I haven’t written about Covid-19 for awhile

I haven’t written about it much recently because I didn’t have much to say that added to the discussion. In Australia things are opening up again: most schools are open (but not ‘back to normal’), restaurants/cafes have started limited seating and generally people are out and about in shops and offices more. The running total number of cases are low (7 thousand) as are the total number of deaths (102). Luck and timing seem to have made a huge difference here but the big question is how big that reservoir of unobserved infections is. With more wintery weather here and social contact increasing, we’ll need to see if the infection rate starts zipping up again.

Meanwhile, nonsense continues from the usual suspects elsewhere. I’ve seen more than one attempt in conservative and global warming denial circles (but I repeat myself) trying to do a comparison of lockdown policies with infection rates and/or changes in infection rates. The idea is to roughly classify a nation’s response and then look at levels of infection and then (lo and behold) find no connection and declare that lockdowns did nothing.

The reasoning is fallacious. The fallacy is one we’ve seen before: looking at data but stripping out what we already know. Lockdown policies are connected to infection rates in multiple ways. Consider two different examples: Italy and New Zealand.

Italy suffered a massive early spike in infection rates relatively early for a European nation. With hospitals overwhelmed in the north, the country began quarantine measures at a point were relatively little was known and access to testing was limited. As a policy response it was pretty much an extreme emergency measure where authorities had very few options available to them. On the other hand (and in real time, not very long after) New Zealand adopted a strong lockdown policy precisely because the country had very FEW cases. NZ had a shot at an elimination strategy: close off people entering the country, shut down community spread, wait for a few weeks…and (maybe) the virus is gone.

So we have a range of policy measures that have been implemented as a response to quite different circumstances. Among the countries compared, most have significant measures in place of some kind but there is a lot of variety on specific ones (e.g. school closures is quite varied as a policy) and the impact of a government ‘recommending’ as a measure and enforcing a measure is also varied (i.e. in one nation a recommendation might have had a similar practical impact as a mandated policy).

In short, it’s a mess that will require more complex analysis than simply comparing ‘lockdown’ v ‘no lockdown’. The Our World In Data site has a decent overview of policy responses here https://ourworldindata.org/policy-responses-covid They also have a kind of aggregate index for a variety of countries (https://ourworldindata.org/policy-responses-covid#government-stringency-index ). How useful that is, I’m not sure. Again, simply comparing one date with total infections will produce gibberish e.g. currently NZ has a less severe score than Sweden but that hides that NZ had a VERY severe score ten days earlier, so you have not just different levels of severity but different PATTERNS of severity.

What happens next? Different regions have been impacted at different times. Obviously East Asian nations suffered the initial spike, followed by Western Europe and then North America. Cases continue to grow in the USA, although that growth is partly masked by falls in the parts of the US that were impacted first.

This graph shows some selected nations based on previous conversations or places that people have made comparisons between. Different choices of countries might lead to a very different perception of the trajectory. Also, as we’ve discussed before, the extent and efficacy of testing impacts these numbers.

Russia, parts of South America and the Gulf States also have rising numbers. The worldwide spread is far from over.

Whatever happened to Voxopedia?

In 2018 I wrote one of my occasional posts about “Infogalactic” aka Voxopedia, saying:

“Yes, the shambling undead creature assembled from rotting remains of articles discarded by Wikipedia continues to lurch through the countryside occasionally gurgling the word “brrraainnss” (or is it “editorrrrsss”). Somehow it is still not dead despite being edited by a tiny number of people, two of whom seem to be at war over which kind of weird conspiracy theory complex is the right one.”

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/you-havent-mocked-voxopedia-in-a-long-time/

Although I’ve touched upon the site occasionally since then, the basic situation has remained unchanged. The same small core of editors keep trying to keep it updated with occasional forays into editing out all the “BCE/CE” date designations back to “BC/AD”. Meanwhile, there is a couple more editors using it as a personal blog for their own conspiracy theories and I think maybe as a place to edit a screenplay? It’s amazingly not dead but instead has slowly drifted into irrelevance. There was a point where various alt-right websites would link to it over Wikipedia but sightings have become rare in the wild.

Today though, even Vox Day himself couldn’t be bothered linking to his own vanity wiki:

Yet it had such dreams and ambitions back in 2016 when it first appeared ttps://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/10/05/vox-days-vanity-wikipedia/

By November 2016 the fundamental problem with even maintaining a bad version of Wikipedia was obvious: not enough editors and not enough updates: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/a-tale-of-an-encyclopedia-in-graphs/

People really did sign up in droves. What they didn’t do is start editing or curating. Looking at recent changes today, it is more-or-less the same handful of editors making the same number of editors per day as it was in 2017. Of those, several are just pursuing their own niche articles dedicated to either pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, transphobia, or anti-Semitism.

The development roadmap appears to have stalled in 2017. The encylopedia’s own page on its roadmap (https://infogalactic.com/info/Infogalactic:Roadmap ) hasn’t been updated since May 2017. None of the promised unique features for the wiki whereby people could somehow see different perspectives on an issue have ever come into being nor, if the technology existed and the concept made sense, would the wiki have enough people to write them.

Back in October 2016 the mood was quite different. In what reads like a weird parody Day announced:

“On Monday night, the Techstars held a meeting, and after a series of intense discussions, it was decided to radically modify our development schedule. Instead of utilizing the existing MediaWiki engine to incorporate the new features we are planning, both the Techstars and the Star Council agreed that Infogalactic will be better served by replacing the MediaWiki engine with a superior engine of our own device, codename DONTPANIC.

We also decided to add additional levels of administration and editing in order to better maintain cohesion in content modification until the preference filters are operational and render content management unnecessary. There will be three levels of Galaxians, create page only, create and add content only, and create, add, and remove content. This will permit the Starlords to more easily contain and constrain the behavior of any editors whose behavior is not in line with the Seven Canons or the objectives of the Star Council.”

https://infogalactic.blogspot.com/2016/10/roadmap-20.html

A better summary of the state of wiki is provided by this page on “Infogalactic”

Mr Praline enters the pet shop to register a complaint about the dead Norwegian Blue parrot just as the shopkeeper is preparing to close the establishment for lunch. Despite being told that the bird is deceased and that it had been nailed to its perch, the proprietor insists that it is “pining for the fjords” or simply “stunned”.

https://infogalactic.com/info/Dead_Parrot_sketch

As this is technically a blogiversay round-up post, I’ll leave you with my favourite post on the topic: the time Voxopedia had an argument with me about whether pi=4 [spoiler: it doesn’t] https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/alt-pi-voxopedia-replies-again/

Blogiversary: Greatest Hits

Five years of all this nonsense but what nonsense were people reading and when? I’m down here in the archive stacks of Felapton Towers and blowing the dust off the weird old filing cabinets to find out. These posts are just the numbers-game hits rather than special favourites and often other factors drove the traffic to them.

2015

The first year out for the blog and Puppy-kerfuffling was already in full on kerfluff.

2016

2016 was the year that the unreality field started spilling out everywhere.

2017

2017 was dominated by Rabid Puppy shenanigans. In particular Vox Day’s spoiler campaign for John Scalzi’s new sci-fi trilogy.

2018

I was downloading a report from an online database the other day and I was entering a date range. I wanted to cover the whole set of records which started in 2011. So I picked 2011/1/1 as the start date and that day’s date which I typed as 2018/5/8. What? I think my brain stopped updating the year and I’ve been stuck in 2018 ever since.

The reality dysfunction was going full-on as world politics got even stranger. Meanwhile this blog was forced into self-referentiality as I got caught up in my own Sad Puppy kerbungle and then later became a Hugo Finalist.

2019

At the very start of January 2019 I considered winding down the blog. Later I decided to post something every day. I’m fickle. Surprisingly, it was the Nebula Awards that drove traffic to the blog.

2020

The year isn’t finished yet but it started on fire and followed up with a global pandemic. This is a first-quarter list but I think some of the themes for the year are clear…

Larry Correia bullshits about anti-infection measures

To be fair to the ÜberPuppy (and I do try to be fair) he’s largely avoided some of the worst nonsense of his erstwhile colleagues. Some of his posts on the topic of covid-19 have even verged on the sensible. He’s not the one we can expect quack cures or the more outlandish conspiracy theories from. However, when his ‘side’ keeps repeatedly making fools of themselves, there’s a point where he can’t just taking it any more and has to find a way to argue that no-no-its-the-left-that-are-the-stupidheads.

Today he is attempting to defend the Hoyt-style anti-lockdown protestors by linking their demands with the potential of pandemic-related famine in third-world nations.

“But don’t worry, if millions of poor people starve in the third world now, the same smug fucks who’ve been yelling at us to shut down everything for the last couple of months will take zero blame for that. I’m willing to bet that when/if this happens, they’ll still be out there, signalling their virtue from their comfy homes, because They Care So Hard.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2020/04/23/perspective/

Says Larry, busy signalling his virtue from his comfy home. Despite never showing much concern for the food security of third-world nations, now the people of the developing world have a new champion in Larry Correia. Not that he has any solution to the possible food shortages other than vaguely attacking people who are criticising other people who want an end to the US measures (endorsed by a conservative federal government) designed to limit the impact of the pandemic.

“But that’s okay. You guys with the spicy memes, and your work from home jobs, and savings in the bank, just keep on pretending that everything is simple. Right/wrong, good/evil, black/white, your shit don’t stink, and anybody who disagrees with your hot take, well it can only be because they’re a fool. That guy who lost his job, business, and is worried about losing his house, or how he’s gonna feed his kids? He’s dumb. You’re the real champion.”

https://monsterhunternation.com/2020/04/23/perspective/

And so on. Rather like the “comfy home” jibe, the response is remarkably self-descriptive. While trying to avoid overtly supporting the anti-lockdown protests (so he can later say that he never did), his argument absolutely depends on pretending that everything is simple. The simplicity is the same error we see from the anti-lockdown protestors and can be summed up in a set of fallacies:

FALLACY ONE: The anti-lockdown fallacy: There’s no bad economic consequences to ending lockdown/social-distancing measures and all the bad economic outcomes currently (and projected) are due to those measures.

It’s a massive fallacy and once you identify it you can see it everywhere, not just among ideological extremists like Hoyt (for example) but even in more mainstream news. The truth is that an uncontrolled pandemic would 1. have severe economic impacts and 2. those impacts would be harder to mitigate. Fear fuelled by spikes in infections and by waves of overwhelmed health and emergency services would be devastating to the economy more so than measures because business would have no framework around which to plan. This is a point I’ve been talking around on a few occasions when looking at different national strategies: they actually need to be strategies that result in confidence from the population. Capitalist economies absolutely require public confidence to function. Lockdowns or not, a population (or even just a proportion of a population) needs to have confidence in the short-term future to keep spending and to keep the economy going.

The second aspect of the fallacy, is that lockdown measures can be guaranteed to be avoided. That is not the case. A nation or a state might get lucky and with a low starting rate of infection and a top-notch healthcare structure, avoid infection rates soaring to the points were they face an imminent collapse of healthcare provision (thus compounding deaths) but once infection rates do hit extreme levels then absolutely you are going to end up with far more extreme quarantine measures. Avoiding those extremes is why more moderate measures to keep infection rates lower make sense.

But, but what about famine! Firstly let’s go back to the fallacy one. Getting your local bookstore to re-open isn’t going to get wheat to southern Africa*. The pandemic itself is disrupting the economy but also, measures beyond the personal impact that the anti-lockdown protests are moaning about would also need to be lifted (eg movement of seasonal farm workers). That doesn’t mean we should collectivity shrug our shoulders about the impacts of the virus. On the contrary, anti-pandemic measures REQUIRE measures to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. Such measures include trying to reduce financial insecurity or food insecurity. However, that takes us to the other big fallacy that Larry leaves unspoken:

FALLACY TWO: The libertarian fallacy. The only solution to poor economic outcomes is more free-markets and the government can only make things worse.

It is, of course, bollocks. Aside from the more genuine (and fringe) libertarians, the pseudo-libertarians like Larry carve out a big exemption to this clause for the military and for war. As I’ve discussed before, this is because they are fine with the idea of the state being a punitive body. What they object to is the state ever helping people. Yet here we are in a circumstance that the best thing to do if you want CAPITALISM to keep going is for the government to hand people free money.

Of course that is much easier said than done in a nation where decades of effort has gone into demonising any support from government and making the process of government as ungainly (and as punitive) as possible. Buying into Reagan’s malicious lie (or pandering to it as the Democratic Party has done) for decades means that the US doesn’t have social infrastructure or the healthcare infrastructure to cope with either a pandemic OR to cope with the impact of measures to mitigate a pandemic.

Which takes me to Larry’s third unspoken fallacy — the other unwritten error made visible by the obvious gaps in his thinking:

FALLACY THREE: The nationalist fallacy. International cooperation is not possible.

There is potential famine, there are crops. This is not an unsolvable problem but nor is it a simple problem. In a different timeline, it would be exactly the sort of problem that a nation with a huge food production industry, a strong central executive government structure and huge international influence could do a lot to solve. Unfortunately, America currently is led by somebody incapable**. Yet, while America’s capacity to act is hampered, that doesn’t mean international cooperation is impossible. Physical international trade hasn’t ceased. Working around the impact of a pandemic isn’t impossible but it requires nations acting in concert.

Of course, when we put fallacy two and three together, the ideological implications become a bit clearer.

  • If government could mitigate economic down turns during a pandemic…then they could do so in other kinds of recessions.
  • If government could intervene to help people get the care they need during a pandemic…then they could do so at any time.
  • If government can help reduce world hunger during a pandemic…then they could do so whenever people were going hungry.
  • If governments around the world can act collectively during a pandemic…then they could do so with other global issues such as…

As I pointed out over a month ago, one major advantage Australia has had (aside from being an island obviously) during this pandemic was the 2007 general election. When the global financial crisis hit, the government of the day went full into stimulus measures rather than austerity measures (or half-hearted stimulus). The resulting relatively mild impact of the GFC shifted the conventional economic wisdom in Canberra to ‘in case of emergency spend money’. Consequently the conservative-leaning government here could politically ditch their existing economic policy and start spending. That doesn’t mean the economic impact of the pandemic has been easy in Australia but it does mean it is so much easier to get people on board with the measures. That means, maybe (and we’ve still got winter to go) Australia will be able to get back to a BAU economy quicker.

But let’s return to Larry Correia’s bullshit. It is, frankly, bullshit. He has a fairly obvious tell when he’s bullshitting because most of the time he’s big on how well-off he is and ideologically he’s very much in the rugged-individualist if you are well off it’s because you worked hard and who gives a shit about other countries etc etc. So when he starts chiding people for living in ‘comfy homes’ or starts crocodile tears about ‘guy who lost his job, business, and is worried about losing his house, or how he’s gonna feed his kids’ or third-world hunger, you have to wonder why the guy who lost his job before the pandemic (and was worried about losing his house, his healthcare etc) or the level of food insecurity not just in developing nations but in his own nation never warranted his concern?

I can’t even given him points for originality. The sudden concern for developing nations from people who normally are disparaging about them has been a feature of people arguing against measure to combat global warming for decades. The argument has been that limitations on fossil fuels will hamper developing economies. Of course, this argument is also accompanied by a claim that isn’t fair if more prosperous nations have to have stricter emission reduction targets because fallacy-mongers love nothing more than both having their cake and eating it to.

BUT the other big tell is there utter lack of substance in his post. It is nothing but chiding of imaginary people. There is a vacuum at the centre. No genuine analysis but also zero solutions. He offers no way forward nor does he even have the intestinal fortitude to even side explicitly with the anti-lockdown protestors. It’s no difference to his anti-anti-Trump stance: ever keen to establish that he personally doesn’t like Trump but forever wagging his primary-school-principal fingers at the naughty children who ever dare criticise Trump. It is simply political cowardice.

*[Worth pointing out that he didn’t even read the article he was pointing to which states:

“This hunger crisis, experts say, is global and caused by a multitude of factors linked to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing interruption of the economic order: the sudden loss in income for countless millions who were already living hand-to-mouth; the collapse in oil prices; widespread shortages of hard currency from tourism drying up; overseas workers not having earnings to send home; and ongoing problems like climate change, violence, population dislocations and humanitarian disasters.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/22/world/africa/coronavirus-hunger-crisis.html

*[ I initially wrote ‘…incapable of’ and was wondering what word to use next and then realised it didn’t need the ‘of’.]

A small denial update

A short follow up on the pro-virus faction. Sarah Hoyt is promoting a protest today in Colorado in a big red font “GRIDLOCK PROTEST AT THE CAPITOL TODAY AT ONE.

On April 4 I wrote this post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/04/04/a-study-in-denial/ with a section looking at Colorado specifically.

Colorado isn’t a mysterious far away planet. We can literally go and see how Covid-19 is progressing in the state. I’ll use the John Hopkins University visualisation tool for tracking confirmed Covid-19 cases that is available here: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6 The tool allows you to drill down to state (and within state) data in the USA. Colorado (pop. 5.696 million) currently (April 4 6:50 Sydney time) has 3,742 confirmed cases of Covid-19. For comparison, New South Wales (pop. 7.544 million) has 2,389 confirmed cases and that’s with long established Chinese communities (that Hoyt seems to regard as the only risk factor) as well as Sydney being a major cruise ship destination (an actually pertinent risk factor).

In the time since the number of cases in Colorado has reached 9,440 (as of 5 am April 20 Sydney time) with 411 deaths. The comparison I made then was with NSW but those figures now well exceed the whole country of Australia (6,457 cases, 71 deaths). NSW confirmed cases is currently 2,926.

Here is my other fear. We know that Covid-19 isn’t the worst case scenario, even given how bad it is. We will face worse and this current crisis is a dress rehearsal. Counterfactual beliefs on the right only become MORE entrenched and so the next major pandemic in a window of say 20 years will be met with more strident denial from the right earlier.

The Virus, The Lockdown and the Wingnut Eschatology

A post really wasn’t coming together on all this stuff on the anti-lockdown ‘movement’ among the US right. However, I wanted a bunch of links in one place to come back to later. The whys and the hows and whos and how it all connects to money, oil and denial is sort of there. I intended just a list of links but you get a rambling post instead. Somehow Jonestown and the Last Jedi get connected in here. More after the fold.

Continue reading “The Virus, The Lockdown and the Wingnut Eschatology”

Sorry that you cannot go to Wellington, so here is my impression of it

CoNZealand has announced that the 2020 Worldcon will be virtual:

A very understandable decision. I think this could be an exciting and maybe even a positive step forward. The big challenge will be keeping the essence of the event while making it virtual. I don’t know if that is possible but that’s one of the challenges that 2020 is bringing.

CoNZealand haven’t announced any details of what this virtual version will be. There will be a host of challenges from choices of software to bandwidth to pushing beyond just talking heads and chat rooms. Getting participants to feel that they part of a single entertaining group event is the essence of the challenge.

What people will definitely be missing though, is a chance to visit Wellington. There’s no way of avoiding that with New Zealand essentially closed to travel until the pandemic has peaked. That is sad because Wellington is one of my favourite cities. I don’t say that lightly. I have visited many cities in my life and while not a connoisseur of metropolitan areas, I think I’ve visited a sufficient variety around the world (except for Africa and North America) to have an informed but not exhaustive opinion.

So here is my impression of Wellington as best as I can manage as a substitute for visiting there. I’ve never lived in the city and I’m sure actual Kiwis can give a more inside picture. In particular, the city has a rich Maori heritage that dates back beyond Britain’s invasion of the area that I can’t do justice to. However, I can talk about what it is like to be a stranger visiting and wandering through it.

Photos after the fold