Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘health

A few words on COVID vaccines / Addendum: Second COVID Anniversary

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In yesterday’s anniversary text ([1]), I left out a few points around vaccines that I had planned to include:

Firstly, I have made one highly incorrect prediction (but I am not certain that I ever put it in writing): If the vaccines proved problematic, then the Biden administration would immediately cease its attempts to take credit from Trump (“These are Biden’s vaccines. They have always been Biden’s vaccines.”) in order to wash its own hands and blame him (“These are Trump’s vaccines. They have always been Trump’s vaccines.”).

The vaccines did prove problematic—and, to my great surprise, Biden et al. doubled down on the lie that they were not. In retrospect, this might not be that surprising, as it fits well with the overall approach to COVID both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world. (Cf. [1] and how compliance and whatnot appears more important than truth. This likely with an element of “never admit that you were wrong”, which seems to be a politician’s motto.)

This has been taken so far that even the benefits of natural immunity have been drowned out in the propaganda and, now, when natural immunity is slowly admitted, we hear that “The virus is a vaccine! How lucky are we?!? (But not as good a vaccine as a real vaccine!!!)”. This, of course, turns the world on its head: a vaccine is an attempt to gain the immunity caused by a real infection without the disadvantages (say, the risk of death) from such an infection. To call the virus a vaccine shows such a complete lack of insight into the matter, or so horrifying an intellectual dishonesty, that a summary firing should be the consequence. It is the more absurd, as there is disagreement whether the vaccines actually are vaccines, or merely something “vaccinoid”.

Secondly, vaccines (in particular; other counter-measures in general) appear to have gone from a means to an end, i.e. a way to fight COVID, to an end in it self.* As is often the case, politicians, journalists, and their ilk, have not kept the eye on the ball and asked questions like “Why?” and “What do we want to achieve?”. Instead, vaccines, or rather a high vaccination ratio, has become the end: We must have a high vaccination ratio! (Why? Because we must have a high vaccination ratio!!!!) We must push vaccinations on school children! (Why? Because we must push vaccinations on school children!!!!)

*Note that this can be seen as an alternative and/or complementary explanation to the “enforce compliance” explanation for some odd governmental behaviors.

This, admittedly, is a somewhat common human failing, and not one that I am immune to, myself, but that makes it all the more important to be aware of it. Larger organisations, including governments, should certainly make the effort to have some type of check or repeating reminder, possibly even some type of “means or end” manager. (And even for e.g. the individual citizen, it can pay to occasionally ask “Why do I do this? Is this activity a means to an end or has it become an end in it self? What ends do I really want to reach?” and similar.)

Thirdly, the general “public policy” approach to the development of the vaccines was fundamentally flawed. (And, yes, this is a point where I would put significant blame on Trump.)

My impression of the background thinking is that “Capitalism can move mountains. Let it do so with the vaccines!”. So far, I would actually agree, but the approach in detail was deeply flawed. In particular, the point of (medical) capitalism is not to heal or prevent but to earn money—and this appears to have been forgotten. (Indisputably, the vaccines have been far more successful as money makers than as vaccines, per se. This is another example of means vs ends: To a company like Pfizer, healing is one of the means, while making money is the end. This is as it should be, but others must remember this in their dealings with such companies.)

How could this have been done better, if we did want to use capitalism effectively? By all means, waive some of the usual protocols and test requirements.* However, make sure that the vaccines are taken only on a voluntary basis,** and that the citizens are given enough information for informed consent. Moreover, do not waive e.g. the possibility of liability claims and do not promise to cover such claims on behalf of the vaccine makers. Now, let anyone qualified who wants to make a vaccine make and sell a vaccine to those who want to take one (and paid for by the user or his insurance—not the government). If e.g. the increased liability risk is a fear for the vaccine makers (understandable), it must simply have the individual give informed consent that he waives the liability (possibly, partially or merely with an upper cap) in order to buy the vaccine—which, given current data, might still be a rational decision for the 80 y.o. with multiple health issues, but not for the perfectly healthy 20 y.o.

*Under the assumption that we really want to have vaccines at “warp speed”. Considering the comparative triviality of COVID (compared e.g. to the Spanish Flu), I am not convinced that this is a good idea, but it has certainly been the “official” premise.

**A necessity due to the waivers. There might or might not be some room for truly exceptional exceptions, but e.g. a mere “works in a hospital” is well short of that standard—let alone a “works with others in an office or a factory”.

Yes, this might have given us vaccines later and/or another set of vaccines and/or more expensive vaccines (notably, to compensate for the greater risk for the vaccine makers), but this is not really a bad thing, considering the dubious record of the actual current vaccines. In the alternate reality, we have preserved the right of the citizen to choose, we have kept the responsibility for flawed products on the product maker, etc. Vaccines would be brought onto the market when the maker foresees a net win from sales profits over liability claims,* which implies a greater degree of own confidence in the product. Etc.

*As opposed to the current sales profits with no liability claims. (Here, I take sales profits to imply revenue minus more regular costs, e.g. for development, production, and distribution.)

(This is just a rough outline/illustration of principle. Going into details, there are many questions to answer, e.g. whether a vaccine maker should be allowed to move this specific operation to a limited-liability subsidiary.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 6, 2022 at 10:14 am

Second COVID Anniversary / Follow-up: Various

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We are not quite at the second year anniversary of my first text on COVID (COVID-19 reactions doing more harm than good?), but I might as well get it out of the way, especially as it ties in with some recent texts on my personal situation.

To begin, I will simply quote a portion of last year’s anniversary text:

[…] 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.

Another year in, and with reservations for very recent developments, this holds even more strongly now than it did back then—another year of abject failure, of propaganda posing as science, of unnecessary economic damage, whatnot.

The second year has certainly been far harder on me, personally, than the first, for reasons like growing frustration with and anger at governmental malpractice and disgusting propaganda (cf. below), my reduced ability to escape construction noise, the harsher shutdowns, etc., etc. Note e.g. that it has been roughly a year-and-a-half since I last visited a restaurant or even a cafe, that a visit to my father that was planned for the summer of 2020 has been delayed by almost two years (and counting),* that the limited opportunities to do something in town have reduced my motivation to leave the house, in turn reducing both my amount of exercise and my exposure to sunshine.

*Note that we live in different countries.

A few recent articles, e.g. The Nudge: Ethically Dubious and Ineffective from the Brownstone Institute, have dealt with the topic of “nudging”—a grossly unethical and destructive attempt by various governments to impose the ‘right” opinions on the population. (And the source of many inexcusable claims, e.g. the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” bullshit.) It is not the job of the government to govern the opinions of the people—the government is to be governed by the opinions of the people.* If not, we do not have a democracy. Worse, if those in power can dictate what opinions others should have, then we risk a further cementing of opinion corridors, with the associated loss of science, progress, free debate, whatnot.

*Which is not to say that a government, even in a democracy, should flail about like a weathervane as the whims of the public change. However, there must be a clear mentality of the politicians being the servants of the people, not its masters.

Indeed, in my previous anniversary text, I also wrote:

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”.

This, too, has been supported by the subsequent events. (And while the end might be in sight this time, “a year” has been superseded by “two years”.)

A particular sub-issue is how this type of “nudging” and other manipulation is often based on the assumption of a complete idiot at the other end—as with much of advertising and “public relations” work. Maybe, the idiots are fooled, but what about those who are intelligent, think critically and for themselves, want actual scientific evidence,* etc.?

*As opposed not just to sloganeering but also to empty claims of scientific evidence.

Chances are that they will not only remain sceptical, but that they will grow more sceptical due to the cheap and intellectually dishonest argumentation. Indeed, in many cases, they might even be infuriated (as I have often been) by some of the manipulation attempts. Shaming attempts is something that I consider particularly offensive and particularly unconvincing—I viewed them as nonsensical and insulting even as a child. That I have to endure them as an adult is inexcusable. (The more so, as the ones attempting the shaming are usually of far lesser intelligence and insight.)

Indeed, I repeat my observation that publicity work is often directed at claiming the exact opposite of the truth. (Presumably, in the belief that “fixing” public opinion is easier and/or cheaper than fixing the actual problem.) Often, the claims are the louder and the more transparent the more severe the problem. For instance, among my recent mail, I have several claims from my health insurer (HUK Coburg) that I would receive terrific service and value for my money, winning over the entire line—but, in reality, this company is a fucking travesty, rent seekers protected by governmental coercion of customers, delivering over-expensive, low-value products, sometimes crossing the border to what I would consider criminal behavior, and showing horrifying signs of incompetence, to the point that even a notification that I have moved has overtaxed them.* But what happens when I am told that I am lucky to have the honor of being a customer? Do I go from severely dissatisfied to happy? Hell no! I am insulted, I grow angry, and I become even more dissatisfied. It is the same thing with the misleading government propaganda, which ignores facts and arguments in favor of assertion, emotional manipulation, and shaming attempts—I am insulted, I grow angry, and I become even more sceptical to the next thing that the government claims.

*I am still a “health” customer only because switching health insurers is tricky. A number of other policies that I once had with the same company are long terminated.

Moreover, the reactions of various groups, notably governments, seem more directed at stomping out dissent than at achieving something real. The point is not whether lockdowns, masks, vaccines work and/or are harmless—the point is that “we said so and you have to conform”. The point is not whether someone without a mask risks his own or someone else’s health—the point is that someone without a mask defies the will of the government. (Cf. similar problems with e.g. far-Left hate-mongering in various countries. Note how far too many issues, especially involving the Left, have turned into quasi-religious crusades, where emotions, unfounded and superficial beliefs, and “personal truth” rule, while facts, arguments, and actual truth are ignored or even condemned.)

Looking back at some of my own early COVID-texts, they would often have gone even further, had I known back then what I know today. No, I am not talking about COVID-specific developments, but of more generic medical and epidemiological knowledge. For instance, I did not have a clear understanding of the difference between being infected and being a “case” resp. the “infection fatality rate” and the “case fatality rate”. (Then again, neither media nor politicians seemed to have such an understanding either.) For instance, there have been many claims made by e.g. various governments that seemed at least potentially plausible to me at the time, but are not so from a more informed point of view. The likely most notable example is the idea that COVID could be more-or-less exterminated even after a non-trivial international spread had already taken place and despite the high infectiousness. As the weeks went by, it became clear to me that this would not happen, but it should have been clear much earlier, possibly even at the time of my first text.

(Indeed, even in the early days, there were experts, e.g. immunologists, who clearly said that this or that is unlikely to work, violates prior practices, whatnot. They were ignored or condemned back then—but two years of experiences have proved them right.)

A particularly interesting case is the variations of “two weeks to flatten the curve”: I was sceptical from the beginning, because an exponential curve which is temporarily restrained would not be permanently flattened—once the flattening measures were removed, it would come roaring back. (In other words, it is less of a flattening and more of a postponement.) But let us call it “two weeks to give society and the healthcare system time to adapt”, which seemed somewhat plausible to me. Looking back, this adaption does not seem to have brought much and, if anything, it would have been better to flatten the curve when it had already grown steeper. Instead, I very strongly suspect, the “two weeks” were never about flattening or postponing anything—they were a matter of getting a foot in the door, so that two weeks could grow to four, eight, sixteen, whatnot weeks, while the frog boiled. Indeed, only after almost two years do the lockdowns and other overreaching countermeasures seem (knock on wood) to be on the way out.

Overlapping, there is one area where I am torn on whether I made a major error in prediction (most of the time, I have been right, even with the burden of some early medical naivete):

In a text from March 2020, I say:

The last (2020-03-30) data for Germany above has 57,298 cases and 455 deaths. The corresponding (yearly) numbers for influenza regularly go into the millions and the thousands, respectively—in Germany alone. It is not a given that COVID-19 will reach even that level—and it is outright unlikely that the numbers will be an order higher.

Official statistics at the moment have many millions of infections* and well above a hundred thousand dead**. At the two year mark, it is unfair to compare with a single (regular) influenza season, but it seems fair to say that the (regular) influenza numbers have been exceeded. (While still being well short of a truly severe influenza outbreak, notably the “Spanish Flu”.) When it comes to “an order higher”, things grow complicated (cf. footnotes and note that the influenza often has similar problems). For a comparison, look at German Wikipedia and the 2017/2018 flu season, which was an unusually bad year (but did not break through to Spanish-Flu levels):

*Not cases. This includes those who have tested positive but do not display enough symptoms to be considered cases. Chances are that I misused “case” in the original quote, however. Of course, the number also excludes those who were infected (or even cases) without being tested. I make great reservations for the use of the widely discredited PCR test, which is highly prone to false positives (at least, as used to test for COVID).

**But note that a poor separation between “died with” and “died from” could make this number misleading.

Das Robert Koch-Institut schätzt die Zahl der Toten durch Influenza in jener Saison in Deutschland jedoch insgesamt auf 25.100

(The Robert Koch-Institut estimates 25.100 deaths through influenza in that season in Germany)

We can see (a) that COVID is not astronomical worse than the 2017/18 flu (but might be for some lesser year), (b) that speaking of an order more in terms of deaths* might be justifiable when we look at the COVID epidemic in its entirety. We might be around a factor 5 at the moment, which is short of the roughly 10 usually used, but, logarithmically, we are closer to 10 than to 1 and COVID is still ongoing.**

*But not necessarily cases or infections. I see no good numbers on the linked-to page, but influenza is typically less deadly, which makes it likely that the difference (relative the difference in deaths) is considerably smaller.

**Order (of magnitude) is a somewhat vague concept and the focus on factors of 10 is a consequence of the number system used, with no “higher” meaning. The limits between them is similarly vague, but I often think in terms of the square-root of 10 or approx. 3.16, i.e. that the “range” of 10 is 3.16 to 31.6, the range of 100 is 31.6 to 316, etc. Above, 5 > 3.16 and therefore in the range of 10, not the range of 1 (i.e. 0.316 to 3.16). (However, chances are that I used a more simplistic 10-vs-1 thinking when writing the quoted text.)

On the other hand, if we look at comparable waves, e.g. the flu of 2017/18 against the original COVID, Delta, or Omicron, a different situation might apply—and the question arises, which comparison is the most fair. (To which I have no good answer or would answer “it depends”.) This is also where my original naivete plays in, in that I thought too much of COVID as one season or wave, which would run its course and then disappear—possibly, for the duration; possibly, until next year. This season or wave might well have been considerably longer than a flu season, but would not have lasted for years. Here I was, in part, too influenced by what I knew about the flu, in part, too influenced by the official propaganda of “if we lock down and wear masks, we can exterminate COVID”, which, of course, turned out to be complete bullshit.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 3, 2022 at 11:00 am

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?

Written by michaeleriksson

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.

Written by michaeleriksson

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