Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 3/23/2020: Examining The—OH NO! I TOUCHED MY FACE!!!

1. From the “Futile isn’t Ethical” files. The hectoring over face-touching is annoying at a time when we need less annoyances. Here’s a useless article that gives elaborate strategies for eliminating face-touching only to admit toward the end that you probably can’t stop. I’ll wager that nobody can stop, since we do it thousands of times a day, often for good reasons, and that with all the other things we have to think about, thinking about NOT doing something natural all day long—which is essentially the strategy the three professors of psychology credited with the article recommend—will do more damage than it addresses.

Here’s a typical passage:

“Now that you are aware of the behavior you want to change, you can replace it with a competing response that opposes the muscle movements needed to touch your face. When you feel the urge to touch your face, you can clench your fists, sit on your hands, press your palms onto the tops of your thighs, or stretch your arms straight down at your sides.”

Here’s another idea that I’m sure everyone will want to adopt while they worry about their jobs, their friends, and where their next meal is coming from:

Self-monitoring is more effective when people create a physical record. You can create a log where you briefly describe each instance of face-touching. For example, log entries might say:

—Scratched nose with finger, felt itch, while at my desk
—Fiddled with eyeglasses, hands tingled, frustrated
—Rested chin on palm, neck sore, while reading
—Bit fingernail, nail caught on pants, watching TV

2. Baseball ethics fix: While there’s no baseball for an undetermined period, baseball continues to spark ethics consideration.

  • The Red Sox just learned that their ace pitcher, Chris Sale, will have to have the elaborate ligament-transfer operation called “Tommy John surgery” after the first pitcher to see his career saved by having it. This puts Sale out of action for up to 18 months, a terrible blow to Boston’s team. Sale signed a five-year extension with the team a year ago, so now I am reading versions of this conclusion by baseball writer

ARRGH! What will it take to erase the damaging and idiotic human tendency to apply consequentialism and hindsight bias in evaluating conduct? No, you blithering dolt, it would have been a seriously questionable decision if the team had signed Sale to an extension knowing that he would need surgery.

I am perhaps sensitive to this issue now because ‘s logic is essentially what we are getting from pundits about the handling of the Wuhan virus all day long.

  • I am reading again clear-thinker and baseball analyst supreme Bill James’ recommendations for speeding up the game and eliminating accumulated inequities and glitches that are currently trying the patience of fans. James has an innate understanding of fairness and human nature: he’s an instinctual ethicist. For example, he wrote about how the ethical evolution of punishing pitchers for throwing at batters to keep them from “digging in” at the plate—that is, crowding the plate and simultaneously making it perilous to pitch to the inside (risking hitting the batter) and ineffective pitching to the outside (because the batter could now reach those pitches)—had wrecked the balance between pitchers and batters. Most batters used to avoid standing close to the plate because they didn’t want to get hit by pitches, but now batters wear all sorts of protective gear on their arms and legs, armor, essentially, so they stand close without fear of injury. This also slows up the game, for if a thus- armored player reaches base, he has to take off all of the equipment and give it to the first base coach. James argues for a rule requiring a player to keep wearing whatever equipment he  wore while batting as longs as he’s on base. Brilliant! It involves a fair and interesting trade-off: Okay, you get to stand close to the plate, but your-base-running will be hampered.

3. Jackass Wuhan Pundit of the Day: Among the astounding number of jerks, liars, anti-Americans and cultural saboteurs employed on the New York Times op-ed page, David Brooks is a sleeper. he is a reflexive Trump-basher of course, for two reasons: he is besotted with teh culture of the paper for which he toils, and he is a member of the Bill Kristol/George Will/Mitt Romney class of conservative elitists whose unstated reason for their revulsion at Trump is that he is an unmannerly vulgarian of teh sort that would never be permitted into their gentleman’s clubs. Brooks is a sanctimonious morality-shill, and he outdid himself with Pandemics Kill Compassion, Too: You may not like who you’re about to become,” in which he presumes the worst about 21st century Americans, though not him, of course.

His arrogant argument begins by quoting commentary on plagues from 1348 in Italy 1665 in London, which is just intellectual grandstanding. Those were plagues, while the current illnesses is not, and believe it or not, the United States of America is a more civilized and ethical place than 14th century and 17th century Europe, And, of course, he makes the invalid comparison with the 1918 Spanish Flu, which had fatality rate many times that of the Wuhan virus, killed young and old alike, came at a time when medical knowledge was a fraction of what it is now, and occurred simultaneously with World War I. Other than that, it’s a perfect analogy, and we can expect “families in which every member is ill, in which the children are actually starving because there is no one to give them food. The death rate is so high, and they still hold back.”

Brooks concludes by intoning, “It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to take steps to fight the moral disease that accompanies the physical one.”

Oh, bite me.

21 thoughts on “Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 3/23/2020: Examining The—OH NO! I TOUCHED MY FACE!!!

    • There is a good meme for Tabasco brand hand sanitizer going around. Said to keep you from touching your eyes, nose, or mouth a SECOND time.

  1. More weirdness from WordPress…it would not let me put in a jump on this post, mo matter what I tried. I can on the other drafts in progress, just not this one for some reason. I’m sorry for the inconvenience and the extra long post on the home page.

  2. I just read this on Facebook. Frankly it made me angry, but not for the reasons you might think. I don’t believe for a minute a real doctor wrote this. I have a few comments of my own to add, and then I’ll have more to add at the end.

    “CDC recommending hospital staff use bandanas when masks run out. Hospitals are asking the public to sew masks. Here is a physician responding:

    “Please don’t tell me that in the richest country in the world in the 21st century, I’m supposed to work in a fictionalized Soviet-era disaster zone and fashion my own face mask out of cloth because other Americans hoard supplies for personal use and so-called leaders sit around in meetings hearing themselves talk. I ran to a bedside the other day to intubate a crashing, likely COVID, patient. Two respiratory therapists and two nurses were already at the bedside. That’s 5 N95s masks, 5 gowns, 5 face shields and 10 gloves for one patient at one time. I saw probably 15-20 patients that shift, if we are going to start rationing supplies, what percentage should I wear precautions for?”

    Comment 1: Your job is to save and treat patients, using whatever means necessary. If supplies run out in the middle of something, then you make do until they can get you more. If the single-use nature of things is no longer tenable, then get those that can be used repeatedly until the supplies can be replenished. Oh, and cut the drama. The Soviet Union went out of existence 29 years ago, maybe even before you were born. You don’t know what went on there, except maybe by what you read.

    “Make no mistake, the CDC is loosening these guidelines because our country is not prepared. Loosening guidelines increases healthcare workers’ risk but the decision is done to allow us to keep working, not to keep us safe. It is done for the public benefit – so I can continue to work no matter the personal cost to me or my family (and my healthcare family). Sending healthcare workers to the front line asking them to cover their face with a bandana is akin to sending a soldier to the front line in a t-shirt and flip flops.”

    Comment 2: You signed on for this. There’s not a single healthcare worker out there who can’t walk away from the job right now, except those in the military. This is the life you chose. The fireman fighting the blaze at 3 a.m., started by a careless squatter, the cop answering the domestic violence call to face some crazy husband with a gun who thinks he has nothing to lose, the coastguardsman pointing his bow into the storm knowing he has to go out, but he may not return, they all signed on for it too. So did the teacher buying supplies out of her own pocket because the budget got cut, the manager who has to find some way to do twice as much with half as much, and the attorney working his third weekend on a trial because it has to get done. They don’t get to complain because their duties ramped up, and neither do you.

    “I don’t want talk. I don’t want assurances. I want action. I want boxes of N95s piling up, donated from the people who hoarded them. I want non-clinical administrators in the hospital lining up in the ER asking if they can stock shelves to make sure that when I need to rush into a room, the drawer of PPE equipment I open isn’t empty. I want them showing up in the ER asking “how can I help” instead of offering shallow “plans” conceived by someone who has spent far too long in an ivory tower and not long enough in the trenches. Maybe they should actually step foot in the trenches.”

    Comment 3: And I want a trip to Europe, and a Cadillac, and a mansion. Doesn’t mean I’ll get them. Most of all I want this crisis to be over so I can get on with my life. Wanting and demanding do not make it so, and I think if you told any of these people this is what you want, so hop to it, they’ll tell you to go take a run and jump at yourself.

    “I want billion-dollar companies like 3M halting all production of any product that isn’t PPE to focus on PPE manufacturing. I want a company like Amazon, with its logistics mastery (it can drop a package to your door less than 24 hours after ordering it), halting its 2-day delivery of 12 reams of toilet paper to whoever is willing to pay the most in order to help get the available PPE supply distributed fast and efficiently in a manner that gets the necessary materials to my brothers and sisters in arms who need them.”

    Comment 4: OK, here’s where we seriously take a sharp turn out of reality. Do you really think that amazon is delivering reams of toilet paper in 2 days to anyone willing to pay? Have you looked? Amazon isn’t doing that, because there’s no toilet paper to be had, and certainly not in 2 days, not even in a week. Neither is there any hand sanitizer, or paper towels, or a host of other things. A lot of ordinary folks are freaked out because they can’t get these basic things and they don’t know when or if they will be able to again. You want to talk about the Soviet era, there it is. Oh, and that’s just ordinary folks. People with young children are going absolutely bonkers because diapers, baby wipes, formula, and a lot of other products critical to infant care and toddler care are just not to be had anywhere. And you want to commandeer manufacture and shipping just for your part of this crisis? Tell that to these folks.

    “I want Proctor and Gamble, and the makers of other soaps and detergents, stepping up too. We need detergent to clean scrubs, hospital linens and gowns. We need disinfecting wipes to clean desk and computer surfaces. What about plastics manufacturers? Plastic gowns aren’t some high-tech device, they are long shirts/smocks…made out of plastic. Get on it. Face shields are just clear plastic. Nitrile gloves? Yeah, they are pretty much just gloves…made from something that isn’t apparently Latex. Let’s go. Money talks in this country. Executive millionaires, why don’t you spend a few bucks to buy back some of these masks from the hoarders, and drop them off at the nearest hospital.”

    Comment 5: How fast do you think these companies can ramp up or divert production? Do you think that happens overnight? Do you know exactly how these items are made? I’m guessing you don’t. You do your job, and let the manufacturers do theirs, when they can, since every worker is now at risk. Oh, and as for the high level people buying back those masks you are sure are out there, dream on. They are kinda busy overseeing manufacturing.

    “I love biotechnology and research but we need to divert viral culture media for COVID testing and research. We need biotechnology manufacturing ready and able to ramp up if and when treatments or vaccines are developed. Our Botox supply isn’t critical, but our antibiotic supply is. We need to be able to make more plastic ET tubes, not more silicon breast implants.

    Let’s see all that. Then we can all talk about how we played our part in this fight. Netflix and chill is not enough while my family, friends and colleagues are out there fighting. Our country won two world wars because the entire country mobilized. We out-produced and we out-manufactured while our soldiers out-fought the enemy. We need to do that again because make no mistake, we are at war, healthcare workers are your soldiers, and the war has just begun.”

    Last comment: This crisis caught everybody by surprise. Don’t act like the biotech companies are somehow to blame because they were working on products that were wealth generators when it hit. The business of business is business, and if a business could generate more wealth by producing products to feed rich women’s vanity than to heal, then you really can’t fault them. Netflix and chill? What are you talking about? Those of us who can are working from home, as awkward as that is. Those of us who can’t, have been furloughed or laid off outright. That means no paycheck coming in, and all that goes with that. We aren’t sitting at home looking at movies and binge-watching NCIS. It really isn’t fair to imply that’s what we’re doing.

    Now, let’s talk about that history lesson you seem to want to give the rest of us. The whole country didn’t mobilize for WWI, although there was a great mobilization. Life at home went on much as it had before, save the nerve-wracking worry about soldiers in the field and ships facing U-boats. This country alone certainly didn’t win that war. France, Belgium, Russia, Italy and the UK had been fighting it for three years before we got involved, and the Allies won only because our soldiers got there in force faster than the Germans could move their eastern armies west. “The whole country” did in fact mobilize for WW2, to the point where ordinary folks were extremely limited in the amounts of meat, gas, and other things they could buy. I submit to you that would not be acceptable now, especially not in light of the current struggles. Oh, and, but for the remarkable bravery of the UK people and the RAF, we probably couldn’t have won in Europe. Japan, I’ll grant you, was all us. However, there’s a big difference between fighting an enemy who intends to wipe you out, and an illness spread mostly by stupid behavior. I studied the Greatest Generation, I knew members of the Greatest Generation. Doc, you guys are no Greatest Generation, so don’t reach yet for the honor that belongs only to them. In fact don’t reach for any. I don’t recall any of the rescue workers at ground zero demanding that everyone make their lives easier, either. As Churchill said, brace to your duties.

    • Steve, I have learned to appreciate your comments as wisdom. As much as Jack, I have learned stuff from you. This is COTD material. But that is Jack’s decision, not mine. Thank you.

          • Perhaps because pH1N1 was a variant of a known flu virus. If I remember correctly, standard ant-virals (Tamiflu and Relenza) worked on it. I think some of the panic is because this one’s a complete unknown, and what it will respond to is not known well. It also goes from a light cough to critical stage very quickly. A colleague of my husband’s was diagnosed on March 6th and was put on a ventilator by the 10th. There is undoubtedly also panic because the confidence in the President and the government at large has been eroded daily for the past three years, and they continue to bash the President’s every move. I wish they’d stop, because an ‘every man for himself!’ mindset is so dangerous in a situation like this, but the more they claim that Trump is incompetent, and that he did away with the pandemic response team, and that he has no idea what he’s doing, the more they push the average citizen into thinking that no one’s got their backs.

    • I don’t believe it was written by a doctor, either. It has the same tone as so many memes. Some wannabe safe at home with a lot of time on their hands is my guess.

  3. Spare me the history lessons. I just finished reading a book about Anzio in WWII and, frankly, this so-called doctor cannot even comprehend the privations doctors had to endure, not even considering their patients. Having to possibly reuse protective gear? Poor baby. Try operating while you’re slogging around in the mud, inside tents that leak and you are periodically shelled by artillery. Not to mention the patients who were soaked, freezing (this was during the dead of winter), had to endure lying for hours in the field, covered with mud and crap before being dragged back to the field hospital for treatment. Oh, and sterile techniques? Don’t make me laugh — that assumes they still had soap.

    We were the richest nation on earth, yet this was about the best we could do for those soldiers at that place and time. We did better than in any previous war – either WWI or WWII was the first war where non-combat deaths (i.e. sickness, starving or freezing to death, etc) were lower than combat deaths. But still…..

    I’m with you — I seriously doubt that was an actual physician who wrote that screed.

  4. 3 million Americans die every year.

    If we did everything right, it would have been 3.5 million for each of the next 2 years.
    If we start doing everything right from now, it will be 4 million for each of the next 2 years.
    If we continue on as is, 8 million for each of the next 2 years.

    Taking worst reasonable case, a “let her rip” strategy to save the economy, still only 15 million each year rather than 3 without the virus.24 million avoidable deaths.

    2 to 3 times current death rate will not exactly lead to piles of bodies in the streets, starving children due to dead parents etc. And only for 2 years.

    It’s still over multiple millions of avoidable deaths.

    • No.

      I’m sorry, but when you post fantastical numbers such as that, you lose any credibility you might have had.

      First, where is there any data that would lead us to think this disease has a mortality rate of 8-10%? I sure haven’t heard of any. Alternatively, 24 million deaths would mean that at least 800-1200 million Americans would catch this disease. I think that unlikely.

      You’re also saying that absolute best case scenario — had we done everything ‘right’, whatever that means, 100+ million Americans would come down with this virus. If that’s the best case scenario, then we might as well give up now.

      If we totally shut down the economy — how many otherwise avoidable deaths will that cause? Don’t try to pretend that won’t come at a cost — how many people died because of the Great Depression that would otherwise have lived?

      Anyone can make spreadsheets to show that hundreds of millions of Americans are bound to get sick and die, anyone can be Chicken Little. There is a lesson to be learned from the tale of Chicken Little.

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