It’s Not All About the Deaths

Sometime today the United States will “officially” cross the line to over 200,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s sort of an arbitrary milestone because I’m pretty certain that we’re not really capturing all of the excess deaths that have happened this year as a result of the impact of this illness. But it’s going to happen and there’s going to be lots of discussion about all of the people who are dead who didn’t need to die this year.

I’ve written about this before and I will continue to write about this: it’s not all about the deaths. Those are bad and my heart goes out to each and every person who lost someone this year that they didn’t have to lose. Absolutely horrible.

But this country is in for a much bigger reckoning and that’s around the long-term health consequences for those who get COVID19 and survive.

Craig Spencer has an excellent Twitter thread about this very issue here. It was also turned into a Washington Post article here but that’s behind a paywall.

As horrible as it is to say, we will likely adjust fairly easily to the lost lives. It’s what humans do. Losing my father when I was 18 was devastating to me but I’ve managed to live a life for 25+ years without him.

Is it as good a life as it would’ve been? No. But humans are largely resilient and so we carry on and move forward.

But the societal impacts from those who survive but have lasting health consequences are going to be significant. I already mentioned this one before, but I’ll mention it again because it’s one I know well: kidney failure.

There are definite impacts on kidney function from this illness. And there are hints that the type of impact this illness has on kidney function could, long-term, lead to kidney failure. It may not be immediate. The gap between impact and outcome with kidney failure can be a decade or more. My dad got sick around the age of six but didn’t lose his kidneys until his early twenties, for example.

When I was young and my dad was dialyzing (which is what you do when you don’t have kidneys, you spend four hours three days a week having a machine filter your blood for you, see more here) there weren’t widespread dialysis options.

When we lived in the mountains of Colorado my mom had to dialyze my dad at home. And when we lived in the Denver Metro area my dad had to drive thirty minutes each way to reach Denver Presbyterian hospital which I believe was the only dialysis center available at the time.

Planning any vacation was contingent upon there being available dialysis wherever we were going. We had one memorable vacation where we got to our destination and my dad had to take all our spending money to fly home because the dialysis center he’d scheduled with couldn’t dialyze him after all.

That’s changed in the 20+ years since he passed away. There’s now a dialysis center that would’ve been five minutes from the last home we lived in. I don’t know this for a fact but I would assume the increased availability corresponds to the increased levels of diabetes in this country which can cause kidneys to fail.

So dialysis is more readily accessible now as demand for it has grown, but as that demand increases even more due to the fallout from COVID19 this country will need to increase the supply of dialysis centers and nurses again. And there’s a huge cost to dialysis.

My dad grew up believing he would die when he lost his kidneys because there was no way that he would be able to afford those treatments. Fortunately for him there were changes made (to Medicare I think it was) that made it possible for him to dialyze without needing to pay the full expense of doing so. According to the link I provided above, 80% of the cost of dialysis is subsidized by the government.

Which means a reckoning is coming because increased demand for dialysis means increased governmental costs to provide that care.

That’s just one of the long-term health consequences of getting this illness. Add in heart problems, chronic fatigue, and reduced mental capacity that impact individual productivity and you have a society-level crisis coming.

The more people who get this illness, the more people who are going to need a higher level of long-term medical care, many of whom will not be able to hold the types of jobs that can provide that care through private insurance.

Which means we as a society will have to make a decision.

Either we decide we’re heartless bastards and that those who got sick due to a failure of government are on their own to suffer and die. Or we finally bite the frickin’ bullet and start talking about real baseline universal medical care and social services.

(You can tell from my wording there which I believe in. I’m alive only because our government provided enough support for my dad to dialyze and I grew up with one of the best fathers in the world because of that continued government assistance. I like to think that between my dad’s contribution to society as a business owner and father as well as my brother’s and my contributions we’ve more than made up for that.)

It would be nice if we were the type of country that believes in stepping up and helping our fellow man out, especially when we have the wealth in this country to do so.

But I expect that we’re not. I expect that we’d rather see images of someone with a fifty-room mansion and a million dollar Maserati and pretend that’s possible for everyone than agree that maybe taxes should be raised on that Maserati owner so that children aren’t orphaned because their parents can’t afford adequate healthcare.

But whatever way we go with this, I expect COVID will be the final push that means people can’t politely ignore that choice we keep making. We won’t be able to keep pretending that people deserve what they get and that society has no role in creating that outcome.

So, yes, 200,000 or more people have died in the United States this year than needed to. And that is a disgusting travesty.

But it’s important to also think about the 7 million* or more who’ve likely already been infected and will have long-term health consequences from this.

(*Right now the stats show just under 7 million reported cases in the U.S. but there’s pretty widespread agreement that we’ve drastically undertested and that the number of actual cases is anywhere from 6-20 times that number. Factor in the fact that perhaps 30% of patients are going to see life-impacting long-term health consequences and 7 million becomes a conservative estimate.)

Bottom line: Stay safe. Take this seriously. And if you’re American perhaps consider who you want in power if it turns out you’re one of the ones who gets this and needs dialysis or heart surgery or can’t work the way you once could.

Latest COVID Thoughts

I just put up a post on my personal FB page reminding my friends and family to continue to take this COVID thing seriously and shared with them an article that I thought was excellent by Ed Yong at the Atlantic.

I’m in the United States and I’d say that to most people it’s pretty clear that we have not handled this whole thing well. We’re closing in on 200,000 deaths from this (perhaps higher when you look at excess mortality) and the truth is we could’ve probably had only a few thousand deaths if we’d handled it differently.

Things like acknowledging the fact that a virus does not care what country you are from so a travel ban that does not prevent or isolate Americans coming from a geographic region with high-risk is going to fail to contain spread of the illness.

Or really locking down for a short period of time to prevent spread instead of what my state at least did which was still have takeout delivery and road construction and all sorts of other activities that were not in fact essential but did allow for potential spread.

(My state has actually done fairly well but I think that’s more down to population density and travel patterns than anything else.)

But what I wanted to throw out there in this post is how this illness plays into a number of human weaknesses and how we really have to actively fight against them to understand what we’re dealing with and to do so effectively.

For example, it’s very hard to see what isn’t there. So when a health measure, like a temporary lockdown, works we can’t see that it worked. Because the fact that it worked creates an absence of the event it was trying to prevent. I know some people, for example, argue that MERS wasn’t that big a deal. But perhaps it wasn’t that a big a deal because all of the health measures that were meant to contain it actually contained it.

Because those measures worked, we don’t see what they prevented. And we then inaccurately draw a conclusion that whatever measures were used to prevent that spread were not needed.

This has happened with the lockdowns. They were needed. They helped slow things down so that we didn’t have five NY/NJ/CT-style outbreaks going on at the same time early on.

That leads to the second issue most of us face with this illness. And that’s the issue of exponential spread. I pointed out on FB a few weeks ago that while it wasn’t making the news Hawaii was experiencing the highest growth rate in infections based on reported data. But that was at 50 cases a day so no one much cared. But they were doubling cases every two weeks at the time. Unchecked that 50 becomes 100 becomes 200 becomes 400 becomes 800 becomes 1600 becomes 3200.

It’s very hard to look at a low number and think that if you do nothing it will become a very big number. We can understand doubling. But get much past that, and we just don’t go there naturally.

It’s also very hard to understand the delay between cause and effect with this illness.

Recently some idiotic Stanford professor said that the U.S. fatalities were going to hit 170K and then just stop. I posted on FB that I wished the man would shut up and stop devaluing my degree because it was clear that he was wrong.

Why was it so clear when we were sitting around 150K fatalities at the time? Because, given the number of daily cases that had been reported prior to that point in time we already had enough infected people who were going to die to bring that number above 170K.

And we were infecting 50K new people a day still. Some of whom were going to become ill, get hospitalized, and die.

That man was completely missing the delay between infection and death that comes with this illness. I’d bet that delay can be as long as 45 days in some cases but is probably more like 25 days in a more typical case. So anyone focused on case numbers instead of death numbers is a month behind reality.

Also, most of the models being used fail to account for the interaction between human choice and disease spread. People are trying to use a basic regression approach to something that is more like game theory. (And I’m not a stats person so I may have just phrased that very wrong. But basically the idea is we can’t take what’s happened over the last two months, plug it into a model, and say this is where we’ll be two months from now without factoring in psychology. Because the outcome two months from now is driven by the actions of millions of individual actors making personal choices. Any good model of future outcome needs to factor in human behavior choices not just disease metrics, something that is very challenging to do.)

I also think most humans tend to approach crises in a linear fashion. A hurricane hits, it’s destructive, we rebuild, done. A wildfire burns, it’s destructive, we put it out, we rebuild, done. But that’s not how this illness works. It’s not: illness strikes, we lockdown, it goes away. It’s ongoing and cyclical.

I have yet to come up with the perfect imagery on this one but on FB I mentioned it’s like having a leaky water balloon and every time you take your finger off the hole in the balloon it starts leaking again. Until we can get this disease to low enough levels within the population, every single time we let up too much there will be a flare up.

That’s why we’re seeing rolling outbreaks across the country. Because one area gets an outbreak, takes the steps to get it under control, and gets things back down to something manageable but at the same time another area that hasn’t been seeing much of a problem lets up on its controls and gets a surge in cases.

That’s going to continue as long as there’s enough of the disease in the population to spread easily across geographies.

Which leads to another issue we’re all facing. It’s hard to give up your old habits for something so nebulous. Like a summer vacation. I had multiple friends on FB take out-of-state vacations this summer. They just couldn’t give up what they were used to doing for something that they weren’t experiencing personally. Here in Colorado they’re talking about having fans in the stands for Broncos games this winter. Football is more important than containing this illness.

I mean, really? Is it so hard to let go of something non-essential that you’d risk endangering your entire community for it? (Answer: Obviously in America it is.)

And that’s a big part of the problem. Even though almost 200K people have died this year that didn’t need to, this illness is very nebulous for most of us.

I don’t have friends in healthcare. I don’t have friends who work grocery store or meat packing jobs. My social circle is one that has a fair amount of privilege. Meaning that most of the people I know are working from home, able to order in grocery delivery, and hiring au pairs or tutors to homeschool their children.

They (and I) do not personally know the people who are dying. Because society is stratified enough that it’s not obvious to the average suburban upper middle class white person that this illness is killing as many people as it is. It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t seem significant unless you are the one treating the ill patients or in a community that has been significantly impacted.

And that brings me to the final issue. Which is that people are too focused on deaths and not focused enough on long-term health consequences. We aren’t considering what happens in a society where millions become infected and perhaps as many as 1/3 of those people have lasting heart damage or lung damage or kidney damage or brain damage. We aren’t understanding what happens to a society where that many survivors struggle with long-term fatigue that impacts their ability to work.

It’s like what I said in an earlier post about skydiving. I thought it was die or have fun. Only when I realized the far bigger risk to me personally was a significant injury with long-term consequences did I truly understand the risk I was taking every time I jumped out of that plane.

So, bottom line here. We’re not naturally equipped to mentally understand the scope of what we’re dealing with. It requires concerted and ongoing effort to grasp the potential effects and the impact. And it’s a challenge to remain vigilant for as long as we’re going to need to remain vigilant. But we need to try. Because letting this thing burn out of control is going to create the type of damage that lasts for generations.

Two Paperback Versions on Amazon

Just an FYI for anyone looking for my books. Right now Amazon seems to be showing a delay of five days to print and ship books that they distribute on my behalf. But most of my books also have another version distributed via IngramSpark that will ship sooner. The IngramSpark listing is rarely the primary listing, so you have to go looking for it.

Here’s how. This is the main page for Excel for Beginners. You can see on the right where it says it will normally ship within five days:

Main Amazon Page

Right above where all the prices are listed for the different formats it says “See all formats and editions.”

Click on that and you get another screen. There’s a little > next to the paperback listing. Click on that and it will become a downward pointing arrow instead and you’ll see two listings for the paperback.

E4B Paperback options

The May 2019 version is the version that’s coming from IngramSpark. If you click on “Paperback, May 9, 2019” you will be taken to that version’s listing.

And voila, there are six left in stock and you can get a copy in your hands within as little as two days.

IS Version Listing

It will also have text on the spine which the Amazon version doesn’t.

Amazon does allow resellers to do weird things on their site so I always approach book listings there with a certain amount of caution. But for any listing of my book that’s coming from IngramSpark you can scroll down to product details and if it’s mine you should see a publisher name of M.L. Humphrey and an ISBN-13 that starts with 978-1950902 and then three numbers that are specific to that particular book, in this case 002.

Product Details

And, of course, you can also order the books from other fine retailers that carry print books like Barnes & Noble.

 

 

 

 

On Posthumous College Degrees

There’s been some chatter on Twitter today about the fact that a university recently published to its site its policy about issuing college degrees to people who die before they can complete the degree.

One of the cynical hot takes I saw on this practice was that it was to boost the college’s ranking with US News.

Seriously, to that person who said that, fuck you. Just because you’ve never actually been in the situation of having someone you love die before completing their degree doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to that person’s loved ones to be able to get that degree for them.

When my father passed away he was completing his final semester of college. He’d tried getting a degree when he was 18 but dropped out and only went back for his degree in his 40s.

He worked hard for that degree. I remember the night he stayed up all night trying to work on some problem set for his logic class that had him–a normally brilliant man–stumped. And I remember reading his short stories he wrote because he was in a creative writing class that finally gave him an excuse to focus more on his writing. And I remember how much he loved studying Russian history. (I toted those text books of his around with me for twenty years after he died because they reminded me of him even though I really had no interest in peasant life in Russia in the 1800s.)

Pursuing that degree was something vitally important to my father. It was an opportunity he had been denied when he was younger but that he fully embraced when life finally gave him the chance to pursue it.

But he died before he could complete his degree.

And I, at the age of 18, and my brother , at the age of 22, were swamped with trying to unravel the remains of his life. We had no idea that it was even possible to get his degree granted posthumously and, honestly, it was the last thing on our minds at the time.

Fortunately, he’d been very close with one of his history professors and that professor made it happen.

I will forever be thankful to that person. Because after the fog of grief cleared I had that degree to help remember him by.

He was a tremendous father, a good man, a business owner who provided jobs to others, but that degree was one of the few things he did in his life that our society puts value upon. And I am so so grateful that his school granted that degree to him even though he died before he could walk the stage with all the other graduates.

Seriously people not everything is about cynicism and nihilism, you know.

Penguin Random House Rewards

Right up front: This is only something open to U.S. Residents, so sorry about that, but I just wanted to give a little shout out to the Penguin Random House Rewards program because today I was able to redeem my first reward to get a free copy of a hard cover book that was just released and costs $30.

How cool is that?

(I am not being paid for this, by the way, I just happen to be a reader first and foremost and I figured if anyone following this blog was as well then they should know about this.)

Here’s how it works:

Sign up here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/rewards/?

Then, when you buy PRH trade paperbacks (that would be the larger size ones) or hard covers, report your sales to them. For each qualifying book you get 10 points.

When you reach 120 points you get a code for a free book with a value of up to $30 that they ship you for free.

If you’re not sure if your books qualify, just type in the ISBNs of all of them you buy and it will let you know. I honestly have no idea when I’m buying a book who the publisher is, but it’s easy enough to type in each number and see if it takes it.

(As a side note to the PRH folks, I would personally collect all ISBNs from members and maybe give half a point or 1 point for non-qualifying titles because understanding what books other than yours your customers are purchasing is marketing gold. For every book I entered that was a qualifying PRH book I probably entered three that weren’t either because of format or publisher. But that’s me.)

Since I was going to buy the books I bought this year already it was a no-brainer for me to sign-up because all I had to do was log my purchases and now after six months I have a free book on its way to me. A book that I would not have bought in hard cover so get to read a year earlier than I would’ve otherwise.

(And, yes, if you do the math that means that I’ve bought about 50 books so far this year. What can I say? My coping mechanisms are books, bacon, ice cream, and Coke.)

If I hadn’t been able to order this one (Calling Bullshit by Carl T Bergstrom and Jevin D West), I had my eye on another one (Sword of Fire by Katherine Kerr) that I also probably won’t end up buying in hard cover but will eventually. So well worth the effort for me.

Of course, as I said at the top, this appears to be a U.S.-only program and you need to be purchasing not only print books but the trade paperback or hard cover size. Still. A good deal if you fall under that.

Would I Attend In-Person College This Fall?

If I were of college age right now would I choose to attend college this year?

Short answer: No. I’d take a year off.

Why?

Obviously there are the health risks of placing yourself in an environment with a bunch of young people known to make stupid decisions on a regular basis during the midst of a health crisis of unknown proportions. (If you doubt that young people make stupid decisions on a regular basis let me point you to pretty much any college party that involved alcohol that I’ve ever attended.)

Sure the fatality rate for younger individuals is pretty low, but the long-term health effects of getting this thing are not well known yet and some of them are not looking good at all.

(A recent study showed an incident of pretty high heart impact even for asymptomatic patients. That’s on top of all the respiratory, kidney, brain, blood clotting, general energy-level, etc. issues that have already been talked about elsewhere. And just yesterday I saw a tweet about a woman who’d had this four months ago, been released from the ICU, and then succumbed to the long-term effects months later.)

But it’s not actually the health impacts that would keep me at home. It’s how college is going to be structured this year.

At some point I may actually get around to writing a book on choosing whether to go to college and what type of college, etc. (I’ve been thinking about writing it for about three years now but just never have.) One of the key points I was going to make in that book is that the value of an elite education is only about 50% the actual education you receive.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that I was able to study the Quiche Maya language for a year and I even sort of kind of used it that one time I went to Guatemala and it’s a great party trick to be able to say “I went to market to buy a cow” in a language that has glottal stops. But, honestly, once I graduated I used maybe 10% of my class knowledge in the real world. (Have I ever used any of the calculus they required for my Econ degree? No. No, I have not.)

Completing my degrees showed that I was capable of discipline and intellectual rigor and learning and sticking to a challenging task for an extended period of time. But for my degrees (anthropology, psychology, and economics) the actual knowledge I learned was not needed for my career (securities regulation, consulting, writing).

I learned what I needed to know on the job. All my degrees did was tell my employers I’d be able to do that.

(For other degrees and careers that can work differently. This was just my experience. Even my writing training came from high school not college.)

I would say that another 25% of the value of a college degree from an elite school is in the reflected reputation of that school. People notice when someone says they went to Harvard or Princeton or Yale.

My freshman year I went to Rice University, which is an excellent school. When I told people that’s where I went they made a joke about rice being a food. When I transferred to Stanford and told people where I went to school they said, “Ooh, you must be smart.” (The only time that changed was when Chelsea Clinton was there and then they asked me if I’d ever met her.)

I got my first job out of college even though I was missing a key qualification because I’d graduated from Stanford. When I told my potential employer I’d fill in that missing accounting class they gave me the benefit of the doubt. If I’d gone to Joe Blow Community College they wouldn’t have even interviewed me with that qualification missing.

But for this conversation it’s the other 25% of the value that I think matters.

And that’s the connections you make during college with your fellow students. Those people in your classes and in your dorm and in your extracurricular activities. The ones you have a beer or a coffee with. The ones you observe and who observe you over the course of four years.

Some of it can be informal connections. You now know a person who does X and you can give them a call a few years later when you need access to someone who does X.

That happened with my MBA program. A few years after graduation someone I knew but wasn’t close friends with at school called with a consulting opportunity. They called me solely because of that school connection. Because they went looking for someone who knew X and I was part of their network.

But some of it can be much more profound. I have a number of friends who met their spouse during undergrad or grad school. Most of whom are still married to that person twenty years later.

I personally believe that someone’s choice of spouse is probably the most significant decision they will make in terms of career and wealth trajectory. Stable relationships support career progress. Unstable ones, can really set someone back. I have seen more than one career derailed by a bad divorce. And more than one divorce due to a mismatch between spouses.

I’ve also seen more than one career derailed by inappropriate behavior by someone who was single and looking in the wrong places for relationships.

College is one of the best times in your life for meeting people who are at the same level and headed in the same direction. The admissions board has pre-selected a promising pool of people for you to form both friendships and relationships with.

But given the current situation I think those kinds of informal networks will be crushed. No dropping by someone’s dorm room to hang out. No last-minute everyone pile into a car to go on a late-night adventure. No big parties to attend. (Or at least, there shouldn’t be. Not in the U.S. right now. Not unless you want to roll the dice on a double-lung transplant.)

So if it were me with a kid who was college-age right now, I’d say take the year off. Go back when you can have that full college experience. With the internet the world is full of opportunities even for someone who isn’t at college. Take some fun courses. Read books that have nothing to do with anything. Start a vlog. Start a Twitch channel. Whatever.

Pursue your passions this year, go to campus next year.

And if we’re in this same boat again next year? Well, the world will be a fundamentally different place at that point.

(Heck, I suspect that the world as Americans know it is going to be a fundamentally different place no matter what six months from now. So maybe that changes the whole calculation anyway.)

The Chicken or The Egg

I’m sitting here listening to a playlist of mine called Fave Thoughtful which essentially consists of slower songs that aren’t as easy to sing along with as my Fave Sing Along playlist.

(I have a ridiculous number of song playlists. My original Faves playlist has 150 songs on it so I decided to break it down a bit more since moving from Thugman by Tweet to The Only Time by Nine Inch Nails to Another Suitcase in Another Hall by Evita is a bit jarring.)

(Below that Fave list I have a total of 43 “like” playlists that combined include 2992 songs at the moment. I have a bit of a thing for music obviously. Anyway.)

It made me realize something odd.

I have a large number of songs on my favorites playlists that I’ve loved for ages. Since I was maybe even a pre-teen. (Kenny Rogers was my favorite singer when I was eight. I remember crying while repeatedly replaying Islands in the Stream during my first big breakup in 3rd grade.)

Long before I had any life experiences that would make me choose those kinds of songs, I loved songs like Spilled Perfume by Pam Tillis and We’ve Got Tonight by Kenny Rogers. Songs about failed love and yearning for lost relationships and choosing the wrong person and loss.

I can now, later in life, tie actual life experiences to some of those songs. And I’ve definitely come to like newer songs because they remind me of a past experience, but for me it was often the songs that came first, not the experience.

And it makes me wonder whether it was some weird sort of predisposition of mine that made me gravitate towards those types of songs and then those types of life experiences. Or whether those songs created some kind of emotional groove in my mind that then led me to seek out those experiences in my life. Like if all I’d ever been exposed to were happy songs about getting married and living happily ever after for fifty years if that’s what I would’ve been drawn towards instead of hitting the road and moving on.

I don’t know. It’s an interesting thought.

And I think this does tie back to writing in some sense, too.

I’ve been reading a lot of new-to-me authors recently and some fit comfortably because the main characters react in a way that makes sense for me whereas others make me almost itchy to read because I keep thinking, “No. Why would you do that? That’s stupid.”

Or wrong. (I’m still angry years later about the character who could see the future and saw their friend being destroyed by drug use who then started using drugs with the friend. Like, what? What are you thinking? You can see this person will destroy their life this way and you…help them do it? Huh?)

I know going forward that I’ll end up reading more from the authors whose characters’ values and decisions fit with what makes sense to me and less of those who don’t which then ends up reinforcing the whole circle of values and beliefs and perspective that I already had.

This is also why I don’t think every author is for every reader and that to succeed with fiction you ultimately have to find “your” readers who are those who align enough with what you write that they stay with and return to your stories. The key is finding those readers, of course.

And now I’m going to stop writing this because while I’ve been writing it Smoke Rings in the Dark by Gary Allan, A Couple More Years by Dr. Hook, I Don’t Need You by Kenny Rogers, and now Not Gon’ Cry by Mary J. Blige have played and I think maybe I need therapy based on my song choices. Seriously.

 

Type I vs Type II Errors

I often think about life situations as Type I versus Type II errors. I’m sure how I apply this is probably not consistent with how true statistics uses it, but oh well. Wikipedia has an entry on it if you want to go there. (It uses words like null hyphothesis though so be forewarned.)

For me how I think about this is that for every choice I make there are two risks. One is that I act on something I think is true and it turns out to be false. The other is that I don’t act on something because I think it is false and it turns out to be true.

In the current COVID-19 crisis, mask wearing is an example of this. Early on there was discussion that virus particles were so small that mask wearing wasn’t really effective. Now pretty much all of the experts are recommending it and saying it helps. I can definitely see that having a cloth barrier between me and others will prevent some spread but I’m still curious about the small particles issue.

However, despite my ongoing skepticism, ever since they started recommending masks, I’ve been wearing one. Because to me I’d rather take on the risk of wearing a mask and finding out I didn’t need to than the risk of not wearing one and realizing later I should have.

If I wear a mask and it has absolutely no impact and does nothing to protect me from getting sick, it also doesn’t do me any harm. It’s uncomfortable and annoying to wear a mask, especially now that I ordered a more robust one online instead of hand-crocheting one that had some breathing holes built into it, but all that does is reminds me that I really shouldn’t be out and about more than is necessary anyway.

I have no ego about my appearance these days, so there’s no vanity issue for me. And I’m not out a lot, so it’s a minor inconvenience to address a potentially significant risk.

If I don’t wear a mask and it turns out a mask could have protected me, then I’ll likely get sick. Maybe I’ll be one of the lucky ones and it goes away fast and there’s no lasting damage. But maybe I spend 90 days in the hospital, lose a leg, need a double lung transplant, and still end up dying like just happened to a perfectly healthy man who was younger than I am. Or maybe I don’t even need to go to the hospital but I have long-term breathing complications that I struggle with for years.

In this scenario–do I wear a mask or don’t I–I’m going to wear a mask. Because I do not want to get this shit. Both of my parents have dealt with long-term health complications. (My brother as well although not in the “how many times are you going to be rushed to the hospital this year?” sense that both of my parents have.)

Mask wearing is a good example of this, but when you look around you’ll see that life is full of Type I vs. Type II error choices. Asking someone out or telling them you love them. Taking a job. Quitting a job. Going on a vacation. Devoting time to writing a book. There are risks on both sides of those decisions.

It all comes down to which type of error you’d rather make. The error of acting and being wrong or the error of not acting when you could’ve been right.

Some of the risks are easy to see so easy to choose between. Others, not so much. But in my opinion it’s always a good idea when confronted with a choice to weigh the potential cost of acting against the potential cost of not acting.

 

 

Words Have Weight

And because certain words have more weight than others it is important that they are used appropriately.

Years ago when I was still skydiving I remember someone posting about an incident where someone had died and throwing around words like “negligent” and “fraud” when those words did not in fact apply.

About a year ago on one of the writing forums someone kept calling authors who report issues to Amazon “snitches.”

This week with the blow-up on SFF Twitter I’ve seen people throwing around words like “grooming” and “rape” and “gaslighting” and “sexual harrassment”.

When those words are justified, then they should be used. Absolutely use those words that have the appropriate weight to them when they apply.

But today I saw someone Tweet that a very big-name author had been accused of rape. So I followed the link they provided because I’ve been trying to figure out why this particular author who I’ve met and liked was listed as one of the current crop of perpetrators.

(I have a pretty good spidey-sense for creeps and this guy didn’t set any of them off.)

So I saw this irresponsible Tweet that said he’d been accused of rape and I followed the link provided, and what I found on that link was someone who was basically saying that the content of this writer’s stories was rapey and exploitative and that because of that content people had been hurt by it.

Not that he himself was a rapist. But that he was questionable because he had chosen to write about a world in which rape occurred frequently.

Somehow that post was turned into a Tweet that said this man had been accused of rape. If he has, it was not in the linked post.

Worse yet, the reason this man had been under discussion in the first place was because another author had posted a list of names they’d been told about in private messages and then followed that list up with a bullet list of things those men had been accused of without saying which had been accused of what action. (And, for the record, rape was not on that list of actions these men were alleged to have committed.)

Even worse still, rather than stick around and own what they’d started that author who kicked the speculation off in the first place by posting that list and those actions deleted their entire Twitter account. That left only the circulating rumor about which authors had been named as harassers when some of the actions on that list may not have risen to that level.

This is someone’s life and reputation we’re talking about here and a string of irresponsible characterizations have suddenly painted this man as a potential rapist.

Another instance I saw this week was that someone was accused of doing something inappropriate. In that accusation thread a lot of people said, “I’ve been through something similar, it sucks”. Not that this particular person had done something to them as well, but that they had found themselves in a similar circumstance and felt similarly used by it.

From that one very vocal person took those “I’ve been there myself” generic responses and Tweeted about how multiple people had made the same accusations against that person. NOT TRUE. At least not anywhere I could find it.

These allegations are occurring in a community of writers. And, I would hope, readers. Not only that, the allegations are (in some cases rightly so) ending people’s traditionally-published careers.

It muddies the waters to misapply weighted terms and to misrepresent the claims that have actually been made.

If someone did something bad, then by all means call them out. Hold them accountable.

But use the correct words.

We’re writers. Words have weight. We should use them appropriately.

 

A Few Random Thoughts

We’ll start with writing.

I’m taking a course on FB ads right now (by Skye Warren) that looks pretty good so far. It was hard to decide to spend that kind of money ($600 or so) but I figured I’m about at the point where I need to expand beyond using mostly AMS ads and I’ve been impressed by what she has to say over the last couple of years. Our mindset aligns on a lot of this.

But making the decision to spend that money isĀ  part of one of the trickiest things you have to deal with in this business, which is knowing who to trust and when a big money spend makes sense.

There are a lot of people out there who charge a lot and don’t deliver. They may rank high but they’re doing so by buying that rank and you really don’t know up front that that’s what’s happening. (I took another class recently that wasn’t as expensive but where I suspect that was the case.)

I see so many people who’ve taken expensive classes later blame themselves for not being able to make it work when sometimes it was the instructor that was the actual problem. Maybe not deliberately, but sometimes they think they have it worked out when they don’t.

(I say this as I’m about to release a new book for self-publishers….Ah, irony. In so many respects.)

So I’m always nervous about a big spend like that, but sometimes you have to spend that big money to get to where you want to go. (This goes for covers and maybe editing, too, not just courses.) It’s a calculated risk.

One thing writing the new book and taking this class have reminded me of, though, is that at the end of the day what we have available to sell is what it is, which is very likely a flawed product in some respect.

(For newer writers it can be flawed in many respects. Maybe the writing isn’t there yet or it’s a genre mash-up that’s hard to advertise effectively or the cover isn’t what it needs to be or the blurb or the editing or…all of it. My first attempt at a romance novel the couple agreed at the end that they were better off as friends. Talk about violating genre expectations.)

So we can learn all these lessons about packaging and marketing and see that others had great results, but at the end of the day the book we wrote just can’t perform the way we need it to. We can bring readers in, but if the book doesn’t satisfy them then all that effort and expense is wasted.

Sometimes you can fix the book, but often you have to just let a project go and move on and do better the next time. Or lower your expectations. Know that this project isn’t going to be a top 100 title or a premium title or one that people shout about to their friends, but it may still be profitable for you…It may still pay those bills and have a loyal following.

Something to think about…


In non-writing news, I picked up my grandma yesterday and took her to see my mom. In these times something so simple is fraught with worry because they’re both at risk if they get this.

I’d been home except to walk the dog for ten days, my mom had been home for three weeks, my stepdad had been home for six days, and my grandma had been home for two months but with people dropping in probably more often than I’d like.

So there was risk. Ideally given what we know about disease spread none of us would’ve gone anywhere for fifteen days before we all got together. But it seemed like a manageable level of risk. And it was good to hug one another and share a meal.

But I do worry that my grandma took this as some weird sign that it’s now safe and okay to have people over or go to people’s houses. And that my mom and stepdad are now getting out more than they were before because somehow our state moving to a “safer at home” mode has changed things. (Nothing has changed, though. I think our governor just decided he couldn’t keep people at home much longer so he’d lighten restrictions rather than face insurrection.)

Hopefully we’ll see a seasonal dropoff with this thing and they will be relatively safe, but I suspect a lot of people will get caught out by this loosening of restrictions thinking that somehow the fundamental facts of the situation have changed. But as long as we have free movement across the country, and across the world to some degree, that’s not the case. It only takes one or two uncontrolled introduction events for things to flare right back up.

I’m lucky to work from home, but I worry about those who can’t. And I worry about some of the ridiculously stupid shit I see people say. (Nextdoor is a vision to behold in my area. Not to mention what I’ve seen elsewhere.) You’d think we could all agree on a set of objective facts, but it turns out that we actually believe different facts and I don’t know how you solve that when people don’t trust the methods used to determine those facts.

Anway. Life is weird right now.

For anyone looking for a good overview of the current understanding of SARS-CoV-2, Johns Hopkins has a Coursera course on contact tracing. The first week takes about an hour and is all about what’s known about the illness. (https://www.coursera.org/learn/covid-19-contact-tracing?edocomorp=covid-19-contact-tracing) You can take it for free and get a certificate, too. I thought it was worth the time.

And now back to editing…