Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘health

The reserve theory of survival

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As an addendum to some of my texts on COVID (e.g. [1] from earlier today):

In my thinking around survival and longevity, I tend to rely on the “reserve theory [of survival]” or “reserve principle [of survival]”. (For want of a better name. While the idea is reasonably obvious, and likely to have been had by a great many others, I cannot recall ever having encountered it outside my own thinking, and I am not aware of any names other than my own.)

The idea is that we all have a certain reserve in various bodily functions/organs/whatnot that is more than enough to handle a relaxed and unstressed situation, even for most elderly. However, if these reserves are exhausted, either because of an increase in stress or a decrease in the reserves, then we have a problem—possibly, a deadly one. For instance, that very old lady might have enough reserves to e.g. go to the store, but if her handbag is snatched, trying to run down the thief might be too much. Similarly, a bout of flu might reduce her reserves to the point of making even a store visit a life-threatening experience. (Leaving aside whether someone with the flu, irrespective of age, should be running around town.)

These bodily whatnots include factors like heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, … Even someone with e.g. a bad case of liver disease can live in the now, at least with some care, and maybe even reach a respectable age, but his life expectancy is likely to be well short of what it could have been, because further losses of liver function are covered by lesser reserves than they would have been with a healthy liver.

The problem with age is, of course, that various damages, wear and tear, age related deficits, whatnot accumulate over the years, while the state of training tends to worsen. (With the lesson that those things that we can still train with age might be well worth training. It is no coincidence that the active elderly tend to live longer than the inactive.)

A good example is the heart, in a simplified model, where two values, resting heart rate and maximal heart rate, can illustrate the reserve. A sporty teen might have a resting heart rate of 50* beats per minute and a maximal heart rate above 200—a reserve of more than a 150 beats per minute or 300% compared to just resting. Wait until the same person has grown 90 and out of shape, and the same numbers might be 100 and 120—a reserve of 20 beats per minute and 20%. Which incarnation will have a problem with that flu?

*Numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. They are intended for illustration, not medical exactness. (But I do not consider them unreasonable.)

A problem with both the vaccine debate, in as far as risks are at all acknowledged, and medicine in general is that there is little concern for such reserves—the patient survived now and what comes later is not our problem. If that lung cancer patient had one lung removed to successfully remove the cancer, he was “healed”—but what about his life expectancy with that lung gone? How many years of his life might that have cost him? (But note that I am not saying that the decision to operate was faulty. It might very well have been the lesser evil and an objectively correct decision. The point is that there is a difference between truly being healed and being “healed”.)

Now, looking at COVID vaccines: Let us say that someone experience some side-effect, e.g. a heart issue, for some time, and then bounces back. There was no death—so no big deal. Right? But what if the side-effect left a permanent reduction in reserves? A little bit of scarring on the heart muscle, e.g., might not be very dangerous at twenty—but what about the same heart sixty years later? It might, for instance, be the difference between a deadly and an almost deadly heart-attack, because the reserves needed to survive were not there.

(Of course, similar thinking might be needed with COVID, it self, or any other disease.)

An outright disgusting related area is the description of some developmental problems affecting the brain with e.g. “most have a normal intelligence”. The hitch? The word “normal” is taken to imply an IQ above 70, or two standard deviations below the mean. These cases of “normal” intelligence might then have taken a hit of two standard deviations compared to where they “should” have been—a truly massive loss. In individual cases, we might have someone who “should” have been a genius, suffered some mishap, and ended up with an IQ half of what he might have had—-but, because he is still above 70, he is deemed of “normal” intelligence.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 20, 2022 at 5:19 pm

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COVID counter-measures (!) wrecking immune systems / Follow-up: COVID-19 reactions doing more harm than good?

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I just encountered a very disturbing read. Among* the claims made:

*I recommend reading the original text in full. The inconsistent quotation marks are present in the original.

Children need to come into contact with dirt (or put more scientifically: bacteria, microorganisms, viruses in general) in order to build immune systems that will carry them through the rest of their lives.

“All the sanitary measures necessary in a pandemic” have meant that this very necessary contact has been massively reduced, pediatrician Mário Cordeiro tells the paper, leading to babies and toddlers particularly becoming dangerously ‘vulnerable’.

This is yet another indication that the counter-measures against COVID are doing more damage than COVID—a cure worse than the disease by far. (And not a very good cure either, at that. Witness Sweden and Florida.)

Apart from the specifics of the article, there are at least two more abstract points illustrated, which, in turn, illustrate the problems with such massive interventions.

Firstly, any major (and many minor) changes of the status quo are likely to have unexpected* side-effects, especially when they are very prolonged. I would argue that even the highly predictable side-effects of the COVID lockdowns and other interventions, e.g. bankruptcies, should have been enough to bring more caution; however, the risk of unexpected side-effects makes it that much more important to be cautious.

*With hindsight (cf. excursion), I do not find this surprising and others might have seen the risk a lot earlier. Maybe, I just missed the risk because my main period of interest was over after the first few months; maybe, I would have missed it anyway. It seems fair to assume, however, that our nitwit politicians did miss it, as they failed to recognize even the more obvious and more short-term threats (and/or willfully choose to ignore them).

Secondly, over-protection is a bad thing. Now, drawing the line between protection and over-protection can be hard, but most of the Western world is highly over-protective. Consider not just COVID and all the “for your own good” measures, but also e.g. colleges that try to prevent (!) students from coming into contact with claims that they disagree with; welfare systems that do not just help the truly needy, instead opting for an elimination of personal responsibility, giving incentives for low earners not to work at all, etc.; schools that do not allow children to walk between school and a near-by home; or so extensive healthcare that biological fitness, be it in evolutionary terms or, similar to the above, short-term individual fitness, is increasingly taken out of the equation, ensuring more and more medical troubles over time. Then (cf. excursion) there is the attitude of many parents …

Excursion on over-protection and myself:
I had an over-protective mother, of whom the above quote reminds me. I was big on putting sand, pebbles, whatnot in my mouth as small child, which always caused protests, often even physical interventions, from my mother. She was certainly well-intentioned and I have since grown to find the habit disgusting, but since I first heard claims like the first paragraph above, I have wondered whether she did not do more harm than good. Her over-protection definitely held me back at times. I can e.g. recall visiting my cousins, who showed me how to use a small* weed-wacker (?). While aunt and uncle were aware and said not one word of protest, my mother threw a fit when she returned and I proudly wanted to show her what I had learned—things like that are worse for a child than a largely imaginary risk of a minor injury.

*As in, could-cut-the-grass-around-a-fence-post-but-not-much-more.

Similarly, because she had a do-everything-for-the-children attitude, both I and my sister entered adult life woefully under-prepared. I enjoyed it at as a child, but adult me paid the price, as I was left to make many mistakes later than was needed (and when she could not help) and with too lacking experiences when it came to e.g. cooking and cleaning. What if she had not protected child or teen me from mistakes, but allowed me to make them and then helped with correcting them and drawing the right lessons?

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August 6, 2021 at 12:19 am

Follow-up II: Pinning the tail to the COVID-19 donkey

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As I wrote last week ([1]), the German government has been jumping back-and-forth on the topic of an Easter ease-up, clamp-down, or business-as-usual (by the COVID standards).

It appeared that the last bid had been “business as usual”, but, as I learned a few days later,* this was not the case. The individual German Bundesländer (“states”), to some degree individual municipalities**, are allowed to set their own rules, within some limits, and it appears that they are doing so. In the case of Wuppertal, where I live, I have been unable to find a reasonable description of the exact rules that will apply, but it appears that stores may only be visited after a “rapid test” (“Schnelltest”) during the Easter days. I am taking the safe course and treating the situation as a five-day*** everything-will-be-closed. Correspondingly, despite having been grocery shopping yesterday, I went again today to load up a little.

*I had not originally looked into the details, but merely noted the repeated pin-the-tail attitude.

**With reservations for what exact word applies.

***There appears to be some unclarity over the time spam, but my impression is that the Sunday (everything closed anyway) and the two holidays (everything closed anyway) are complemented by restrictions for both tomorrow/April 1st (ha!) and Saturday (April 3rd).

Here we have two issues: Firstly, does it really matter from a COVID-POV whether I went to the store today or whether I had done so on Saturday (as originally planned)? I doubt it. Secondly, quite a few other people seemed to have had the same idea, making the store unusually full for the time of day (and likely to grew much worse as the day progresses). Considering the governmental obsession with keeping distance, would this not make matters worse from a governmental perspective than if the store visits had been spread over several days? It would not surprise me.

The bigger picture also raises at least two other issues:

Firstly, federalism and subsidiarity. Normally, I am in favor of this more often than not; however, here we see it backfire. One of the most important points behind these principles is to protect the citizens (and other entities, including individual states and municipalities) from too arbitrary, too undiscriminating, too self-serving, whatnot decisions “from above”. If we look at the U.S. and the COVID approach of e.g. Texas and Florida, we see how this can work well.* In Germany, however, there appears to only be two approaches—hard lockdowns and harder lockdowns. Here subsidiarity does not serve to protect the citizens from the federation but to screw them over even when the federation does not. (While I have not looked into the details on other issues, my general impression is similar: if the federation does not screw something up, count on the Bundesländer to do so; if the Bundesländer do not, count on the municipalities.)

*Generally, my fears of the complete corruption of the U.S. in the wake of Biden have been slightly reduced in light of my growing awareness of the power remaining with the individual states and that the GOP might have fared better on the local level than on the federal level. (Nevertheless, the picture is very, very bleak. By the next federal elections in 2022, the damage will be absolutely horrifying, if things continue down the current path—even COVID aside.)

Unfortunately, I have no good solution to offer that would also preserve the positive aspects of federalism and subsidiarity, but a general principle might be that a “lower” entity may only ever weaken restrictions and regulations, reduce taxes, and whatnot compared to what a “higher” entity suggests. (Possibly, with some exemptions for extraordinary circumstances, say a local natural disaster or local riots.)

Secondly, communication: It absolutely, positively, must be mandatory that the involved entities communicate various rules in an explicit, clear, and timely* manner. This, notably, not restricted to COVID but in general. For instance, I have had massive problems, because my (now de-installed) gas heater was subject to various obscure, counter-intuitive, internationally unusual laws and regulations, spread over several different texts, none of which I had even encountered during my twenty-something years in Germany—until a belligerent and incompetent piece-of-shit of a chimney-sweep sics the authorities on me.** Given these laws, even discounting that they are unreasonable to begin with, it should have been the governments responsibility to inform me that I had to pay attention to certain regulations—which would have been trivial in light of both the heater being on registry and my purchase of the apartment being registered. Given the extreme size and complexity of current laws, and how often they go against common sense and/or vary drastically from place to place, the principle of ignorantia juris non excusat simply is neither conscionable nor compatible with Rechtsstaatlichkeit when the government has not actively informed the citizens or when the need for citizen to inform himself is obvious.

*To the degree that the situation allows. That e.g. an explosion in the infection rates can force a short-term measure is understandable, but this is not the case here where politicians have just been pinning-the-tail, and often concurrently.

**I will not go into details of the overall situation, but as a for instance: portions of the regulations are buried in the “Schornsteinfeger-Handwerksgesetz” (“chimney-sweep trade law”). That a regular citizen would even contemplate investigating what appears to be regulations strictly for the chimney-sweep trade is highly unlikely. Would you bother to read a “dog-groomer trade law” in order to find out e.g. whether pets must be spayed and neutered? Hardly. Would you even be aware that one existed? I doubt it. (That there is a “chimney-sweep trade law”, at all, might be seen as proof of over-regulation, even if the justification is larger than for dog grooming.)

As a minor correction to [1], it appears that Merkel’s back-tracking was only partially caused by the public outcry. Another part came from a business outcry, a “we simply cannot reasonably shutdown with such short warning”. This is certainly a legitimate concern, but one that should have been obvious to the government and one which I assumed had been taking into consideration, e.g. through discussing this with relevant business organizations. Apparently, this was not the case, and that makes the approach the more amateurish. To take just one example from my own professional experiences: In my last project, the topic of bank holidays was important, e.g. to calculate payout dates, often a week or more in advance. Assume that such a date is calculated and communicated today, and arrangements are made for payouts and book-keeping, based on a certain set of bank holidays, possibly spanning several countries. Assume next that tomorrow someone adds a new holiday, retroactively making these dates incorrect. Now, how are we going to resolve this? Without massive additional effort and chain-reactions affecting other businesses, the best bet might be to just send apologies (“due to circumstances outside our control, blah blah”) and hope that no-one is sufficiently dissatisfied as to sue, shorten payments, or jump to another provider.

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March 31, 2021 at 12:36 pm

Follow-up: Pinning the tail to the COVID-19 donkey

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I have repeatedly compared government policy regarding COVID to pinning-the-tail, most notably in [1]. This especially regarding my local German situation.

This includes a statement that I considered hyperbole at the time:

Grab a pin-board. Pin notes with possible counter-measures on the board. Put on a blindfold. Throw darts at the board. See what counter-measures were hit. There we have this weeks policy. Next week? Who knows.

Today, I am wondering whether it actually was that hyperbolic: A few weeks ago, there was considerable talk of easing up on the restrictions over Easter, to allow this special-to-many occasion to actually take place in a reasonable manner. But, no, suddenly there was a drastic course reversal—the lockdown must be made even harsher than before, lest Easter turn into a major occasion for infections instead of celebrations. Cue public outcry—and suddenly the harsher lockdown is off the table again.

We still have a few days left. I wonder whether Frau Merkel will throw another dart …

Written by michaeleriksson

March 26, 2021 at 2:54 am

COVID Anniversary / Follow-up: COVID-19 reactions doing more harm than good?

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As I have gathered from some recent readings, the first anniversary of COVID is upon us—according to at least some criteria. From my personal point of view, we are days away from the anniversary of my first text on the topic. I posed the question “COVID-19 reactions doing more harm than good?”, to which the answer, one year later, appears to be a resounding “Yes!”.

As this blog remains closed-ish, I am not going to go into a major review of events and my many earlier texts. I note, however, that almost* everything that I have written on the topic appears to be validated by later events, including e.g. that the risks of isolation are severe and that the damage to the economy outweighed any gains from the lock-downs. Above all, perhaps, that politicians do not act in a reasonable and reasoned manner, based on scientific evidence (and a reasonable evaluation of such) and a holistic view that takes side-effects and opportunity costs into consideration. Even were the countermeasures justified and beneficial, which seems even less plausible today than back then, they do not constitute good decision-making but, on the outside, luck with pinning the tail on the COVID-donkey.

*Off the top of my head, I can name only one exception (but others might very well exist): In that first text, I was skeptical to the set of reactions at a time when COVID did not seem to have a foothold in e.g. Germany (where I live). However, this foothold manifested very soon after that. Still, even removing my then thoughts on the timing, the countermeasures appear to be a massive overreaction and to do more harm than good overall.

Worse, and something that I might have failed to predict or deduce, is an amount of misinformation which goes beyond what reasonable could arise, even taking the understandable early lack of knowledge into account. This might be sheer incompetence, but I cannot deny a very strong suspicion that politicians have deliberately lied in order to get the people to do what the politicians wanted. (Remember that slowly boiling frog?) For instance, few would go to the barricades over “two weeks to flatten the curve”, but very many would have over “it will be months and months and no end in sight, even a year later”.

(Of course, the overall information flow, the attempts to suppress dissent, behavior of journalists, etc., play in well with my other writings on e.g. free speech, the right to form one’s own opinion, and whatnot.)

From my recent readings, I would like to recommend* a particularly interesting third-party article on the case against lockdowns. I would also like to point to e.g. the claim that the lockdowns are the biggest public health mistake ever made—which I at least approximately agree with.**

*Disclaimer: I have not yet finished my own reading of this very long analysis.

**Such categorical claims are unlikely to be true, considering the long human history. However, it is a whopper and it is one of the greatest public policy (not just health) mistakes of my own lifetime.

Finally, a few words on masks: In light of sharper German regulations, I have taken to wearing FFP2/N95 masks (previously, a scarf) while in stores. I often precede my grocery shopping with a rapid walk up and down a few nearby hills, and am often a little out of breath for some time afterwards. The masks not only make the recuperation much slower, to the point that I am still a little out of breath when I leave the store, but I suspect that the reduction in oxygen supply is outright unhealthy. Moreover, while I am technically within the limits of the regulations, any positive effects of the masks might be neutralized by the breathing, as air is noticeably exiting the mask around its borders when I breathe heavily. (Yet another reason to suspect that masks have more to do with psychology than medicine—at least, with the current set of German regulations.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 11, 2021 at 10:16 pm

Pinning the tail to the COVID-19 donkey

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Recently, I wrote that there “has been a very strong element of pin-the-tail-to-the-donkey so far”, regarding COVID-19.

Right now, we can see an excellent example of this in Germany: As the actual disease seemed to be easing up, there were signs that the counter-measures would to, including last weeks partial re-opening of stores. However, apparently, as of today, it is mandatory to use face masks in stores, which is an increased imposition* on the citizens. So, are we reducing or increasing impositions—and why? If it made sense to have most stores closed and without a face-mask imposition two weeks ago, how come it makes sense to have most stores opened but with a face-mask imposition today?

*I do not necessarily say that it is a disproportionate or ill-advised imposition. (In particular, face masks appear to bring little benefit to the wearer and more to other people, which implies that arguments relating to own choice, own risks, and citizens actually being adults are much less relevant than when it comes to closing stores.) However, it is an imposition and it is something hitherto not deemed necessary.

Possibly, a connection could be seen, that stores are opened now to cap the damage and that (mandatory) face masks are introduced to compensate for the perceived increase in risk. But if so: Why was there a delay between the opening of the stores and the face masks?

Possibly, vital new information concerning face masks has been discovered, but if so, I am not aware of it. On the contrary, the claims that I have heard so far seem to go in the direction that the benefit of face masks has been overestimated … (True, there were findings that infection through non-aerial means was less likely than originally thought, which could increase the relative benefit of face masks. However, these findings are not very recent and the change would have made more sense earlier, when the disease was growing faster.)

Possibly, the changing rate of infections and the number of known infected has led to a different situation,* and I could see that as strongly contributing to partial re-openings. It is a mystery to me, however, how a lower number of infected would lead to a greater need for face masks.

*Official statistics show a small and still shrinking percentage of newly infected and the number of currently infected is continually diminishing. (But I caution that these statistics could over- or under-estimate a number of aspects of the situation.)

That this face-mask decision appears to have come with very little warning makes the situation worse. There has been a debate about it, yes, and some individual Bundesländer (“states”) had already implemented mandatory face-masks. However, as late as yesterday, I had no idea that the this was coming today (or, necessarily, at all), be it in nationwide or in my own Bundesland.

Grab a pin-board. Pin notes with possible counter-measures on the board. Put on a blindfold. Throw darts at the board. See what counter-measures were hit. There we have this weeks policy. Next week? Who knows.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 27, 2020 at 9:26 am

COVID-19 and information harassment

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A particular annoyance with the COVID-19 situation is over-information, that entities that have no legitimate reason to speak on the topic do speak and that entities that should say something little instead bombard us with information. The result is that virtually nothing is achieved (except annoyance) while the ears and eyes are start to filter information to such a degree that something important might be missed. Of course, this type intrusive “information”, presumption to demand obedience from others without any true own expertise*, and the resulting annoyance, are all likely to contribute to recalcitrance—causing the opposite of what was intended** through psychological naivete. (This not to be confused with the extreme amount of information from e.g. newspapers, which can be similarly annoying and have similarly negative effects, but at least is a legitimate part of the business at hand. Too much, possibly, but basically legitimate.)

*What does (cf. below) a grocery store or my bank know about COVID-19 that goes beyond the informed citizen? (And: What gives it a reason to speak in addition to what e.g. governmental agencies say?) Little or nothing. A strong sign of this problem is the constant, highly misleading use of “corona” over the more specific “COVID-19” and “SARS-CoV-2”. Indeed, chances are that they are often outright misinformed through going strictly by “official channels” without applying critical thinking or considering the (legitimate, non-“fake news”) experts that have a dissenting opinion. The sad truth is that there has been a very strong element of pin-the-tail-to-the-donkey so far, even among experts, with an only slowly improving information situation.

**Unless the intention is just to fulfill some external requirement or to be able to show that something has been done, without regard to effectiveness and efficiency. Sadly, this is quite common, e.g. in politics.

For instance, earlier today, I went to buy groceries. The store was (still!) plastered with identical notices about corona-this and keep-distance-that, while every few minutes a patronizing and overly loud keep-your-distance announcement was repeated on the PA system. Why?!? Post a big sign on the entry door and be done with it! For instance, when I last logged into my Internet banking I was not allow to proceed without dealing with an intrusive blocking pop-up that requested whether I wanted to be informed about “corona” now, later, or not at all. There should have been absolutely no information on the general topic at all—and to more specifically relevant information, e.g. changes to opening hours due to COVID-19, a regular notification that “We have restricted our opening hours.” with a link to details would have been appropriate.

The general attitude seems to be that “everyone else is an uninformed idiot and we, specifically we, must inform and save the day”.

That the information/instructions provided are often contradictory from entity to entity does not help, e.g. that the one store requires a distance of 1.5 meters between customers and the other 2 meters. Sometimes even the same entity is contradictory (and/or redundant), as with the very small newspaper-and-whatnot store that I visited a few days ago to buy stamps: on the one hand, customers must keep a distance of at least two meters; on the other, only one customers was allowed in the store at any given time. And, yes, the store was large enough that a distance of two meters was possible. (Except when passing each other, but that applies to supermarkets too.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 25, 2020 at 9:29 am

A few further observations around COVID-19

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Some random items:

  1. Sweden is regularly cited as going its own road in the fight against COVID-19, as being more permissive and giving the citizens a greater own choice and responsibility than most other countries.

    That Sweden chooses its own road is not new, but: Sweden is historically, likely, the non-dictatorship most strongly associated with the “nanny state” mentality, having treated its population as dummies to be led by the hand for many decades of Social-Democrat rule. Indeed, the current government is a Social-Democrat one.

    It might be that attitudes in Sweden and/or the Social-Democrats have changed, it might be that this is some type of vote fishing, it might be incompetence, …

    However, it might also be a sign that attitudes in other countries have degenerated to a Swedish level. For instance, in Germany, even outside of COVID-19, there are currently strong tendencies for the state to “educate” the population into having the right opinions (something thoroughly anti-democratic) or for political parties to put themselves beyond the will of the voters, as with the absurd events in (the state of) Thüringen after AfD successes (while a near third of the vote for an extreme-Left party went without comment) or the repeated “great coalitions” on the federal level, which form a government of two parties that, on paper, should be greater enemies than the U.S. Republican and Democrat parties. (Cf. e.g. [1], [2].)

    This is a threat far worse than COVID-19.

  2. There have been absurd developments around Beate Bahner, a German lawyer specializing in medicine and a vocal critic of the current German COVID-19 measure. The linked to (German) article is a bit on the confused side, and exactly what has happened why seems unclear in other sources too, but to look at a few key points:

    Allegedly, she appeared so confused in the public that the police decided to bring her in for psychiatric treatment/observation/whatnot. She spent several days locked up in a hospital and is now also under investigation for physically resisting the police during the event. If there is any connection between her COVID-19 protests, this would be an absolute horror, an act so inexcusable that the actor must be thrown in jail. I do not, however, believe this to have been the case, based on the limited data* available to me—a more likely scenario is that the police, rightly or wrongly, judged her behavior to be sufficiently erratic as to warrant involuntary measures. However, even then, the situation is quite negative. It implies e.g. that anyone living in Germany could be put into temporary psychiatric custody** on the word of a few policemen, without consultation with a judge. The stay might then be brief, but it could still cause severe problems for the victim. Here we have a somewhat public figure with a potential reputation of “being crazy”, which might damage both her credibility as a debater and her ability to gain new clients as a lawyer. In another scenario, we might have someone miss work or an important appointment and being unable to give a satisfactory explanation without risking a similar reputation. In yet another, we might have young children traumatized because of mysterious events around a parent—and for a single parent, the result might include the children being temporarily confiscated by Social Services, with yet more trauma involved, and possible negative strikes in e.g. a custody hearing. This might be acceptable, if there is some genuine psychiatric issue involved, but the same result would arise even from e.g. poor judgment or malice from the police.***

    *Consider statements apparently made by Bahner that could point to confusion or paranoia, e.g. that the physicians might be receiving instructions from the U.S.; or how the original incident is more parsimoniously explained by not assuming that the police had been deliberately out to get her. Of course, with more information, the picture might change.

    **Take the terminology with some caution. I am uncertain what good English translations of this-and-that would be, and the sources are confused on exactly what German terminology would have applied.

    ***As I keep repeating: The Rechtsstaat can only work if the rules are made in awareness of the possibility of incompetence, abuse, “evil”, whatnot.

    The legal charges for resisting are absurd, even if we assume that the custody was legal and even if we agree that such custody should be a legal option: If she was indeed so confused that she needed psychiatric custody against her own will, then she cannot reasonably be considered accountable for her behavior during the incident. If she was not, then the police was sufficiently out of line that she should not have had to accept their behavior.

    Moreover, it might well be justified to institute some type of exemption to such rules in order to prevent both abuse to silence or harass political (or other*) opponents and the accidental silencing of someone with an unlikely but true story. Consider the Martha Mitchell effect or the case of Gustl Mollath.

    *I note that I once had an, apparently mentally ill, landlord sic the police on me in the middle of the night because I allegedly held a woman captive in my apartment—such abuse of the legal system does happen. (One illegal and warrantless search of my apartment later, I was free of that accusation. However, he also made various other libelous allegations with lesser consequences.)

    Prior to this, she was already in the cross hairs of law enforcement for calling for criminals actions (it self a crime in Germany). What actions? To demonstrate against the COVID-19 measures and their (in her eyes; I have not looked into this, myself) illegality and/or unconstitutionality, including the ban on demonstrations. If this ban on demonstrations is indeed illegal/whatnot, this is, obviously, a gross and dictatorial measure, worthy of the old GDR. However, even if it is not, it would be extremely unfortunate to apply this ban even on demonstrations against the ban, as this would create an Orwellian and Kafkaesque deficit in the Rechtsstaat, where attempts to question the legality of governmental actions becomes illegal, per se. Here some type of exemption must be present to protect the right to demonstrate against, or otherwise protest or criticize, governmental behavior. (Here we have only one special case of protest, but note in parallel the massive drive to e.g. mark unconventional opinions as “fake news” or otherwise silence them. Indeed, Bahner’s own website was apparently offline for hours for just such reasons.) I am reminded of a passage in one of Terry Pratchett’s books, where a religious dictatorship practiced human sacrifice, but was limited to volunteers and those condemned to death—and where not volunteering was a crime punishable by death.

  3. As an excursion to the previous item, the step from branding someone as a spreader of “fake news” (or “racism”, “hate speech”, whatnot) to naming someone insane is not that large. I do not believe that this is what happened above, but I could easily imagine portions of the current U.S. pseudo-academia pushing for “racism” to be classified as a psychiatric condition or for having ideas contrary to what they preach considered signs of impaired judgment or delusion.* The abuse of psychiatry to hamper political opponents is certainly not unheard of in dictatorships.

    *Note that this would a very dangerous road to go down, even if the assessment was broadly correct (while, here, the reverse is more likely to hold—that the pseudo-academians have mental issues). For instance, it might well be that most people who have pet-theories about the JFK assassination are a little off, but if we were to silence them on that charge, there might be false positives among the individuals silenced, there might be a “chilling effect” in other areas of discourse, and we could continue to believe in something false—the chance that they are correct might be quite small, but it is not zero. Of course, if we take sufficiently many highly unlikely hypotheses, some of them will turn out to be true—and we cannot know which in advance, implying that a pre-mature stifling is dangerous. (Note again the cases of Martha Mitchell and Gustl Mollath, as specific examples.)

  4. There is a lot of talk about “corona apps” that would e.g. allow someone on the street to keep a sufficient distance to the infected. This could be extremely problematic, due to obvious future extensions, as with an inclusion of further and/or future diseases, of political support, of sexual orientation, or, obviously, of Jewishness—that little yellow star making a come back.

    Far fetched or impossible, due to laws of data protection? No. Consider e.g. the situation in many U.S. colleges. It would be very easy to imagine someone writing an app that indicates who in a certain college has and has not registered with said app to indicate support for e.g. “diversity” or opposition to e.g. Donald Trump. (Which would be unproblematic from a data protection point of view, because the registration is voluntary.) The app is widely published around the college, might even be pushed by the administrators or recommended by some professors, and soon anyone who has not registered is deemed as a deliberate case of non-registeration, aka a “racist”. Then it spreads to other colleges.

    Those who do not register would stand a non-trivial risk of being avoided or harassed, receiving worse grades, and/or falling victim to some other type of negative treatment.

    (Read Minding the Campus, if you have doubts.)

    Then there is the issue of what happens to those who do not have a smartphone, whose batteries have run out, or similar, …

Written by michaeleriksson

April 18, 2020 at 2:13 pm

The negative effects of staying at home vs. COVID-19

with 3 comments

An interesting aspect of the various stay-at-home orders is the effect on the semi-prisoners, which can conceivably be quite dire.

Until recently, this has not been much of a concern to me, because I (a) am an extreme introvert, (b) was already foregoing the office in order to write my first book—apart from empty shelves in the stores, my life had originally seen a comparatively small practical effect.

Over the last week or so, I have seen a handful of complaints, by more extroverted individuals, along the lines of “if I don’t get out of the house soon, I will snap”* or “I could kill for human company”, and the cause of such complaints is likely to have a damaging effect on the physical and mental health of the complainers, and the more so the longer it continues. This even discounting the possibility that someone actually does snap in manner that results in death or injury.

*I have yet to see a “if I don’t get away from my family soon, I will snap”, but the sentiment is bound to exist; and in light of the known phenomenon of “cabin fever”, it might be quite common in a few weeks time.

To this, factors like lack of sunshine and exercise must be added. Even I have been hit here, as I have cut down on my walking considerably for about two months*, and a weight gain is visually observable (I have no “bathroom scale”). Moreover, I have gotten out of the habit, and know from experience that regaining it can take a while.

*Of which, admittedly, only about half is COVID-19 related: Prior to governmental restrictions, I had a long visit to Sweden, followed by a period of cold symptoms. Also see an excursion below on the COVID-19 portion.

Moreover, the last two-or-so weeks, there has been another period of considerable noise disturbances, comprising hours of poundings of various kinds per day—likely because one or several children who should be in school or in the park are stomping* around in their apartment instead. This also includes several days with loud hammering, which (with an eye on prior issues) makes me suspect that some party in the house is occasionally abusing his apartment for professional carpentry or such like—and that the current situation has moved more of his works from the workshop to the apartment. Not only are these disturbances a considerable annoyance during the day, but it has also very severely impacted my sleep, where I have lost, possibly, an average of two hours a day for at least two weeks. I am at a point, where I have concerns for both my long- and my short-term health. (And, obviously, the work on my book and my quality of life are both negatively affected.)

*Really, stomping.

Now, according to Wikipedia, there are currently 2,673 deaths in Germany attributed to COVID-19 (time of writing: April 12th).* Give these an average of five years of lost life, which seems on the high** side to me, and we have roughly 13 thousand years. Give a low estimate of 80 million people in Germany, and see how much each of these would need to loose to outweigh this time: in hours, we have roughly 13,000 * 365 * 24 / 80,000,000, or a roughly 1.4 hours. Has the negative side-effects of the counter-measures already more than exceeded an average of 1.4 hours of lost life? I would consider this pretty much a given.*** I would, indeed, consider 1.4 hours a ridiculously optimistic number.

*But note complications like under-
and over-reporting and potential delays in reporting.

**Note that deaths disproportionately hit the elderly and the already ill.

***Even when considering some potentially positive effects through less pollution and less commuter stress. Also remember that the overall negative effects will include factors like unnecessary bankruptcies, unemployment, etc., which in turn cause loss of life; as well as e.g. people who die prematurely because they were afraid of COVID-19 and failed to visit a hospital in time.

Of course, if we want to determine what set of counter-measures makes sense, we should not look at the number of deaths that remain but the number that has been, respectively, caused and prevented. Here, I suspect, it would be possible to write a doctoral thesis and still have nothing better than speculation; however, even if we grant that the current counter-measures have saved as much as a hundred thousand lives over a more moderate set of counter-measures, well, look at the numbers. This would be roughly one person in 800. If we apply the same high estimate of five years extra per saved person, this is a little more than two days saved per person of the overall population—but round up and call it three days. Firstly, I very, very strongly suspect that this is more than outweighed by the loss of life caused by the counter-measures; secondly, if there, strictly hypothetically, were no such loss of life at all, would those three days really be enough to justify the bankruptcies, the loss of quality of life, the restrictions in civic rights, etc.? We each have different preferences, but my answer is a resounding no.

Excursion on why I have cut down on walking:
I am not in a panic about catching COVID-19 during a walk or of being dragged into a cell for defying Frau Merkel, but my typical walks are negatively affected in other ways. Notably, I usually have one longer walk (10 km or more) a week, which usually consists of going from Barmen* to Elberfeld*, walking around a while there, having a cup of coffee or a bit to eat somewhere, reading a while in the library, and/or performing a planned purchase, and then walking back. Now, more-or-less everything is closed … Factor in the lower practical gain and the loss of motivation on top of the stay-at-home dictates, and I tend to stay at home.

*Subdivisions of Wuppertal. Elberfeld contains the main city center.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 12, 2020 at 11:25 am

Follow-up: A few observations around COVID-19

with one comment

My previous text on COVID-19, while broadly correct, might need some cautions in detail:

  1. Recently, I have repeatedly heard the claim that the daily increase in cases is mostly a question of an increase in the number of tested individuals, with the proportion of infected changing very little within this group. If so, this could make the numbers and trends I looked at extremely misleading, overstating the current spreading and relative death-toll radically, e.g. in that the virus has mostly done its work already, while we are now only finding out about the results. (Note the parallel to the hypothesis that death rates and whatnots are mostly those of a yearly flu and that this year is unique in that someone is looking into the causes of death—not in that there would be a significant new driving cause.)

    On the other hand, assuming the testing-drives-numbers hypothesis to be true, it is possible that the reason that more are tested is more people being infected, feeling symptoms, going to a physician to have the symptoms checked, and being tested because they went to a physician. Then the numbers could still reflect reality.

    What-is-what will depend on the circumstances of testing, which are not within my knowledge and might vary from area to area or from time to time. Even so, this is yet another reason to keep a cool head, yet another reason why the situation is* or could** be less dangerous than the numbers might seem to imply.

    *Examples include that the number of deaths must not be seen in isolation but be compared to other causes of death and that the deaths largely hit those already in poor health.

    **Examples include potential over-reporting of deaths through mixing “killed by COVID-19” and “died while having COVID-19” in the statistics and unclear/inconsistent use of measures like “case fatality rate”.

  2. From the previous item, it is quite possible that the number of infected is far higher than the “less than 1-in-1000 Germans” that I used as a basis. If so, the relative risk that my own issues are COVID-19 (and not a cold/flu/whatnot) could sky-rocket. However, this does not change the overall reasoning, because as the risk of having COVID-19 would rise, so would the risk of non-trivial complications, given that I had COVID-19, sink.

    At an extreme, some have hypothesized that almost everyone would already be infected (most of them either asymptomatic or already cured).* If so, I would probably be among them, but the danger, based on e.g. proportion of infected who died, would drop to next to nothing and I would have no greater need to worry than before.

    *This hypothesis I encountered for the first time much further back, but I kept it out of the discussion, because it is on the fringes of the spectrum, is more far-fetched, and, per this item, does not really matter in this particular context. The complication in the previous item still does not matter, but is less far-fetched and more mainstream. (More generally, there are a great many claims, arguments, speculations, etc. that I have left out of my own discussions.)

  3. Remark on notation: Below I will use the “^” sign to denote exponentiation (e.g. 2^3 = 2 * 2 * 2). Beware that instances of “*” (for multiplication) might or might not look odd, for technical reasons: I normally use this sign only for footnotes with my current markup, and I have no provisions in place to differ between footnote use and multiplication use typographically. Proof-reading, I also note that “t” (“tee”, used for time below) and “f” (“eff”, used for functions below) look extremely similar in my own browser, possibly, because of an unfortunate default font.

    While I maintain that exponential models become naive very fast, there is a complication of quasi-exponentiality that I overlooked in my last discussion. This also affects the relevance of the greater-than-linear-but-smaller-than-exponential growth mentioned in the German data. (Assuming that the data is usable in the first place. Cf. the first item above.)

    Exponential growth amounts to the increase at time t being proportional to the value at time t.* A typical case of this is a population where each member of the population contributes identically** to the growth, e.g. when each infected infects the same number of new people in each “iteration”.

    *More formally, e.g. by a differential equation like df/dt = k * f or, in a discrete analog or approximation, f(n + 1) = f(n) + k * f(n).

    **This is a common, simplifying, assumption when making models, in the hope that the variations “average out”. I suspect that it is naive more often than not.

    For instance, assume that this number is two and that we start with a population of one at t = 0. At t = 1, we have the original plus the two people infected by him for a total of three. At t = 2, we have the three plus the 2 * 3 = 6 people they infected, or 9 overall, etc. We then have f(t) = 3^t. (Where t is time in some context dependent unit, e.g. hours, days, or years. Below, I will silently assume days, but note that the numbers used are not necessarily realistic. For instance, a tripling of the infected every day would be horrifyingly large.)

    A slightly less naive* model might assume that the increase from t to t + 1 is affected only by the new cases from time t – 1 to t. Running through the same scenario, we still have f(0) = 1 and f(1) = 3, as the sum of the first person and the two he infected. However, at t = 2, we have the previous three and the 2 * 2 = 4 people infected by those infected in the previous iteration, for a total of 7 (not 9), At t = 3, we have the previous 7 plus the 2 * 4 = 8 newly infected, for a total of 15, etc. This amounts to the series 1 + 2 + 4 + … 2^t. By a high-school formula, this sums to (2^(t + 1) – 1) / (2 – 1) = 2^(t + 1) – 1. This is technically not an exponential function; however, 2^(t + 1) is, and the difference of – 1 rarely matters for a large t.**

    *I am not familiar with the models actually used, but a more sophisticated model might work with e.g. variable probabilities for different generations of the infection, where someone in the latest generation has a greater probability of infecting others than those in the second latest, the second latest one greater than the third latest, etc. Different probabilities might apply to e.g. office workers, school children, and house wives. (This classification would have to remain crude, or the complexity would explode with little benefit.) Different probabilities could apply in different areas depending on how long the infection has been present locally. Some mechanism should be in place to consider recoveries and deaths. Etc.

    **For instance, t = 10 gives 2048 in one case and 2047 in the other. But, as a comparison, our original 3^t results in the much larger 59049.

    More generally, there are many “sub-exponential” functions that are still bounded from below by an exponential function and/or might be near indistinguishable from one for large input values. These would then show a less than exponential growth in each iteration of e.g. a model of infections, but would be as bad as an exponential function in the long run. (If often a smaller exponential function than if the growth had not been sub-exponential.) One example is a combination of a larger pre-infected and non-infectious sub-population with an (originally) smaller and highly infectious sub-population, e.g. for f(t) = 10000 + 2^t. For small t, the effects might seem like trivial measurement noise or an extremely slow-moving infection, e.g. in that f(5) – f(4) = 16, a small fraction of the overall; however, a little later, we have e.g. f(20) – f(19) = 524288, which almost doubles the overall at t = 19 and dwarfs the overall at t = 0 (and e.g. t = 5).

    Then again, an exponential function is not automatically a problem, if the growth rate is sufficiently small relative the length of time. For instance, if we know that a cure will be widely available within three months then 1.1^t is much better than (the merely polynomial) 1 + t^2, no matter how much worse it would be after four months.

On a more personal note: By the time of my last text, I had managed to get hold of toilet paper (cf. an earlier text), but I might have failed again, had I arrived ten minutes later—so fast was the product moving. (And not necessarily even through hoarding at this juncture: everyone seemed to be taking one package, implying that it was likely mostly just others who were in a deficit.) However, the scarcity seems to continue and quite a few other items are (still) affected, including canned foods and frozen meals. Considering that the supply chain has had weeks to react, this is a disturbing sign for the future and any non-artificial* crisis.**

*While the supply side might have been hit by various restrictions on work and whatnot, the brunt of the problem is likely still through the unwarranted increase in demand. (And even the supply effect could be seen as artificial …) Now consider a similar situation when the supply side has been severely hit, e.g. in a war.

**Whether any blame, e.g. based on poor planing, should be attached to someone, I leave unstated—there are too many factors that I am unaware of, e.g. how large the storage buffers tend to be and to what degree e.g. farm output can be a limiter. I do note the failure to raise prices as per my earlier text, however.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 3, 2020 at 2:01 pm