Framing Matters

Earlier today I received an email from SFWA that stated that they had removed Mercedes Lackey from the Nebula conference because she “used a racial slur” and that they had removed the recording of the panel where that happened to “avoid any additional harm”.

This notification to the entire SFWA membership gave absolutely no context to what happened. It simply labeled a long-time SFF author who was just named a Grand Master a racist. And then it removed all evidence of what was said and in what context so that no independent analysis was possible.

According to the announcement her actions were bad enough that it warranted removing her from the conference where she was being honored for being a Grand Master.

If that’s all I knew about the event, I would think she’d used the n-word or an equivalent term for a different minority group and that she’d done so in a deliberately offensive way, like calling one of her fellow panelists by that term. Or that she’d gone on a Sad Puppyesque rant of epic proportions.

Now, I did not attend the virtual panel, so what I relay next is second-hand from a Twitter thread I saw from a fellow panelist of hers. In that thread they discussed how they debated calling out the term at the time but chose not to because of power dynamics. I also saw someone else mention that they had attended the panel and hadn’t even noticed the use of the term until it was later pointed out on Twitter.


According to the Twitter thread, what happened is that Mercedes Lackey was praising the work of Samuel Delaney in the panel and referred to him as a (and I apologize now for using this word) colored author.

That is what she did.

Now, I’m not arguing that her use of that term was appropriate or that it doesn’t warrant an apology and some education about proper terminology when referring to an author of color.

But I do think that the SFWA announcement deliberately framed things in a way that gave the worst possible spin to what happened and then removed the ability of anyone to see and judge what was said for themselves.

And I do think that whoever made that choice was bringing in past controversies and criticism of Mercedes Lackey when they made that decision and using this situation to finally burn her.

I have no doubt her use of that term caused harm. And I do believe there should have been consequences for doing so.

But as a new member of SFWA I am highly disappointed in the way that this was framed. Because yet again I see the SFF community using a zero-sum, scorched earth approach to problematic behavior where any misstep is treated as equally bad whether there was an active desire to cause harm or not.

I just don’t see how a community doesn’t tear itself apart if that’s the approach. And, personally, it makes it a community I have no desire to participate in which is unfortunate since I just joined SFWA a month or so ago. Ah well.

Random Comments and Thoughts 20220307

First, kudos to Brandon Sanderson for knocking that Kickstarter out of the park. It’s at $25 million raised as of this morning and has plenty of time left to go. As I said in one of my FB groups, Brandon Sanderson sure knows how to self-publish, which is what doing a Kickstarter is, right?

But as I also told another friend who didn’t know who he was because she’s more involved in the romance genre than SFF, this is the culmination of a very successful twenty-year prolific trade-publishing career. The man has delivered on what he delivers consistently for decades and has already run one successful Kickstarter for a fancy hard cover edition in the past. So he’s shown he can deliver both a good story and the product he’s offering.

I do think this highlights something very crucial, though, which is that published authors are not some monolith. What a Brandon Sanderson can do is not what I can do and not what most authors can do. So it’s important to look at what he did there and not think, “Oh, wow, let me go raise my $25 million” or “Gosh, my Kickstarter only raised $1,000, I must suck,” because he’s operating at a level that maybe a hundred authors are at. Maybe.

The other thing I think is important to understand is that Kickstarter has morphed from what some people think it’s supposed to be. I had a friend do a Kickstarter a number of years ago for a project (that they didn’t deliver on) that was meant to fund the development stage of the product. That’s what I think some people still think Kickstarter is.

But I’ve seen it used recently more as a pre-order platform for authors where they want to do a print run of a book and this lets them get an approximate number of books to print. Which is why the “he already reached his goal, why is he still going” takes on Twitter made no sense. Because he wasn’t saying, “give me a million dollars and I’ll write this book.” He was saying, “I’ve written this book, how many of you want this special edition of it?”

Which is also why the hot takes about this upending publishing were a bit suspect, too. Like publishers are really going to require their authors to crowd fund their own advance? No. Worry about something that may happen. Like the publishers Kickstarting your book themselves to see what kind of print run they should expect. That’s more of a possibility, although still unlikely.

What I would expect are tighter contract terms for trade pub. The fact that he could do this in an established universe where he has a trade pub contract in place means there were probably some things about his contracts that are not going to be options in the contracts for newer authors.

You can bet after this that some publishers will try to lock down all “special editions” rights they can if they haven’t already.

(Although, if they’re smart, maybe not. I’m pretty sure I saw somewhere that Sanderson plans to go through trade pub for the regular hard cover and paperback versions of these books. In which case letting him Kickstart the premium version of the book very likely means a lot of sales for those versions of these books for his trade publisher, especially the overseas versions which it seems are going to be expensive enough to ship that some overseas readers were unhappy they wouldn’t be able to get a physical book.)

Anyway. An interesting development to watch. Not something most of us could actually do ourselves, but something that means we can do other, smaller things along similar lines. And a reminder that it’s better to strive for the next rung on the ladder and not be defeated by what someone a hundred rungs ahead of you is doing.

Also, this was not meant to be entirely about that Kickstarter, so just another thought. This morning I removed my easy access to one of the few FB groups I was still stopping by regularly because there’s been someone frequently posting in that group with complaints about anything and everything.

My experience from my days in a work environment is that toxicity can be contagious and spiral until you devolve into a group that just complains and is unhappy all the time. I’ve had good work groups turn sour like that and it sucks every time it happens, so I bailed.

I’d just say if you find yourself going to some place to “vent” because it’s a “safe place to share these things” maybe stop and step back and think about what you’re putting out into the world.

Instead of spreading that negativity to others, try to find something productive to do with that feeling instead.

This is why I left Twitter years ago, because I realized I was just taking negative things people were putting out into the world and passing them on. It didn’t matter if it was true or if I agreed, it wasn’t solving the underlying issue. It was just making everyone more unhappy by reminding them that the world was shit.

Also, that “safe place to vent”? Not really safe. Just because you know a dozen good friends in the group does not mean there aren’t hundreds watching what you say and do that you forgot were there because they stay silent.

Anyway. Those are my thoughts for the day. As soon as I figure out if Teachable will actually pay out my prior sales I’ll have the new Affinity video classes up there. They’re done, just waiting to hit the publish button at this point.

Random Comments and Thoughts 20220213

I just had to pull myself away from playing Quordle which is basically Wordle but you play four games at once with your guesses. I like Wordle. It’s simple, it’s a bit of a challenge, and it’s over in ten minutes or less. And it feels to me like the word list is a bit curated to not be the easy ones but also not be impossible.

Interestingly enough, because I can play it more than once I’ve been playing Quordle more even though I like it less. Yesterday one of the four words was BALER which, not one in my vocabulary. And I had NANNY for one, too.

It seems to love words with Y in them and the fact that it allows words with the same letter three times and pulls a very wide range of possible words makes it more annoying to play. There’s not as much “I won something mildly challenging” satisfaction.

But if someone were trying to monetize a product, I suspect they’d develop Quordle. More time spent per game, more games played per day.

Which, you know, might explain a lot of things we get in society when the focus is on maximizing profit over other measures like enjoyment.

On another note, I’ve found a productivity hack that works for me.

I happen to feed my dog three times a day. She’s a large dog and part of a breed that can be prone to bloat and one way to help reduce that risk is to give smaller meals. For the last however many years she’s been getting her lunch at 10 and her dinner at 4.

At 10 I take time to feed her, feed me, and read. At 4, I feed her, feed me, and then call it a day. As much as I tell myself I’ll go back and work from 5-6, it generally doesn’t happen.

So this year I decided I was moving her meal times to 11 and 5. There was a bit of sad crying the first week, but she’s now settled into the new schedule. And the beauty is, it bought me more than an hour of work time.

As I write this it’s 9:20 in the morning and I’m just getting ramped up on “work”. I’ve checked ads and that sort of thing, but I haven’t done any writing, editing, formatting, etc. yet. And before what would happen is I would wrap up this post around 9:40 and I would think about how I had to stop at 10 to feed her so instead of working I’d putz around until 10.

Now, because I don’t have to stop until 11, I will finish this post and go work on my project and have a good solid hour-plus of work I would’ve normally lost. And I seem to be seeing the same thing with the afternoon, too. It feels like I’m using more of that window of time for work as well.

So just a little change to the timing of my behavior triggers (feed dog dinner-stop working) and I get more work done.

Something to consider if you’re trying to find a little more time in your day. It isn’t exactly what the guy covered in Atomic Habits, but it’s along those lines. He discussed how you can chain activities together to form habits. This little hack is more about just changing the timing of that chain.

What else?

Yay for the D2D and Smashwords merger. I tried Smashwords many moons ago and found their process too difficult and never went back but it’s been on my to-do list for a couple years to try to list direct in their store. So now I can hopefully do that with the click of a button someday soon.

A reminder if you update your A+ Content in the U.S. store and you were using a copy of it in other stores that you need to go through and re-approve it in all of those other stores because it will kick back to draft.

And if you run AMS ads be sure to occasionally expand the ad data period to 30 days or even lifetime to catch any keywords you might have turned off for a limited-time slump but that are actually good keywords for your book. I’m pretty sure Amazon removes fake clicks a few days after the fact, so what can look horrible on Monday will look just fine when you go back a week later and look at that time period.

I’ve never actually sat down and mapped my numbers to verify this, but it seems to me that’s how it works.

Anyway. Off to write with all of my new writing time.

Good Bad Luck

I always used to wonder about my dad whether he had bad luck or actually had really good luck and had just been dealt a bad hand in life.

I can’t remember whether I told this story here before, but when I was in high school we were at a track meet and some idiot threw a discus straight up in the air and it came down and hit my dad. Bad luck, right?

Except, it just scraped down the back of his spine and took a layer of skin with it. Hurt like hell and we had to go to the emergency room, but three inches difference and he would’ve probably been dead.

Same with his first transplant. He found out he was rejecting his kidney the same day he found out my mom was pregnant with me. And then there was the second transplant when he got pneumonia and a Hep-positive kidney and almost died. He spent three months in the ICU and lost part of a long, but he pulled through. His whole life was like that.

So was that bad luck that those things happened? Or good luck that they turned out okay enough in the end?

I like to think it was good luck. And that I got a little of it, too.

As I write this it’s two in the morning and I’m sitting on the bathroom floor in my mom’s house crying as I type.

Because that big fire we had in Colorado earlier today? The one that destroyed hundreds of homes? That’s where I moved to earlier this year.

I was at that Target in Superior just this morning. Miss Priss (my Newfie) and I have walked through so many of those neighborhoods on our morning walks. (I figured since we were in an apartment now I’d let her lead our walks and she took us on hour-plus walks all over that area. I don’t know how she does it at her age, but she does.)

So pretty shit luck, right? Move somewhere and five months later the whole area goes up in flames?

Except, we’re safe. I smelled smoke around noon and decided that even though nothing was really on the news at that point in time that it was best if we packed up and got out.

So I took the pup, myself, my work and personal computers, my passport, some food for her, her many many medicines, and a couple changes of clothes and we headed for my mom’s.

I wish I’d known I was possibly leaving everything I owned behind for good. There was a letter my dad wrote that I received this year (27 years after he died) that I wish I’d brought. And this cute hedgehog drawing my mom did for me. And that box of fancy cheeses I’d just splurged and bought myself. And my frickin’ phone charger.

But those are just things. We got out. And we had somewhere to go. We’ll carry on.

Which is pretty damned lucky, really, if you think about it. So, see? Good bad luck.

(And as of now I don’t actually know if my place burned down. So maybe more good bad luck there if it didn’t. Who knows? Although I have to image the smoke damage alone will be ugly. Still, I’d like that letter my dad wrote, smoke-filled or not.)

Say No To Accusatory Marketing

I just logged into my in box and there was an email in there with the headline, “Why aren’t you watching?” I assume if I were to actually click on the email it would have suggested a specific show that I absolutely must watch right now lest I be considered uncool or out of touch.

But I am very happily binge-watching Cold Case and Without a Trace right now, thank you very much, and do not need someone coming at me with accusations about what I should be watching instead.

A while back I received a snarky little email from someone trying to sell me on paying them to run my AMS ads. It named one of my books and pointed out that the book (which was not the first book in the series and had been out for three years) was just outside of the top 100 listing for its category, and then said something about wouldn’t I like to pay someone who could get me an ACoS under X%? The implication of course being that I was failing miserably at doing so myself.

I don’t remember who sent it because I was like, “wow, yeah, fuck you,” and immediately blocked them.

The problem is, that kind of thing works on a lot of people. There are advertisers out there who will make you feel bad about yourself to get your money.

They will imply you are a failure. They will play to your insecurities. They will make you question yourself or your choices. They will make you feel like you’re not “in” if you aren’t paying for whatever they’re selling.

Don’t let them do that to you. Look for brands that are trying to help, that want to share their joy. That want to lift you up. Buy because someone is offering you a positive experience not because they made you feel like shit.

And if someone does make you feel horrible and less than and you really do feel like you need to buy something to fix it, go to their competitor and buy from them instead. Because the sad fact of this world is that if something works, even if it’s negative and destructive, people will keep doing it. So don’t reward that type of approach. Please.

Thoughts On Atlas Shrugged

Back when I was still in corporate America one of my co-workers recommended that I read Atlas Shrugged. She thought I’d like it. And I did. It resonated for me. It’s part of why I left the job I was in at the time.

But I hadn’t been a writer long before I learned that liking Atlas Shrugged was short-hand to some of my fellow writers for being a cruel, uncaring asshole who is completely self-centered and willing to watch the world burn as long as they get ahead.

Which is why I’ve never talked about why I liked that book and why it resonated with me even though it’s a large part of what led me to where I am today.

But I think there’s finally a real-world example of what I found in that book that I can point to for others to understand what that book said to me.

(And I think it’s important to stop here for a moment and explain that what readers find in a book is not always what authors put into that book. So people who know Ayn Rand and her philosophies may have seen very different things in that book than I did because they came to that book with a different background. I knew nothing about her before I read the book so I took from that book the parts of the story that resonated for me.)

This is how I would summarize that book (bearing in mind it’s been about ten years since I read it and this is what I took from the book): A woman is trying to hold a business together and giving everything she has to do so while the people around her are not. And even worse, some of those people who are not putting in the effort to hold things together are demanding more and more and more for themselves. As this trend progresses there are fewer and fewer people keeping things together until it finally becomes too much and things start to fall apart. Planes crash. Train tracks fail. Finally, at the end, that woman who was trying so hard to keep her part of things together, stops trying. She leaves. She retreats to somewhere where other people who went through what she did have created an enclave. And yes, she leaves the world to burn. Because she just can’t carry the burden for everyone else anymore.

The modern-day equivalent of this would be nursing in the United States right now.

I follow a number of nurses on Twitter to keep informed of the current state of COVID and they are incredibly burnt out. They keep showing up to work because they know if they walk away people will die, the system will collapse without them. But they are underpaid and understaffed and showing up to work now to care for people who call them names and tell them that the disease they’ve dealt with for the last fifteen months is a hoax. People who didn’t have to be there in that hospital room dying because there’s a fricking vaccine they could’ve taken for free.

These nurses are trying to make an unfair system work because they are the type of people who step up when the times are hard.

But at some point in time things get so out of balance that it just isn’t sustainable anymore. When that happens Atlas shrugs.

These nurses give and give and give and instead of someone saying “thank you” the hospital management says, “We need more” while collecting massive profits off of their backs. Or says, “Great, you can do that with X resources, now do it with 1/2X.”

And as each individual nurse finally collapses and leaves, the burden on the remaining nurses becomes that much worse and it takes out more and more nurses until there’s no one left standing.

The U.S. healthcare system is at very real risk of this happening in the next six to nine months. Because you cannot take and take and take from people forever.

Which brings us back to the lesson I took from Atlas Shrugged. That as long as I was willing to stand there and carry the burden and be the one that picked up the slack when others didn’t do their part that my management would continue to add to the burden I was carrying while enjoying the results of my efforts and paying everyone else the same (or better) than me.

Because why should everyone pull their weight and why should management make things fair if I was going to step in and make it work every time regardless?

I finally realized that my only choices were to live under that incredible crushing burden or to leave. Because when you’re the type of person who steps up you can’t just stay where you are and decide not to care anymore, that’s as painful as taking on all the burden yourself. So I shrugged, I walked away. Not because I didn’t care, but because I cared far too much and it was going to crush me if I stayed.

Checking In…

I haven’t been posting much, mostly because I figure I can post annoyance at the world or I can put my head down and do something productive that moves things forward. So I’ve been working, working, working.

Yesterday in the mail I received the paperback proofs of the large print versions of my YA fantasy novels and the hard cover proofs of the large print versions of my cozy mysteries and I have to say they look really good and I’m glad I took the time to do that project.

Large print was something I sort of tried doing a few years back but I didn’t do enough research I don’t think to really get it right. It’s more than just a larger font size. For example, no italics. Those have to be replaced with bolded text. And font choice matters. So does placement of the chapter name and page numbers, etc.

I figured I’d judge the success of the large print books by sellthrough to the rest of the series. If people buy book one in large print and no one buys book two then that means I failed somehow on the formatting. But the cozies are showing good sellthrough. (Once I went into the Amazon listings for the regular print versions and told people how to find the large print version. It seems Amazon buries the large print version so that you have to be Houdini to find it and I don’t expect my cozy readers are.)

What else? I don’t know if it’s 2020 or it’s me, but things seem to be taking longer to do these days than before. I’m working on some new editions on the non-fiction side and I swear the books that were supposed to be revisions of old titles are taking twice as long to create as they did the first time around.

This is what it means to be a Maximizer in the CliftonStrengths world. I can’t pass up an opportunity to make something just that little bit better, which in one case led to rewriting 80% of the book. It wasn’t bad to start with but I was combining two books and for that to work I needed to change the approach substantially. (I know, I’m being vague but you’ll see when I publish what I was talking about.)

What else? I find myself glad I write both non-fiction and fiction books because this time of year, if you’re not pushing your fiction, can be brutal for sales. Fortunately, it’s a good time for print sales and with non-fiction I can price competitively enough that I don’t take as big of a hit as I would if I only did fiction.

Which is a reminder when looking at other’s recommendations and advice to pay attention to what they write. I find the fiction advice I see is often bad for non-fiction. Like don’t worry about print, price your print with thin margins, put your first title free, etc.

Same with if someone has a well-selling ten-book series. What they can do with that versus the author who has two or three books out is vastly different. I also think sometimes people who are a lot farther along on their path forget some of the struggles of being new or close to new. Like, they have books that just sell and don’t understand that that’s really not the case for most new writers.

And, of course, the genre differences. Writing for an audience that devours books and marketing to that audience is vastly different than writing for an audience that reads, but not at a book-a-day, give-me-the tropes pace.

Of course, every time I’m tempted to wander off into the wilderness alone and just stop listening to anyone anywhere and do my own thing, there’s something that comes up that makes me stay connected through FB groups or forums or whatnot.

This year the ACX returns thing finally blew up and it was good to know it had since they won’t delist my books but also ignore my emails and no longer even send me those helpful updates that others get. And I was able to get access to Nook promos which have helped. And I think I may have access to Apple promos now but haven’t looked closely at that email yet to be sure of it.

All of that comes from being tied in through groups here or there as painful as the experience sometimes is. (Kboards is such a pale version of what it once was that it’s kind of sad…)

Oh, and I put my books in for Amazon promo consideration but not holding my breath there. But good to know you can at least do so now.

So, yeah. We’re heading towards 2021 and I’m neither glaringly optimistic about it all nor darkly pessimistic. Thanks to EIDL and PPP I made it through 2020 unscathed (knock wood) and able to keep writing and publishing. We’ll see what 2021 brings.

Another thing to think about is property ownership. I was burned to the cost of $30K when I left full-time consulting and sold my condo in DC so I don’t always think that owning property is the best bet, but I am very grateful that I bought my house that I live in now because that property appreciation certainly helps. It’s the cushion that lets me take some of the risks I do. I can look at that equity I’ve built up and think, “Worst case scenario…”

Anyway. Pup is crying to be fed and then I have to proof three books and get them off to the printer for print proofs, so back to the grindstone. Hope you and yours are well.

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.