Free Parameter

What if this coronavirus were 10 times more deadly? 20 times?  What if it hit all ages equally, or was especially lethal to young adults ( like the 1918 flu)? What if it crippled, like polio?

Would people in those hypothetical scenarios have been as crazy as they are now,?  They are not impossible: the idea  that natural selection tightly limits  possible virulence is not correct.  In the famous misapplied example, myxomatosis, virulence in rabbits dropped from > 99% to ~ 50% – but I wouldn’t quite call  that having a cold. And it involved selection acting on the rabbits, as well – old-fashioned rabbit strains exhibit much higher than 50% mortality when exposed to current strains of myxomatosis.

I don’t believe that there’s a reserve supply of sanity that is called out when it’s truly needed.  Not this year, anyhow.






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98 Responses to Free Parameter

  1. Coagulopath says:

    In Richard Adams’ Watership Down, the rabbits know of myxomatosis, which they call “the white blindness”. Fear of the disease is why General Woundwort runs Efrafra the way he does.

    “Efrafa is a big warren — a good deal bigger than the one we came from — the Threarah’s, I mean. And the one fear of every rabbit in it is that men are going to find them and infect them with the white blindness. The whole warren is organized to conceal its existence. The holes are all hidden and the Owsla have every rabbit in the place under orders. You can’t call your life your own: and in return you have safety — if it’s worth having at the price you pay.

    Someone could write a minor paper about the parallels between Woundwort’s approach to the white blindness vs our approach to COVID-19. Woundwort thinks that the white blindness is a disease used by humans to harm rabbits (shades of how some think COVID-19 is a Chinese-made weapon), so he tries to stop it by keeping his rabbits underground, out of human sight.

    Although his theory’s off, his measures would limit Efrafra’s exposure to natural reservoirs of myxomatosis. Woundwort also ensures that Efrafra’s runs are not interconnected, so there’s the possibility of quarantining an outbreak.

    But his plan has some weaknesses. Packing rabbits together in close quarters (with no ventilation) obviously isn’t a good idea.

    And he’s too strict, too cruel. No Efrafran rabbit will report feeling sick, because they’ll be punished. And if they did, their Owsla officer would likely try to keep it a secret, for the same reason. White blindness will become deeply entrenched at Efrara before Woundwort even knows it’s there.

    That’s the irony of being a totalitarian dictator: you want obedient underlings, but instead you get skilled liars. To fight disease you need clear information about where it began and how far it’s spread, and Woundwort has set up an incentive structure that ensures he’ll never get it.

    A real-life parallel happened in 2002, when SARS broke out in Guangdong in China. The province had a 12% economic growth target to hit, come hell or high water, and “negative news” was suppressed by the state. As a result, the disease snowballed and became far more devastating than it had to be.

    Trump isn’t like General Woundwort, or even Jiang Zemin. But you wonder how much trying to keep the economy booming in the face of an epidemic has cost the United States in the long run.

    • Pincher Martin says:

      I enjoyed your write-up of a book I have not read since childhood, but I don’t think Trump’s actions cost the United States anything in the long run. Our deaths are all being paid upfront.

      The irony is that the U.S. economy would’ve been fine – not great, but fine – had Trump focused on Covid to the exclusion of all else. Trump probably would’ve been re-elected, too. Unfortunately, Trump campaigns much better than he governs.

      • There’s no way to sufficiently assuage people without working therapies / vaccine, or media control

        If he had locked everything down with troops in the streets they would have screamed dictator. If he had succeeded they would also say he didn’t know science, since there were no cases, and that he singlehandedly destroyed the economy on a whim. The attacks write themselves

        Quarantining elderly nationwide after Cuomo’s debacle may have been the most practical “heavy handed” solution. High standards must be enforced, and remote visits with family

        We have seen every state governor have a crack at it, with troops at their disposal, and I have seen no stellar results beyond good press. I’ve long said that Trump did the best out of any big shots

        New York is naturally a difficult case, and the mania for open borders has visited their sins upon them and the rest of the country. New York served as a major reservoir from whence covid spread.

        There should have been quarantines of New Yorkers, but that kind of state control is out of reach for now – Democrats want leeway to cheat, and Republicans rightly fight their totalitarianism

        • Pincher Martin says:

          Your argument basically comes down to Trump couldn’t do anything to make a positive difference. I don’t believe that’s true. But if you believe it to be so, you’re making the best case for electing his opponent.

          Trump basically gave up on Covid at the end of April when he went off in a snit after the media didn’t like his daily Covid briefing sessions. And then he began to engage more frequently in counterproductive behavior which encouraged the worst behavior in his followers. So we got an entire summer of discussion about whether masks really work.

          The guy just doesn’t know how to govern, which is too bad since I agree with much of his agenda outside of Covid prevention.

          Would Biden have done any better? Almost certainly not. But in politics, you get the blame if you’re in charge and Biden was not in charge. I don’t think FDR could’ve prevented the Great Depression in 1929, but it was Hoover and not Roosevelt who was president at that time.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Re: the book Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I have not read it, but I’ve heard of it and assumed it was a children’s book.

        But I read another of his books, The Girl in a Swing, which is a horror story, No way would I suggest it for children. Curious about a children’s book writer taking on horror, I checked his background. Apparently Watership Down is not a children’s book but rather a metaphor for WW 1.

        • Pincher Martin says:

          It is a children’s book, but a well-written children’s book. At least from what I remember.

          Sweeping Allegories are usually meaningless to great literature, but teachers of mediocre modern literature love them because they allow those pedagogues to expound on their boring ideas that are NOT in the book. Hence, when I was in school dull teachers often loved to assign short books like Animal Farm or The Old Man and the Sea or The Crucible to students so they could then riff in the classroom on just about everything but the book.

          • Frau Katze says:

            I still cannot see a book written for young children also being suitable for serious study in high school. But Literature was never my best subject, so I’ll take your word for it.

            • Pincher Martin says:

              The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

              Treasure Island.

              The Catcher in the Rye.

              Little Women.

              Alice in Wonderland.

              The Jungle Book.

              Watership Down might skew toward a slightly younger audience than the books above -say 12 rather than 15 – but these books were all taught or recommended in high school in my day. They are also books that if you don’t read them in high school, you most likely won’t see them in a college course.

              • Frau Katze says:

                I’ve read “Little Women” but I don’t recall much about it. Never read the others. We read “Great Expectations” (Dickens) in high school but I can’t remember what it was about, or any of the characters’ names. I disliked Literature because it seemed vague and with no method of backing up your opinions. Completely different from Math, my favourite subject.

                I even went wrong in History. The Physics teacher recommended we read “Brighter than a Thousand Suns”, apparently unaware that it was deeply flawed. I used that book for a History essay and promptly got a failing grade, with the teacher blaming me for picking such a bad book. What reason did I have to mistrust the Physics teacher’s judgement? I didn’t have the self confidence to tell her that another teacher had recommended it.

                I avoided arts courses like the plague after that.

        • saintonge235 says:

          I would agree that WATERSHIP DOWN is not a children’s book. A metaphor for WWII, actually. Rather good, as I remember it. And then there’s SHARDIK, which is about a bear believed to be an avatar of a God. Very good, though grim.

          • Pincher Martin says:

            I can’t imagine anyone over the age of sixteen wanting to read Watership Down for the first time, other than perhaps adults who live vicariously through their children and wish to share the experience of reading the book together.

            • mcdemarco says:

              I’ve reread it since I was sixteen. Even more people have read The Hobbit as adults, despite its being much more of a children’s book in tone and plot.

              • Pincher Martin says:

                I tried to reread The Hobbit once when I was an adult and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even get far into the book. Maybe a chapter or two. It just couldn’t keep my attention because it is written for children.

                I think of all the books I read and enjoyed as a child, the only ones which I can recall rereading as an adult and still liking were Dune and Flatland.

                The literary critic Joseph Epstein makes the argument that this pattern of age-appropriate literature persists even long into adulthood. He recommends never reading The Great Gatsby after the age of 35 or Milton’s Paradise Lost before the age of 50.

              • Jason Arsenault says:

                Even at 50 I find The Hobbit charming and enjoy the frequent allusions to Germanic myths and stories.

        • Coagulopath says:

          Re: the book Watership Down, by Richard Adams. I have not read it, but I’ve heard of it and assumed it was a children’s book.

          It’s a heroic quest novel (like Lord of the Rings) about rabbits fleeing the destruction of their warren. Kids can read it but it’s a little hard going – lots of mythological allusions and linguistic details and so forth.

      • JayMan says:

        Our deaths are all being paid upfront.

        Can we stop hearing this nonsense?

        • Pincher Martin says:

          Why is it nonsense to say that the deaths will happen sooner rather than later? Did you not read the preceding comment that was talking about the “long run”?

          There is no worry about the “long run” here. I don’t care about Covid deaths in 2022 or 2023 – at least in the UnIted States. The problem is now. It’s not over the “long run.”

          And once the virus is stopped, the economy will be just fine. That’s the key. Stopping the virus.

          • Coagulopath says:

            Why is it nonsense to say that the deaths will happen sooner rather than later?

            It’s not the case that COVID19 will kill a certain number of people no matter what we do. It can be contained and slowed.

            It’s important to play for time and push as many deaths into the future as possible. We can hope for a vaccine at some point.

            • Pincher Martin says:

              I absolutely agree with you on those points.

              But that’s not a “long run” tradeoff between our health and our economy. That’s a decision which has to be made here and now to both save lives and help the economy.

              If we do nothing about Covid, just let the virus rip, our economy will be a wreck in a month. We can’t have a normal functioning economy with a virus that kills one percent of the people it infects and hospitalizes many more.

  2. asdf says:

    What if the flu was x100 deadlier. Things would change.


    I mean isn’t how deadly something is one of the defining features of how we are supposed to respond to it?

    This thing has cost us less than 0.01% of our national life years. Even if It kills ten times as many people, its still a big nothing.

  3. gcochran9 says:

    Originally, myxomatosis was deliberately introduced to Australia to harm rabbits. it’s not native to Australia – originated in South America.

    • Coagulopath says:

      Yeah sometimes it was spread as part of government programs. But a random human walking around the English countryside probably won’t infect a warren with myxomatosis, which is what WW was worried about.

  4. luisman says:

    Yeah, what if? Some countries’ reaction to the outbreak was according to “what if it is way more deadly”. But AFTER it became clear that is isn’t as deadly, the lockdowns, mask mandates, etc. intensified, instead of being eased.

    • Frau Katze says:

      The UK, a crowded island with a population that won’t follow orders and don’t trust the government (unlike, say, the residents of Taiwan), just announced a new lockdown.

      I would have thought that having those at risk keep themselves locked down would be sufficient. That’s easy for me to say, since I have my own condo.

      What about those who have to live with their grown children (and grandchild)? It’s more common with immigrants. It’s a lifestyle choice. Unless there’s this weird virus that only hits old folks, for the most part.

      I worry about the economy collapsing. Any work dependent on tourism is gone for the foreseeable future. Even business travel is way down.

      • luisman says:

        I live in the Philippines. Until Victoria went full police state, we had the hardest lockdown here. So called barangays (like a parish which has only one or two entry/exit points) were often barricaded off, they put guards at their borders, without any benefit. Even the neighbouring town set up a barricade, manned by the military. The poor people here live more like in hives, than in housing. Turns out, that it is practically impossible to control entry/exit so much, that contagion is effectively suppressed. Essential workers still had to go to work, food had to be delivered. And if you do a fair comparison, Sweden, Belarus, Japan, didn’t do that bad w/o a lockdown. If everyone went “Man in the mountains” for a few weeks, that may work, but in modern society it doesn’t. The medieval plague couldn’t be confined, even with ship quarantine etc.

        And as there are many western retirees around me here, I can tell you that nearly none of them want to have their last years stolen by lockdowns. Almost all of them prefer to take the risk of infection vs. being confined w/o any fun in life.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I don’t know anyone with that attitude (ie they prefer the risk).

          Maybe risk-avoidance runs in families and even affects who you chose as friends.

        • Frau Katze says:

          Even with medieval plagues, those with the means to travel reduced their risk by leaving the cities. I agree the common man had no choice, anymore than the present day poor Philippines.

        • Frau Katze says:

          I suspect risk avoidance is hereditary, as least partly. My sister and I discovered a biological half-brother from 23andme a few years ago. He turns to be using similar risk avoidance tactics as my sister and me. Ordering groceries on line and getting them delivered and getting standing orders from Amazon for non-perishables. Our father wasn’t a fearful man but neither was he reckless.

          • luisman says:

            Most motorbike drivers here overtake on the right (is this called ‘undertake’?), and lots of them ride w/o a helmet, even though they have to pay fines if caught. Risk avoidance is on a different level here, e.g. like in the bad parts of Chicago after dark. Fearful foreigners usually decide against living in this country.

            • gkai says:

              And non-fearful foreigners find it refreshingly “free”, at least on some aspect. Never went to phillipines, but I went many times in Thailand. Definitely feels more free for everyday life and leisures than my home country in Europe, where everything feels over-regulated. The sweet spot is different for everybody, but western world is definitely going the female-senior way, and this feels really oppressive for most young or even middle-aged men.
              I am not young, but the over-protection feels more oppresive each year. In fact, I miss the good-old-time like a classic old-timer, except more in the sense “we could do a lot more before”, not the expected “When I was young, we were more respectful”. I guess this means the my society gets older faster than me :-/

              • Frau Katze says:

                What’s your reaction to Covid?

              • j says:

                If “female-senior” means crazy old (mostly childless) women, then you are right. Society became very oppressive, and am saying that as an old man. I suffer it in my profession: to design a very modest chalet I have to submit an hydrology study, and a geology report (earthquakes) as well as an environmental report. And a accessibility נגישות report. Food comes with warnings “Too much Sodium” and “High Sugar content” “Artificial colors” and so, The West is terrified, deadly frightened. Once we were adventurous, courageous, sailing the monster-filled oceans.

            • Frau Katze says:

              It’s usually called “passing” in Canada and the US.

              I read once that in Israel, in at least the first generation, only people from the English-speaking world or France were concerned with safe driving. For Russians, for example, it just wasn’t a concept.

              • gkai says:

                My reaction to covid is reluctantly following the measures that seems more or less logical (wearing a mask when close to people living out of my house, whatever the reason, and not inviting people inside, basically), and ignoring all the rest except when risking a fine.
                That’s not difficult as I have a big home, my company makes teleworking very easy, and I can not travel anyway. In practice the current lockdown annoy me personally very little, except maybe for Christmas…but that’s not the case for everyone, some are deeply impacted while risking very little (People in their early professional life mostly). In this case, it’s not crazyness to protest the measures, it’s just rational (At worse, quite selfish, but I am getting less and less sympathetic to people using the selfish insult, it’s often a disguised “give give give”. Expecting selfishness not to be the norm is wrong (and usually selfish))

                When voting time comes, I will vote against any politician who exercised power during this crisis, even if the few that did took measures that I find adequate and did not patronize the citizens (There are some, but very few). Even those rare specimen exercised dictatorship for a while, so they are tainted. Goodbye.

              • gkai says:

                You mean, old geezers thinking that the new society is not permissive enough? That’s the opposite of the mainstream stereotype of the angry old man opposing the free and careless youngs. Or maybe this was mainstream in my youth, and now it’s Greta Thunberg sermonizing careless boomers that is mainstream. Yuck.

            • gkai says:

              Well it means either female or old, both factor tends to make you more risk-averse (especially physical risks, but not only) and obedient to any established authority. It’s probably cumulative, so yes, old females are fine examples of this tendency. Childless or not, i don’t know: My mom still worry about me taking risks…while, given our age difference, she probably takes more covid-risks shopping for food once in a week wearing a mask, than me if I go out and french kiss every stranger in the street….

            • Kilo 4/11 says:

              It may have tidied up a bit by now, but central Phnom Penh in the ’90s was a free for all. No signs, no lane markings, no concept of which direction traffic was supposed to flow … and families of five on 125cc motorbikes. BTW, until 2017, our (White) family caught the bus every morning, and returned every night, to my old home in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago, which consistently has one of the highest murder counts in the city. Not “risk taking”, just love of the old home and no place else to go.

              • luisman says:

                Try to make a comparison, not to the 1918 flu, but to the “black death”, which allegedly killed 1/3 to 1/2 of all Europeans. The last cases were, I believe, 2017 in Madagascar. I’d ask (the nonsensical question): What if we we had lockdowns since the 1300’s? People prayed to God in medieval times, now we ‘pray’ to virologists, delivering a vaccine. Then they used bloodletting for every disease, now, we think vaccines are the ‘go to’ solution.

                Many people become more afraid of a medical theocracy than of death by virus. Quarantine has been used in the 1300’s, maybe a bit more effective than now (big ?), as the population density was quite low. It never worked in cities.

                Anyway, I think we have to look at the 5 stages of grief. Some remain in the “shock and denial” phase, some have moved through the “anger” phase and we’re stuck in the “depression and detachment” phase, as the “dialogue and bargaining” phase is blocked by the insistence on monologue by WHO, virologists, government, etc. We”l have to reach the “acceptance” phase in order to return to a meaningful life.

                Some skipped ahead already. We have some restaurants here, which act like the speak easy’s of prohibition time. Front rooms are empty, and the backrooms function like normal restaurants again.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Lunatics can be interesting, but you aren’t. The reason that people think that vaccines are the “go to” solution is because they work. Quarantine has indeed worked in cities – that’s where it was usually practiced. Ports.

                And so on.. all nonsense.

              • luisman says:

                The answer of a true “scientist” of our days. Pure dogma. Bye bye.

  5. jb says:

    For me, one of the big lessons of the current pandemic is how vulnerable modern society would be if a really bad bug ever came along — far more vulnerable than primitive farming societies, which can easily bounce back from a 30 or 40 percent death rate.

    The thing is, every year our biotechnology is becoming more and more sophisticated, which means that every year it is becoming less and less difficult for someone — a nation state, a nihilistic cult, or even a disturbed graduate student — to engineer a really bad bug. Something to think about once we’ve finished dealing with the #1 issue facing us all: global warming!

  6. Frau Katze says:

    All these what-ifs? Yep, it could been much, much worse. We are getting off pretty light.

    Also, the fatality rate is down, as doctors have found ways to treat it better even with no magic bullet. Dexamethasone, getting the patients to lie in a particular way – to mention two.

    There’s also an “island effect.” If you’re on an island that requires a ferry, especially an expensive and long trip, you’ve got way less Covid. Most dramatic is highly isolated New Zealand. But now Australia is acting like a big island, numbers are way down.

    On Vancouver Island, where I’m located, the ferry trip takes about 2 hours, about $60 to bring your car, and the numbers are dramatically lower than Greater Vancouver. The island is big enough that it’s got lots of farms and much food is grown locally.

    This suggests to me that strictly suppressing travel would be a big help, even with a much more serious disease.

    There were fairly big outbreaks of yellow fever in the US South until they realized it was spread by mosquitoes. I read a whole book about it. People fled the cities. Yellow fever is pretty bad, with a high fatality rate. The mosquito that carries it does not survive outside the warm southern climate, We got lucky there. The most virulent strain of malaria is similar: the mosquito is strictly sub tropical.

    I can remember the polio era. Everyone was afraid of it (although the adults tried not to scare us). I remember seeing a photo of someone in an iron lung. But it turns out that only in a very low percentage of cases does the virus get into the nervous system, and even then by no means all are left crippled. If it doesn’t get into the nervous system, most people have mild symptoms.

    I hope everyone’s doing well. I’m staying in. Have not been out in weeks. It’s not that bad: you can almost anything delivered, there’s phones and the internet.

    • Frau Katze says:


      With yellow fever, the mosquito does not survive even the US south winter. But some years it would be brought from places like Cuba.

      I did not get the polio vaccine until I was aged 11. I never personally knew of anyone who was crippled by polio or even knew they had it.

      • saintonge235 says:

        When I was a respiratory therapy technician, back in the late ’70s-early 80s, I met one guy who was somewhat crippled by polio. And that’s out of many hundreds of patients. Once the vaccine came in, the cases declined dramatically.

        • Frau Katze says:

          It could be eradicated like smallpox, since neither have animal reservoirs. I was following the news of the eradication program several years back. It was gone except in certain areas with extremely stupid Muslim fanatics like the Taliban. The Taliban had a program where they killed polio workers. It’s scarcely believable.

          • gcochran9 says:

            The CIA had guys in Islamabad looking for Bin Laden under the cover of polio eradication. This may have been a mistake.

            • Frau Katze says:

              That does ring a vague bell, now that you mention it. No one at the CIA saw a downside?

              The other polio-worker hell is northern (ie Muslim) Nigeria. Either Boko Haram copied the Taliban or there is some other reason.

              Officials of most Muslim countries are not affected by this polio problem. Saudi Arabia, which hosts the big pilgrimages, is perfectly sensible. They cancelled the big annual Haj quite early in the Covid outbreak.

            • Woof says:

              The CIA seems to prefer the most stupid, destructive solution to any problem.

            • j says:

              It was a mistake because he was hiding in Abbotabad.

            • athEIst says:

              The eradication part was right.

  7. James Thompson says:

    In general, people do not heed warnings: they are too expensive. The van driver delivering me my food, in the last UK lockdown (March till summer) told me that in no household had he encountered a case of Covid. Naturally, this is a two-edged observation, since lockdown was an effective suppressor of transmission, but it was also a measure of rarity, and probably accounted for the lack of precautions later in summer. Global warming, insurance for earthquake damage, using condoms, car maintenance and checking credit histories are all things we are told to take seriously, but often don’t. I was going to write a book about this in the 80s, but decided it was too small an idea to spend much time on.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Everyone I know over 65 is taking it very seriously.

      They don’t spend time talking to deliverymen.

      In my area, most delivery men have been told to make the delivery as fast as possible.With non perishables they often just ring the bell and leave, without waiting for an answer, That’s fine with me.

  8. dearieme says:

    In the early days, our esteemed blogger pooh-poohed the notion that a lockdown would lead to an increase in deaths of despair, on the grounds that the Great Depression had had no such effect.

    Is there yet any evidence that can be used to test that conjecture? Or is it simply too soon?

  9. catte says:

    Yeah. If.

  10. A reserve supply of sanity? I think studies of prehistory are showing how much of our spread was due to trial-and-error.

  11. ohwilleke says:

    “What if it crippled, like polio?” Decent indications that it does long lasting serious damages in a quite large percentage of cases relative to the percentage of cases that cause death.

  12. j says:

    Question: Would people be crazy as they are now?
    In case the virus was 10-20 times more virulent either/or horribly incapacitating like polio, people would be terrified and hiding in the mountains. Neighborhoods would erect barriers and organize voluntary watch teams.
    Crazy as they are now? No, facing a serious situation, people would react seriously, like England under the Blitz.

    • Frau Katze says:

      No. People were scared of polio but life went on. As I said above, I remember the era clearly and I didn’t get the vaccine until I was 11 years old.

      I can also remember the Cuban missile crisis (it was around the same time as the vaccine). Some people in the US did go crazy over that. Reaction was more subdued in Canada but I can still remember that a nearby family decided to move the New Zealand. The theory was that radioactive fallout wouldn’t be a problem as the air doesn’t mix much between the hemispheres.

      I was in a small town (northern B.C.) without television. The adults didn’t say much about it and I didn’t know the details until much much later. I did not know just how severely some people reacted in the US either. Or the motive for that family to move to New Zealand.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Small town in Northern BC without television” ? In the Robson Valley, perhaps ?

        • Frau Katze says:

          Quesnel, in the Cariboo. It’s not really that far north.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m looking out my office window at a foggy Prince George right now. The Robson Valley reference was to McBride and Valemount. I believe McBride was the last place in BC to receive tv coverage – ’72 or ’73, I think it was.

            • Frau Katze says:

              They had to install cables for the Interior I think. I seem to recall that in Vancouver we had an aerial.

              • abies lasiocarpa says:

                I believe PG and, later, the Robson Valley, had a transmitter that provided over-the-air for a certain range. Prince George has heavily cabled when I moved here in the late 70’s, although OTA channels were available. Of course, the advent of low-cost satellite tv means tv for all, everywhere.

  13. Henry Scrope says:

    What UK politician would dare to close the borders and keep them closed. That would have worked but would have been against a quasi-religious belief in open borders. Even if the Kung Flu was a lot worse I suspect the holy writ of open borders would have been maintained.

    • Algernon Sydney says:

      Right. I remember having this conversation with my father at the time, who is a bellweather for British centrism. He was all in favour of lockdowns but the idea of closing borders was met with confused spluttering.

      The Democrats who now present themselves as the anti-virus party quickly forget that they were telling people to go and have dinner in Chinatown in March.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Totally agree on how well restricting movement works, I noted the proof in a comment above.

      I also agree that the open borders nonsense would prevail no matter how how bad the disease was. Trump restricted travel fairly early. In Canada, our total idiot leader Trudeau proudly signalled virtue by permitting flights from China until it became too bad to ignore,

  14. nankoweap says:

    What if pigs had wings?

  15. j says:

    Good exam question.
    They would fly away.
    How far?
    d = vpig t = 1 · 10, 000 = 10, 000 m = 10 km.

  16. The G_man says:

    What if Iraq had had weapons of mass destruction, would LIBRULS still be so crazy as to oppose the war then, huh? Huh?

    • Coagulopath says:

      If Iraq had nuclear weapons they probably wouldn’t have done anything with them.

      • j says:

        “probably” is not applicable to WMD

        • Kilo 4/11 says:

          Hindsight is wonderful, isn’t it? J.Q. Public, without technical expertise, didn’t know whom to believe in 2003; there were nothing but conflicting sources on the WMD story. You correctly point out that the prudent choice was distrust of Saddam. Few predicted that our politico/military establishment would create a massive disaster out of what could have been a straightforward takeover of the country and elimination of any weapons we deemed unnecessary for them to have for their defense. Now we know just how incompetent they are at this, (and how much malign influence a certain foreign country has on our decision makers) but most of us didn’t know then. As we have seen in the past four years, the media and government can distort reality beyond the average person’s ability to discern it, any way they want it to look, including, among many other lies, that Russia elected our president, and that “systemic racism” is a deadly threat to blacks, when it is blacks who are burning down our cities and attacking unsuspecting Whites.

  17. Yudi says:

    A lot of people seem to misunderstand the point of this post. It’s not, “If things were different, they’d be different,” but to let the commenters choose one difference that would result in everyone acting saner.

    My vote is not for the general virulence of the virus increasing, but it killing infants and young children at the same rate it kills old people, like many other diseases. A lot of conservatives, in particular, who laugh or scream at restrictions now would want their kids protected.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Greg is famous for cryptic posts, although this one is pretty straightforward, I agree.

      But because of the cryptic ones, many see these posts as an excuse to just chat about Covid in general. I’m fact, forums like this make it much easier to be at home with bare minimum other human contact as we wait for a vaccine.

      As long as the comments are in good faith I don’t worry too much.

      You’re right that things would be much much worse if it affected children. That would be a nightmare.

  18. j says:

    The feared mutated COVID-20 has appeared in Denmark. As predicted, it passed to a new carrier (minks instead of bats) and then jumped back to humans. I thought mink coats went out of fashion and were forbidden everywhere, but there are 17 million minks in Denmark alone. Now we shall need yet another vaccine.

  19. RJ Rock says:

    Regarding your reserves of sanity, natural selection tightly limits the application and persistence of ideas, too.

  20. Abelard Lindsey says:

    If this was an honest to god SF-style pandemic (like the John Ringo bird flu in “The Last Centurion”) with a death rate of 30-60% of the human population, peoples’ behavior would be radically different than what we’re seeing now. For one thing, there would be no government mandated economic shutdowns because people would “hole up” on their own and the economy would come apart like an over speed turbine all on its own. The fact is this COVID-19 is not even remotely like the bird flu in the John Ringo novel, and that is why people are behaving they way they are right now.

    I consider John Ringo’s “The Last Centurion” to be by far the best fictional depiction of a real pandemic.

  21. Eoan says:

    Not sure if this comment got lost while logging in, and I don’t see it, so I’m posting it again:

    Apparently the fungus that is killing off amphibian populations in much of the world is well-known in some circles, but I think a lot of people haven’t heard of it. It extirpates many populations. I also recall the death of most saiga antelopes in 2015.

    Did a poll on this. Apparently the standard for online polls is not to offer a confidence interval, since they’re not randomly sampled. Based on another poll, the sampled population was more concerned than the US average about the new coronavirus.

    A slim majority of respondents would have supported “forceful measures to prevent the spread of the virus”. Median age group 26~35. The most interesting part, I think, is how respondents thought other people from the same population would respond: for “Bonus question: if you had to guess, what do you think will be the median response (middle response when responses are sorted) to the previous question?”, the median response was 10~20%, or 4 times higher lethality than was actually necessary to get a majority to support forceful measures.

    The problem is that individually, people express high concern by doing things like buying toilet paper. High individual concern does not automatically translate into the group demonstrating high concern through its actions, in the sense of the group doing what’s best for the group.

    Is it crazy for a crowd of ungulates to run from a predator, even if by ganging up they could do this?

    I could explain how a certain idea could have put society in a better shape to react to something like coronavirus, but I doubt anyone here would be interested in sharing it.

  22. Eoan says:

    I don’t want to link the idea I mentioned, since I’m tired of people not sharing it, but consider. How do people make decisions? Occasionally, they think through a situation. Much more frequently, they rely on patterns that are effectively other people doing their thinking for them.

    But which patterns do people look for? The answer, of course, is usually determined by other patterns. And so we have “experts” being brought out on some topic, because people have been trained to listen to them. People think that generally, the system works, and even if they don’t know what to do in a situation, it’s easy to find someone who does.

    People are resistant to changing this. In the Sewol ferry disaster of 2013, hundreds of high school students waited in a capsizing ferry, joking around with each other and recording videos, because of an initial message from the captain (who quickly abandoned the ship, in his underwear) and recorded messages from the crew. After the disaster and the failure of the “rescue operation” to find anyone who might have survived the sinking and been trapped inside the hull, there were questions about whether the traditional Korean reliance on, and support of, authority should change. But there were no changes.

    Sometimes, people support authority because they believe authority is right in this particular case. Other times, they support it because they know that if people have no guidance at all, they will make many mistakes. It is all too easy to think, or say, that because authority is wrong this time, then authority is often or always wrong. What results is that we don’t know why other people are acting a certain way: do they actually think authority, or more generally a pattern used for decision-making, is right when the evidence suggests that it is wrong? Or are they aware that the authority is likely wrong in this case, and yet they still support it because of consequences for other situations?

    Ideally, whenever the system was wrong, we would criticize and correct it. The indecision that people exhibit when confronted by evidence that the system is wrong is a barrier to this. A better society contains elements that remind people that the system can be flawed and that the patterns that people know for making decisions do not contain all information needed to make decisions. For those who didn’t know this, they can now think more critically; for those who did know this, perhaps they will be more willing to openly criticize problems. One can describe patterns as signals, as in economics, but a particular audience may not find this terminology helpful. Basically, improving the quality of signals is a form of work which benefits society, and people are more likely to do it if they’re rewarded for it, which they won’t be if other people are not aware that signals need improving.

    It can be hard to know how to do this, or to explain why it is helpful or important. The evidence is that knowledge of this problem is a burden on smart people and is why being smart does not really correlate with having more children, affecting the course of human evolution, and also does not really correlate with being happy if you control for income.

    The benefits from society being like this: society is better at solving problems. Humans being humans, that often means reducing suffering. But is one thing for two people in the society to decide not to fight and kill, or steal from, each other. It is another for one society that acts intelligently to convince another society not to attack them. What did the Mongols care that China was cultured? They came and conquered, and were assimilated into that culture, but not before first conquering it. So there is a definite possibility that a well-ordered and intelligent society is a “maintenance” state, and a more violent, and in a sense chaotic state could be better for “progress”. Much of the “progress” over the past few centuries is questionable, driven as it is by fossil fuels, which are extracted by using previously-extracted fossil fuels and which of course will run out.

    The Chinese book Unlimited Warfare makes a case that nuclear weapons are responsible for ending traditional war. But even without them, societies would only have a reason to wage war if they saw some benefit. As with natural predation, we expect to see nations only attack those much weaker (in contrast to the other end of the spectrum, where parasites or diseases attack those whose attention does not reach them). But societies are not actual carnivores who can only eat other organisms. As long as trade is possible, there is an alternative to war.

    This brings us back to signals, or patterns. How to let people know that the system is flawed? The most direct way is for the system to be wrong about them. Then they don’t say, “if I acknowledge possible flaws in the system, this oppressed minority will benefit”; it is them who could benefit.

    We do this through conflicting goals. People often have goals that sometimes conflict; rarely are goals inherently conflicting. One might want to eat some food, and also see some entertainment; while these conflict momentarily, one just chooses which to do first.

    I won’t say more unless asked.

  23. When the COVID death rate in an area goes above 3 per million per day, there’s usually a downturn in a few weeks. If it were deadlier, the downturn would occur sooner.

    OTOH, it looks like North Dakota may be an exception.

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