The Ignorant Math of “Saving Just One Life.”

New York governor Cuomo recently spoke and justified his actions in putting the whole state on lock down:  “All this is worth it if saves one life.”  That approach seems laudable and the logic bulletproof. Who wouldn’t want to save a life?  But in reality, this approach is sentimental and displays some ignorance about how the world actually works. Economist Thomas Sowell said, “in the real world there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.”   In the real world, taking major action in one area effects change in other areas. My concern here is not to evaluate the decisions of the governor, but rather this logic, which I believe is dangerous.  Many of his decisions are good and justified. So please don’t hear this as a criticism of the shut down orders. But across the country this kind of thinking is leading some officials to ignore (or justify) the damaging implications of policy decisions as if we are playing a game with a simple scoreboard consisting of coronavirus deaths.

This concept of tradeoffs is fairly obvious in other areas. When the police pursue a deadly criminal in a high speed chase in order to keep the public safe from a dangerous criminal they put the public at risk in other ways (10,000 injuries and 321 fatalities in 2002) Widespread use of mammograms to detect breast cancer has led to an estimated 30% over diagnosis of the cancer, and all the problems that come with that diagnosis.  The real word is not a simple financial ledger with one column measured in coronavirus deaths.  It is more like a teeter totter where moving one side up or down affects the other side. 

As an example, following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001 many Americans opted to drive instead of fly on commercial airlines. The reason was presumably fear. Airplanes can get hijacked. Driving a car would seem to be safer. But it wasn’t.  Use of air travel by Americans fell 12-20% in the year following the attacks, while automobile deaths increased around 1,595.  That number is about half the number that died in the terror attacks. Americans unknowingly embraced the real danger of automobile accidents to avoid the potential danger of terrorist attacks. The tradeoff was there, but not as obvious as those who died in the twin towers. 

In another example this author attempts to track “indirect deaths” from the Japanese earthquake in 2011. “Following the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, which left more than 18,000 dead or unaccounted for, roughly 3,700 people have been recognized as victims of indirect death, including 2,250 in Fukushima Prefecture, where large numbers of people were forced to move from one evacuation shelter to another due to the radioactive fallout from the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.” The choice to move out of earthquake damaged buildings into shelters took lives as well. 

These kinds of numbers are the domain of public health and epidemiology. However, panic and widespread fear can distort our perceptions of reality. Fear can make us focus on one danger so intensely that we don’t see the speeding car that is about to hit us.

The massive an unprecedented steps we are taking to save lives from the coronavirus may indeed reduce deaths in this one area (and we should pursue that), but we should not be ignorant or indifferent to the impact of our actions.  It may end up that the response to the coronavirus is the largest and most coordinated disaster in US history.  Bringing entire cultural, political, economic, and healthcare ecosystems to a halt will cost lives as well. 

In my estimation this is an important part of the equation that we are not talking about. After listening to a podcast with Dr Marty Makary a public health expert from Johns Hopkins, I was concerned that the tradeoffs were given very little consideration. To be fair, he admitted that half of Americans have less than $400 cash available. This is far less than a person needs to purchase 3 months worth of food (his recommendation) to allow one to shelter in place.  Experts are asking us to deliberately cause one very certain disaster in order to avoid another very scary potential one based on the projections of experts.   We cannot carefully make these decisions without seeing the cost on both sides.   

Here are some areas where there will be a price to pay in lives. I have posed them as questions:

What is the life/health impact of shutting down all nonemergency medical and dental care for months? I worked in EMS as a paramedic in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties from 1995 to 2006. We ran emergency calls at doctor’s offices constantly. People come in for routine care only to find out they had a serious problem. What would happen if we shut down the regular non-emergency healthcare of for the whole nation (330 million people)?   And this is exactly what has already happened in California.  The shelter in place order that was issued affected around 23 counties without a confirmed case of the virus at the time of the order. 

What is the health impact of a potential worldwide depression/recession on personal health insurance, stress, and nutrition?  

What is the health impact of millions people losing their jobs, retirement savings & homes? Especially among the lower income poor and self employed?   This can lead to huge amounts of stress and all the poor outcomes that come with it (addiction, PTSD related to disaster, suicide). 

What is the health impact of people staying away or delaying care from the ER for serious illnesses out of fear of infection? (This has been happening in our town) A person with an infected appendix or gall bladder that waits an additional 12 hours to get help can become much worse off. 

What is the impact on pregnancy stress from our response on maternal and newborn health in pregnancy?  It is known that miscarriages, premature births and neonatal deaths all go up in time of national disaster. This can be related to stress and/or women not getting routine preventive care.  This article discusses the effects after hurricane Sandy.

This 2015 article suggests 4.4% loss of male fetuses (which are more sensitive to stress) following the Taiwan earthquake. 

I want our government officials to take action. But let’s not pretend that the only thing that matters is saving lives from Coronavirus. There is much more going on here.  We need leaders that can see and acknowledge the whole situation, including the devastating impact of their own policies.

A Bad Definition of Racism

Source: How you define racism may stop you from seeing it where it exists | Metro News

In my opinion the ideas in this article are a huge part of the problem in the current conversation about race and racism. “How you define racism may keep you from seeing it” or it may make you see it everywhere. Even when it doesn’t exist. This article reflects a hugely political and ideological perspective. And I don’t concede these concepts or definitions. I think true Justice means we have one standard that applies to everyone, not different standards based on alleged “power dynamics.”

BTW, it’s a cute fallacy to suggest that disagreeing with these concepts is proof of racism.

The approach outlined in this article that defines racism via power dynamics leads to the idea that only whites can be racist, and that the things they do are racist by definition, almost like original sin. As a Christian I disagree with this definition because I think the Bible’s is better and closer to the one they are trying to bury.

Further, this definition inevitably leads to assuming the worst of other people, especially their motives. And it results in something being called racist when a white person does it but not when a minority does it.  That is a double standard by definition.  For instance I have heard that when a white person asks a black person if they work at a store, it is a form of microaggression because it assumes they are servants. That assumption is ridiculous. That MIGHT be true. But it also might be true that someone needs help. Just last month I was at home depot and a black man asked me if I worked there and if I could help him find something. Inside I thought about this concept of power dynamics and laughed at the idea that his question was some kind of insult to me.  I did not consider it a compliment or an insult. It was just a case of someone trying to find something they need. I politely said I didn’t work here but thought the items he was looking for were on such and such an aisle because I had passed by them. We both smiled. He thanked me and we carried on. I guess I was dressed like one of their employees. This kind of thing has happened to me many times in a variety of stores and there is no benefit to trying to impute some sinister motive.

Love means you don’t assume the worst possible motive for a person’s actions, especially when they aren’t overtly evil. And that is what this approach does. It assumes that all white people are unconsciously trying to exert their power over minorities.  I believe that this assumption itself is actually an unloving and inaccurate stereotype that is guilty of doing the exact thing it is claims to remedy. By the way, some white people are trying to intimidate or impose their will on minorities. And some minorities are trying to do the same thing to white folks. And prideful acts, malice, or oppression are wrong no matter who is doing it.

I do agree that some of the things mentioned in this article can be hurtful or abusive and are worth discussing. But there is one standard for people from minority and majority cultures.  And that standard is love and humility.

 

 

 

The Not-so-secret Secret to Job Success

I am recently reminded of a growing work ethic problem. There are a number of workers (and unemployed people) that don’t understand basic issues of responsibility and reliability. It seems that simply showing up is becoming  a problem.. I have had several recent conversations with employers that have highlighted this.
A friend who is a director of a non-profit that works with children is trying to hire an entry level worker, and he pays several dollars an hour more than comparable jobs.  9 people submitted resumes, but none of them have returned his requests for interviews, or showed up for the interview once it was scheduled.
A friend who runs a large dental practice said it is very difficult to find reliable office help. He said he routinely has to hire 10 people in order to find 2 that will be able to maintain employment. The “no call/no show” is a common problem. People just don’t come to work, and they don’t call with warning or explanation.
Many years ago I was a training officer at an ambulance company and worked with new hires.  The majority of people (most of them younger) who were fired, lost their job because of chronic attendance/tardiness (NOT family or medical issues) and other simple issues like wearing the proper uniform. (And the uniforms were provided by a laundry service)   These were NOT entry level employees, but folks with years of education and licenses.
I also worked as an externship coordinator at a vocational school. Same story. The major complaints from potential employers (clinics, doctor’s office managers, etc) had little to do with technical skills and everything to do with attendance, attitude, staying off your cell phone at work, avoiding drama, etc. Almost all these problems involved attitude and life skills that don’t cost anything in terms of education or accomplishments.
If you want to bypass 80% of the competition in the workforce… if you want to keep a steady job… if you want to promote and be given more responsibility the first steps are simple: Show up on time, be ready to work, and do your job without having a babysitter.  Hard work covers a multitude of sins in the work place.

Frustrated By The Fringes On the 4th

flag in the clowds

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this year, I have some anxiety about the polarized conversations that are coming, especially on social media. I feel like the last few years have seen two groups shouting at each other on account of this holiday. These groups may have been the fringe in the past, but they seem to be gaining ground. And the message of both sides leave me frustrated.

There are those with an irrational love of America that keeps them from acknowledging her faults, both past and present. These folks are offended by any suggestion that America has blood on her hands or mud on her face.  These folks are often very patriotic, and tend to whitewash history. Many of them confuse Christianity with America. They view any criticism of the U.S. and her history as a stab at all the brave soldiers who defended our country.  It is sometimes hard to take this group seriously, but they should not be ignored, as our last election revealed.

On the other hand there are a growing number with an irrational hatred of America that can only see her faults. They are so focused on fighting the nationalist zeal of the first group that they can only see her failings.  They simmer in the sins of the past (and their effects in the present) to such an extent that it blinds them to her virtues. They don’t see bad groups of people doing bad things contrary to our written values, as happens in every country in history.  They consider the worst elements of our country to be her essence.  This group can’t appreciate that the principles of our republic, while imperfectly applied (an understatement), have at least provided the possibility of excising her cancer. After all, history tells us that without freedom of speech you can’t criticize such a powerful government without bloodshed. Many in this group would like to see America as we know it destroyed and replaced.

I believe there is another position, and I would like to strive to attain to it.  I am probably too idealistic.  It is a position as a Christian where my highest loyalty is NOT to my country. Only Jesus is Lord. I think this allows me to be a true patriot, one that can love my country and yet honestly point out her failings. And one that allows me to condemn her sins precisely because I love the virtues of freedom and equality under the law. I would also like to be one that can see her faults and failures in full color, and yet avoid hating her people and her principles.  We don’t have to choose between ignoring America’s vices and loving her virtues. We don’t have to choose between being proud of our country and ashamed (often at the same time) of the many times she has missed the mark.

I love America, not because she is flawless or even the greatest country ever, but because she is my home. I do love the American experiment of democracy and freedom. I love her with all her faults, but I don’t love her supremely.  I ache for a day when she will shed the rest of her sins and trade them for something better.  I am heartbroken that the dreams of America have been elusive to so many, and I long for better days.

So I offer this for your consideration: The only way to love your country and not be corrupted by that love, is to have a higher and better love.

Happy 4th of July.

Our Problem With Public Apologies

I just had a thought, are there any similarities between Kathy Griffin’s apology for a mock beheading of Trump, and other public apologies from the right side of the isle (just reflect on what happened before the election with Trump and his treatment of women)?
Do we have a problem with public apologies as a culture (maybe as human beings), rather than just partisan problem? Do we have a problem with apologies that are designed more for PR and damage control than honestly accepting responsibility for bad behavior? Do we as Americans have problems blaming others for our transgressions rather than owning them without qualification?
What would it look like to say: I was wrong, there is no excuse for that. No one else is to blame for my choices but me. I am sorry for the damage I have caused and apologize to those I hurt. I am going to do what I can to make amends, and I accept the consequences.
 
This is really, really, hard. But I think anything less hurts everyone involved. When we are more concerned with saving face, than owning the truth we perpetuate the problem.
This is a hot topic, just google the issue of organizations, governments, law enforcement, or doctors apologizing and you will see that we have a big problem.

Discipleship in the “Age of Authenticity” | TGC

 

This is a very important article, in my opinion.

You should read it, maybe twice, if you want to gain some perspective about what is really happening in our culture. It is beyond left and right. And it is likely that you are aware of this as a problem existing in other people rather than yourself.

Personal expression as a moral virtue has become an unquestionable absolute. It is driving the bus. To suggest that it might not be a virtue is blasphemy. It rages against any other idea or obligation- historical, political, biological, familial, or religious. While it promises fulfillment it will leave a trail of broken promises that are an opportunity to speak about a better way.

 

Source: Discipleship in the “Age of Authenticity” | TGC

All Our Good Guys are also Bad Guys: Steve Jobs

Last night my wife and I watched the documentary  Steve Jobs-The Man in the Machine. It is now available on Netflix, and I think it is worth your time.

The film is a depiction of his life that includes his darker side, which was largely lost in the hero worship of the wider culture. It is full of original footage and lots of interviews with people close to him.

This essay reflects on some of the themes in the film. While I don’t agree with all that the author says (who ever does?), the big picture is spot on. All of our good guys are also bad guys. One point that comes across so well is that Steve Jobs was celebrated and promoted even though he was such a bad person. Those around him, and the broader culture was willing to accept so much evil because he gave people what they wanted. When and why we turn a blind eye to evil may be one of the most revealing tests of character there is.

That is a sobering reality.

Here is the conclusion of the essay:

“Jobs did not need to be cruel, but he chose to be; we did not need to reward him with our dollars, but we chose to. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine shows us, because we desperately need to be reminded, that all our good guys are bad guys. Lest the viewers judge too harshly, though, the film’s implicit concluding argument is, essentially, that we are allbad guys—not just Steve Jobs, but also Steve Wozniak, Bob Belleville, you, and me—because we tolerate and even admire such outward cruelty. The screen of an iPhone dims after 30 seconds, but, thank God, grace shines the light of forgiveness when we are alone in the darkness we allow and the darkness we create.”

Only in the grace of God do we find the hero and leader that instead of exploiting us, lays down his life for us.

 

Life Lesson on Money

I found this in an old journal entry. An idea that impressed me a while ago and when I read it, I was glad that I written it down. I was encouraged and convicted by my own words:

In financial matters there can be a considerable delay between decisions, actions, and results. Choices made today may not be felt for weeks or months, either for good or bad. Therefore we must think ahead! It is like planting and watering. This is hard to remember when we live in a world obsessed with the instantaneous and the impulsive.

Feminists Have Succeeded in Becoming The Men They Hated

Wow.

I am not a Catholic but have appreciated some of the observations I find at “First Things.”  The author of this article, “If Women Ran The World,” eloquently describes some of the most destructive elements of feminism today.  And she does it by sharing their own words.  The whole article is worth reading.

From time to time when I comment on feminist ideas, someone reminds me that that the particular view in question doesn’t represent all feminists.  Fair enough. But there are too many permutations for me to keep it straight. So I won’t dare suggest that this represents all feminists.

Here is what is clear to me. First, many of the most prominent feminist voices in journalism and politics today (like the one quoted below) represent destructive ideas that do not represent mainstream thinking. Second, they do not represent the ideas of feminists from a previous age. They wanted respect and equality. They condemned the bad behavior of men in a specific way. But they didn’t want to imitate it.

Elizabeth Scalia quotes a significant feminist voice:

“Writing for The Atlantic in September of 2012, Hanna Rosin argued that the “hookup culture” so prevalent on college campuses and in the lives of young adults is “an engine of female progress—one being harnessed and driven by women themselves.” She wrote:

‘To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.’

In other words, women have succeeded in becoming the men they hated.”

Source: If Women Ran the World | Elizabeth Scalia | First Things

An Old Prediction About Trump, the Left, National Pride, And Scapegoating

Here is a fascinating, deep, albeit brief look at something unexpected: A liberal philosopher predicts of the rise of a Trump-like figure 20 years ago based on the worst elements of the left’s political  and philosophical blunders. He is not the only one to make such an observation (note the linked video from Jonathan Pie is one profound explanation of the rise of Trump, but it is NSFW- lots of bad language). Back to Rorty. He explains:

“National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals, a necessary condition for self-improvement”

My thoughts: A few things that are becoming more apparent to me:

The political left despises America, many of its historic values, and many of its citizens. They don’t want to improve America so much as bury it and create something new in its place.

The modern left, just as the neoconservative movement, has departed from it’s more historic values (liberalism).

In the article there is another insightful paragraph. In trying to remove the stigma from minorities and the underprivileged, the left has shifted it onto middle class white people. Many of them were glad to throw it back.

The lesson? Demonization doesn’t work.

“Rorty’s only issue with identity politics was that the left, having worked so hard to transfer stigmatic cruelty away from received categories like race and gender, had done too little to prevent that stigma from landing on class—and that the white working class, finding itself abandoned by both the free-market right and the identity left, would be all too eager to transfer that stigma back to minorities, immigrants, gays, and coastal élites.”

Source: Richard Rorty’s Philosophical Argument for National Pride – The New Yorker