Cross-Cultural

Re draconian restrictions with a goal to “eradicate Covid with zero cases and fatalities”:

How long can this last? If it was up to the drunk-on-power politicians and bureaucrats who have found a winning electoral formula, health experts who have found relevance, and the deathly scared who have found a sense of safety (and, for some at least, the frisson of being a part of something big and important), the answer is “forever.” 

It was written about Australia, where celebrity bureaucrats, power-drunk petty authorities and Big Karen have teamed up to create a post-freedom state (which, honesty, I expected to see in the UK, France and Germany long before Australia).

But it applies to Minnesota as well. As we may well be finding out the hard way, when (as I suspect) Governor Walz spins up another “state of emergency”.

Armageddon Deferred: Karen Hardest Hit

For the second straight year, Big Media, serving as the exposed id of Big Karen, has predicted the Sturgis motorcycle rally was going to be a “super spreader”.

And as the event – and the attendant Covid surveillance – unrolled, I started getting the impression that most of the “news” coverage had been written in advance, with blanks let open to fill in the numbers that, one suspects, were expected to be in the thousands, at the very least.

So when the first take on numbers came out – in the low 100s, across 700,000 attendees – my first response was “that’s probably lower than the infection rate of 700,000 people in the general population”.

I was right:

Before its Aug. 6 opening, the Washington Post ominously warned: “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally revs up, drawing thousands and heightening delta super spreader fears”; CBS blared:“Sturgis motorcycle rally sparks fears of super spreader event.”

But like last August, the derisive press thankfully didn’t get their wish. Two weeks after the gathering with more than a half-million attendees concluded, fewer than 200 cases have been attributed to the event.

The Associated Press still breathlessly reported Sunday that “nearly 4,000 people have been newly diagnosed with COVID-19 in the state,” but later noted that “a South Dakota Department of Health spokesman declined to link the Sturgis rally to the rising virus surge, noting only 39 COVID-19 cases directly attributed to the rally.”

That such a small number of statewide cases came from Sturgis is a miracle and should have been the headline.

On Monday, the Los Angeles Times, whose writers likely could not find South Dakota on a map, claimed “scores of coronavirus cases recorded.” Scores? How many, and compared to what?

So, as always, what does that mean, per capita?

If numbers still matter to agenda seekers, the entire U.S. averaged 276 new COVID cases per 100,000 people over 10 days ending last week, while the Mount Rushmore State averaged only 156.

In the meantime, Florida’s vaccination rates for the elderly are far better than California and New York, and the fatality rate among a very dense, rather old population, is well down in the middle of the pack.

The Democrats and media (ptr) are going to have to count on their voters legendary lack of facility at critical thought.

And the slant in Covid coverage from the MSM is a sign that Big Left is genuinely worried about DeSantis, Noem and the movements they represent.

Of Dictators And Religions

It was interesting, a few years back, watching the retrospectives of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Here’s a sjhort one:

It’s as fun to watch now as it was otherworldly and unbelievable back then: after decades of complete control, a government official’s inadvertent slip causes and uproar; another official’s resigned ad-libbed decision opens a single gate; from there, the entire Eastern Bloc, the Communist world that all the experts reminded us was here “forever”” disappeared inside a couple years.

I thought about that last week, as CDC director Rochelle Walensky abruptly changed course on masks. One week after President Harris was “inadvertently” photographed trying to french-kiss her husband through paper masks on an airport tarmac in front of a random mob of press cameras, one week after “President” Biden did a press conference wearing a mask standing 20 feet from other people, the CDC flipped.

And people started ditching the masks. Major retailers jumped off the Karen Train, joining vast swathes of the country that have changed course, to protecting the vulnerable.

And just like that night at the Bornholmer Straße gate over the Berlin Wall, many – but not all – people ditched the masks. Roughly 10% of the entire population of East Germany roamed the streets of West Berlin, at one point that glorious night, tasting and smelling and buying freedom.

The Communists spent a few years trying to put that genie back in the bottle, and failed. Their distant cousins here are trying to do the same thing.

Promptly, Big Karen – a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Left – leapt into action.

Some cities, and other subsidiaries of Big Left, clung to the ban. Given that the ongoing mask mandate had nothing to do with science – the CDC said so – the only logical conclusion is that “Masking Up” is a statement of faith, almost a religious exercise in self-abasement and rule following.

And Big Left, being the Curia of this particular church, is all about keeping people following rules.

And that explains a lot about Karen, whoever he or she is; they seem to be people whose connection to logic, fact, even “science”, involves logrolling others into following the rules they’ve mastered. It’s the ugly side of the Scandinavian culture to which so much of Minnesota traces its roots – the flip side of close-knit communitarianism is passive-aggressive rule-lawyering.

And that passive-aggression seems to have worked. A casual count of people at newly-mask-free Target in Shoreview yesterday showed about 80% of customers, and probably more among employees, still wearing masks. We know that at least half of those people, likely more, are vaccinated, so the exercise is more or less pointless.

It’s been 30 years since the Berlin Wall fell. There are still people who pine for the days when the Stasi and ZOMO kept things nice and tidy and in order.

And watching some of the urban social media groups, plenty of little Karens are already feeling pretty bereft.

Firing Across Big Karen’s Bow

I’ve had Covid. It was a symptomatic case, although very manageably so.

As such – as we have established in this space, with information from the National Institutes of Health – I have an enhanced degree of, if not complete immunity, at least enhanced, probably highly-enhanced, resistance to Covid.

WIth that being said, I also got vaccinated. The wisdom or lack thereof, or that action’s adherence to your particular version of libertarian conservative, is not up for discussion, and won’t be discussed in this space. I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because I figured it was the minimum expenditure of effort – one shot and round of side effects rather than two – needed to get at least some of the less-irrational Karens, especially business and institutional Karens, to shut the hell up in the coming months. Given that I also have some degree of natural immunity and likely resistance, the J&J vaccine also provides the results I want; since the evidence shows I’m unlikely to get infected at all, preventing infections – the supposed upside of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – is irrelvant to me. Preventing such an infection from killing me or putting me in a hospital, should the current understanding of science turn up flawed, is my only real goal.

Again – the fact that I got a vaccination isn’t up for discussion.

Evading Karen

What is up for discussion is this: Governor Klink has set the state’s restrictions to end on July 1. May it please the crown, thanks. Sarcasm intended. We’ll be caught up with Wisconsin – in seven weeks. Probably.

That’s right – it’ll be mandatory to wear a mask on June 30, but perfectly safe on July 1. Science!

But let’s ignore that, also. We’ve talked about that in this space for over a year, now.

Given that I, like most Minnesotans, have some combination of natural immunity, vaccination or both, masks are completely pointless.

Completely. Pointless.

And yet there is a lineup of stores – big box and ma and pa – promising to continue requiring masks after July 1.

And I want to make sure that I don’t patronize them after July 1. At all.

But how to tell which business is which?

The first step I’ve seen is this crowd-sourced map.

It’s being provisioned by people on both sides of the argument, of course – and some of the “reviews” would be comical if you didn’t realize these people have the same right to vote that you do.

What’s needed next is some way of searching for businesses that, shall we say, match your preference, so you can find ’em on the go.

Like Charlie Brown Lining Up For A Kick

I’ve been citing Turkish-via-UNC/Chapel Hill sociologist Zeynep Tufekci’s work on bringing actual scientific thought to the response to Covid almost as long as there’s been a pandemic.

There is literally zero evidence that Tufekci’s latest article in the Atlantic, 5 Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Repeating, is aimed at the Walz administration and the MDH. But as Texas re-opens, Florida’s approach is largely vindicated, the wheels come off the California and New York approaches, and vaccines start to dribble out to the population, the thought of copying a link to the piece to the Governor is tempting.

As Walz (and his apparent public health mentor, Fauci) keep warning of more and more armageddons two weeks away, Tufekci takes us back to another pandemic, and its denouement

When the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, the news was met with jubilant celebration. Church bells rang across the nation, and factories blew their whistles. “Polio routed!” newspaper headlines exclaimed. “An historic victory,” “monumental,” “sensational,” newscasters declared. People erupted with joy across the United States. Some danced in the streets; others wept. Kids were sent home from school to celebrate.

One might have expected the initial approval of the coronavirus vaccines to spark similar jubilation—especially after a brutal pandemic year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism.

The problem is not that the good news isn’t being reported, or that we should throw caution to the wind just yet. It’s that neither the reporting nor the public-health messaging has reflected the truly amazing reality of these vaccines. There is nothing wrong with realism and caution, but effective communication requires a sense of proportion—distinguishing between due alarm and alarmism; warranted, measured caution and doombait; worst-case scenarios and claims of impending catastrophe. We need to be able to celebrate profoundly positive news while noting the work that still lies ahead. However, instead of balanced optimism since the launch of the vaccines, the public has been offered a lot of misguided fretting over new virus variants, subjected to misleading debates about the inferiority of certain vaccines, and presented with long lists of things vaccinated people still cannot do, while media outlets wonder whether the pandemic will ever end.

Remember last year? When some public health authorities were treating Covid like World War 2, with massive sacrifices, a potential (and, a year later, realized) horrific cost, and a goal for us all to pull toward – victory?

That went by the boards. Pushing to get back to normal – a “normal” that for the vast majority of Americans was as good as it’d been in a loooong time, last February – got replaced by telling people to hunker down for, well, the War on Terror. An endless, endemic, dreary plod.

Which has had terrible effects – skyrocketing addiction and suicide, rampant crime, and crushing depression among school-age kids and adults. The pandemic has brought out the best in some Americans – and forced the rest into the most dehumanizing humdrum imaginable to a First Worlder.

So it’s worth looking at the five mistakes Tufekci notes that we just keep failing, and perhaps stop doing them.

They are:

Risk Compensation – the notion that if you make people safer, they’ll just abuse that safety. The theory that if you put a seatbelt in a car, people will take that additional margin of safety and use it to drive faster and more recklessly.

It appeals to the “expert class”‘s paternalism – why become an expert if you can’t warn people “you’ll shoot your eye out with that thing”? As Tufekci puts it:

[Risk Compensation is] contrarian and clever, and fits the “here’s something surprising we smart folks thought about” mold that appeals to, well, people who think of themselves as smart. Unsurprisingly, such fears have greeted efforts to persuade the public to adopt almost every advance in safety, including seat belts, helmets, and condoms.

But time and again, the numbers tell a different story: Even if safety improvements cause a few people to behave recklessly, the benefits overwhelm the ill effects. In any case, most people are already interested in staying safe from a dangerous pathogen. Further, even at the beginning of the pandemic, sociological theory predicted that wearing masks would be associated with increased adherence to other precautionary measures—people interested in staying safe are interested in staying safe—and empirical research quickly confirmed exactly that. Unfortunately, though, the theory of risk compensation—and its implicit assumptions—continue to haunt our approach, in part because there hasn’t been a reckoning with the initial missteps.

Minnesota government’s paternalistic streak is gonna be a hard thing to overcome on this front.

Rules Over Mechanisms – This one is squarely on Walz and his regime. His focus on all the things we need to do to move his array of knobs and levers, like a Skinnerian behavioral experiment, tying actions to rewards – economic and personal freedom – was classic Minnesota passive-aggression. Even moreso, the state’s refusal to share the code for the model that predicted 20,000 dead at best, and a better figure of 70,000 fatalities by July, on the grounds that people might just find different results – which was the moment this state’s effort lost all pretense of scientific legitimacy.

I said, early on – why not give people and businesses good information, and let them do what needed to be done, with just the minimal enforcement for flagrant-to-depraved behavior? It is, after all, what they did in states that battled the pandemic successfully – Florida, Texas, and the Dakotas (who, notwithstanding a surge of cases and fatalities in the fall, are in much better economic shape than Minnesota.

Even Wisconsin – where the governor’s emergency powers were tossed out by courts in short order, and which had to rely on people knowing how to protect themselves, and so told them how to do just that – is doing better by every measure that wasn’t worse before the pandemic.

Scolding and Shaming – What goverment’s approach has lacked in scientific rigor, it’s made up for in empowering the simultaneously least stable and most petty-authoritarian among us to find their inner Dwight Schrute. Tufekci:

How dare you go to the beach? newspapers have scolded us for months, despite lacking evidence that this posed any significant threat to public health. It wasn’t just talk: Many cities closed parks and outdoor recreational spaces, even as they kept open indoor dining and gyms. Just this month, UC Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst both banned students from taking even solitary walks outdoors.

The first time I had some plush-bottom Karen scold me about putting my bag on the conveyor at the checkout at Target in Shoreview “before the cashier sanitized it” (after she’d spent five minutes arguing over a coupon), I realized there might be a scientific basis for this. Humans are adapted to be on the lookout for crises – the saber tooth tiger is still just outside the campfire’s light, and that neighboring tribe is eyeing all those berries that are starting to come in, in all of our inner psyches. And it’s been so long since we’ve had a genuine existential crisis – World War 2, the Depression – that all that evolutionary energy’s gotta go somewhere.

Combined with the other four things we’ve gotten wrong, it’s probably understandable that “Big Karen’s” energy is so misplaced.

I said “understandable”. Not OK.

Ignoring Collateral Harm – It’s been plain from the beginning – the people urging us to lock down hard and stay locked down to “eliminate the virus” are the ones with academic/public sector/large-corporate jobs that let ’em work from home indefinitely (well, so far).

We’ve been talking about many of the collateral harms – endemic depression, skyrocketing suicide, a generation of kids who are floundering emotionally and parents who are completely adrift trying to figure out what to do about it, suicide, stress and its many ailments, and skyrocketing crime, especially among bored and aimless youth on whom the suspension of most of regular life falls the hardest.

We’ve been talking about many of the collateral harms – endemic depression, skyrocketing suicide, a generation of kids who are floundering emotionally and parents who are completely adrift trying to figure out what to do about it, suicide, stress and its many ailments, and skyrocketing crime, especially among bored and aimless youth on whom the suspension of most of regular life falls the hardest.

But wait, we’re not done yet:

When we set perfection as the only option, it can cause people who fall short of that standard in one small, particular way to decide that they’ve already failed, and might as well give up entirely. Most people who have attempted a diet or a new exercise regimen are familiar with this psychological state. The better approach is encouraging risk reduction and layered mitigation—emphasizing that every little bit helps—while also recognizing that a risk-free life is neither possible nor desirable.

Socializing is not a luxury—kids need to play with one another, and adults need to interact. Your kids can play together outdoors, and outdoor time is the best chance to catch up with your neighbors is not just a sensible message; it’s a way to decrease transmission risks. 

You’d never know this listening to NPR, to say nothing of “Karen”.

Misplaced Balance Between Knowledge And Action – Or “perfect is the enemy of good enough”.

In this case, “perfection” – knowledge – was hampered not merely by the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know (and, last January, weren’t allowed to find out behind China’s bamboo curtain), but that the academic, journalistic, and real worlds have such very different, often mutuall unintelligible means of communicating:

…sometimes, the way that academics communicate clashed with how the public constructs knowledge. In academia, publishing is the coin of the realm, and it is often done through rejecting the null hypothesis—meaning that many papers do not seek to prove something conclusively, but instead, to reject the possibility that a variable has no relationship with the effect they are measuring (beyond chance). If that sounds convoluted, it is—there are historical reasons for this methodology and big arguments within academia about its merits, but for the moment, this remains standard practice.

At crucial points during the pandemic, though, this resulted in mistranslations and fueled misunderstandings, which were further muddled by differing stances toward prior scientific knowledge and theory. Yes, we faced a novel coronavirus, but we should have started by assuming that we could make some reasonable projections from prior knowledge, while looking out for anything that might prove different. That prior experience should have made us mindful of seasonality, the key role of overdispersion, and aerosol transmission. A keen eye for what was different from the past would have alerted us earlier to the importance of presymptomatic transmission.

The whole thing is worth a read.

Mass Death Fails To Materialize: Big Karen Bereft, Distraught

Big Karen warned us – those Super Bowl tailgate parties in Tampa were going to lead to the extinction of Florida Man.

Those of us who paid attention in high school science noted that there’s incredibly low correlation between outdoor gatherings and Covid transmission.

“The science says ‘obey or die!'”, Big Karen responds.

Observation indicates – well…

You can almost feel the disappointment wafting out from Big Karen.

When they’re not busy deflecting away from the fact, that is.

Bad News / Good News

The bad news: As I observed with Ann Bauer while filling in for Brad Carlson last week, lockdowns are killing kids – especially kids who are, like so many these days, predisposed to mental illness:

Millions of American kids are struggling, and their chances for long-term improved mental health is predicated on the notion that we will now prioritize their emotional well-being, which our society has tragically shown it has no intention of doing.

Our hope for raising an emotionally healthy and mentally stable generation is dissipating with every day kids are kept locked in their bedrooms and out of schools. Skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety are in no small part due to the fact that children feel neglected and forgotten, and they are not wrong to feel that way.

Our society has abandoned them and treated them as disposable. The damage caused by this abandonment is incalculable, and compounding every day we allow inertia, irrationality and the craven priorities of teachers unions to rule our decision-making.

The good news?

What, are you new around here? This is progressivism at work, operating through its wholly owned subsidiaries “Big Education” and “Big Karen”. Short of turning our culture around, there is none.