Ann Althouse’s Son Gets 4 Out Of 5 Right, And 4 Out Of 5 Ain’t Bad

Athouse’s son, John Althouse Cohen, has his own eclectic blog, and I check in now and then. He’s intelligent, as I would expect, though his endorsement of the transparently pandering Pete Buttigieg was disappointing. Now and then his mother directs her huge readership over to him, which is what she did with a post called “Things I’m tired of hearing about the coronavirus.”

It seems unfair that John’s post has, as of now, zero comments, and Ann’s post consisting of nothing more than a link to that post has 118 comments as I write this. Why wouldn’t her readers give the author of the post their attention and support instead of his mother?

Be that as it may, John mentioned five things he was sick of hearing during the current pandemic, and four out of five reasons for his fatigue were valid. One is an attempt to excuse the inexcusable, using an intellectually dishonest argument.

Here are John’s four legitimate beefs:

  • He flags “More people die in car crashes!” This is transparently idiotic, and reminds me of Michael Moore’s asinine refrain after 9/11 that since more people died in auto accidents, it made no sense for the government to take major anti-terrorism measures. Ethics Alarms touched on this kind of argument here.

I wonder: What proportion of the public is this bad at analogies? I’m a bit afraid of the answer.

  • “Look, it’s not that hard, just wash your hands and don’t touch your face!” Cohen says: “Actually, it’s pretty hard to wash your hands often enough and never touch your face.” Ethics Alarms discussed the near-useless “Don’t touch your face!” edicts here.

I suspect, though, that one benefit of this ordeal will be that everyone will develop a new and healthy dedication to hand washing. I was amazed, in an earlier flu outbreak, how quickly coughing into one’s arm became a society-wise practice. It was amazing. After centuries of covering our mouths with our hands, this superior method became a reflex. Buy hand soap stock.

  • Cohen takes aim at “Quit whining, other people have had to go to war, while you’re just sitting around on the couch!”, saying, “That’s a little tone-deaf when many people are sitting at home worried about how they’re going to pay the rent or feed their families because they lost their jobs as a result of the virus.”

Yes, the fact that there have been other national emergencies requiring more of citizens than the current one does not mean the pain of a current crisis isn’t significant. It’s like telling someone in the hospital with two broken legs that she has no right to complain because someone else was set on fire.  On the other hand, recounting what previous generations have had to sacrifice might be a useful strategy with someone like the son in this query to a Slate advice columnist;

The problem is my youngest child is a high school senior, and all the fun stuff has…been canceled. He finally made varsity in the sport he plays, and the big statewide tournament has been canceled. We don’t know if they will even be able to play again. The spring dance was canceled, and we won’t be going on our spring break vacation. Now we are also worried about senior prom; graduation; Spring Day at his new, out-of-state college; senior trip (that he has already paid for himself); and college orientations that start in June…. He is disappointed and frustrated to be missing out on experiences that just won’t happen again. How do I support him through his stress..?

Millions of  kids his age have missed these experiences due to injuries, poverty, family disasters, wars and more. I see nothing inappropriate about reminding him of that.

  • “China has almost no coronavirus cases anymore, so let’s figure out what they’re doing right and copy that!” John nails this, writing: “Yes, let’s trust official reports from an authoritarian government known for secrecy and censorship. Also, China has admitted it isn’t counting asymptomatic cases, unlike other countries”

Now here is  Cohen’s misfire. He attempted to mock “Why are people hoarding toilet paper? They must have some irrational bias!” by writing,

Right, because it’s not like people have a good reason for buying more toilet paper than usual when they and their family members have to be at home all the time, and governments are announcing increasingly strict lockdowns.

Uh, no. People do not use more toilet paper because they spend more time at home. If everyone bought paper products exactly as they always have, according to need, there would be no shortages. The government isn’t going to prevent access to food and essential supplies. People are hoarding toilet paper and other items because 1) they, again, have poor analogy skills, and think we are facing a nuclear winter, or 2) they are trying to create a shortage they can exploit, or 3) because they are reacting to a legitimate fear of a shortage caused by the first two kinds of people, who are lousy  citizens and bad neighbors. Unfortunately, #3 is rational behavior.

Still, as Marvin Lee Aday, aka Meatloaf, so sagely observed, two out of three ain’t bad, and four out of five is better.

38 thoughts on “Ann Althouse’s Son Gets 4 Out Of 5 Right, And 4 Out Of 5 Ain’t Bad

  1. Schools here are staging an Emergency Covid-19 Laptop Distribution for elementary children tomorrow. There is panic and heroism aplenty. I’m waiting for the t-shirt.
    My question is, what makes this an emergency? The outbreak constitutes an emergency, in some measure because people are prone to create a myriad of other ill-conceived, mass hyteria-related occupations.

  2. There’s really a more logical (and sympathetic) reason the toilet paper shortage started in the first place: many people want to avoid trips to the store as much as possible to avoid exposure as much as possible. There are a lot of baby boomers in the high risk groups, and a lot of parents worried about bringing it home to their kids (not to mention the families that include someone with asthma or bad hearts or immune dysfunction.)

    If you want to bring your four grocery trips a month down to one, you need to buy in bulk. Add to that, while you can change up dinner plans if you ran out of potatoes or pasta, there’s really nothing to do if you run low on TP but head to the store, and you get cautious-but-not-necessarily-panicked people buying twice or four times the TP they normally would.

    Now multiply that by 5% or 10% of the population, and you get your giant smowball started.

    • (Note that I’m talking about the very beginning of the Great TP Panic, when no one thought it would be an issue to grab an extra package or two. Once the panic started, it was a matter of not knowing when they could possibly get more if they needed it.)

    • I don’t think it’s logical or sympathetic. The distribution system works because stores can stock enough to meet everyone’s reasonable needs. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that if you engage in conduct that will cause the system to break down if everybody does it, then you are behaving unethically and irrationally. It’s the Tragedy of the Commons. Yes, I realize that 5%-10% of the populations are selfish morons. I don’t forgive them. In many matters they make life worse for the rest of us, and this is one of them.

      • What’s the ethical number of times a week to go to the store?

        I was a once a week shopper, and when this very first was being talked about here (late February) I deciced I should maybe try to make that twice a month, just in case. Was that choice unethical?

        It was something I had considered in the past, just because shopping eats up a whole weekend afternoon I’d rather spend with my family every other week. Would that change have been unethical?

        My parents are already the type of people who shop once a month and buy in bulk, is that always unethical?

        I propose that like me, many people said “oh, this would be a good time to cut down on trips to the store.” That’s a decision many people make every day, not considering that it would impact the grocery store in any way if everyone did it, any more than they worry that if everyone in the world tried to look at Ethics Alarms at the same time they would crash the servers.

    • Actually, this isn’t right.

      People are buying things like toilet paper, eggs, and other consumables to fill a psychological need to assert some control over a situation that is mostly out of their control. It gives them comfort to think that they’ve addressed a threat to their normal lives by stocking against a shortage they see as likely or inevitable, even if that fear is not based in reality. The more pressure we feel, the more we create our own personal version of reality and attempt to deal with it. We see the same behavior every time there is a significant snowstorm forecast.

      Subconscious motivations are hard to resist because, well, they are subconscious. We don’t even think rationally about why such motivations exist unless we critically examine them, normally after somebody brings the irrationality of it to our attention. Even then, the compulsion is no less powerful.

      Compulsive hoarding (not quite the same thing) is considered in psychology to be a form of OCD.

  3. I found a surprising amount of people agreed with my complaint: why did the bigger food chains schedule the dedicated Senior times in their stores 7-8 in the morning? Most of us respectable elder citizens don’t care to arise at six a.m. to go shopping.

    • okay, don’t bother making snarky comments. I’ll admit it. The unexpected number of people who agreed with me were .. out of ………..

      and one of the .. later left a whispery message on my voice mail saying he doesn’t get up at six; he gets up at five.

      • “Most of us respectable elder citizens don’t care to arise at six a.m. to go shopping.”

        Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode (The Money) where Jerry’s father Morty (Barney Martin) becomes a pain-in-the-@$$ after getting hired by Elaine at J. Peterman Catalog, prompting her to want to get rid of him.

        ELAINE: Speaking of Jerry, his father is driving me so crazy down at Peterman’s.

        GEORGE: You know what I do at the Yankees, when one of these old guys is breathing down my neck?

        ELAINE: What?

        GEORGE: You schedule a late meeting.

        ELAINE: Huh? What does that do?

        GEORGE: These old guys, they’re up at 4 a.m., by two thirty they’re wiped. (bolds mine)

        My Dear late Father used to get up @03:15 a.m. during his working years AND, into his 90’s, still went to Woodman’s Grocery Store 1st thing (06:00-06:30 a.m.) in the morning to get 1st crack at all the discounts.

        He and a friend’s late Father had a competition trying to outmaneuver each other for the pick of the best deals.

    • The reason is that the store is disinfected at night. In the morning, it is less likely to spread disease than after a bunch of people have been in it all day.

    • The reason is simple. They disinfect the stores at night. In the morning, the store is as clean as it is going to be that day. It is less likely to spread disease right after it opens than after people have been shopping in it all day.

    • From a health and safety viewpoint, the earlier time makes the most sense. The store will presumably have been cleaned overnight, and hasn’t yet been all virused up by a horde of shoppers touching everything all day. If your goal is to reduce exposure to the older customers, this is the best way to do it.

  4. With regard to number 5 (insert #2 joke here), I’ve been saying this often that we are stuck in the shortage due to the rational response to the original shortage, whatever its cause.

    It is the perfect mix of panic buying and conflicting information. There are also conflicting priorities.

    Four weeks ago, authorities said to stock up with two weeks of supplies in case had to quarantine. As society was slowly and utterly randomly shutdown, it became apparent two weeks might not be long enough. First social events, then schools, then churches, then businesses would shutdown.

    The governor would give a three hour briefing announcing new restrictions. THE NEXT DAY, several new restrictions would be implemented, often contrading what was stated the day before. News from Europe suggests this pissing contest of governors outdoing each other with restrictions might go on indefinitely.

    So early “hoarders” stocked up on four weeks of supplies, not two.

    Guess what, a supermarket has 12 aisles of food, and one for toilet paper. Of course, toilet paper would get slammed. And once that initial shortage struck, everyone is stuck in a cycle of shortage. It doesn’t help that I’ve only seen it it sold in bulk while it is briefly on the shelf…

    Now, for a philosophic question: should our nation’s paper mills be making toilet paper, or surgical masks?

    • Now, for a philosophic question: should our nation’s paper mills be making toilet paper, or surgical masks?

      The answer, I think, is both. For the most part, there is enough capacity in the for actual domestic mask needs that are likely to arise in this pandemic. What we are seeing is states acting in a “hoarding” manner, determined to prepare for a worst-case scenario that is unlikely to materialize. Hence, they claim they need millions of masks when a few hundred thousand will do.

      But like all politicians, governors and hospital administrators know that if you don’t ask for way more than you need, you may not get any. This is universal government procurement and organizational philosophy, particularly in an emergency. This is amplified by the unfortunate “if even only one person, [dies, gets infected, suffers, etc.] it’s too many” philosophy of risk management that has taken hold in our culture.

      Finally, the reason we have no excess capacity is that too many critical products have been shifted to offshore procurement. Nobody seems to have thought what might happen if those supplies were interrupted by a global pandemic.

      I’ll bet we’re all thinking about it now.

      • This is amplified by the unfortunate “if even only one person, [dies, gets infected, suffers, etc.] it’s too many” philosophy of risk management that has taken hold in our culture.


        That’s a British level of understatement – practically to praise a mental disease pandemic with faint damnation!

    • Regarding the governors (and heads of state): When I was delivering newspapers I often made a joke about deer — when your headlights hit a deer by the side of the road, it has only one thought “I’m on the wrong side of the road!”

      I’d submit that our governors and other politicians are much like those deer. They get hit by the spotlight of a corona virus infection or two in their state and they have only one thought. “I must shut down the entire state! Well, except for these 735 occupations and business types that are essential.”

      Yes, we have to destroy the village in order to save it, always a good policy choice, right?

  5. What proportion of the public is this bad at analogies?

    More people die in car crashes than could stitch together a functional allegory. Indeed, they could all be annihilated by a single ten-car pile-up.

  6. “More people die in car crashes!”

    Depending on the usage of comparative casualty counts, these actually are NOT bad quotes.

    Society ALWAYS lives with risk and societies ALWAYS strike a balance between collective risks and collective rewards. Inevitable car deaths ARE a risk we have collectively accepted because we’ve decided the immediate benefits, the secondary and tertiary benefits and the unpredictable benefits in the future are all worth the risks.

    Society has decided these balances regarding all manner of threats.

    Eventually, we will realize that Covid-19 can be lived with, even if it is a heightened risk compared to other diseases.

    And someday, Covid-19 will become someone’s go to quote when certain sectors of our greater community start saying “Government has to do something!”, they’ll reply, “We’ve decided to live with the Wuhan Virus, why can’t we live with this?”

    • Of course Michael West steps up to the plate; if I’m about to out myself as an idiot who’s bad at analogies, at least I’m in good company.

      We’re all actually okay with human death as a trade-off for economic activity, implicitly or otherwise, despite all the hand-wringers on Twitter claiming that the health of the economy is a small price to pay to help save lives. Otherwise, we’d be on board with national legislation limiting the speed limit to somewhere between 0 and 10 mph. Deaths due to car accidents would drop to close to zero.

      In fact, that’s pretty much what speed limits are. We’re even okay with the significant hampering of economic activity (in the form of less effective logistics) around elementary schools during school hours because of the relatively small economic cost. So why don’t we reduce the speed limit to 20 mph EVERYWHERE during school hours? Because now the economic cost has become much larger than the potential benefit.

      Of course, we’ve got loads of data to make us comfortable with our decision here. Hypothetically, if cars were only invented yesterday, but were somehow as widely distributed and ready for use as they are today, what kind of discussions would we be having around their use? There would be models estimating the potential annual deaths between the tens of thousands and the millions (I’m sure the horse-and-buggy manufacturers’ models would be assuming the worst case), and the models you believed would probably largely dictate where you fell on the speed limit debate.

      That’s most likely what’s going on here. We don’t have the data to be comfortable with the amount of death we’re looking at. Is it below a hundred thousand? Is it more than a million? I’d be more okay with effectively shutting down the economy if millions of lives were at stake. Even then, there is a discussion to be had about the trade off, and acknowledging that human life does not always take precedence is helpful to keep in mind, if nothing else than to balance out the people who reflexively take the opposite extreme from Trump and claim that choosing to try to restart the economy in April is the moral equivalent of Hitlering.

      • But the people complaining about the analogies aren’t trying to say “Coronavirus is too risky”, they’re trying to say “We don’t want to have this conversation, so shut up”

        • Oh, surely not true, at least here. The risk tolerance discussion is essential and useful, but it isn’t competently luanched by comparisons with guns, cars, and cancer. A communicable disease is a very particular case. I view comparing it to auto crashes as signature significance for a defective intellect of a dishonest advocate.

            • I haven’t heard that rationalization used in this current situation. It’s pretty clear to me that the rationale is “We don’t really know what this thing is or does yet, so it makes sense to be cautious until we find out.”

              • Just as soon as anyone says “we can’t live like this forever”, the “just be a little cautious” crowd immediately screeches how people who want to have this conversation “just want to throw grandpa and grandma into the grave for a dollar”.

                I’ve not seen one person yet on the “let’s be cautious” side want to have the conversation.

          • Now, a better analogy would be the 2009 H1H1 ‘pandemic’. In 2009, there were 60 million people infected, 275,000 people hospitalized, and 12,500 dead from H1N1 in the US. We didn’t panic, we didn’t shut down cities, states, or the country. We went on as normal as millions got sick and thousands died. One big difference is that the media liked the President at the time and didn’t want to point out his lackluster leadership in a time of crisis. Roughly 500,000 people died from this worldwide.

            • Right. But…

              H1N1 killed that many over the course of a year.

              Here’s some shoddy but at least “give you an idea” statistical analysis.

              H1N1, in ONE year killed about 200-250 Italians. Currently, after only a *month and a half* or even 3 months to be generous…Coronavirus has killed 7,500 Italians. Left unchecked and uncontrolled, modestly, we could assume maybe 15,000-30,000 dead Italians in ONE year of Coronavirus.

              Now, if H1N1 killed the reported 12,500 in the US in ONE year? Think of what an uncontrolled and unchecked Coronavirus could do.

              I think heightened concern is definitely warranted. Panic is never warranted, but a very heightened concern is.

              Coronavirus is extra dangerous – with it’s 1 to 2 week often asymptomatic incubation but contagious period…that’s significant. It’s ability to remain on surfaces for days is significant. Extremely thorough hand cleaning methods are necessary to get it off your hands…more than just a squirt of hand sanitizer. These things add up.

      • Otherwise, we’d be on board with national legislation limiting the speed limit to somewhere between 0 and 10 mph. Deaths due to car accidents would drop to close to zero.

        What would be the economic cost?

  7. I also want to point out that part of the problem with toilette paper in particular comes from bad reporting.

    It struck me early in the panic that toilette paper was a particularly stupid thing to stockpile; Let’s say that you honest to God believe that the supply chain is going to be disrupted, and you want to laugh at all the normies who laughed at you and called you a tin-foil-coffed doomsday prepper. Fine. Why Charmin? Why not flats of water, bags of rice, or jars and preserves? Why ascial tissue?

    This made no sense to me, and then one of my friends pointed out that this was fabricated. Usually when people panic, they buy exactly the kind of list I describes as opposed to butt wipes. What was different this time was shortages in Australia. See, Australia doesn’t have much in terms of a paper industry, whenever someone in Australia gets within ten feet of a tree, they’re taking their lives into their own hands, putting themselves within striking distance of probably 27 different venomous things that wants to kill them. So instead, they were getting their shit tickets from China, specifically Wuhan Province, China. And when China shut down Wuhan province, all of a sudden there weren’t any bog rolls left in the only country that is also a continent.

    Would that have effected other Western Markets? Hell no. Ontario’s pulp and paper industry has been struggling for years, they would have *loved* to not only continue production for most of Canada and some of the US, but would salivate over the opportunity to ship crap wrap to Australia, with the added benefit to Australians of having 100% less lead in the products.

    But noooooooo, the media loves them some panic, almost as much as Jim Acosta loves him some Jim Acosta. I could understand, for instance, the local Australian blog/YouTube/Instagram/Tide Pod Eating crowd panicking at a deficit of poop eraser, because… y’know… morons. But what caused this was that not only did American outlets not inform Americans that their moon square supply was secure, but they talked as if the American supply was in danger, showing screen after screen of empty Australian shelves until the panic hit America and they could show screen after screen of empty American shelves in one of the greatest examples of self-fulfilling prophecy I have ever seen.

  8. I have also wondered about the toilet paper issue. It has to be in part a cultural thing. The world can be divided into those who use paper to clean their ass and those who use water. I learned while living in a water country that those who use water find it amusing and pretty disgusting that someone would try to clean shit off their posterior by smearing it around with paper rather than washing it off. I recall seeing an interview where Tiny Tim, you do remember him don’t you, made the point that he always took a shower after a bowel movement so he could be clean. Most people from a culture that uses paper, not being Tiny Tim, seem to find it utterly impossible to believe that one can clean crap from their nether regions any way other than by rubbing it in with paper. In this current crisis, I am thankful that my house is equipped with a bidet. There is only one way to get that asshole clean mister–LAVA.

    Speaking of soap, what is the deal with hand soap? Yesterday in Publix where I went to get essentials, beer and frozen pizza, I noted that the hand soap shelves were totally empty but right next to them were shelves overflowing with body wash. Come on people, your hands are part of your body. The butthole is too, come to think of it. Probably shouldn’t publicize this or there will be a shortage of shower gel next.

    MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: You really shouldn’t use soap on your sensitive nether rosebud it may be too irritating. Plain water will do. Also, NEVER clean it with fish tank cleaner no matter what you thought the President said.

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