Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Why Are We Practicing Social Distancing?

Okay, time for one more story. It's about a Hungarian named Ignaz Semmelweis. He lived in the 1800s and he was a doctor and a scientist. In the year 1847, he was working at Vienna General Hospital. Like most hospitals, Vienna General Hospital had a midwife clinic where babies were delivered by midwives, but it also had a Obstetrical Clinic, where babies were delivered by doctors. Today, if you were given a choice, you'd probably choose the doctor. But not back then. See, the Vienna General Hospital Obstetrical Clinic had a reputation. Everyone in Vienna believed women who went to the doctors would die. How they picked which clinic you went to was based on what day of the month it was, but women would fight to go to the midwives instead of the doctors. Some women even had their babies on the street rather than set foot in the Obstetrical Clinic. Looking back on records now, we can see that this reputation was deserved. Women in the Obstetrical Clinic were three times more likely to die than women in the midwife clinic. This troubled Ignaz Semmelweis. He realized that even the women on the street were surviving better than the women in his OB clinic. He began a devoted study of the corpses of women who had died in the Obstetrical Clinic. He was determined to figure out what was causing these deaths and stop it. He would go to the morgue whenever he could sneak in time between deliveries. Most of the medical students would do the same. Then, one day, while using a scalpel to examine one of the corpses, Semmelweis accidentally cut his friend, Jakob Kolletschka, with the scalpel.
Kollectschka became ill. And the more ill he became, the more that Semmelweis realized he was dying with the same symptoms as the women. Kollectschka died on the 13 March 1847, and everything about his death drove home that he had died in the same way as the women in the OB clinic. Semmelweis began to develop a theory. He proposed that some sort of "cadaverous particles" were traveling from the corpses to the delivering women, and that these were causing the illnesses and deaths. He proposed a rigorous regimen of handwashing be instituted across the hospital. In 1846, the mortality rate among all women in the OB clinic had been 11.4%. In April of 1847, it had been 18.3%--literally almost 1 in 5 women who gave birth there died. He implemented the handwashing procedures in May. In June, the mortality rate dropped to 2.2%. In July, the mortality rate dropped to 1.2%. In 1848, they had two months where the mortality rate was zero, something they'd never accomplish before in either ward. You would think this would have changed medicine forever. But doctors, like most of us, are a stubborn lot, and resistant to new ideas. Semmelweis was mocked and ridiculed until he was eventually driven into an asylum after a nervous breakdown. Handwashing wasn't widely accepted until Luis Pasteur developed a more fully fleshed out germ theory years later. But the moral of this story isn't about handwashing. I've seen a lot of posts on social media that say things like, "We are practicing social distancing so that the scared among us can feel safe." or "You should be able allowed to decide what level of risk is acceptable to you, and I should be allowed to decide what level of risk is acceptable to me." There is an uncomfortable reality in Semmelweis's story that is obvious to us, as wise modern readers looking back on the problem. If you asked a doctor what was causing the deaths of the women, he might say, "Germs." But if you asked a philosopher, he might say "Semmelweis." It was Semmelweis who was carrying the disease back and forth from the cadavers to the women. It was Semmelweis who infected their bodies and made orphans of their children. He didn't want this. His deepest wish was to stop it from happening. But germs and viruses don't work based off feelings. You aren't being asked to wear masks and close businesses and stay home because of the chance that healthy, young, vibrant you will become like the women in Vienna General. You are being asked to do these things because of the chance that healthy, young, vibrant you will become like Ignaz Semmelweis. For all his work with women who died, Semmelweis himself never contracted the disease. You aren't being asked to stay out of the park because you, alone, are going to die of being outside. You are asked to stay out of the park because if everyone in your town who isn't working all rushed to the park with their children, the overcrowded park could become Vienna General. There are times in our lives when, in order to continue to secure the blessings of freedom for ourselves and our posterity, we have to promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense. I encourage you to read more about the sacrifices that were made by those who have gone before you. Read about World War II, not just about the battles, but about the sacrifices made on the home front. About the ways that Mothers struggled, they ways that families did without, the way that time and money and sweat went into helping the boys at the front bring freedom and liberation to Europe. Now, all of that said, are there overreaches in many of the current plans? Absolutely. Do we need to worry about politicians seeking to extend necessary elements of the plan past the outbreak? Of course we do. But let's talk about them like grown-ups, who recognize that there aren't easy answers, that solutions will be complicated, and that there really is a crisis facing the nation.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Reactions to Common Reactions to COVID-19

Here are my reactions to common reactions to COVID-19.
1. "It only kills the sick and elderly." - This argument makes it sound like you are fine with those two categories of people dying. Just because YOU won't die of it, doesn't mean we shouldn't make sure it stops long before it gets to those who can.
And in case you think "sick" means "already on their death bed anyway," be clear that the CDC page on who is considered "high risk" includes such illnesses as heart disease and diabetes. Stop and think about everyone you know who has one of these two diseases.
2. "This statistic I found makes it seem like COVID-19 isn't a big deal compared with something we deal with all the time." - The statistic you are looking at is probably a bad statistic. For example, a common statistic I see compares the number of deaths worldwide of different things to the number of deaths from COVID-19. This statistic is just silly. Comparing a statistic from worldwide issues to something that, so far, is happening in specific regions, is not a great comparison.
There is only one set of statistics that would be meaningful--a statistic that compared the number of deaths in a region fully infected by COVID-19 during a set period of time to deaths by other causes in that exact same region during that same period of time.
Also, remember how the flu works. Practically nobody dies of the flu. Even the large number that is being tossed around is not a number of deaths due to the regular flu--it's the number of people who died because the flu caused some other complication. For example, it weakened their immune system, they caught something like pneumonia, and then they died of THAT. The number of people who die from the actual flu itself and not something else is super tiny.
The same goes with this, PLUS people can actually die FROM THIS.
3. "This is just a cold." No, it's not.
This page shows the difference between what a cold virus looks like and a flu virus looks like:
You've probably seen a ton of pictures online of what COVID-19 looks like. Note the super pronounced neuraminidase.
Don't know what a neuraminidase is? Then maybe you're not an expert on the difference between a cold and a flu.
4. "I don't think we need to go into a full blown panic over this." - Of course we don't. There is a huge spectrum between "do nothing" and "full-blown panic." And the thing we need to do lies somewhere in the middle.
The problem is that some people are calling doing ANYTHING a panic, when it's not.
What we should be talking about is the difference between reasonable precautions and unreasonable precautions, not labeling anything anyone does as hysteria.
5. "Not a lot of people are going to die from this." - The real question is, even if it didn't kill a single person, what happens when a huge percentage of our population is sick at the same time?
Imagine this was just the normal flu, but the only change was you could go a week being contagious without knowing it?
Couldn't you see how that would still be a massive problem?
If I'm a small business and my only two employees both are out with the virus?
Or if the CVS warehouse that ships my prescriptions is suddenly operating at 50% capacity because half its workers are out with the virus, couldn't that affect me in ways that aren't related to the virus?
Or half the gas stations in town have the majority of their employees all out sick with the flu?
Or if every policeman in your town eats donuts out of the same tray and suddenly all get sick at the same time?
I think there's more to this than a scoreboard that's measured with a number that is solely "How many people died directly from coronavirus."
This isn't about ONLY trying to prevent deaths from COVID-19. It's about trying to prevent all the problems that would come from a huge chunk of our nation suddenly all becoming sick with the flu at the same time. The burden that would put on hospitals should be obvious--even if they manage to save everybody--but the burden that would put all over our economy is just as big a problem.
And the burden it puts on hospitals suddenly becomes a big deal when you show up with some other, unrelated medical issue, but they can't help you because they're so overwhelmed by patients dealing with this thing.
Just please, consider that a lot of really smart people are trying their best to help everyone they can, and don't be too quick to assume there is some sinister or political or conspiratorial motivation behind all of this.
The faster we help this blow over, the faster we can get on with our happy, healthy lives.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Timothy Sandefur on his Brother, Daniel Kaufman

My friend, Timothy Sandefur, wrote this tribute to his brother, who died in the San Bernardino shootings.

I did not know Daniel well at all. Many of my friends did. The Venn diagram of his and my circles of friends overlapped in a lot of places. All our mutual friends have described the same funny, friendly, compassionate person Tim does.

I do know Tim. And while it may seem weird to describe a high-school friend as someone who is obsessed with issues of morality, that's exactly who he is--a man who deeply and passionately ponders morality, and consequently has become someone deeply and passionately moral.

Their parents raised two good sons. My heart breaks for their family.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Steve Ditko On Flawed Superheroes


This video includes a message from Steve Ditko. Steve Ditko was the co-creator of Spider-man. He was also a very firm Objecivist, and created superheros who exemplified Objectivist principles.

 In this video, he explains a bit about his philosophies about art, and how art should create heroes who can be looked up to.

 I can't find a complete transcript anywhere online, but a chunk of the message is here.

 My favorite bit has to be this line:

Today’s flawed superheroes are superior in physical strength but common, average, ordinary in mental strength – rich in superpowers, but bankrupt in reasoning powers. They are perfect in overcoming the flawed supervillains, saving the world, the universe!, yet helpless to solve their common, average, ordinary personal problems. It is like creating a perfectly physical adult with the reasoning limits of a six-year-old.”

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Quick Lesson On How To Not Like Something.

You know what I have zero interest in?


I'll probably never watch another zombie movie in my life.

You know what would be a rather silly direction to go with that particular feeling?

Something like: "No one should ever make another zombie movie ever again because now that I'm tired of zombies, everyone should be tired of zombies."

Dear internet: feel free to bookmark this post to reference later, should you be looking for a stopping point in your efforts to not like something.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On the idea that Evil is more honest than Good

A while ago, I posted about clouds. And with that post about clouds, there was a quote from C S Lewis, a quote about how we're often led to believe that we should dismiss things that make us feel joy as being fluffy and sentimental, while negative experiences that make us feel unsettled or fearful or depressed are "the way things really are."

I want to talk about a related idea, which is this:

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Dragon and the Princess - A Counting Book - Now on Kickstarter!

Hey, folks!

So, Logan Uber, my brother-in-law, has a publishing company.  And recently he had good success with an alphabet book he published, S is for Ska: A Musical Alphabet Book by Geoff Munn, author of the comic Kiosk Life in Neutral.

The book had good success, so Logan wanted to see if he could repeat it with a counting book.  He recruited me to write the thing, and Mina Sanwald, an illustrator and animator out of New York, to draw the thing.  She's pretty awesome--she's worked with Bill Plympton and does a lot of work with Copic Markers-- I don't mean drawing, I mean stuff like how she's taken over the Copic marker twitter account this weekend to cover New York Comic Con.

Naturally, me being me, I wasn't going to turn in "One apple. Two dolphins" and call it a day.  I wanted this book to actually have a story.

But I also knew the book wasn't really going to be about the words--it was going to be about the art.  Logan actually got his start selling prints, and part of the goal of this project was to produce a lot of pictures that people would also want to buy to put on their wall.

The result was a lot of fun.  It was a lot like comic book writing in the sense that I was trying to create visuals that would be interesting, but not get so in-depth about the visuals that the artist just felt like they were drawing my picture.  In some ways, this project was about restraint.  Tell the story in few words, because it was really about the pictures and the counting, and evoke cool pictures, but leave enough to the artist that she could have fun with it.

You can get Mina's thoughts on the project here.

Because this is 2013, we're launching the project on Kickstarter.  You can get the eBook version for $5, and there are still some chances left to get the softcover and eBook bundle for $15.

Go check it out.  There's even a video where I talk about why I decided to go with a Dragon and a Princess and a couple other things.  There's sketches of the artwork and a bunch of other things to see.

Any support you can give by backing, linking, or sharing is super appreciated.

Check it out at

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Logical Fallacy of the Day

Logical fallacy of the day: "If someone doesn't agree with the way you want to solve a problem, they don't care about the problem."

Example: You work in the birth unit of a hospital, and you and a co worker realize that every night, rats are running around in the nursery. Some have even made it into the bassinets with the babies.

That evening, you discover that, to solve the problem, your co-worker is duct taping the babies to the ceiling to keep them away from the rats. 

"I don't think that's a good idea," you say.

His response: "So I guess you don't care if the rats eat the babies."

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Only Thing Wrong With Free Comic Book Day (And How To Fix It)

Free Comic Book Day is great.

If you haven't heard of it, it's a once a year celebration of all things comics, when a bunch of comic book stores give a way a bunch of free comic books.  And some comic book stores go all out, hosting massive events with costumes, comic book creators, and other fun stuff.  My local comic book shop, 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga, goes all out. Here's a video the amazing Kurk Kushin shot a few years back that will give you some idea:

Looks amazing, right? Bounce houses, free hot dogs, kids in costumes. They've even had "pro" style wrestling exhibitions. My kids almost always dress up, and deciding what to wear is a bigger deal than Halloween.

And Free Comic Book Day is doing its job--I've brought friends and family who otherwise hadn't set foot in a comic book shop, and gives the kids a gateway drug to the comics.

So there's no reason not to go. You should go. It's always the first Saturday in May, the day after the premiere of that year's first big comic book related blockbuster movie. Seriously, go here and find out where your local comic book shop is, and put it in your calendar today.

So if I'm telling you that you have to go, whats the problem?

The problem is that the books aren't really free. Not to the comic book shop. Or to the publishers. And that means there have to be realistic limitations on how many comics each person can actually take. And that can be disappointing.

Go here and you can see all the comics that are supposed to be available this year. As of this writing, there are 52 comics that are available. They cost the comic book store owner around 12 cents to 50 cents per copy. So if the shop were to get everybody all 52 issues, that would be at least 10 bucks a person. For a shop getting a couple thousand vistors, like 4 Color, that would mean at least $20,000 in costs that day. Add in the free hot dogs, bounce house rental, the cost to fly in the visiting talent--yeah, you just can't give everybody everything.

There's an article about the difficulties FCBD costs can have for shop owners here.

I've seen every possible way of handling this by comic book shops.

One shop in Riverside limits to two per customer, with a rule of "I get to pick one and you can pick the other." In some ways this is silly--since "the one I I get to pick" is always the same book, a family of four, like mine, leaves the shop with four identical copies of one title, which does not actually increase his chances by four times that my family will end up buying that title. It just means he missed an opportunity to market us a few different titles with free copies of another book.

Other shops just put a limit of, say, five books per person, and I consider that pretty reasonable. It's all "while supplies last" so if the 500 people who came before you all got the copy of the Star Wars comic you wanted, you're going to have to settle for something else. I mean, since I'm being given the comics for free, I have absolutely zero right to say I'm being given free stuff wrong.

(And that goes for the guy in Riverside, too. I honestly should just shut up and say thank you.)

Now, obviously, not all 52 of those comics are going to appeal to everybody. But there are a few, shall we say, crazy people who are going to want nearly all of them.

Yes, I fall into this category.

Some comic book shops have found ways to take advantage of this to good effect. For example, 4 Color teamed up with a G.I.Joe cosplay group call the Cobra 3rd Nightwatch last year to host a Free Comic Book Day blood drive, and everybody who donated got to get "all" the comics as a reward. In this case, "All" just meant one of every comic on the table when you finished your donation which, isn't really "All." (Again, I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining about this. This is the best Free Comic Book Day offer I know about in SoCal, and I hope they do it again this year.)

There should be a way for folks who want to "try" all the comics to be able to "try" all the comics. And it shouldn't have to cost the retailers extra.

So what's my idea?

The Free Comic Book Day website should sell the free comic books to the public.

Not "sell" in the traditional, charge full price sense. But it should cost a little more than it costs the retailers.

And it should be treated exactly like it's treated with the retailers.

Say a teacher wants to get 30 Smurfs comics to give as "presents" to their kids. Let them buy 30 if they pay 20 or so cents an issue plus shipping.

Say a parent wants to throw comics in to all the presents he gives away at all the parties his kids get invited to. Let him buy 50 issues at 25 cents a pop, plus shipping.

And if some crazy guy wants to try them all, let him order all 52 for like $25 plus shipping.

The publishers get what they want--more books in more hands, and at less risk. These books were specifically asked for, unlike the books that some retailers get stuck with, which can sit in boxes at the retailer's location because nobody wanted them, even though the publisher printed them at a loss.

More people get to try more comics, and, if they like them, more comics get sold.

In this case, the "shipping and handling" would have to be bumped up a little to include some money to pay for the boxes, labels, and some temps to fill the boxes. But that's the nature of "Shipping and Handling" anyway. (Actually, in most cases, Shipping and Handling also includes the cost of manufacturing the product.)

So give it some thought, comic book world. Let's get more comics out there and more kids reading them.

Because, in the end, that means more kids reading at all.