Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Herd Immunity by Relative Vulnerability

Herd immunity.  
The idea that after a certain number of people in a group are immune to a pathogen, it progressively becomes almost impossible for the pathogen to spread broadly.  
If we could choose which of the members of society to be exposed to the pathogen and so become immune, but not all members have equal risk of harm or death from the disease, how would we decide?  
Suppose there are 1000 people in the herd.  As more of them recover, the disease is less and less likely to spread. But it takes until 50% (500) before the virus is basically no longer a threat.  

100 of the herd, Zs, if they catch the virus, are known to be more likely to suffer harm or to die (maybe 5% of the infected Zs will die). When they die, they reduce the numerator and the denominator for the future (future being the realm where herd immunity continues to be useful).  
200, the Xs, say, have almost zero risk of harm or death, but they can still contribute to the percentage of the herd that needs to be immune in order to have herd immunity.  
The other 700, Ys, have a varying risk of death, but let’s say it’s at 1% of the infected, on average.  

Scenario 1: If we select people at random to bear the burden of exposure, sickness, and hopeful survival into an immune state, a high percentage of the vulnerable Zs will die. Herd immunity may take longer to accomplish. 500/1000 will have to get and survive the disease. Around 50 will be Zs. Two or three Zs will die. About 350 Ys will catch it. Three or four of them will die. Around 100 Xs will catch it. None of them will die. Total death count would be five to seven.  
Scenario 2: If we prevent most of the least vulnerable Xs from being exposed, but don’t prevent others (Ys and Zs) from being exposed, then an even higher portion of the most vulnerable will be exposed, sickened, and die from the disease. 500/800 will have to get and survive the disease. Around 62 or 63 Zs will catch it. About three will die. Around 438 Ys will catch it. Four or five will die. No Xs catch it. None die. Total death count seven or eight.  
Scenario 3: If we choose to reverse this, and carefully prevent the most vulnerable from being exposed, while allowing the risks to be more or less evenly distributed among the Xs and Ys, we will have built herd immunity with less total harm and death. 500/900 will have to get and survive the disease. For the sake of argument, we are perfect at protecting the 100 Zs. None get it. None die. 389 Ys catch it. About four die. About 111 Xs catch it. None die. Total death count is four.  

Which scenario do you support, and why?   

Which is closest to what our leaders have chosen for us? 

Please note. There is real data that could be substituted, for the percent of our population that is of a certain age, for example.  
We could stratify the Ys into more age or vulnerability brackets.  
The infection fatality rates assumed for the sake of simplification are not accurate, but they are somewhat close. They are least accurate for Ys, I believe.  
We actually aren't perfect at sheltering any group of people. For simplicity, I assumed that all Zs, in Scenario 3, were protected, and all Xs, in Scenario 2. The real world is less sharply divided. However, I believe this example is demonstrative because it is such a small number relative to our total population.  
Finally, there is some interesting thought about the most social* people being the most likely, quickest, and most necessary group to get infected for the purposes of herd immunity, which could affect this example, both in the total percentage required for herd immunity, and also for the natural tendencies that are not the same as mathematically random selections of the infected.  
*Social defined here as having near physical contact. It doesn't have to be in a way that involves communication; proximity could work. 

To God be all glory. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Economic Disparity

I care about disparity in wealth: I want more disparity between starvation levels and the poorest poor. If the richest rich also increase their prosperity in so doing, I have no objection to letting them. 

Of course, I think it is also good to exhort rich and poor to work hard; to seek to add value to the world; to buy and sell goods and labor at just and honest prices; and to be generous to the unfortunate poor.

I am convinced that shutting down and discouraging such large parts of our economies increases the disparity between the richest rich and everyone else. The poorest poor are even more facing starvation, after decades of reducing starvation around the world. And much of the financially-stable middle class is being sunk into poverty. 

Sure, the richest rich are not making as much money, but they are still making it, and they are not in danger of losing the power and influence their money buys. To the contrary, the richest rich are posturing for greater influence in a panicked world controlled by central planners more than ever. 

Meanwhile, the way our US government is addressing the lockdowns, rather than re-opening, is to borrow a whole bunch of money with which to pay paltry sums to poorer individuals, and money in the millions to the already influential lobbies representing the interests of the richest rich. 

Free people engaging in free economy is the most effective means of resisting corruption and improving the economic status of the poor.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Unlawful Orders and Romans 13

If the Treasury Secretary started issuing orders for which US Navy ships should go where, is it the Christian thing to do for the captains to submit to that governing authority? Of course not! Our government is not set up for the Treasury Secretary to have authority to command the military.

A Christian captain conscientiously obeying Romans 13's directive to be subject to governing authorities is still doing so while disregarding the authority presumptions of our hypothetical Secretary.

Neither is the United States set up to give anyone in government the authority to command us not to assemble, or gather for worship, or to speak, or for the press to investigate and report.

To God be all glory.

Friday, January 10, 2020

GK Chesterton and Bill Watterson

Before Christmas I read a quote about feasts by GK Chesterton, and since it intrigued me, I tracked down the source. This involved my embarrassingly asking the Facebook Group which had posted the quote, whence it came - only to be told that the citation was the very first thing in the post, preceding the quote. Much of Chesterton's work is available free online, so I set about to find the entire article, from The Illustrated London News 1906. It may be scanned in somewhere, but not easily searched nor found.

In my searching, I did run across the existence of printed volumes of GK Chesterton's articles, so my next effort was to find a copy at a library to which I had access. In this I was again nearly thwarted by the fact that all the volumes were contained in the same catalog entry, so that I was unsure how to request only one (without driving an hour or more each way to access the library in person). I decided to risk the request, imagining that even if the wrong volume was sent, it would likely be worthwhile to read anyway. The electronic catalog was better than my estimation, and I was today able to pick up the exact volume bearing the article I sought, along with several books about geysers, volcanoes, and pillar-cobbled causeways made from cooled lava flows. 

All of this is a hopefully amusing introduction to my much shorter actual reason for writing this blog post: As I read one entry from the middle of a collection of weekly essays written by the witty Chesterton, and began the next, I had the exact feeling I get when I flip to the middle of a Calvin & Hobbes collection, and realize that I am intruding on a story already in progress, and that I do not know how many editions backward I must retreat in order to enter at the episode's gate. 

And the fact of this coincidental phenomenon led me to the discovery of a fact. Chesterton and Watterson were in the same business; their art delved into the same themes; their skills produce the same enduring delight mixed with education. I don't know if GK Chesterton ever saw a sketch of a phalanx of garish snowmen, but if he had, I feel sure he would have approved. 

To God be all glory.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas Etymologies: Mary

 This Christmas, I selected Mary as the theme of my etymologies.  Please note that this is not a Bible study, but an etymology study of the English words used in the story of Mary from the Gospel of Luke.  With the exception of the name, Mary, none of these etymologies touch on the Greek words used in the original text. Because of the nature of this post, I discourage you using it to draw interpretations or applications from Mary’s character or circumstances.  

Mary - As the name of a Jewish woman in Israel, is predictably from Hebrew, Miriam, literally “rebellious”, from the root mârâh, which means “to be bitter, to rebel, to be disobedient, to resist, provoke, change”.  

blessed - This word has been a part of English since the 12th century, meaning “supremely happy” or “consecrated and holy”.  From bless, Old English bletsian, “to consecrate by sprinkling blood”.  It shares the same root as blood. The definition having to do with happiness is newer, and was probably influenced by the unrelated bliss.  

blood - A word from the Proto-Germanic *blodham, also meaning “blood”.  Perhaps came from a Proto-Indo-European root for “that which bursts out”, *bhlo-to-, also the proposed root of bloom and blow.  

bliss - Since Old English days, this word has has meant “bliss, merriment, happiness, grace, favor", from Proto-Germanic *blithiz, “gentle, kind”.  It was probably influenced to have a more spiritual or heavenly idea of happiness because of its similarity to bless.  

favor - First an Old French term: “a favor; approval, praise; applause; partiality”, favor comes from Latin favorem, “good will, inclination, partiality, support", coined by Cicero from favere "to show kindness to", from Proto-Indo-European *ghow-e- "to honor, revere, worship". Etymologists believe the Old Norse word ga, "to heed", comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root.  

maidservant - This compound word shows up in English in the 1520’s.  

maid - “Unmarried, young”, maid often referring to a virgin woman.  It was, in its early decades, used as a sort of shorthand for the Virgin Mary.  The term was also early on applied to young unmarried men, but not anymore. Shortened from maiden, which is in Old English mægden, with essentially the same meaning. The -en is a diminutive - that is, it comes from a word meaning woman, and the suffix tells us it is a little woman, or a younger woman.  But this word for woman, mægeð, also had a connotation of inexperience, or of one yet "growing in power". From a Proto-Indo-European root *maghu, which referred to young people of either sex, and became the root of words in other languages for “unmarried”, “slave”, or in Old English, “son, male descendant, child”.  I think the Old Irish, maug, meaning “slave” is one of the most interesting cognates, given the late evolution in English of maiden into maid, meaning “domestic servant, housekeeper”.  

servant - From the root serve, servant appeared in 12th century English as “to render habitual obedience to”.  From Old French servir "to do duty toward, show devotion to; set table, serve at table; offer, provide with”.  In many cases, the Latin root of this French word was used of slaves, not only people rendering voluntary service. There is debate about the origin of this Latin word, servire.  Is it from Etruscan names? From a sense of "binding", as in Latin sero? Or is it from a Proto-Italic word meaning “to heed and observe, to shepherd”?  

woman - One of the most ordinary words in our modern English language, the etymology of this Late Old English word, then spelled wimman, is interesting and contested.  Most etymologists think that the earlier form was wifman, an obviously compound word attested in literature.  Man, at that period,  meant “a human”. Wif meant “woman”, revealing that the Late Old English (and our word, too), is a silly compound literally meaning “woman-man”.  Other etymologists speculate that rather than wifman, woman derived from womb-man.  Other languages have such terms, but none of the sources I read were able to cite examples of this progression in English.  Some etymologists believe wif comes from the same root as weave, and refers to a woman's role in medieval English homes as a weaver of clothes. Others suggest a root meaning "to tremble".  Digging further back, other etymologists suggest wif comes from Proto-Germanic *wiban, also meaning “woman”.  (It took a while for wif to specifically refer to a married woman.)  We deduce from the fact that speakers made the word wifman that wif alone at that time didn’t do enough standing alone to communicate “woman”.  But we’re not sure why. Nor do etymologists have consensus whence the Proto-Germanic word comes.  

womb - The Old English ancestor of this word referred to “the womb, belly, or even the heart”?!  From Proto-Germanic *wambo, the source mostly of other Germanic languages’ “womb” words, but also in Old English the root of a word for “child”, umbor.  Most likely comes from a root meaning "bulge" or "swelling". 

magnify - Our English word hasn’t changed much from Latin’s magnificare "esteem greatly, extol, make much of”.  Ultimately, it comes from a combination of two Proto-Indo-European roots, *meg- "great" and *dhe- "to set, put". The predecessor to magnificare in Latin meant “someone who does great deeds”.  Unlike many other words having to do with praise, magnifying almost cannot invent virtue; it must be earned - just like a magnifying glass cannot make a small thing to exist, but only draw attention to it.  

An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language by Walter William Skeat
With reference to a few other old etymological dictionaries. 

To God be all glory.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Self-Determination at What Expense?

You wake up in the passenger seat of a car. The driver has abducted you. You’re in pain, and disoriented. After a moment, you realize you are bleeding badly. By the grace of God you overcome the driver within a few blocks of the hospital and take control of the car. If you don’t get to the emergency room soon, you could die. The problem is, you’re in traffic; pedestrians are crossing at the crosswalk ahead. If you don’t run them over, you know that your time is short, and you might not even survive to make it to the hospital. You are in this horrible situation through no fault of your own. Is there any way you could justify choosing to run over the innocent people in the crosswalk?

To God be all glory.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bramble Bake

I can hardly believe I'm writing this, because I am generally very conservative (literally) about words.  I try not to change them.  In my opinion, this aids in communication, and communication is much more important to me than words - even though words are beautiful and exciting treasure-maps... I digress.

About a year ago, I discovered Baked French Toast.  That stuff is good, and it is so much easier than frying bread a few slices at a time.  It isn't French Toast.  It probably shouldn't even say "French Toast" in the name, since it isn't fried in butter, and that's an important distinction.

Then in the spring I was researching recipes for my friends' annual potluck St. Patrick's Day party, and I ran across a recipe for bread pudding that sounded a whole lot like Baked French Toast.  So I did some research.  Yep.  Same thing.  Also, if you don't use cream and you make it more savory, it's the same thing as "dressing" (or, if you put it inside a bird you're roasting, "stuffing") at Thanskgiving and Christmas.  It is even basically  identical to Monkey Bread.

If you get really broad, maybe even what we call "casseroles" could be in the same category.  A starch is chopped up, mixed with other sweet or savory fillings, soaked in a sauce, and baked.

One of my friends long ago persuaded me that "casserole" is a yucky word.  This was at the same time that I was first considering eating them.  The best alternative term we could come up with was "hot dish", that some small sections of our country use for the same thing.  But it sounds so pedantic.

Enter "bramble bake".  Today.  I saw a recipe on Pinterest for a "Blueberry Bramble Bake", which, it turned out, was a bread pudding with blueberries and cream cheese.  But the name, as the Dread Pirate Roberts and Anne of Green Gables would agree, is the important thing, and "bramble bake" rang in my ears.  I hoped that it simply already was the elusive term I'd been waiting for.  Maybe it was, except that none of the rest of the world realized.

Back in history - and history about words matters to me - it seems that it meant something baked out of the fruit of a thorny shrub, like blackberries are.  "Bramble" is a word for such a plant, and it conjures images of tangled branches, blends of depth and shadow, sprinkled with a surprise of sweetness or other sharp point here and there.  And after people grew tired of only using the phrase for actual bramble pastries, it came to be applied to things baked with other berries.

Here's where we enter the scene.  Because "bramble" is a lovely metaphor for the collection of flavors and textures jumbled together and baked, I am inviting you to join me in using "bramble bake" to describe all of the things in this blog: baked French toasts, bread puddings, dressings and stuffings, casseroles and hot dishes.

What are your favorite bramble bakes?

To God be all glory.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Parents and the Barren and Expectations

When people say "before I was a parent, I expected _____ about raising kids, but now..." What it kind of sounds like to me is "don't bother spending these waiting years preparing to be a good parent; you'll only get it wrong." Thing is, I sincerely disagree.

I know preparation isn't the same as living it. But the solution to the barren thinking they would never let their kids throw fits in grocery stores is to share your experience, not put them down for trying to plan well and aim for good things. I think it is a huge problem that many people enter parenthood with so little experience, training (discipleship), or intentionality. They have no idea what are reasonable expectations.

On the other hand, believe it or not, many childless people have lots of experience interacting with non-ideal children. Some have seen lots of different homes and had more time and less personal investment (defensiveness) to synthesize what they've learned. It isn't everything. It is NO justification for them being arrogant or judgmental. But God seemed to put parents together with non-parents, in community, so maybe we could learn from each other and encourage one another instead of silencing our companions.

To God be all glory.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

How Jesus Sounds

I have never realized it before, and perhaps that’s a ridiculous fact, since I’ve read the gospels over and over, heard Sunday school stories and sermons and Christian songs for decades.  But just tonight I realized how easy it is to relate to so many different people Jesus spoke to while on earth.

Here’s how I described them on Facebook earlier, and I relate to every single type, at least a little:
[I’m] remembering what Jesus sounds like, to mothers and rich young rulers and zealous disciples and grieving women, to those sitting at His feet and those longing to be healed, to the inquirers who aren't sure there's hope for them, to askers of silly questions, to doubters and fearers and sinners and strivers. To little children and we who aspire to be like them. To goad-kickers and prison-wait-ers.

To God be all glory.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

In Defense of Like-Mindedness on Social Media

There is a popular idea coming out of our analysis of the new thing that is social media: that social media’s tendency to make echo chamber, confirmation-bias-reinforcing bubbles is a bad thing for growing as human beings.  I don’t think this concept is entirely without merit. But I think it may depend on the type of person you and your friends are.

First of all, I have observed the use of social media for things that have nothing to do with affirming preconceived ideas, unless it is the idea that one’s own children are cute and that their grandparents enjoy pictures of them.  There are other social media users who only exchange amusing morphed pictures of their faces with friends, or who only play games using the platforms, or watch and share Grumpy Cat memes. Some people basically only use their social media as a platform for marketing their business.  The lesson to be learned from this fact is that social media’s effect is, in part, a consequence of how you use it. This is hopeful, because it means we can choose how to act based on the kinds of outcomes we aspire to.

We can be the kind of people about whom the sociologists warn, who use Facebook only to get “likes” from people who agree with us, and to read the simple slogans of others who are stating thoughts we’ve already had (or adopted).  We can steer clear of anything that we’re not sure our group would agree with, and berate anyone in our network who dares to publish statements or photos or videos that the “group” hasn’t accepted.

Or, if we want to be the kind of people who learn and are able to be corrected, we can pursue that goal.  
I am struggling with the argument that in order to be this kind of social media wielder, one must network with people whose ideas are radically opposed to one’s own.  I believe my struggle comes from two main places: that I am a minority among my friends, when considering the kinds of topics I like to discuss on Facebook; and also that it is proper to discriminate in personal friendships against people who are fools.  

I know that, relative to Americans at large, my circles look like a very small-minded bubble.  Most of my friends are, like me, Christians, pro-life, compassionate, and lovers of freedom. But I am actually in a minority for my beliefs and morals even among my own several hundred Facebook friends.  My religious and political views, standards of human behavior, ideals for life and society, principles of economics - are all things that I am at odds with almost everyone about. The differences may be nuanced, but they are real.  This being the case, I experience being almost constantly challenged by my associates. And where I am not contradicted, I am exposed to aspects of the topics that I haven’t considered before, or haven’t delved into. I hypothesize that most people who are interested in thinking deeply on these subjects, and applying them to life, have a similar experience.  

Also, I have exposure to the larger world’s ideas through colleagues and clients at work, through shopping, watching TV and movies, and advertising - enough to know that there are ideas different than mine and different than what I witness on social media.  In addition to being a comfort when I feel inundated by foreign values and beliefs in my larger culture, it is also helpful to have some people closer to my values to help me evaluate and respond to these disagreements with the world around me in a constructive, insightful way.  

My familiarity with the “other sides” isn’t complete!  I still have moments where I realize I had assumed most people had a common experience or universal understanding of a thing - and it wasn’t true!  Everyone lives in a sort of social bubble, no matter how hard we try!

The Bible teaches that the people that we spend a lot of time with will have influence over us.  It warns that “the companion of fools will be destroyed” and “he who walks with wise men will be wise”, that “evil company corrupts good morals”, and “what fellowship has light [those made alive by the work and grace of Jesus] with darkness [those who remain in rebellion against God and its corresponding delusions and weaknesses]”.  Thus, I think it is wise to exclude from among my frequent influencers and counselors those whom I discern to be wicked and foolish. I lament that this is the state of our nation: that there are millions who would debate about simple and obvious things like whether to allow murder of some humans; that there are people so given to their own pleasure that they do not care to evaluate their desires or philosophies (but talk about them anyway).  I wish that we could instead be pooling the wisdom (or at least humble curiosity) of God-fearing and thoughtful* people in order to solve harder questions.

*Not every God-fearing person can be classified as thoughtful, and that’s just fine, as long as it is moderate, and as long as non-thoughtful people aren’t trying to have public, in-depth dialogue on subjects where thought is needed.  Being a thoughtful person, I believe it is good to have at least some substantial portion of my acquaintance also be deep thinkers.

I believe it is OK, if you are using social media for discussion of important topics, to have some friends who aren’t wise and good.  I’m not a strict isolationist. I would advocate that we keep a prayerful, vigilant watch on the balance of friends and those we follow or subscribe to who are, on the one hand, able to sharpen us and, on the other hand, those who pull us away from good thinking and good acting.  This is true even if social media is, for you, a less profound venture, because any shared experience can build bonds that sway your priorities, even shared fun or simple everyday comments. It may be fine for the proportions to be different if you use the platforms for more lighthearted purposes. But because of the power of words and precepts, it is more important to have the majority of those whom you engage on that level be good companions.  If the majority of your interactions on these deeper issues are outside of social media with a group of friends whose influence is more positive, it may also be acceptable to dabble in social media exchanges with less upright people.

I tend towards viewing interactions with wicked fools as condescending (hopefully with as little hypocrisy as possible), and as rescue missions.  This can be a good way to guard against taking them in as “companions”. But, since even “blind squirrels find nuts” - and because in many ways, I am yet also a “blind squirrel”, it is useful to be open to new revelations brought through these people.  At the very least, conversing with them can improve our understanding of them and the experiences that have formed them (and may have formed others in our society, including ourselves).

How do we know if we are discerning which people are wise and good, versus which are foolish and wicked?  That’s not something I want to write about right now, but it is something worth considering, with an allowance that we may not be perfect at it, in principle or practice.  

In conclusion, I appreciate my social media (primarily Facebook) experience, but also benefit from reminders to be careful that I am using it to build wisdom, rather than pride.  And I hope that others can, as well.

To God be all glory.