Wednesday, April 8, 2020

No Surprises

Coronavirus infectious disease 2019 is causing proportionally more illnesses and deaths in the Black community than in the White community.

And this is surprising to people?

It was understood when the epidemic was still confined to China that people in relatively ill health and with potential aggravating conditions were more likely to die from the disease (and/or the immune response to the disease) than other people. Some recent data from here in the United States points to 89% of people hospitalized for treatment had one or more underlying health conditions. And it's not as if the knowledge that, here in the United States, that Black Americans have more aggravating conditions than the population at large is new. It's been widely known, and accepted as true (almost to the point of earning the label "common knowledge") for decades.

So the question that I'm curious about is why didn't anyone appear to see this coming? Part of it, I suspect, is that the disease spread models that were being used simply didn't capture that sort of information. I don't know what sort of information went into them, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was basically information on population density and how many contacts any given person would reasonable be expected to have in a day.

As for myself, it occurred to me that this could be the case (I am Black, after all), but I'll admit that I was more concerned with how the infection would play out in the local unsheltered homeless population. A stay-home order is one thing. But when "home" is in a large encampment of homeless people along the side of an expressway, it becomes quite another. So I was expecting to hear about the disease tearing through that community. Which likely would have resulted in a racial disparity of its own, given the demographics of homelessness here in the greater Puget Sound region.

I wonder if part of the problem that the United States is having with this outbreak is an inability to look ahead. And what the next predictable facet of this to be missed will be.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Self Deception

A question: Do people set their standards for themselves so high, that sometimes the only way to reach them is through self-deception?

Some time ago, an acquaintance of mine noted the following:

We do like our see-no-evil self-deceptions, though. I mean, we wear clothes made in sweatshops by children, and believe ourselves good, ethical, enlightened people (and by 'we', I mean 'me').
It should be remembered that positive self-regard (or self-esteem, self-love, positive self-image, or whatever it's being called this week) is learned. People learn this from the others around them whose opinions of them that they have learned to value. Despite what they might say, their own positive feelings towards others are conditional, to one degree or another. Those conditions might be very easy to fulfill ("I love you because you're my child."), or they might be more difficult ("I admire you because you made top earner at the company last year."), or they could be somewhat extreme ("I respect you because you've won the Nobel Prize for Physics."). This conditionality is what prevents many people from having certain positive feelings about everyone they may encounter, as a default state.

But that conditionality filters down to the persons regarded, and the end result is that people, as human beings who have learned from others, tend to have a certain number of conditions that they feel the need to fulfill before they can see themselves as worthy of love, respect, et cetera. And it can be argued that people often expect that others live up to certain conditions before they allow that they be able to respect themselves. But the real question becomes: do people set their conditions realistically, given the lives that they lead, and effort that they're willing to put forth?

If I'm going to predicate my self-image on the idea that I don't contribute more than my "fair share" of greenhouse gasses to the environment, do I know what I'm letting myself in for? Am I willing to move to the desert, and live in an "earthship" so that I can go "off the grid?" Am I willing to forgo career opportunities, so that I can avoid having to commute? Will I limit my diet to things that don't have to be moved more than 100 miles, so that you don't have the effects of transporting things long distances? (Some folks in Seattle tried the "Hundred-Mile" food lifestyle - and found that the Puget Sound area has no local production of salt.) Am I actually willing to put the work into really understanding what things truly help, and what things just make me feel good? Or, I am simply going to buy a Prius and some Owens-Corning, call it good, and plug my ears when some obnoxious radical starts spouting off about it isn't enough?

In the end, the question is a simple one - do one set themselves up for intractable conflicts between the facts on the ground, and the conditions that they set for their self-esteem through carelessly adopting standards that are too stringent for the day-to-day infrastructure of most people's lives to support? And, in doing so, put themselves is a position where the path of least resistance is one of hiding - if not from the truth as they know it, then from the truth as they fear it to be?

Sunday, April 5, 2020


A few weeks ago, before the "shelter in place" orders started coming down, I was out with my camera. Even though, in theory, people could still be on the streets, they were, for the most part empty. "Ghost town" seemed an apt descriptor. I was reminded of the old History Channel show: Life After People. Except that there was an absence of wildlife. I wonder if the animals will find time to investigate before the next normal arises.

Saturday, April 4, 2020


So it's been just over a year, although it seems like quite a bit longer, since Google+ was shuttered for the general public. And I've been looking through some of the notes that I had taken in the run up to the closure.

Google has officially started the process of shutting down and deleting all consumer accounts on its Google+ social network platform, bringing an end to the company’s attempt to directly compete with the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

If the goal was to legitimately take on Facebook, Google+ faced dire odds from the very beginning.
Google begins shutting down its failed Google+ social network
These two statements don't jive with one another. One presumes that it knows the end purpose of Google+, while the second questions that premise.
For Google, Plus was just the latest and most high-profile failure in social networking. Once the company decided it wasn't going to be a billion-dollar product with a massive user base, it diverted resources elsewhere.
Google+ is shutting down, and the site's few loyal users are mourning
And maybe this was the problem. Google plus was never going to be a gigantically profitable business venture. But it needed one to keep it afloat.

If Google+ was an unmitigated failure, it's hard to see how other platforms, like MeWe, Diaspora and Mastodon, will ever be considered successes. They have pretty much no chance of ever directly competing with Facebook or Twitter. But, as near as I can tell, no-one expects them to. In the past year, I haven't heard anything about any of them, aside from the occasional mention from those people I knew from Google+ that I'm still in contact with. And it is only the fact that no-one expected much of anything from them that allows them to avoid the mark of shame that the technology press insisted that Google+ wear.

One thing that may be worth keeping in mind is that there are no social media businesses. There isn't a business model in the world that makes giving a resource-intensive service away at no charge viable. Facebook's business isn't social media; it's providing information about, and access to, the social media profiles that people create on it. That's what businesses, Facebook's actual customers, pay for; and that's how Facebook maintains its revenues. Alphabet has a similar model, based around its advertising services and the like. Perhaps the problem that Google encountered in making Google+ into a billion-dollar business was that it already had more than one of those, and social media didn't present an obvious path to a new one.

For the technology press, however, this was the only benchmark that meant anything. While CNBC proclaimed that Google+ was simply one of a string of failed not-Facebook platforms, there doesn't appear to have been the same drumbeat of pointlessness sounded for other extant platforms that bear and even greater resemblance to "ghost towns" than Plus did.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Places, Everyone

Coronavirus: The young doctors being asked to play god. How's that for a grabby headline? The story is mostly a tale of the stress that attempting to deal with the influx of very ill patients is having on one young doctor. It's not until the very end of the piece that the "playing god" part of the story comes into play.

She described a patient being brought in from an old people's home. He was already on a ventilator - and was "chronically vent dependent". His prospects were never great. But all she could see before her was the ventilator - and not the patient.

"When he came in we were so desperate for vents," she told me, "all I wanted to do was get the ventilator off him. I wanted to get that vent off him to allow it to go to someone else."

Playing god is not what this young woman thought she would be doing at this stage in her career.
Interestingly, the emergency medicine resident in question never uses the phrase "playing god," herself. She, instead, describes it in less grandiose terms: "The issue is giving up on people we wouldn't normally give up on." And in this sense, there's nothing about this that says that medical professionals are taking on the role of gods, or God, as the case may be. If there is a divinity in charge of these situations, they have already decided that without the heroic measures of humans, and the technology that their disposal, these people would die. Seeing the ventilator on a person with a poor prognosis as a needed resource is not the same as usurping the role of the divine.

It is not in the nature of humans to leave questions of life and death up to whatever forces one understands control the universe. In that sense, humans, as a species, have been "playing god" since the beginning of recorded history. But the charge, and it often is an accusation, comes out when the choices to be made are difficult. Staking steps to prolong a life, even if the chances of failure are great, does not intrude on the mandates of the heavens. Only having to make difficult decisions carries that stigma. Perhaps it is time to change that. Giving up on people because others have what is understood to be a greater need should not be labelled as "playing god," if for no other reason than it is far from "playing." (In any sense of the word.)

Deciding that no-one should ever die because the resources needed to prolong their life were unavailable is easy. Making sure that those resources are there, however, is not. And if that responsibility has not been taken, accusing those who now have difficult choices to make of overstepping their stations won't fix that.