Good Friday Morning, except to Chief Justice John Roberts, whose judicial opinions bewilder everyone. My prediction was that the Chief would overrule Hellerstedt and return abortion law to where it was before 2016. I was wrong, he wrote a lengthy opinion talking about how much stare decisis matters with a four-year-old opinion. It made little sense, and though I could sit here and rationalize it, I don’t feel like wasting time. I’ve written much in the past about a path forward on abortion, that avoids some of these trappings. I still think those ideas are valid and plan on publishing as much in the near future.
This week, we start out talking about how coronavirus testing works, before broadening out into a broader point of how the past dictates the present and future. Links to follow.
- As we celebrate Independence Day, it’s important to revisit certain people, places, and articles that define who we are as a nation. Frederick Douglass wrote, what is perhaps, the best case for the Fourth of July by anyone in American history. His article was titled: “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Douglass lived in an era of slavery and yet still made a case for the principles of the American Founding.
- The second important statement comes from Abraham Lincoln. His second inaugural address, short by today’s standards, is engraved on the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln would be assassinated only a few weeks later. But, like the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln had a way so summarizing everything that was good about the American Republic.
Where you can find me this week
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Don’t blame the public for mask skepticism – The Conservative Institute.
The culture wars won’t solve any problems – The Conservative Institute.
We only have the past and human nature to predict the future
Both liberty and equality are among the primary goals pursued by human beings throughout many centuries; but total liberty for wolves is death to the lambs, total liberty of the powerful, the gifted, is not compatible with the rights to a decent existence of the weak and the less gifted.
Isaiah Berlin (1909 – 1997)
I started last week talking about what was griping me then about the news, and I’m doing the same thing again. But the gripe leads to a more important point I want to make, as we’ll get to in a bit.
My gripe is this: Too many coronavirus stories say something like, “State X has the highest cases reported today as Phase # reopening starts today.” They want to link current policies, to present numbers. That’s exactly wrong, though. Testing results never tell you what is happening in a state that day or even that week. COVID-19 test results show you what was happening days or weeks in the past. Testing shows us past behavior that gives us present knowledge, that we then use to predict future events.
To understand this, you have to know the virus timeline and its incubation period. This information is from the CDC:
The incubation period for COVID-19 is thought to extend to 14 days, with a median time of 4-5 days from exposure to symptoms onset. One study reported that 97.5% of persons with COVID-19 who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
If you’re experiencing symptoms aligned with COVID-19, then you get tested. But by the time we get the results, it’s potentially been more than two weeks since you were exposed. The test doesn’t reveal you got the virus that day but were exposed many, many, days or weeks ago. Testing is a lagging indicator of past behavior.
It’s the same story from the CDC on the worse cases that involve hospitalizations:
Among patients who developed severe disease, the medium time to dyspnea from the onset of illness or symptoms ranged from 5 to 8 days, the median time to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) from the onset of illness or symptoms ranged from 8 to 12 days, and the median time to ICU admission from the onset of illness or symptoms ranged from 10 to 12 days. Clinicians should be aware of the potential for some patients to rapidly deteriorate one week after illness onset. Among all hospitalized patients, a range of 26% to 32% of patients were admitted to the ICU. Among all patients, a range of 3% to 17% developed ARDS compared to a range of 20% to 42% for hospitalized patients and 67% to 85% for patients admitted to the ICU. Mortality among patients admitted to the ICU ranges from 39% to 72% depending on the study and characteristics of patient population. The median length of hospitalization among survivors was 10 to 13 days.
When I’ve given updates on the coronavirus in Tennessee to people, I’ve harped heavily on hospitalization numbers because it takes so long for those kinds of cases to recover. Hospitalizations are also even more of a past indicator. Deaths typically follow the hospitalization spike, so it’s a tiered issue. One follows the other.
If you look at Johns Hopkins University’s 7-day rolling average of the positivity rate, everything looks fine until you hit mid-June. All of a sudden, despite an increasing number of tests, the positivity rate starts going up. If both the number of tests and the positivity rate are going up at the same time, you’re experiencing a faster spread of the virus. But it’s not an immediate spread; those tests tell you what was happening throughout the first half of June. As we get into July, the tests will tell us what was happening as June wrapped up.
COVID-19 is a reportable disease, meaning that the state you live in must know that you have it. Their job is to prevent an outbreak. When stories come out about places like New York refusing to have their contact tracers ask if a person attended a protest, you know you’re dealing with deeply dishonest hacks betraying their public health duty. That level of deception is just as dangerous as people refusing to wear a mask.
Each of them will always abuse his freedom if he has none above him who exercises power in accord with the laws. The highest ruler should be just in himself, and still be a human. This task is therefore the hardest of all; indeed, its complete solution is impossible, for from such crooked wood as a human is made can nothing quite straight ever be fashioned. Only the approximation of this idea is imposed upon us by nature.
Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)
That bolded section in Kant’s quote was popularized by Isaiah Berlin, a 20th-century political scientist, and theorist. You can’t make anything straight from the crooked timber of humanity. That’s why Kant argues that humans need a higher power to keep them in check; that’s what he means by the “highest ruler.”
And in essence, I think it sums up the problem we’re encountering with the coronavirus. At this point, we do need state power to step in and direct human behavior because typical social cues are falling apart. We aren’t following all the required procedures to defeat the virus. In part, that’s due, as much to bad information by the government, as everyone refusing to be responsible. But its impossible to know how bad we are in the moment, so we’re forced to look backward to read the present and predict the future. And if you look at our first round with the virus, arresting a steep climb in cases was predictive of future success.
Humans are notoriously bad at future predictions. Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise, lists all the different ways humans miss on forecasts. With the coronavirus, it’s impossible to predict because we’re always reacting to the situation through the results of tests, not controlling the situation. We’re responding to what our behavior was 2-3 weeks ago. And what’s more, all the variables have changes in a second round.
We’re examining ourselves, the crooked timber, and trying to adjust accordingly. It’s an impossible and thankless task. And the slower politicians are to react, the farther behind human behavior they fall. That’s why Democratic Governors and Mayors who said they were waiting on the federal government to tell them what to do, states like NY, MI, and others, all failed the coronavirus test. But we’re seeing another failure in the present from red-state Governors who did respond adequately at first, but now their citizens are not reacting responsibly.
The past shows up in other stories too
I was talking to a friend this week, and we were discussing the protests and how portions of it seemed familiar. It seems Solomon was right; there truly is nothing new under the sun. Because the left-wing cancel culture so prominent now, even among what I’d call left-wing evangelicals, it’s easy to see this as a rehashed version of the moral majority of the ’80s and ’90s. The various kinds of boycotts of businesses or advertisers, the attempts to reshape culture, and on and on it goes.
Of course, the moral majority didn’t invent any of these things either. They were a reactionary movement, born from watching the excesses of the ’60s and ’70s. Progressive culture imploded as Nixon took office. If you think things are bad now, we had daily domestic terrorist bombings throughout the late ’60s into the ’70s. If that were happening now, the moral panic we’re witnessing would move to another level.
But even the hippies and protestors of the mid-20th century didn’t happen in a vacuum. They were responding to the post-war world of the 1950s. And nothing in the war period occurred in a vacuum, either. The farther you march back, the more you find causes and inflection points. I think it was Isaiah Berlin, who said that most political commentators started the modern world with WWII. The smarter commentators started with WWI. The historians go back to the American and French Revolutions to describe the contemporary world.
And that’s probably accurate because while both the American and French Revolutions had their causes, the chain of events set off reset all of history. After that, you’d have to go to the Russian Revolution to find something similar.
These protests and the debates we’re having over monuments are like the coronavirus tests. They’re a signal that we’ve failed to deal with some problems in our past. Every time we have one of these national conversations on race, we end up doing the same thing. We talk about monuments. We never both fixing the real issues that people, especially blacks, point to as the real problem.
We’re going to end up back at this same kind of moment. And it’s going to happen because we’ve done little to address police brutality or accountability issues. The irony is that we did things correctly; we could solve the problem and hire more police officers to drop crime levels even lower than the post-90s numbers.
In that sense, our profoundly unserious manner in attacking the virus reflects the same of our decisions on a myriad of issues. It demonstrates our healthcare debates, our racial relations debates, and the national debt. If you can’t get people lined up to wear a mask, how can you expect the crooked timber that is America fix these other problems?
Leadership and politicians come from that same crooked timber. For the most part, they reflect the same tendencies of the public. The best leaders don’t do that; they encourage people to become a straight piece of lumber, capable of building something grand. But that’s not where we are right now.
Kant had another applicable quote:
Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.
I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide which one we are right now.
Links of the week
Record-Setting Gun Sales Could Leave Stores Dry: Florida retailer: ‘Everything was literally sold out’ – Stephen Gutowski, Washington Free Beacon
I’m a Black American. I Need a Gun to Feel Safe in This Country. Some Black Americans never considered buying a gun. Until now. – Chloe Brown, Tarikh Brown, Nylah Burton, Anubis Heru, Lawrence Taylor, and Kat Traylor, The New York Times
Good Luck Promoting Gun Confiscation during an Era of Booming Gun Sales – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Leave Lincoln Out of It: The Lincoln Project partakes of the spirit of a famous Republican president—but he’s not its namesake. – Andrew Ferguson, The Atlantic
AOC Touts Support from Anti-Semitic Groups for Israel Letter: BDS leaders endorse anti-Israel letter from the ‘Squad’ – Adam Kredo, Washington Free Beacon
Kneeling in the Church of Social Justice: America certainly has work to do on race, but ritual and symbolic acts aren’t the way forward. – John McWhorter, Reason Magazine
Teenage bloodbath: the 2010s in review – Sam Kriss
Massachusetts city recognizes polyamorous ‘civil partnerships’ – Christine Rousselle, Catholic News Agency
What Happens to Fashion When Exclusivity Stops Being Chic? In the fashion industry, elitism is supposed to be a feature not a bug. But, darling, elitism is so last season. – Phoebe Maltz Bovy, Arc Digital
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Tourists Flock From Around Country To View Ancient Ruins Of CHAZ – The Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!