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Guest Post - Poor world pandemic

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.03.20

Morry Cossy writes: India:

Local media have reported at least 22 deaths already among those trying to reach their villages, some in road accidents and others because of illness or starvation.
[...]
"Surely New Delhi understood that in a country with millions of migrants and a large informal economy, you can't just shut the country down for three weeks and expect everyone to dutifully shelter in place,"
Uttar Pradesh:
(I am enemy of the society...I will not stay at home...I will not wear mask), the placards round the necks of the violators said. Barely a couple of days back, the fire brigade personnel had sprayed a group of migrant workers with bleach in Bareilly town triggering sharp criticism from the opposition parties
Manila:
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered police and soldiers to "shoot" residents causing "trouble" during the government's lockdown put in place to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Duterte delivered another round of violent threats in an impromptu televised address aired on Wednesday night, April 1, hours after some 21 Quezon City residents were arrested for demanding help and protesting without a permit.
Kenya:
Videos obtained by the Sunday Nation show hordes of police officers beating guards on night duty, drivers on deserted roads, desperate ferry users agitated by delays at Likoni crossing in Mombasa, and journalists on duty.
Johannesburg:
"We are sjambokking people ... People cannot be disciplined without it," said the uniformed driver of the vehicle. "We don't want to see three people together without carrying anything. What are they doing? Then you ask, 'Where are you going?', [and] they don't answer."
Bogotá:
23 prisoners dead and 83 injured, the justice minister said on Sunday, as detainees protested sanitary conditions
[...]
The Andean country will enter a nationwide lockdown meant to stem infections from Tuesday night. So far 231 people have been confirmed infected with the disease and two have died.

Heebie's take: Sometimes I think (Western, Christianified) prayer is a mechanism for moderating the amount of worry and you feel. As someone who has never prayed, it is presented as having a clear beginning and end, and it compartmentalizes your grief and fear. Simultaneously it's portrayed as 1. actually helping address a problem that you feel powerless about, and then 2. you're supposed to hand off that problem to a higher power, and no longer fret about it.

This is probably sounding glib and insulting to those of us who I respect enormously, and who pray, and I don't mean that prayer is always those things. I'm aware that people have deep spiritualities and connections and that those people who are more reflective and intentional will have deeper experiences.

But surely we can agree that lots of prayer (the kind that usually happens in my presence, say) takes place as something much shallower. Something that neatly cordons off the overwhelming grief and misery captured in the links above, and tidily makes us able to help with the sheer power of our minds and then shake it off until next time we clasp our hands together.

(I suppose even these musings are just a way of distancing myself, instead of dwelling and sitting with the sheer scope of the horror, and bearing witness from afar.)


 

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Semi-Weekly Check Ins, Reassurances, and Concerns, 4/3

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.03.20

This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while.

Episode 4.


 

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Guest Post - When did your jurisdiction decriminalize adultery?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.02.20

Mossi Charachterry writes: A colorful (but not well-argued) piece:

They followed the wife and businessman to a hotel, broke down the door and videotaped them in bed. Lee threatened to go to the police with the evidence unless the businessman signed a contract agreeing to give Lee NT$7 million. The businessman signed the contract.
[...]
After paying Lee NT$2 million, the businessman sued him and the private investigators for unlawful entry and assault. The judge determined that the husband and private investigators did unlawfully enter the room and ordered them to pay the businessman NT$100,000. The judge also ruled that the businessman had to pay Lee the remaining NT$5 million from the original contract, which the judge determined was not signed under duress.
Among other absurdities.

Heebie's take: Yeesh.

Apparently it is still a crime in 21 states here.

Massachusetts, Idaho, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Wisconsin consider adultery a felony, while in the other states it is a misdemeanor. It is a Class B misdemeanor in New York and Utah, and a Class I felony in Wisconsin. Penalties vary from a $10 fine (Maryland) to life sentence (Michigan). In South Carolina, the fine for adultery is up to $500 and/or imprisonment for no more than one year [South Carolina code 16-15-60], and South Carolina divorce laws deny alimony to the adulterous spouse.

I'd think quarantine would cut down on adultery, due to reduced opportunity. The end of business travel alone must slash it dramatically.

I bet quarantine magnifies the general baseline of a relationship: good ones are enjoying the time together, and strained ones are really struggling. But probably it's just a very individual experience.

(For us, it seems like 90% of our problems as a couple and a family are due to lack of sleep, and the quarantine is really a pleasant salve. Can we maybe not resume our full schedule after all this is over?)


 

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Rate of growth declining as fast as we hope?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 04.01.20

I've been wondering, now that a large part of the US has been social distancing for over two weeks, if there were any indications that it is helping slow the spread. The NYT just ran this story about the data collected by smart thermometers, and how it runs ahead of the other data because people take their temperature (and upload it to the cloud for some godforsaken corporate-nanny-state reason) a few days before their symptoms worsen and they seek medical advice.


A separate display of the collective national fever trend, which had spiked upward to a peak on March 17, had fallen so far that it was actually below the band showing historical flu fever trends -- which meant that the lockdown has cut not only Covid-19 transmission but flu transmission, too.

"I'm very impressed by this," said Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive medicine expert at Vanderbilt University. "It looks like a way to prove that social distancing works."
"But it does shows that it takes the most restrictive measures to make a real difference," he added.

Am I just being a hostile curmudgeon? Because when you click through, the data looks too good to be true.

It seems they're claiming not just that the growth rate is slowing down, but also that the actual numbers of fevers are a few percent below normal. The explanation is that this quarantine has inadvertently stopped the flu and everything else, along with Covid. I suppose that's possible, but intuitively it seems hard to believe that all the active cases of coronavirus (and flu!) aren't still swamping the thermometers above the normal level.

It just seems like a monstrously huge claim that we're running fewer fevers than usual?!

As an aside, the complexity of calculus that lay readers are now making sense with is truly warming my heart. Growth rates declining! Total cases versus daily rates! As your rate trends to zero, your total cases level off! Suppose that shoppers arrive at a store during the day at a rate that depends on time, and shoppers spend, on average, one hour in the store, and that when the store reaches capacity, they will take social distancing measures and have shoppers queue up safely outside. If the capacity is set to N, at what time will they start their line? Bonus: at what time in the evening will the line disappear and shoppers will resume entering the store freely?

My old go-to lay calculus quote was Nixon's:

When campaigning for a second term in office, U.S. President Richard Nixon announced that the rate of increase of inflation was decreasing, which has been noted as "the first time a sitting president used the third derivative to advance his case for reelection."[3] Since inflation is itself a derivative--the rate at which the purchasing power of money decreases--then the rate of increase of inflation is the derivative of inflation, opposite in sign to the second time derivative of the purchasing power of money. Stating that a function is decreasing is equivalent to stating that its derivative is negative, so Nixon's statement is that the second derivative of inflation is negative, and so the third derivative of purchasing power is positive.
Nixon's statement allowed for the rate of inflation to increase, however, so his statement was not as indicative of stable prices as it sounds.

But this pandemic will lead to far better examples. After this is over, people will put together truly spectacular undergraduate cross-disciplinary biology-math classes focusing on all of this.(If they're doing this in real time, they need to stop right now and scale way back on their online expectations. Everyone besides those on the frontline needs to PLEASE UNDERACHIEVE NOW.)


 

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Guest Post - Meanwhile in Hungary...

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.31.20

Snarkout writes: Non-coronavirus content--but at least it's shitty! Hungary seems to have formally abandoned the pretense of remaining a democracy.

Heebie's take: Snarkie!!

(The only commentary I can think to offer is domestic, which veers into self-parody at a certain point. Woe.)


 

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Semi-Weekly Check Ins, Reassurances, and Concerns, 3/31

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.31.20

This is intended to be our system for checking in on imaginary friends, so that we know whether or not to be concerned if you go offline for a while.

Episode 3.


 

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Guest Post - Geopol grab bag

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 03.30.20

Momo Chocho writes: Eurozone:

Berlin abandoned its cherished debt-brake - which sharply constrains its government borrowing - and legislated a €750bn rescue package for the German economy. Italy, the country with the highest number of infections and deaths from the virus, does not have the same fiscal leeway. Its response to Covid-19 amounts to a mere €28bn - about 4% of the size of the German package. [Italian GDP is about 55% of German]
Germany:
After years of austerity measures encouraged by Merkel's governments, state capacity across the EU has been weakened, automatic stabilizers undermined, and domestic demand dampened.
[...]
The next few days and weeks will prove crucial. They will show whether Merkel is up to the task--and whether she is prepared to admit that her EU crisis management of the previous 10 years has always been fatally flawed.
Nine days later:
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with the bleak assessment of the situation, she resisted calls for mutualizing debt, warning against unrealistic expectations, according to the officials. Merkel's tone was more categorical than before, one of the officials said, after nine EU leaders, including France's Emmanuel Macron, backed the idea of coronabonds in a letter ahead of the meeting.
Petrostates are fucked! (More than usual.)
Saudi Arabia, for example, needs an oil price of more than $80 a barrel to balance its budget, higher than at almost any other time in the past 20 years. On Friday, it raised its government debt ceiling from 30% to 50% of GDP amid plans to ramp up borrowing. In Nigeria, per capita GDP was one-third less in 2018 than it was in 2014.
Russia too!
Rosstat, the country's official statistics agency, has recorded an increase of 37 percent of cases of "community-acquired pneumonia" in January as compared to January 2019, which could fit similar symptoms to the coronavirus. Such an increase would represent nearly 2,000 cases.
Wouldn't it be great if there were a benign liberal hegemon with the resources and moral credibility to deal with all this? Somebody should invent one of those.

Heebie's take: I guess Mossy is referring to Unfogged? I wouldn't have thought we had much moral credibility, but if the shoe fits.

Also I'm hesistant to tag this on, lest it take over the thread, but I assume it will anyway, because those of us over here are provincial and small-minded: What's your take on the stimulus bill? I keep seeing it mostly reported as a great win. Occasionally I see how there were maybe egregious line items tucked in it.

On the whole - still very good? Or are there too many unknown details about the implementation to pass judgement about it yet?


 

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Some thoughts about undergraduate science pedagogy in classes that require retention of a large quantity of material

Posted by Tia
on 03.29.20

I'm clicking through my homework in our online textbook and noting that there's a lot of drill of the same material scrunched up in time. The homework for one chapter focuses on that chapter, and while there's some natural accumulation of concepts, there's still a lot you're not focusing on when you're doing one chapter's work. The drill is repetitive enough that it's possible to feel confident that you have it down, even bored with it. But then you move on and you immediately start to forget it and typical studying for tests isn't necessarily sufficient to make you feel as practiced as you were when you were doing practice problems. The next time through, I'm going to have to make this class my life, make Anki flashcards that not only include facts but problems, so I'm constantly doing spaced, not massed, practice and remain constantly fluent in what is, in total, something like 1000 pages of material.  

But wouldn't it be better pedagogy if the textbook publisher did this for me? I have this long obligatory online homework, and as annoying as it is to draw molecules by clicking on little lines and C's and H's and O's I think it's pretty valuable to get immediate, incontrovertible feedback about whether you got a question right. Why isn't spaced practice of previous chapters' materials just built in? It's going to be a big time suck to make these flashcards, certainly redundant with thousands of other students' efforts, and actually probably even Anki isn't sufficiently sophisticated to do what I really want which is to judge how much review I need by grouped concept, not by single card.  I guess I might be able to write something myself in the inter-semester interval to do this but I'm not exactly luxuriating in excess time. But there's this textbook publisher whose whole job it is to make these online problems; they could make flashcards so easily, including flashcards with Anki-style increased repetition for material the student was weaker on. Homework could routinely include review of previous material, not just that chapter. If there's some student studying behavior that leads to better outcomes, why not just enforce it in the structure of the class?


 

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