ON WHILE YOU ARE MAKING STUPID JOKES ABOUT ME, but hey, it is more important to mock me than to address the real issues facing the world..

      I get it, it is IMPORTANT THAT YOU MAKE A FTD joke, because this is the internet, dude.

      Don’t ever respond to one of my comments again unless you first apologize.

      and for the record, I used the wrong acronym to draw out loser comments. I am not as stupid as you think, Monsieur VENTRUE

  22. The Pachyderminator says:

    You haven’t been here very long if you think no one here is interested in discussing animal cruelty. But you’re mixing up different issues here. Insofar as the pandemic is a reason to ban wet markets, it’s because they’re unsanitary and spread disease, not because they’re cruel to the animals. Veal is also cruel, but it doesn’t cause pandemics.

    • SCC says:

      I have been here longer than you think. You do not want to know how many thousands of hours I have spent trying to communicate with people who think they are smarter than they are.
      Part of that includes reading literally tens of thousands of comments here.

      And I am not mixing up issues.

      The FLYING CHIHUAHUAS are just as much the issue here as the RNA specifics of our little sort of alive not sort of alive frenemy ( a friend, inasmuch as it is a fellow creature of God, an enemy inasmuch as it needs to be defeated if we care, with love for others, about God’s creation). THE FLYING CHIHUAHUAS are just as much the issue as the PREVALENT COMMENTS EXPRESSING panicked hatred for authority figures or the even more PREVALENT COMMENTS EXPRESSING panicked desire to submit to authority figures, and yes there are many people on this website saying important non-panicked things, and I am happy to see that, but I guarantee you that if you deny that THE FLYING CHIHUAHUAS WHO WERE EATEN AND WHOSE DEATH AS A MATTER OF CUISINE RESULTED IN ALL THIS ARE THE MOST PRIMARY ISSUE then you are missing the point of all this

      cor ad cor loquitur

      • SCC says:

        I always stick up for my friends and trust me I love bats, every one of whom is basically either a flying chihuahua or a flying miniature chihuahua ….

        if you did not know that before tonight, well, that is sad.

        Love for humble animals is not only a staple trope in all religions it is what people who care about other people feel

        and, no, Homer Simpson with his disgusting MMMM BACON is not a real person

        that is a diminished version of a human being

        SAD !

        and, as we now know, DANGEROUS BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE DYING AND GOVERNMENTS ARE SEIZING POWER because of Homer and his MMMM BACON foolishness.

  23. johan_larson says:

    Some good news from the UK:

    When Britain’s Health Minister Matt Hancock asked for volunteers last week to help the country’s National Health Service cope with the COVID-19 outbreak, he thought 250,000 people might come forward.

    The target looked exceedingly ambitious and health officials expected it would take weeks before a new program, called NHS Volunteer Responders, would get anywhere near that figure. They were quickly proved wrong.

    Mr. Hancock’s target was surpassed within 24 hours and the number of volunteers has swollen to 750,000 in just five days. The program has been so overwhelmed that, on Sunday, organizers had to suspend all new applications.

    “We have been absolutely bowled over by the staggering response to our call for volunteers,” said Ruth May, the Chief Nursing Officer for England. “We will now concentrate on getting this incredible volunteer army up and running.”

    • vaniver says:

      I mean, this is the country that gave us Dunkirk.

    • Anteros says:

      And something about the attitude to ‘our beloved NHS, envy of the world’.

      I’m not the biggest fan of the NHS, but I recognize the widespread and sincere devotion to it.

      • Tarpitz says:

        Yes. It is weird, but it is real.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          I don’t think it’s weird. Say you’re in good health, you’re not that well off, it’s nice to know that if you do fall ill, there’s a safety net that will look after you reasonably well. You don’t care that it’s not gold-plated – in fact you probably don’t want it to be.

  24. zardoz says:

    Academia and the media generally regard car culture and suburbia as bad. The argument generally is that cars are bad because they produce co2 emissions and pollution, prevent people from getting exercise, and produce communities that are somehow worse than dense cities.

    Now that COVID-19 is here, we can see that dense urban areas are ideal for spreading the virus, and suburbs slow down the virus. For example, NYC is the densest place in the country, and the epidemic seems at least an order of magnitude worse there than here in the SF Bay area.

    Has anyone updated their opinion of car culture vs. public transit culture? I haven’t seen any blog posts or thinkpieces on this at all. I do see a lot of people pushing the idea of universal health care, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to have helped in Italy (to be clear, I’m not saying it doesn’t help with anything, but just that government-run healthcare doesn’t seem to provide a big advantage in the fight against COVID-19).

    • Kaitian says:

      I’m a very anti car person. During this crisis, I have wished that I had a car: I could buy more groceries at the same time (though I have worked out a decent system of using my rolling suitcase for transport). I could bring groceries to my elderly mom or drive out to a remote area for walking, instead of my only options being a couple of relatively crowded parks. If I lived in a detached house, everything I need to touch in my daily life (trash can lid, front door, letter box) would belong only to me.

      Now, a car would always have been convenient, but usually I don’t miss it. However, this crisis has not changed my view of car policy in general. It will hopefully take decades before the next epidemic of this kind, and we don’t really have to design our public life around this rare situation.

      Living in a dense city also has some advantages: the hospitals are better than countryside ones, and I’m closer to them if I were to need help. All other services including doctors, pharmacies and grocery stores are conveniently available, unlike in “non dense” areas. And when I step on my balcony, I see some activity outside, which probably makes life easier compared to being quarantined in a small town.

      So all in all, my position on transport has not changed.

      • JayT says:

        Of course, suburbs are the epitome of car culture and are not dense. Yet, they don’t share any of the downsides of country living that you mention, but they do have all the benefits. It’s almost as if there was a reason most people want to live in suburban areas!

        For what it’s worth, I would personally rather live in an urban area, but I do I understand the appeal of suburban living.

        • Pepe says:

          I rather die a slow, painful, corona-death than have to live in a suburb ever again. Wretched places.

          • Ouroborobot says:

            I can only assume when you say “suburb”, you are thinking of soulless cookie-cutter housing subdivisions, strip malls, chain restaurants, and big box stores. That is not always the case, and that flavor of suburb is the exception rather than the norm here in New England.

          • Defining “suburb” is a bit tricky. As with many other things, there isn’t really a bright line division.

            Legally speaking, I live in San Jose, a city of about a million. Our house is on the south side of Williams Rd. South of Williams, almost everyone lives in a single family house with a lawn and a back yard, although both houses and yards are small by U.S. standards and there are some apartment buildings. North of Williams there are some single family homes but, at least near us, it seems to be mostly apartment buildings.

            We so almost all of our shopping by car, but there is a small strip mall with a 7-11 and a liquor store a block or so away. I doubt there is any significant amount of employment within half a mile of us, but a bit beyond that is a commercial street with restaurants, dentists, … . By casual observation, on our side of Williams there must be at least one car per house, more often two.

            It’s suburban enough so that I have a yard full of fruit trees — admittedly on a bigger lot than most of our neighbors, but quite a lot of houses have a few. But both of my adult kids occasionally get dim sum or groceries from places a mile or so away that they walk to.

            Pretty clearly car culture, whether it should count as suburban is less clear.

          • Pepe says:

            “I can only assume when you say “suburb”, you are thinking of soulless cookie-cutter housing subdivisions, strip malls, chain restaurants, and big box stores. That is not always the case, and that flavor of suburb is the exception rather than the norm here in New England.”

            Maybe they come in nicer flavors elsewhere. I mostly mean houses with no walls/fences, no sidewalks on the roads, nothing close enough so that you have to drive everywhere, and neighbors that don’t understand the concept of minding their own business.

          • acymetric says:

            Maybe they come in nicer flavors elsewhere. I mostly mean houses with no walls/fences, no sidewalks on the roads

            Maybe I live in a special suburb bubble, but this sounds like the opposite of a suburb. I can’t think of any suburbs around here that don’t have an extensive network of sidewalks (and usually greenways). Nearby stores probably aren’t walkable in most cases (although they can be depending on where exactly you live) so I’ll grant you that part.

            I feel like fences and sidewalks are near ubiquitous in suburbs.

          • 205guy says:

            San Jose is definitely suburban, and not the good kind. Urban is when you can buy warm croissants for breakfast at the boulangerie on the ground floor of your building. Walking a mile on a 6-lane arterial road to get decent food does not sound like the Wikipedia article: “San Jose is a global city, notable as a center of innovation, for its affluence, Mediterranean climate, and extremely high cost of living.”

          • Loriot says:

            In the suburbs I grew up in, some streets had sidewalks, but the majority didn’t.

          • The Nybbler says:

            San Jose is a city of over a million people, the third largest in California. It’s not a suburb, even if many of the residential neighborhoods are pretty much indistinguishable from suburbs.

          • JayT says:

            While San Jose has a definite city center, there are definitely parts that I would classify as suburban. Downtown is urban, but something like this has to be classified as suburban.

          • John Schilling says:

            In the suburbs I grew up in, some streets had sidewalks, but the majority didn’t.

            The suburb I grew up in had zero sidewalks, and no place within walking distance but other suburban houses. Butt everybody had friends in those houses, and nobody thought twice about walking over to visit them.

            I don’t know whether sidewalks are the norm or the exception in modern suburbs, but I don’t think I have yet seen a suburb that wasn’t safely and comfortably walkable by anyone inclined to walk. They may exist, but I’m skeptical they are the norm.

          • Walking a mile on a 6-lane arterial road to get decent food does not sound like the Wikipedia article

            I’m not sure if this is responding to me or someone else. Walking about a mile, most of it on a sidewalk along the local road our house is on (Williams), some of it on a sidewalk along Saratoga Avenue, which is four lanes but I think more commercial than arterial, will get you to your choice of Iranian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, or fast food.

          • zardoz says:

            “San Jose” means almost nothing other than “the east half of the south bay.” It’s a legal entity that kept expanding until it couldn’t any more, absorbing a lot of very different areas. There is a dense downtown area with skyscrapers, weird one-way streets, and row houses that are kind of like SF, as well as public transit that is probably at least as good as SF’s. There is Willow Glen, which is basically Campbell if it had gotten Borg’ed. There are really exurban areas where the complaints about no sidewalks, no walkable neighborhoods are really true.

          • Pepe says:

            Never been to San Jose. Would Pasadena count as a suburb of LA? If it does, then that is one type of suburb I would gladly live in, and not at all what I was thinking of.

          • Matt M says:

            Pasadena is definitely a suburb of LA.

          • Pepe says:

            Then I think that I need a new definition. I think I have heard “exurb” before, but not too sure that is tightly defined either.

          • Matt M says:

            Exurb is definitely a thing, but it describes basically the next layer/ring of residential areas that are even farther away from the urban core than the suburbs are.

            Pasadena is way too close to LA to be anything but a suburb. Places like Oxnard or Mission Viejo are closer to my understanding of an exurb.

          • Statismagician says:

            I think there are ~three kinds of suburbs.

            1: Suburbs proper; alia ‘streetcar suburbs,’ ‘inner-ring suburbs,’ etc. These were real self-contained towns at some point before automobiles were universal and so are laid out such that you can do a lot of things within a couple of miles and walk there without risking your life. Single-family homes on smallish lots around a core of mid-rise shops, restaurants, and apartments. There are local theaters and/or music venues.

            2: Suburbs colloquial; these were designed on the assumption that everyone owns a car. Large single-family homes on large lots arranged in cul-de-sacs, themselves feeding into large arterial roads with shops and restaurants. Sidewalks are not universal, and functional walkability is accidental or low-priority (distinct from pleasant parks/bike trails; I mean you can’t walk to a grocery store, pharmacist, or bar except by chance). Completely dependent on the local city for culture/entertainment. This is where the Desperate Housewives live and what most people mean by ‘suburb’ in the US.

            3: Exurbs, alias ‘small towns,’ etc. These were never envisioned as dependent on either cars or the local city except in the complicated economic sense, but now are. Single-family homes on large lots again. Sometimes there’s a few blocks of two- or three-story buildings, more often just the same homes, smaller lots. There are probably farms right outside, and lots of people commute 1+ hour into the local city for work.

      • The Big Red Scary says:

        Have you tried grocery delivery? Have you tried renting a car? In normal times, you can get pretty good deals, though perhaps at the moment demand has increased.

        • Kaitian says:

          I can’t drive, so I haven’t checked if renting a car is possible. I’ve considered delivery, but the normal supermarkets are all booked out, so in the end on balance it’s probably better if I leave the delivery spots to vulnerable people and go do my own groceries by foot as always. I think my personal hygiene and ability to keep my distance from people is above average, and anyway as a healthy non-old person I’ll probably have to get Corona at some point in the name of herd immunity.

        • Chalid says:

          I rented a car. They’re *much* cheaper than usual, at least at my location.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Available grocery delivery dates in my area (Northern New Jersey) are weeks out. I believe rental car agencies are closed by decree. In general if some service will collapse under a sharp increase in demand, it’ll become unavailable exactly when you want it most.

      • John Schilling says:

        It will hopefully take decades before the next epidemic of this kind, and we don’t really have to design our public life around this rare situation

        Rare but disastrous situations, yeah, you kind of do. Like, if your country gets invaded by would-be conquerors every couple decades, you probably have to make a civic virtue of military service rather than just expect the mercenaries to handle it.

        And private cars (and boats, and airplanes) aren’t just useful for pandemics; pretty much every crisis, they patch up a whole lot of gaps that the crisis planners didn’t adequately plan for. So, yeah, your society should probably encourage people to have more than they optimally “need” under normal circumstances, and you should probably have and know how to drive one if it’s at all practical.

        Also, high population density makes a whole lot of crises worse, so your society should encourage people to spread out more than would be “ideal” under normal circumstances.

        • Kaitian says:

          I don’t agree with this at all, and I think this may be an underlying values difference. Maybe you put a high value on ideas of self-sufficiency and “being prepared”, which I see many Americans expressing when it comes to questions like owning a gun.

          Meanwhile I’m a soft city dweller who wants cars to go away because they’re stinky and noisy and bad for the birds. I like high density living and the many opportunities it brings. Yes I’m more likely to die of plague, but I think it’s worth.

          • Loriot says:


            Sometimes I dream about retiring to the country and being able to go out and walk in nature and all that. And then I remember that it’s also nice to be close to an international airport and have a variety of restaurants available and easily find groups of people with similar interests to me and all that. And the two goals are largely incompatible.

            It reminds me of arguments over the optimal size for a company. There are advantages and disadvantages to both small and large companies, but the most successful companies tend to be very large.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            I also like the car-free dense-city life, and I intend to continue it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ever admit that it has a drawback.

      • One further advantage of non-dense living is that you can grow some of your own food. A single full sized apple or peach tree produces quite a lot of fruit. Tomatoes can be managed in a city yard or even a window box, but are easier if lots are a sizable fraction of an acre or more. Part of our plan, if the present emergency lasts more than another month or two, is to rely on our own sources for fresh fruit and vegetables, which don’t store without refrigeration.

        There are at least three kinds of edible plants in the yard that we didn’t plant.

    • real_human9000 says:

      Population density must have some effect, but some dense places (South Korea, Singapore, Chinese cities) have managed to control breakouts. For the Spanish Flu, there is apparently debate over the effect of pop. density. This study (link) found that a density threshold of 175/sq mile was significant.

      Without suppression measures, I suspect the disease would move through suburbs nearly as quickly as cities. Schools, restaurants, mass transit, and workplaces are probably the biggest hot beds of disease transmission. Mass transit is the only one unique to dense cities.

    • physticuffs says:

      Just for the sheer danger of driving, this hasn’t changed my mind about cars. I think in general, Americans are so car-reliant that it’s easy for us to forget how dangerous cars are. (In 2018, the NSC gave a 1-in-106 chance of dying in a car crash and a 1-in-541 chance of dying in a “pedestrian incident”, ie you get hit by a car.

      There are reasons you might prefer cars over transit and suburban life over city life, but the travel risks (including the risk of getting sick) associated with each type of density wouldn’t be on my list.

      • J Mann says:

        I appreciate that you didn’t mean it that way, but I read “In 2018” to imply those were annual rates of death, which made my eyes pop out of my head.

        To clarify for anyone else who made that error, the National Safety Council was trying to calculate lifetime death risks – i.e., given that you’re going to die of something. what is it likely to be. The chances you’ll die of heart disease based on 2018 death rates are 1 in 6, motor vehicle accident is 1 in 106 (pretty close to the chance you’ll die from a fall at 1 in 111), and the lowest listed chance is lighting, at 1 in 180,000.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      The comparison between LA and NYC is confounded by NYC locking down a week later.

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        If you’re looking at the death rate, lock downs in the last two weeks will have had zero effect, as it generally takes that long to die.

        • Ketil says:

          Actual numbers for time from infection to death? I haven’t seen anything solid, so I go with 1-3 weeks. Likely, there’s some minimum incubation, and a long tail.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            The suggestion is that in most cases there is an indeterminate number of days, but probably about 5, from infection until the disease becomes obvious. Then you spend a week coughing at home. Then you get better or you go to hospital, after which in some cases you die.

    • jasmith79 says:

      The thing everyone is missing in the debate in this thread is why people move to suburbia in the first place. Overwhelmingly, they do it for schools, see e.g. the review of the Two Income Trap on this very blog. And as some have pointed out, the modern service economy has made a lot of the gains of city life moot: you can effectively carpool groceries and restaurant food by using delivery, more workers than ever are working remote (I’m 70% remote, my wife is 100%), etc.

      In terms of motivation, it’s actually even more subtle than that. My wife and I didn’t just move out to the burbs to have good schools, we moved out to be around the kind of people who would move someplace inconvenient because of their kids.

      So until/unless you fix the schools problem (which I admit is fueled in no small part by selection bias) that is going to be the determining factor for suburbanites, and it’s going to trump any consideration of car safety or pandemic planning.

      I love NYC, but I wouldn’t want to try to raise a family there unless I was wealthy enough to both live in a safer part and send the munchkins to private school (or lucked in to a lottery school).

      • The Nybbler says:

        Schools and space. You can improve the schools, but you can’t do much about space in the city, because lack of space goes right along with density.

        Grocery shopping, even without delivery, in the NYC suburbs is generally easier than in NYC. Sure, you need a car… but you don’t need to walk to a tiny and crowded grocery store to pick up only that which you can carry in your arms or collapsible cart.

        • March says:

          to pick up only that which you can carry in your arms or collapsible cart.

          Is that such a hardship? My husband and I go grocery shopping once a week and we usually have about 2 backpacks (regular-size ones, not hiking) and 2 plastic totes full of food. We usually bike, but walking would be just as easy.

          And that’s for 3 people who always cook at home from scratch.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Apparently you buy much more compact food than my wife and I.

          • March says:

            Huh, guess so.

          • Loriot says:

            I also walk to the grocery store, but being limited in carrying capacity is annoying sometimes. For example, on my last trip, I finally managed to get some toilet paper and oatmeal, but since they’re bulky, I couldn’t get much else that trip.

            It doesn’t help that my good tote bags broke, so I’ve been making do with much smaller bags.

            In the steady state, it doesn’t matter much, but it makes it much harder to stock up on things should the need arise, or if you run out of a bunch of things at once. I usually go to the store once a week, but perhaps I’d go less often if I had a car. On the other hand, refrigerator space is also a huge limitation.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        There’s also living space. I have a 2,500 sq. ft. house in the ‘burbs. It is really nice for my kids to have their own rooms, me to have a game room, my wife to have her own office, and for the family to share a big kitchen. I could never afford anything like this in a city, and my day-to-day quality of life would suffer drastically.

        Edit: ninj’erd by Nybbler.

      • albatross11 says:

        Lots of people want a yard and a single-family house, which are very expensive or unavailable in the middle of a city, but pretty affordable if you’re willing to move further out.

        Depending on cars for your transport has another advantage: you aren’t so susceptible to local government mismanagement/ineptitude as someone who relies on public transit and then has something like the disasters that befell the DC Metro system a few years back. (Years of mismanagement and deferred maintenance came home to roost, and they’re still untangling the mess.)

      • Clutzy says:

        Also, if we are being honest, there are big problems with city life without a car because its impossible to build public transit in a way that serves a purpose other than shuttling people in/out of a central location that isn’t wasting 90% of its seats. My girlfriend’s brother lives a 10 minute drive from us. That is a 1 hour 2 train distance, or longer and 2 buses.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          No it’s not.

          • Clutzy says:

            This is a response to what assertion?

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:


            Presumably, to “its impossible to build public transit in a way that serves a purpose other than shuttling people in/out of a central location that isn’t wasting 90% of its seats.” Though I think I agree with you on that point, at least when applied to systems that intend to span more than a single urban area.

          • Statismagician says:

            It might impossible in the US, where we routinely build half of a functional city in one place and the other half twenty miles away. It’s absolutely possible to build a city such that public transportation is efficient and convenient, but you can’t do it on an evenly-spaced rectangular grid and you can’t do it de novo up to the modern building code.

          • Clutzy says:

            Those aren’t cities in the modern metro sense. That is WrathofGnon style “Good Urbanism” which is wholly unrelated to the modern city.

            Also public transit is mostly not involved because its walkable.

            Another failing of public transit is that in a city where it could potentially work, its easily outcompeted by bicycles.

          • Statismagician says:

            It’s not clear to me what you’re talking about. Cities with extensive and extensively-used public transit systems are an a priori fact; c.f. NYC, D.C., Paris, London, etc. Bikes are great and should be better-integrated into transit plans, but if you’re anywhere that doesn’t have San Francisco’s weather and Nebraska’s geography they’re really unpleasant about a third of the year and for some appreciable fraction of possible routes. Plus they’re only an option for the basically healthy, anyway.

            You may certainly say that modern metropolitan areas aren’t designed such that you could put in a comprehensive public transit net even if you wanted to, but the modern MSA is the result of particular policy choices made quite recently, especially in the US. We could have made different ones, with a correspondingly different resulting urban planning paradigm.

          • Clutzy says:

            Of those cities I am most familiar with DC’s public transit. That transit is good for getting into DC, and particularly at getting you into the heart of the city. For navigating within the city it is not that good.

            I live in Chicago, another large metro. Public transit here is good at getting you into the loop, and that is about it. And that is how it has to work, there are like 2 riders an hour that actually want to go from Englewood to Logan square.

    • Hoopdawg says:

      1) The main problem with cars is traffic congestion, which makes them unsustainable as a mean of transport as population level increases. Suburbia don’t really solve this problem (in particular, they don’t even remove the need for urban centres) – they simply transfer it away from places of human habitation, and probably exacerbate its overall severity in the process. Yet another is energy inefficiency, again exacerbated by the very existence of suburbs. Yet another is the sheer danger they pose to humans (for comparison – over 100 thousand people die worldwide from traffic accidents every month, more than the coronavirus has killed so far, and even more are left disabled and disfigured). On a personal level, a car is costly and driving one takes time and energy that, in public transport, can often be spent more productively.

      2) The epidemic solves the congestion problem by reducing ALL travel. It makes cars vastly more efficient as means of transport (no traffic congestion, cheaper energy), but the question of whether this is a good change that we should hope to retain after the epidemic is over is probably outside the scope of this discussion.

      3) I live in a small (note: European) city with bad traffic congestion AND bad public transport, meaning I’m unlikely to choose either (and makes me accustomed to traveling by foot or bike instead). This makes me essentially resistant to pro-car arguments whether or not I update my opinion about public transit.

      4) I believe that the problems with cars are systemic and unsolvable, while problems of public transit are a matter of policy. Poor hygienic standards and overcrowded vehicles (as well as other factors making public transit a less viable choice) are bad whether we have an epidemic or not, and could (and should) be addressed at a fraction of the cost of car infrastructure for the same level of demand.

      5) What might make me revise my opinion of cars is technological progress. Provably safe self-driving personal vehicles provided as a service and powered by electricity or other non-polluting energy source would be a vast improvement over the cars of today. Still, traffic congestion and energy requirements alone should still make them an inferior choice compared to (well-run) public transit, at least in densely populated areas (which humanity is unlikely to move away from, unless, of course, the threat of epidemics becomes constant).

      • JayT says:

        For what it’s worth, city driving in the US is significantly easier than in Europe, even when there is a lot of traffic. I live in one of the areas with the worst traffic in the US, and it rarely affects my day to day life. My fairly ample experience of driving in European cities is that it is always difficult to get around and, especially, find parking.

    • Garrett says:

      I’ve generally been in favor of *other people* taking mass-transit. And it’s nice to have available for the rare cases when taking a vehicle just won’t work, such as having to drop my car off for service a long ways away from my home. That having been said, as long as employers (and public accommodations) can prohibit employees from carrying firearms and aren’t required to provide lockers for safe storage, I’ll *always* take my car just about everywhere. I hadn’t really considered the pandemic risk before, but I’ll add that to my list of reasons to dislike taking public transit.

    • Loriot says:

      In theory, the economic benefits of density should more than make up for increased risk of disease.

    • acymetric says:

      Academia and the media generally regard car culture and suburbia as bad.

      I think this might be a case of bubble bias. I can believe that maybe academics in major urban centers aren’t a fan of car culture (although I’m not even sure that is true), but outside of that I doubt academics have any more against car culture than the general public (where some have an issue, but most don’t). A lot of professors live in suburbia, and drive cars.

      I don’t think the media takes a stance on this at all, though I’m sure you can find individual writers that are against it.

    • The Nybbler says:

      No, but I’m reveling in my confirmation bias.

    • thm says:

      Except that the least dense borough of NYC, Staten Island, has 419 cases per 100k population, while Manhattan has 341/100k. (As of 4:15pm 29-Mar-2020). Nassau county, less dense than Staten Island, has 473/100k, and Westchester, still less dense, has 872/100k. Queens and Bronx have the highest rates in NYC (462, 435), Brooklyn has the lowest (339). If anything, in downstate NY, the COVID-19 rate is inversely correlated with density.

      • zardoz says:

        Interesting. I wonder if longer commute times via public transit for the less dense areas explains some of the difference.

    • FrankistGeorgist says:

      I haven’t updated my opinion really because my concern isn’t with shoveling more people into cities as an end unto itself, but that people are moving to cities whether I like it or not so I’d prefer if cities could be, you know, nice. Also the urbanization of the past decade hasn’t strictly been people moving into supertall arcologies in Neo-Honghatten – it’s been an explosion in the smaller cities and an expansion of their suburbs as well.

      So it seems to me if we want to resuburbanize we never really de-suburbanized, and doubling down (tripling down? perhaps, at this point) on cars will cause the problems cars always cause.

      Will fear of viruses change the economic incentive for the last decade of urbanization? I feel like a lot of economic incentives are churned up at the moment, but have the fundamentals changed? I truly have no idea.

      • Loriot says:

        My expectation is that remote work will permanently become much more popular, lessening some of the impact, but overall, dense areas will still be the economic powerhouses where all the jobs are.

        • FrankistGeorgist says:

          I really hope that’s true. But I’m biased, as I “did my time” in New York before moving to working remotely from a smaller more affordable city last year.

          I almost put that decision off a year too. Now instead of suffering through whatever I’d be suffering through I just deal with the empathetic shame of being possibly the happiest I’ve ever been in my life while people everywhere suffer.

    • AlesZiegler says:

      Could we please cut down on blanket generalizations like “Academia and the media generally regard car culture and suburbia as bad”? It decreases the quality of a discussion.

      Otherwise I agree that relative desirability of living in urban vs suburban areas changes during a pandemic in favour of the latter.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Could we please cut down on blanket generalizations like “Academia and the media generally regard car culture and suburbia as bad”? It decreases the quality of a discussion.

        Since I’ve been seeing this sort of thing from academia and the media for literally decades… no.

        • Loriot says:

          Perhaps the term you’re looking for is “blue tribe”?

          As much as I don’t like the terms blue tribe and red tribe, they were pretty much defined by the stereotypes you’re trying to describe.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Lots of suburbs are blue tribe. It’s only a certain part of Blue Tribe which dislikes the suburbs.

          • Loriot says:

            Well Scott’s original definition of Blue Tribe was basically “like the hip coastal liberals I know”

            In practice, it tends to be used as an inaccurate standin for “Democrats” by people who like to feel pretentious, but that wasn’t how it was defined.

          • Spookykou says:

            FWIW I know plenty of people in the suburbs of Dallas who I culturally associate with hip coastal liberals, I agree blue tribe is not a proxy for Democrat but I don’t think it is as region coded as you imply.

        • AlesZiegler says:

          Well what you’ve been seeing is not relevant to the question whether this sort of generalizations decreases the quality of a discussion here or not.

        • acymetric says:

          @The Nybbler

          Since I’ve been seeing this sort of thing from academia and the media for literally decades… no.

          Read your own response further down this thread (quoted below) and consider applying it to this comment and your original comment.

          Lots of suburbs are blue tribe. It’s only a certain part of Blue Tribe which dislikes the suburbs.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Nope, as far as I can tell it’s _consensus_ among the part of the media and academia that pays attention to such things. You almost never see pro-suburb articles or studies.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @The Nybbler
            I’m almost certain that the majority of the blue tribe (like a slim majority of all Americans, and a much less slim majority of non-rural Americans) lives in suburbs.

      • zardoz says:

        I am curious if you know of any academics who have had positive things to say about suburbia. That would be an interesting topic.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Has anyone updated their opinion of car culture vs. public transit culture?

      Only very slightly.

      I think that you are correct that in this particular situation the former has advantages over the latter, but that in many situations those are still massively outweighed by the disadvantages (more pollution and less efficient use of space in cities, more accidents per mile travelled), and in the long term America should be working towards more public transport use and less car use, not vice versa (in the short term America should focus on panicking about coronavirus, not about whether people should stay at home and refrain from travelling by car or whether they should stay at home and refrain from travelling by subway).

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        I’ve slightly moved my opinion towards car use (instead of bus/train) and car ownership (instead of ride-sharing).

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      Personally, I don’t consider myself generally pro-“car culture” or pro-“public transit culture”. I think that in most situations, one or the other is the clear superior method of transportation. Namely: Public transit for getting around a reasonably dense city with a decent public transit system, and cars for getting just about anywhere else. If you’re driving around Boston, have fun trying to find your way to anywhere and have fun trying to park there. If you’re trying to take public transit to the movie theater across town and the bus lines (if they exist) don’t go there directly, have fun sitting on busses for an hour to get somewhere only 5 miles away.

      Or am I missing your point, and the argument is over whether we should all live in mega-cities with giant spiderwebs of bus lines and subways somehow connecting everything? Cause that might be kinda cool, I guess.

  25. myst_05 says:

    Saw an interesting post on Linkedin which dives deep into the knowns and unknowns of the current epidemic: IMO a big problem with the current data analytics/visualizations/discussions is the fact that none of the numbers portray a true picture:

    1. Testing doesn’t cover 100% of the population in any country (nor could it?)
    2. The one scenario where 100% were tested (Diamond Princess ship) suffers from an unknown number of false positive/negatives potentially skewing the picture. Plus they’ve only used PCR-based testing while some people might’ve already recovered from the disease by the time they’ve received a test.
    3. As shown by the current debacle in Lombardy, the current number of deaths is potentially inaccurate as not every death is properly attributed to COVID-19. The opposite is also true – not every patient WITH COVID-19 should be counted as dying BECAUSE of COVID-19. Only accurate data that we have is from Diamond Princess – deaths were impossible to miscount on a confined ship.
    4. Total number of hospitalized patients is accurate, but we’re not sure what % of all cases require hospitalization due to the number of cases being unknown.

    However all the news outlets treat the published figures as a holy grail, rather than adding margins of error for every graph that they publish. Understandable given our obsession with statistics, but IMO creates an inaccurate perception of the true picture.

    • Garrett says:

      My understanding is that newspapers and other general-interest mass-media is written to a 6th grade reading level. Statistics and margins of error weren’t introduced to me until at least high school.

  26. zs says:

    Hey, does anyone know where one can find more data on COVID-19 patient outcomes. There is a often quoted comorbidity of COVID-19 for patients of hypertension and diabetes but no attempt to adjust that for obvious confounders like age of the subgroup with hypertension. There is also speculation that it is the ACE inhibitor medicines often prescribed for hypertension that increase susceptibility to COVID-19 but again no data to try to tease out whether it is the medicine of the condition, or a correlation with advanced age or another factor that causes the higher mortality. Thanks!

    • Kaitian says:

      Do more patients with comorbidities die because they’re more likely to be old, or do more old people die because they’re more likely to have comorbidities?

      From what I’ve read it seems that both age and comorbidities increase the risk independently, but obviously they very often occur together.

    • tgb says:

      I don’t know about outcome data (HIPAA may make this hard), but the hospital system at my work is reporting large numbers of cardiovascular outcomes for patients. Quoting from my boss’s terse summary:

      Progressive cardiac systolic dysfunction with elevated troponin due to cytokines
      More controversial myocarditis presentation
      Usually at ARDS stage
      CV comorbidity a risk

      This is beyond my work area so I have no direct knowledge of this, but I think it makes it likely that hypertension is a real risk.

  27. The Big Red Scary says:

    Anyone out there thought seriously about Cirillo-Taleb’s papers on the tail risk of war and on infection disease? (The tail risk of war is the subject about which Taleb attacked Pinker.) What are your thoughts?

    Very roughly, their claim is that the historical data suggests the number of events with casualties above some threshold looks like it obeys a power law, and so very roughly we might expect to be hit by the “big one” someday. (“Very roughly”, because a war or pandemic can’t kill more than the entire population; they correct for this.)

    The two papers are (war)

    and (infection disease)

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I think you don’t need any generalizing arguments to make this case: if we say that the Cold War had a 10% chance of going hot (which seems conservative) then war has killed in expectation at least a hundred million people since the 50s and we’re not getting safer, just lucky.

  28. EchoChaos says:

    What is going on with the USA’s coronavirus death rate? Why is it so low compared to everyone else?

    As of writing this on worldometers, to put into perspective, we have twice the UK’s deaths with seven times the cases. We have slightly fewer deaths than France despite three times the cases.

    Only Germany seems to be doing somewhat close to as well as we are, and they’re early enough in their outbreak that it’s tough to tell.

    To be clear, I understand that some of these people will still die, because they are unresolved cases, but that’s true of France, the UK, Italy, etc. as well.

    I can think of two immediate explanations, and I’m curious if people here think of others. The first is that we’re testing way more aggressively than anyone else, so approximately the same percentage are dying, but we’re seeing more minor cases.

    The second is that American health care is way better at keeping people from dying, so we have some marginal people recover who would’ve died elsewhere (this would especially be compared to Italy and Spain where they are actually overwhelmed).

    Are there any other reasons that can be thought of?

    • Ketil says:

      My vote is for one, you seem to be testing a huge number of people. But I don’t know how that compares to other countries. Two to some extent, US healthcare is surely good, but probably not better than other modern nations, with possible exceptions for Italy or elsewhere where hospitals are overcrowded.

      And three: you came late to the game, and are not yet seeing the full effect? With 2500 deaths now, a 1% death rate would mean 250 000 infected 1-3 weeks ago. And four: big population, even with exponential growth, it still takes longer to spread through it all.

      • Chalid says:

        No to your first point, as tests performed per capita in the US is still quite a lot lower than that of most of the other countries EchoChaos is interested in (scroll down to the last figure).

        • J Mann says:

          That was data as of March 19 (103,000 tests performed). The COVID Tracking Project has the US having completed 850,000 tests by now – I think the assumption is that the US is now bringing capacity on line faster than anywhere else.

          • Chalid says:

            You are right, my apologies.

            Quick search comes up with this more up-to-date Wikipedia page. Of the countries EchoChaos mentioned, in per capita tests, the US is behind Italy, Germany, and Spain, and ahead of France and the UK.

            So it remains true that if the US death rate is low it is unlikely to be due to the US having exceptionally high testing rates.

          • tg56 says:

            I think the assumption is that the US is now bringing capacity on line faster than anywhere else.

            Now there’s a sentence you wouldn’t necessarily have expected to be said in March just a couple of weeks ago. Really underscores how different things might have been if the FDA had just gotten out of the way a few weeks earlier.

          • SamChevre says:

            Starts late, but output is tremendous once they get going–sounds like the US, all right. That was the pattern in both World Wars.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You can count on the United States to do the right thing, after it has exhausted all other options.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Yeah, there’s a pretty strong historical pattern of the U.S. public needing to see the hard reality with their own eyes, at which point they rise to the challenge. It’s not a modern or partisan thing. I assume this is an aspect of human nature that pops up other places, but our history and size/norms/decentralized structure has made it very manifest. If people can hope that sacrifices won’t be demanded, especially universally, they will spend their time bickering on what is “worthwhile” and who “should” bear the cost of any sacrifice. Once it is clear this isn’t something one can theorize away and that the world doesn’t neatly distribute consequences according to what people deserve, people get on board pretty quickly. Can’t say whether it would be effective, but this is why I support using a blunter way of explaining things to the public, that begins preparing people to sacrifice and accept uncertainty and a hard time ahead, but one in which they can take effective action.

          • gleamingecho says:

            And here’s the ramp-up in US testing between March 15 (6172 tests) and March 28 (109071 tests) from the COVID tracking site:


    • broblawsky says:

      The death rate should be compared to the number of cases around one to four weeks ago, not today.

      • EchoChaos says:

        That is true of all of these countries, is it not?

        The US case number is increasing slightly faster as we do catch-up testing, but we are not seeing anything that shows that there was a massive pool of unknown cases that are causing our deaths to not be on a similar curve to others.

        I am not saying that we will level off yet, obviously, and our raw death numbers will be really high.

        • broblawsky says:

          Fast growth and poor early testing in the US means that our case trajectory isn’t easily comparable to other nations.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Our death growth rate is on a very similar trajectory.


          • broblawsky says:

            I don’ think that’s easily converted into an absolute Infection Fatality Rate.

            Edit: One is a time series, the other is a population series independent of time.

          • EchoChaos says:


            That would mean that our growth in the last ~2 weeks has been substantially faster than anyone else’s. Not impossible, but would have to be explained, since that’s after pretty much everyone started locking down.

          • broblawsky says:

            Or that our growth is more staggered – New York is saturating, but now the rest of the country is starting to undergo serious exponential growth.

          • Ragged Clown says:

            Is it meaningful to compare countries? The outbreak in Italy was basically Lombard plus some other places for a long time.

            NYC vs London vs Milan vs Wuhan seems like a more meaningful comparison.

            This chart compares cities:

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Ragged Clown

            Yeah, comparing cities might make sense. Despite catastrophically bad handling (holding Mardi Gras in the middle of a pandemic), New Orleans is on a pretty average trend, New York is horrifying, California and Washington seem to be handling it well.

            That may be an argument for climate, especially if FL and LA’s curves turn over quickly and easily.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      The US had a huge increase in testing roughly a week ago, while countries like the UK and France have been testing at a more consistent rate. My first guess would be that that change in testing protocol skews the data somehow, causing the US stats to contain disproportionately many cases that haven’t yet run their course. Admittedly I can’t come up with a compelling story of why that would be the case, but it feels like the spike in testing needs to be accounted for in any explanation somehow.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Testing is definitely non-uniform, so that’s one factor. But the US (at least NY and NJ, and NY dominates the US numbers) is still testing only symptomatic people, so it shouldn’t weigh strongly for fewer deaths per case in the US.

      Age of those affected clearly matters. In the NYC area, it’s clear from the pattern of infection that the outbreak has been spread by commuters, who are relatively healthy and young compared to the Italian populations most affected.

      After that, you get more into speculative factors. Are Northern Italians genetically susceptible (I think probably not; they’re not so different from Germans, ask any Sicilian). Does length of initial exposure matter — that is, are you better off getting hit by a passing cough in the subway than living with your infected children? This seems likely; it’s true for measles, for instance. What about total exposure? Does being around other sick people make your own infection worse, potentially? Are there other demographic factors (smoking, drinking, weight… hard to believe anyone’s fatter than Americans though)?

    • Jon S says:

      Remember when everyone was reporting that South Korea’s death rate was only 0.6%? We are (or at least were a couple weeks ago, which is relevant for today’s reported deaths) still in a rapid exponential growth phase where our deaths are very much a lagging indicator.

      NYC seems to have significantly quicker spread than most areas, so this is more true there than in most places (and they are a significant fraction of our overall cases).

      Italy and Spain have anomalously high death rates and I suspect below-average testing relative to the size of their infected populations (as well as other factors like older infected populations).

    • tg56 says:

      Patterns of spread may be involved. None of the US outbreaks (excepting the nursing home in WA, which notable had a very high death rate) seem to be predominately driven via the medical system (based on the age, local geographic, etc.) whereas that’s a plausibly the case in at least Italy (where the cases skew old and sick pretty strongly). The most common explanation for the case skew in Italy is under-testing the young and less sick which is certainly part of it, but it could also be that the infection was spreading a lot through the medical system which would then lead to an over representation of older and sicker people in the cases and thus higher death rate. Not sure if something similar would apply to Spain or France.

      A few possible reasons this might be the case. I think private hospital rooms are much more common in the US then in many other countries and also shorter stays and more out patient procedures (yay ruthless efficiency?). My impression (no data) is also the providers and facilities are a lot more fragmented and non-overlapping in the US with it’s different networks etc. which could slow spread.

      Prob. most controversially, I wonder if there’s better hospital / care hygenic practices in the US on average then in the fully socialized medicine countries (incentives from liability, secondary infections being more commonly used to compare facilities / doctors, even the way medicare / medicaid funding is structured). Similar incentives could apply for Germany, with it’s largely privatized delivery of healthcare. I can see a compelling story there, but no idea if it’s true (prob. could look at rates of hospital acquired infections across countries).

      Of course higher / lower percentages of inter-generational family households could have a similar effect. Likely there are many factors at play.

      • albatross11 says:

        If US hospitals are better at infection control, that should be visible in some other data.

        If this is mainly spread by close contact, then the US’ car culture and much lower density probably means it will spread more slowly than in many other countries.

        • tg56 says:

          The car culture certainly could explain slower spread (though spread seems pretty fast in the U.S.; pretty comparable trajectories in the cases / deaths etc.), but by itself shouldn’t impact death rates. If anything slower spread should imply a higher observed death rate since there’s fewer fresh cases that haven’t died yet relative to older cases that have progressed.

          With respect to infection control in medical settings, the first thing that popped up on google for me on cross country comparisons is this 2010 WHO flyer and the US does have a notably lower rate of hospital acquired infections per that then the European countries in question (in that source something like >40% less then Italy). I’m sure there’s lots of issues measuring this sort of thing, but does suggest there might be something to it.

        • Skeptical Wolf says:

          If US hospitals are better at infection control, that should be visible in some other data.

          It is. Look at charts comparing survival rates for individual diseases by country. The US consistently ranks much higher in them then they do in “quality of medical system” tables. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of them is certainly that those broader tables (which seem to drive a lot of reporting and common intuition about how US medical care compares to what’s available elsewhere) tend to include automotive accidents and homicides.

          It should not be surprising that Italian Covid-19 patients die more often than US Covid-19 patients because Italian patients die more often than US patients for every other disease I’ve seen numbers for.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            One of the things that makes the US expensive is having private rooms be the default, something that is usually an expensive luxury, but looks like a genius move right now.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The US has semi-private rooms as a default — 2 to a room. This is likely better than an open ward but not as good as actually private rooms.

          • Loriot says:

            As far as my worthless anecedata goes, my stay in the ICU involved what appeared to be a star shaped arrangement with beds around the perimeter, but curtains and dividers around each bed, so I never got to see any of the other patients, but doctors and nurses presumably had better access. Once I left the ICU, I was moved to a private hospital room (with its own bathroom even).

          • Garrett says:

            The US has semi-private rooms as a default — 2 to a room. This is likely better than an open ward but not as good as actually private rooms.

            From what little I’ve seen, all new construction is private rooms. I’m not certain about the motivation, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that HIPAA privacy concerns are driving some of this. There’s also Patient Satisfaction Scores to consider. And actual medical reasons, including cutting down on the extra noise and wake-ups which occur when you have patients sharing rooms.

    • tg56 says:

      There’s also the possibility of systemic errors in attributing deaths. I’ve heard claims that Italy over-reports Covid-19 associated deaths and Germany under-reports just based on how death reports etc. are filled out and filled (though that doesn’t comport well with the reports that all-cause mortality in certain regions of Italy spiked beyond just what the excess Covid-19 deaths would suggest). See also the spike in pneumonia deaths in Russia.

      Certainly some Covid-19 deaths are being missed in the US and also some deaths are probably attributed to Covid-19 that died of other causes while having Covid-19 or were dying in the next week or two anyways (I’ve read that a large number cases in the nursing home in WA had DNRs suggesting they weren’t in good shape to start with). It’s hard to say which effect dominates, or if they have any measurable impact, or any impact relative to how other countries report. But it is a possible source of discrepancy.

    • Purplehermann says:

      Spread is faster in america, so death rates lag more

    • Anthony says:

      I’ll vote for the second. While the US has relatively few *hospital* beds per capita, it has one of the highest rates of *ICU* beds per capita, about equal (or more than) Germany, which also has a pretty low death rate last I heard.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Germany is one of those “every First World country but the US has universal health care!” countries where the universal is not a government-run health service like Britain or Italy. Something to consider when we join every other country.

        • The Big Red Scary says:

          To clarify, so far as I understood the German system when I lived there, there are a handful of health insurance companies in Germany, most of which seem to offer essentially identical plans, and you and your employer are obligated to split the cost of a plan at one of them. I never actually used the plan while there, but it was a huge hassle getting my wife added to it, since I had a designated person at the insurance company who was supposed to handle my account, this person was frequently on holiday or on sick leave, and no one else at the company wanted to talk to me. At least as a youngish and mostly healthy person I much preferred my experience with the NHS in the UK (show up with your passport and visa, and you are in). Maybe I would feel differently in different circumstances.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Numerous people tell me that fully socialized health care is way more convenient at point-of-use, yes. This is going to be a big win for things like preventative medicine in normal times.
            OTOH, the NHS and Italy may be revealing that, like socialized agriculture, it produces a lot less stuff.

          • Anthony says:

            Le Maistre Chat –

            Kaiser is definitely more convenient at point-of-use than other plans available in California. While they push preventive medicine a lot, their own research shows it doesn’t actually make things measurably better.

      • noyann says:

        Part of Germany’s low death rate is due to early massive testing, which caught many low severity cases that never counted as deaths. Testing will probably decrease and the relative death count in DE will rise.

  29. Bobobob says:

    Someone please decode this for me. Apparently, Anthony Fauci is now saying that 100,000-200,000 Americans might die of Coronavirus, which is an order of magnitude less than the most dire predictions that have been floating around for the last couple of weeks. It seems like a big number without any context, but in context, not so much.

    Given this prediction, are we still looking at another two months of social distancing, or might things actually return to normal by, say, May?

    • The Nybbler says:

      The most dire predictions have always been lousy. They depend on making assumptions for mortality and spread that can’t be true together, and/or on models that aren’t accurate for other epidemics. However, the whole “social distancing” thing is political, and so the actual number of deaths has only a tenuous relationship to when it ends. The state governors have tasted absolute power, and they are not going to give it up easily. The media will continue to whip up fear to keep the very idea of letting things open up again outside the Overton Window; this will continue until November if they can manage it.

      • Bobobob says:

        “the actual number of deaths has only a tenuous relationship to when it ends”

        That is exactly what I’m worried about. My job (and sanity) are relatively intact, but like many other people, I’m worried about the long-term economic, social and psychological effects of a six-month stay-at-home order.

      • eric23 says:

        Much of America has been sheltering in place for a couple weeks now. The rest will be sheltering in place one disease levels get as bad there as they are on the coasts. THAT is why there will be 100,000-200,000 deaths and not an order of magnitude higher (to use numbers from the above comment). The predictions were valid, and they motivated us to take action to avoid the predictions.

    • Matt M says:

      Given this prediction, are we still looking at another two months of social distancing

      Yes, probably. As far as I can tell, the most hardcore promoters of the social distancing stuff has been under the “if it saves just one life” or “who cares about your stupid 401K” style of argument. Those will both still apply if the number is over 100K deaths. Or even 10K for that matter. Backing down from it now requires a significant philosophical change in which one embraces the logic of “yes, there is such a thing as too high a cost to preserve human life.”

      • JPNunez says:

        The problem is that the US (and, well, all the west) already bungled the initial response. If you want to go back to normalcy and thus bring back the vibrant economy, the best path is always using the strongest measures right now, and the US (and a bunch of the west) is _not_ doing that.

      • JPNunez says:

        Oh, something else that occurs to me is that the cost to save lifes may not be linear with the amount of lives saved.

        If there’s (say) 1% of the population in danger of dying, and it will take $50,000 per person saved to do this, you will probably want to take that deal, even if normally you put a limit of, say, $30,000 to save a handful of kids of dying of some random obscure disease.

    • JPNunez says:

      Well, looking at the Future of Humanity simulators, it says July for the return to normality, worse case.

      Which also is in line with Fauci; worst case they say 14M of people simultaneously ill; let’s assume 1% of those die (v bad approximation), that goes to 140K deaths at the peak. Total deaths will probably be a multiplier of that, doubt it will be 10x, more like 5x. That’s worst case, let’s say 140K * 10 = 1.4M deaths, which is _only_ one order of magnitude above Fauci. Fauci will prolly be _around_ right

      • keaswaran says:

        I don’t see how a “return to normalcy” makes sense before there is either a vaccine or 50% of the population has been infected. (There certainly won’t ever be a “return to normalcy” in the sense of us doing everything the way we did before, but I’ll accept that “return to normalcy” means “all temporary measures in place for the emergency have been lifted”.)

        By this summer I expect that many of the most extreme temporary measures will be relaxed, but we’ll still have moderate restrictions to prevent new outbreaks from getting out of control, and localities will sometimes reinstate the most extreme measures if a new outbreak does appear to be emerging there. But it’ll be at least a year and a half before all temporary measures are ended.

    • robdonnelly says:

      There are two different types of predictions you can make:
      1) What will happen if we change nothing.
      2) What will happen if things change in the way that I expect them to change.

      It’s much simpler to model (1). Based on what was generally believed 1 month ago e.g. R0 > 2 and mortality rate of 1% of infected, then it’s pretty straightforward to predict that if we changed nothing the total deaths would be in the millions in the US.

      (2) is trickier since it’s harder to predict the policy responses that will happen than it is to do a simple epi model of a pandemic. Type (2) predictions also will keep changing as policy responses change. The new 100-200k predictions are based on updating what our current responses have been (e.g. social distancing and lockdowns in affected areas) and based on assumptions of how long those policies are likely to continue. The update is primarily due to a reduction in the total number predicted to be infected rather than a reduction in the estimated mortality rate.

      My prediction is that by May we can end some of the restrictions but will still keep many policies that restrict large gatherings. e.g. dinner with friends and non-crowded restaurants allowed. Giant music festivals and packed bars still forbidden and my guess is that will continue for many more months.

      We can hope that in the next few weeks with more testing and more data we will have a better sense of the disease and what the ideal course of action will be. It’s possible that this data will suggest that we can end social distancing sooner than I would otherwise predict based on current data.

      TLDR The lower number is partly BECAUSE we are doing more social distancing, so one needs to be careful about using the lower estimate as a reason to end social distancing earlier.

    • MisterA says:

      It seems like a big number without any context, but in context, not so much.

      The context that most folks seem to be missing is that this is the number of deaths predicted if we maintain our current social distancing practices; the model where we stop is much higher.

      From the Washington Post this morning:

      Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Monday that President Trump agreed “right away” to an extension of federal guidance on social distancing after an Oval Office meeting in which he and Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, presented him with some data.

      “We argued strongly with the president that he not withdraw those guidelines after 15 days, but that he extend them. And he did listen,” Fauci said during an interview on CNN in which he discussed Trump’s announcement to extend the guidelines through April after repeatedly pressing the case for easing them by Easter, which is April 12.

      Fauci said he and Birx presented a model that showed that the novel coronavirus could cause between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths even with the current guidelines in place.

      “His first goal is to prevent suffering and death,” Fauci said. “And we made it very clear to him that if we pulled back on what we were doing and didn’t extend them, there would be more avoidable suffering and avoidable death.”

      Asked how difficult it was to make the case, Fauci said it wasn’t that tough.

      “We showed him the data, he looked at the data, and he got it right away,” Fauci said. “It was a pretty clear picture. … He looked at [the numbers], he understood them, and just shook his head and said, ‘I guess we’ve got to do it.’”

      Also, I have been pretty negative about Trump through this whole thing, but fair credit to him if that is an accurate description of the reaction.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        I still don’t understand how we plan to keep the death toll down to 100k-200k without containment. Stay-at-home orders have to be lifted eventually, and then we get Wave Two. Influenza 1918 took three waves to burn out, and Wave Two was the deadliest.

        • Part of the answer may be that, in a month or two, we will know a good deal more about treatment. There are a variety of existing drugs that people think might be effective, and we should shortly know which are. That could easily reduce mortality by a factor of several.

          • MisterA says:

            Several months of building up medical infrastructure could also presumably help a lot. A huge percentage of deaths come from the fact that many of these deaths are preventable if treatment is available, but the hospitals can’t handle everyone who needs treatment.

            If we can handle much larger numbers of people, the mortality rate presumably drops – but you need to stall enough to build up that infrastructure.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @DavidFriedman: Yeah, that’s what I’m hoping. If our government is idiots in a crisis but can work together with the private sector to save 90% of crisis victims given 8 weeks to prepare, we could go from 1.25 million American COVID deaths to 125,000.

          • albatross11 says:

            [Disclaimer: I’m an interested amateur. People who know better please correct me.]

            Also, if we understand transmission better, we can take measures short of total shutdown to push R_0 below 1. That depends on knowing better how the virus spreads. We have some good lab data about airborne and surface persistence, which tells us what to do given various routes of infection, but not which routes of infection are the most important.

            I think the available contact tracing information suggests mostly personal contact, but that might be a matter of looking for the lost keys under the streetlamp–it’s hard to determine everyone who coughed in the store an hour before you went shopping, so that kind of contact might not be discovered. (In much the same way, murder statistics probably overstate the fraction of murders done by husbands/ex-husbands/coworkers/roommates, because those are *way* more likely to be solved by the police than murder by a stranger.) The places where nobody’s sure how the thing got transmitted could be airborne or touch. However, it’s not as fast-spreading as it would be if airborne transmission was easy and common–if everyone sick with this stuff left clouds of infection everywhere they went, then a few weeks of community spread would have infected half of Seattle and San Francisco by now.

            It’s pretty clear that there’s hospital spread by aerosol (tiny droplets that stay aloft and infectious for hours). But it may be that you only get that with really sick people using pressurized breathing equipment, or when you have a dense concentration of sick people each adding virus to the air.

            I think there’s evidence from the (closely-related) SARS outbreak that surface transmission probably matters, and researchers are able to find high titers of infectious virus in droplets deposited on surfaces for (depending on the surface) up to a few days.

            What are the cheap ways to limit each mode of transmission?

            Close contact

            To limit close contact transmission, making everyone keep 2m away from other people as much as possible, spacing out people at restaurants/meetings/workplaces, etc., is a win, and it’s usually pretty cheap. Getting everyone to stop hugging, kissing, shaking hands, etc., similarly will help a lot.

            To limit surface transmission, everyone regularly washing or santiizing hands plus people putting disinfectant on high-touch surfaces several times a day seem like low-cost ways to lower transmission. Give everyone bottles of hand sanitizer to carry around!


            To limit airborne transmission, moving meetings outside and spacing people out probably helps some. Opening windows in offices/buildings, closing doors between offices, running an air filter, or cranking up the HVAC system to do more changes of air/hour also might help. This seems the hardest to address cheaply, though. We surely don’t have enough HEPA air filters to put one in every office, and I’m not sure how much they’d help anyway.

            For all modes:

            Obviously, keeping sick people home will help with all of them, because it’s almost certain that as you get sicker, you’re also shedding more virus, and also coughing/sneezing is the best way to spread droplets full of virus. You can’t test everyone for the virus, but you can do fever checks and send people home if they have a fever or obvious symptoms, and that probably helps a lot with avoiding all the forms of transmission. Do this check intelligently–ideally outside or in a separate, separately-ventilated area, where the checker is wearing a mask and gloves. This could be a requirement for reopening a business, or a requirement imposed by the local health department for restaurants to keep working.

            Getting everyone to wear a mask seems like a cheap way to lower R_0 for all these, if we had enough masks. (But everyone rushing out to buy an N95 mask and then ER nurses not having any masks because they were all bought already is a pretty horrible outcome.) I think masks are likely to lower direct contact and surface transmission the most, and probably airborne transmission not very much.

            Keeping large, dense gatherings shut down is a pretty big win for all three, but it’s maybe not so low-cost. Keeping schools closed down is great for limiting spread of virus but expensive in a bunch of ways.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:


            If what I’m reading about a super-spreader event in Washington – the choir practice – is accurate, airborne is more of an issue than we have been accounting for. No known cases in the town (they were about an hour from Seattle, which had quite a lot, though), no one felt sick, they held choir practice in early March with 60 people, using hand sanitizer at the door, sitting far apart, refraining from hugs and so on. Two of them are now dead; over half the practice came down with distinctly symptomatic covid. Many of them were elderly, but still: really nasty asymptomatic transmission, and it seems to have been purely or almost purely airborn. Singing is an activity that could believably increase airborn transmission.

            I’m more optimistic about masks than you are, largely from things I’ve read on SSC. I think they may do quite a lot about airborn transmission. I hope I’m right. I can’t think of a lot of other interventions that seem likely to affect it (though note I’m not an expert), and I think we need something that does.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            , sitting far apart

            Everything else is right, I think, except this. From the LA Times story:

            Cushioned metal chairs extended in six rows of 20, with about a foot between chairs and one aisle down the center. There were twice as many seats as people.

            Comstock, a soprano, and Owen, a tenor, took their usual seats beside each other in the third row. The rows toward the front and center filled up around them.

            A foot between chairs isn’t right up, but it’s pretty close, especially if people are sitting in adjacent seats. And sitting there for 2.5 hours singing is a lot.

            A lot of what people think of as prudent risks aren’t.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Fair enough. I was assuming the only people sitting adjacent were those from the same household, as I think in the example, but that was entirely my assumption and you’re right; we don’t have evidence of that.

        • MisterA says:

          Stay-at-home orders have to be lifted eventually

          Everyone keeps saying this like it is obviously true, but I am not totally convinced. If in June, the question “How many people die if we end the stay-at-home order now?” is still “Millions of people”, it seems quite plausible that they just extend the order again.

          “But it will destroy the economy!” Yes, but a pandemic that is killing millions will also destroy the economy – everyone with the means to do so will continue staying at home and not engaging in all that economy-fueling activity once it becomes clear how bad it is, and now you’ve got the economic devastation of the millions dead on top of it.

          Someone is going to need to come up with a good idea for actually controlling the pandemic before anything starts really functioning again.

          • Matt M says:

            I would suggest that this particular level of “soft” quarantine is unsustainable. People who live in places where the medical situation is anything less than obviously terrible are going to have enough of it. At which point, one of two things happen. Either the stay at home order gets lifted, and people try and get back to normal. Or the enforcement ratchets up and we move from “if caught outdoors, the police will politely ask you to go home” to “if caught outdoors, you will be forcibly detained and move to an unsanitary prison where you will probably catch the virus.”

          • MisterA says:

            Oh, I think you’re right, I just think that all this will accomplish is allowing the spread in those areas to get to whatever value of ‘obviously terrible’ will force their local governor to change their mind and lock down again.

            See: DeSantis in Florida, who went from LARPing as the Mayor from Jaws into actually starting to clamp down as it became clear that refusing to shut down isn’t actually an option for Florida.

            Basically, “Stay at home order gets lifted, and people try to get back to normal” will be tried a few times, sure – and when it does, that locality will see overwhelmed hospitals, surging case counts, and death rates, and they will lock down again.

            After that happens a couple times, I think other locales may stop trying it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You need the populace’s buy-in for the quarantine to work.

            Even China, with no lack of collectivism and police powers and social control, had to resort to welding some people in their homes.

            I recognize this strategy. “The alternative is too bad to even consider, so we will make sure not to have any back-up plan. That way we are forced to stay the course!” It’s usually shitty leadership. And when it fails, it fails hard.

            Not having a plan besides “everyone stays home” doesn’t mean we stick to that plan.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            They have to be lifted eventually because if we all obey the Cuomo Plan, we’ll be locked down with no hope to eradicate the virus within US borders, taking our turns getting sick at a rate that matches hospital capacity until 40-80% of us have been infected. That’s a slow way to get the same herd immunity we got to Model 1918 flu.
            JNJ has announced plans to test a vaccine in September 2020. Unless the biology of this virus is like Common Cold-level resistant to vaccine technology, odds are that after Winter 2021 the authorities should have no reason to maintain stay-at-home orders.
            Also, more people could start dying from the effects of the stay-at-home orders than from COVID, which would change expert calculations.

          • MisterA says:

            Not having a plan besides “everyone stays home” doesn’t mean we stick to that plan.

            I mean, sure, but what’s the better plan? So far Plan B seems to be ‘Let everyone go back to work and let’s all pretend millions aren’t going to die in a month if we do this.’

            I mean, I am really hoping that smarter people than me are coming up with a better plan than that, but if so, it isn’t really being talked about on the news.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Gradually open up restaurants, with half-capacity, but have dedicated staff doing temperature checks of both workers and customers, on entry and exit.

            This business clearly has enough demand that they could pay for it out-of-pocket and still have people sitting down:

            We will learn things as we proceed. Where are people cheating? Can I slip $10 to the maitre d’ to be let in without a check?

   has made an attempt at discussing what Phase II will be like. I’m sure that they have missed some things, and someone reading this comment from 5 years in the future will laugh at something that’s obvious to them. But it’s something to discuss and start debating now.

            (One thing I really like is “free facilities for people with COVID-19.” If one of my parents gets it, I want one of them to be able to move out.)

          • The Nybbler says:

            If in June, the question “How many people die if we end the stay-at-home order now?” is still “Millions of people”, it seems quite plausible that they just extend the order again.

            We don’t know the answer to that question now, and we won’t know the answer to that question then. What we do know is, lacking a vaccine or total eradication worldwide, we cannot both return to the status quo ante and reduce total infections to below whatever the true herd-immunity threshold is. So if millions are going to die if we lift the orders now, millions will die if we lift the orders in June. Maybe slightly fewer millions, maybe not.

          • Matt M says:

            So if millions are going to die if we lift the orders now, millions will die if we lift the orders in June.

            And the argument from the “skeptics” goes something like “If millions are going to die eventually anyway, why are we shutting the economy down for three months exactly?”

          • The Nybbler says:

            And the argument from the “skeptics” goes something like “If millions are going to die eventually anyway, why are we shutting the economy down for three months exactly?”

            That is indeed the argument. The response tends to be something like “overwhelming the hospitals”. At which point my response is

            1) Under any realistic timescale, they’re going to be overwhelmed anyway and

            2) Hospital care probably isn’t doing much good.

            The answer to this is “YOU MONSTER!”

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @The Nybbler

            A counter argument is that hospital care does quite a lot of good for people suffering from non-COVID causes.

          • The Nybbler says:

            A counter argument is that hospital care does quite a lot of good for people suffering from non-COVID causes.

            If we get there, I argue for triage, and the next response is “YOU MONSTER”.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            And the argument from the “skeptics” goes something like “If millions are going to die eventually anyway, why are we shutting the economy down for three months exactly?”

            Exactly. If June 1 the expert epidemiologists are solemnly telling us we must not re-open the economy or the same millions will die, what did shutting it down for 10 weeks get us?

          • MisterA says:

            And the argument from the “skeptics” goes something like “If millions are going to die eventually anyway, why are we shutting the economy down for three months exactly?”

            This is where it comes back to the idea that we can’t keep everything shut down until the vaccine.

            It’s only inevitable that millions will die eventually if we are going to do this for a few months, and then say to hell with it and open everything again. But why would we do that? It won’t actually save the economy. So no, I suspect we actually will keep everything shut down until someone offers an alternative that isn’t just letting the pandemic run wild.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Many businesses can’t go to shift work (e.g. the “essential businesses”), but I for one am hoping for it at my workplace.

            Additionally the vast majority of HR and administrative work can be done remotely, and I would like to see it remain remote for a while.

            If we can hold out until masks, gloves, and disinfectant aren’t in so short supply, this may help slow and prevent infection as well.

            And once the shortages in the grocery stores are dealt with it will be less necessary to shop as frequently or make it so people are able to shop at fewer stores (potentially spreading contagion around).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It’s only inevitable that millions will die eventually if we are going to do this for a few months, and then say to hell with it and open everything again. But why would we do that? It won’t actually save the economy. So no, I suspect we actually will keep everything shut down until someone offers an alternative that isn’t just letting the pandemic run wild.

            Stay-at-home orders could destroy more of the economy than just people’s 401Ks. I’m still not sure if I’ll be able to replenish beans, brown rice and toilet paper.

          • Chalid says:

            The point of the shutdowns to buy time to ramp up testing and institute some kind of contact tracing and monitoring program (and get the numbers of cases down to the kind of level where the program is feasible to run).

            The first part seems to be going okay so far, the second part I’ve seen no evidence for as yet (which is not a great sign).

          • albatross11 says:

            I think hospital care is doing some good–the problem is, at that point, saving the patient’s life is very expensive even if it works. And while the hospital is overflowing with COVID-19 patients, people who should normally be getting surgeries or being treated for heart attacks are probably not getting great care, which also increases the number of dead people.

          • Clutzy says:

            “But it will destroy the economy!” Yes, but a pandemic that is killing millions will also destroy the economy – everyone with the means to do so will continue staying at home and not engaging in all that economy-fueling activity once it becomes clear how bad it is, and now you’ve got the economic devastation of the millions dead on top of it.

            If you keep stay at home orders that long enough you have millions dead because of stay at home orders. Also, there is perverse incentive for Mayors and Governors who are getting the feds to foot the bill for their choices regarding stay at home.

          • Chalid says:

            Also, there’s a decent chance we’ll have better treatments by June. Vaccines won’t be ready, but we’ll have good evidence on the efficacy of several drugs by then.

    • andagain says:

      “Millions of dead Americans” assumed no attempt to contain the epidemic. “Hundreds of thousands of dead Americans” assumes attempts that are about as successful as we can reasonable expect, given that the attempts have been left so late.

      If America was as successful at containing the epidemic as Taiwan or South Korea, it would be “a hundred or two” dead Americans. But that ship has long sailed.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      Back in the 90’s I had mono. I ran a high fever for about four weeks, then it went down. I don’t think that happens because your immune system thinks it has won. I think it happens because your immune system realises it can’t win.

      If the cure turns out to be worse than the disease, we’ll learn to live with the disease. Right now, we’re mostly hoping that the cure is better.

  30. EchoChaos says:

    In “Is it possible to get more American than this?” news, gun stores are listed as essential by the Department of Homeland Security.

    • Oldio says:

      Yep. Every time a municipality closes a gun store as part of their quarantine/stay at home ordinances, they get sued. Makes sense to just stop the municipalities doing that so the stay at home orders don’t get challenged as quickly.

    • Bobobob says:

      Liquor stores, too, at least where I live. Maybe someone will complete the trifecta and mandate the 24-hour operation of pawn shops.

      • tg56 says:

        For Liquor stores at least the usual argument seems to be around alcohol withdrawal syndrome. There are a lot of closet alcoholics out there. The estimates I’ve seen suggest that magically eliminating all alcohol in the US would probably send > 500,000 people to the emergency room and probably kill > 100,000. Not exactly what you want when the hospitals are overloaded.

        • Gerry Quinn says:

          I wouldn’t die if my alcohol supply were withdrawn – but trust me, it wouldn’t put me in a better mood.

          Also, wouldn’t I need to go to the supermarket more to replace lost beer calories? What is to gain by shutting down supplies of this mental and physical nutrient?

          [/tldr] Will riot.

    • Well... says:

      What’s the steelman argument for why gun stores aren’t essential? (Especially one that addresses anticipated objections…)

      • Loriot says:

        Why would they be essential? Do people eat guns? Are they required for healthcare?

        The experience of countries that aren’t the US is pretty compelling evidence that gun stores are not in fact essential.

        • Aapje says:

          People use guns for hunting and they eat the game.

        • The Nybbler says:

          They are essential for the same reason the press is (and the press has been excluded from the lockdown orders) — the right to keep and bear arms is specifically guaranteed in the US Constitution. The press isn’t essential either; you could get all your information from the government.

          Also governments have been releasing criminals so jails don’t fill up with coronavirus cases.