Tree Day Ethics Warm-Up, December 22, 2020

Tree needles

I’ll be writing this between bouts with the lights. The Marshall Tree was supposed to go up a week ago, then it rained, so the thing had to dry out. Then last week was consumed with an expert witness report, and now this weird tree with long needles and soft branches is standing in my living room, and none of my usual decoration techniques, and probably only 30% of our ornaments, will work with the damn thing. Yesterday I was supposed to hang the lights, and I was so stressed out I couldn’t do it. But today is the day…

1. Anyone surprised at this? A December survey by the international organization More in Common seemed to show that citizens on the far left are the most likely to report negative feelings about the United States.. Only 34% of the group More in Common calls “progressive activists” agreed with the statement “I feel proud to be American.” It was the only ideological group in the survey that agreed with that statement at a rate below 60%

All other respondent groups, including minorities and Americans identifying as politically conservative, strongly agreed with the statement, including 70% of black Americans and 76% of Hispanic Americans. Whites registered a 75% proportion asserting patriotic pride.

100% of the group categorized as “devoted conservatives” said that they take pride in being Americans. 80% of all respondents surveyed said they were thankful to be American, with more than two-thirds reporting a connection to their local communities and fellow Americans. The weakest sense of belonging to the culture and community came from progressive activists and younger respondents.

2. On priority for vaccines...I have read a lot of unethical nonsense being framed as ethics about the question of who should get the vaccine first. I expect to read a lot more. A Times article on the topic says, “Ultimately, the choice comes down to whether preventing death or curbing the spread of the virus and returning to some semblance of normalcy is the highest priority.” Is that really a difficult choice? Obviously the top priority for society in both the long and the short run is to get back to normal as quickly as possible, not to prioritize trying to delay the mortality of citizens who don’t have that long to live anyway. I haven’t heard the “if it saves just one life” rationalization yet, but I’m sure it is coming.

Then there is this: “To me the issue of ethics is very significant, very important for this country,” Dr. Peter Szilagyi, a committee member and a pediatrics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said at the time, “and clearly favors the essential worker group because of the high proportion of minority, low-income and low-education workers among essential workers.”

There it is: let’s prioritize by race, because not prioritizing by race is racist.

3. If the only news source I read was the New York Times, I would have no idea that Rep. Eric Swalwell had an affair with a Chinese spy. This story is fascinating and fun for many reasons. Swalwell was one of the most over-the-moon accusers of President Trump for having alleged ties to Russia; he’s also on the House Intelligence Committee, making having intimate relations with a foreign spy problematical, but also pinging that other meaning of “intelligence,” as in “What an idiot!” And yet the Times has not reported the story, though Axios, not exactly a conservative cheer-leader, reported two weeks ago that a former campaign bundler and romantic interest of Swalwell’s, Christine Fang, worked on behalf of the Communist Chinese government as part of a significant influence operation.

Searching the New York Times website for articles about the alleged scandal turned up nothing then, and turn up nothing now. “The New York Times has yet to inform its readers that Congressman Eric Swalwell, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, had a relationship with a Chinese spy,” former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted about the lack of coverage back on December 11. “Journalism is broken.”

Gee, Ari, what was your first clue? And if it was broken on eleven days ago, what is it now?

From The Federalist yesterday:

Reporting of Swalwell’s conduct has provoked growing calls from Republicans to remove Swalwell from the House Intelligence Committee. On Friday, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was given an FBI briefing on the matter alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While Pelosi left the meeting without making comments to reporters, McCarthy left sounding more convinced than ever that Swalwell should be stripped of the assignment.

“He should not be on Intel,” McCarthy said as he left the briefing. “I just think there are definitely 200 other Democrats that I know could fill that place.”

Swalwell, a primary culprit in weaponizing his role on the Intelligence Committee to perpetuate the Russia hoax — alongside California colleague Adam Schiff, who chairs the committee — has continued to deny any wrongdoing and has reverted a favorite Democratic Party narrative of collusion accusing Trump of leaking the story to Axios. Despite the calls from more than a dozen House lawmakers calling for Swalwell’s removal, including the House minority leader, combined with credible reporting on the scandal from outlets the Times has routinely cited for major stories, the legacy paper has yet to offer a single column to the blockbuster revelations. Given the Times’s relentless four-year coverage of the Russia hoax implicating President Trump as a covert agent of the Kremlin, however, one could easily imagine how the paper might react differently had the representative in Swalwell’s seat held an “R” next to their name.


4. If you have a choice about where you’re going to kill someone, I suggest picking Great Britain over the U.S.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons last week commuted the life sentence of Myon Burrell, who was sentenced to life in prison as a minor. Burrell was accused at 16 off fatally shooting an 11-year old girl who was struck by a stray bullet while doing her homework inside her family’s Minneapolis home. A year long investigation by The Associated Press and American Public Media published earlier this year revealed new evidence and numerous irregularities in the handling of the case, including the absence of fingerprint and DNA evidence, and a missing murder weapon. The case against Burrell built on a teen rival who gave conflicting accounts of the shooting; later, police turned to jailhouse informants, some of whom say they were coached and have since recanted. Some key evidence is missing; other key evidence was never located obtained. The chief homicide detective in the case was even caught on camera offering cash for information.

Burrell was certified as an adult and placed in solitary confinement. After he turned 17 a year after the investigation into the killing of Tyesha Edwards began, the black teen was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. That 2003 conviction was thrown out on appeal, but Burrell was convicted again in 2008 and sentenced to 45 years to life in prison.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons commuted the now 34-year-old’s life sentence to 20 years, saying he could serve out the rest of the time on immediate supervised release.

Oh, about Great Britain: in the recent Netflix documentary about the Yorkshire Ripper, who brutally butchered thirteen women, the sentencing judge is quoted as apologizing for giving the serial killer, who confessed, a 30-year sentence, which he described as “unusually harsh.”

10 thoughts on “Tree Day Ethics Warm-Up, December 22, 2020

  1. ““Ultimately, the choice comes down to whether preventing death or curbing the spread of the virus and returning to some semblance of normalcy is the highest priority.” Is that really a difficult choice? Obviously the top priority for society in both the long and the short run is to get back to normal as quickly as possible, not to prioritize trying to delay the mortality of citizens who don’t have that long to live anyway.”

    I think the Time’s premise is bad, and I think you bought it.

    If seniors aren’t vaccinated, you aren’t going to be returning to normalcy regardless of how many frontline workers are vaccinated, because the highest risk demographics will still be at risk, and they still have to function in society. The argument could be made that we could bubble vulnerable populations, but frankly, we tried that in the most callous, cruel ways imaginable already, it didn’t even have the benefit of working. People aren’t more likely to put up with worse now.

    A return to normalcy will come as certain metrics start to improve; As infection and fatality rates decrease, regardless of who those infections and fatalities happen to, you’re more likely to give oxygen to reopening movements, so you might as well vaccinate the people most likely to die. As hospital, ICU and ventilator usage decrease, you’re more likely to give oxygen to reopening movements, so you might as well vaccinate the people most likely to need a hospital bed, ICU, or ventilator.

    Frabjous day! Doing the humane thing also does the smart thing.

    • I don’t buy it, as I will detail later. The most vulnerable are those well over retirement age, and they need to be extra-careful. Vaccinating them doesn’t get society back to normal, any more than vaccinating children. Fatality rates are decreasing without the vaccine. The highest risk populations are those who have to function in society for society to work. That isn’t the most vulnerable group in isolation, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

      • I still disagree, sorry. While seniors in homes are obviously the most vulnerable population, the case fatality rate curve increases sharply after age 40. People over age 40 are disproportionately more likely not to work in what is being deemed “frontline work” and that only gets truer the older (and more vulnerable) a person gets. Worrying about care homes isn’t bad… It would have been great if Cuomo had… but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Think back to the SCOTUS rulings on church closures; SCOTUS has been clear: There is no universe where the constitution allows more restrictions on faithful gatherings than it does on secular gatherings. You are going to have disproportionately old people cramming churches as they are reopened.

        Regardless; One way or the other, openings are going to be done in phases. And as we phase open, we’re going to see infections. It’s the next best thing to inevitable, we saw it when we started reopening over the summer, and it ought to have surprised no one. Whether the next phase in the reopening plans happen or whether they roll back are going to depend on metrics and public opinion, and while those will differ by state, I think that generally public opinion in particular, but also the measurement weights, will be more sensitive to deaths than infections. And if you reopen states while vulnerable people remain unvaccinated, you’re going to tend towards more serious metrics.

        • The fatality rate after 40 is still much less that 1%, and that’s even with the crazy measuring system of calling all deaths “Covid” if the victim was infected. Public opinion has been manipulated shamelessly—if that’s the basis for policy, then it will be based on fear.

          I’m in all sorts of high risk categories, and I’m still working, arguably doing some good, though I can’t imagine what that might be right now. If my grocery checker, my pharmacist,my doctor and the people working on the water pipes by my house aren’t ahead of me in line, that’s nuts.

      • Jack
        According to Joe Biden’s Christmas message today the darkest days are ahead of us and not behind us. So it might not matter.

        Not sure if he was referring to his upcoming administration’s hidden plans to enslave us all or the effects of the virus.

  2. I am extremely skeptical of the Netflix documentary’s claim that the sentencing judge was “quoted as apologizing for giving the serial killer, who confessed, a 30-year sentence, which he described as “unusually harsh.” The case was very high profile and thoroughly reported here in the UK. Newspapers at the time reported the judge saying he hoped Sutcliffe would never be released after passing down 20 life sentences. Had the judge said anything like what Netflix have indicated, there would have been a scandal – can you imagine Britain’s bloodthirsty tabloids reaction to that? I suspect some out of context sleight of hand here by the documentary makers, perhaps involving the same judge in a different case.

    • Wikipedia backs Netflix: “The trial judge said Sutcliffe was beyond redemption and hoped he would never leave prison. He recommended a minimum term of thirty years to be served before parole could be considered, meaning Sutcliffe would have been unlikely to be freed until at least 2011.” I see no reference anywhere to “20 life sentences,” though that would have been a more appropriate sentence. In fact, Sutcliffe should have been executed. 30 years was enough: he died in prison.

  3. Dang, I’m agreeing with HT again — is the world turning backwards on its axis?

    I believe that, if you vaccinated everyone over 65, you’d drastically cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths. Once you do that, the country is going to open back up, no matter what the politicians might say.

    I would agree that medical workers should be right at the top of the queue. Even if they might not be in the highest risk groups, they are certainly exposed to the disease to a great degree and, if infected, will disproportionately expose many of the more vulnerable groups.

    From what I’ve been hearing, if we concentrate on the over 65 population, we can have them pretty much all vaccinated by January or perhaps February. One other point — this is likely the demographic most receptive to getting vaccinated. Especially, I’d think, the ones who remember polio from the 50s.


    Somewhat of a tangent — how can a medical worker working in a nursing home or elder care facility justify refusing to get vaccinated? I just cannot fathom someone being that craven, knowing you are likely condemning someone under your care to illness or death because you’re afraid of a vaccine.


  4. Nope, just stating what the models are telling us. Ones that have been tracking pretty well lately, although a touch, a mere smidgen, on the optimistic side.

    The trouble is is that as things turn to fertiliser, behaviour changes, and risks reduce. A really good thing from the viewpoint of saving lives, but it makes modelling…. tricky.

    Anyway, US death rate per case has risen from 1.6% to 1.8%, purely due to hospital overload. Lots of Covid patients -> Medics get sick -> Patients get less care and die more often -> Medics burn out and so on. This despite large improvements in therapeutic regimens.

    Then there are all of the non Covid patients who can’t get the same care as they did 12 months ago, the resources just aren’t there.

    Our models suggest that medics be the highest priority. This means feedback works for us, not against us.

    Fortunately we’ve not had to make use of these models locally. Although screw ups happen, we’ve handled one major breakout and *maybe* put the lid on another. Our models suggest we’re taking too many risks now, “probably alright” really isn’t good enough with this insidious infection. We msy get away with around 150 infections total in this wave. We’re getting 8 in 40,000 tests daily, mostly in a locked down hotspot.

    We’re tracing 3 levels of contacts. Contacts of contacts of contacts of infections, so 8 new can lead to 3000 suspects.

    We now have enough data to say with confidence that 40% of symptomatic patients and 10% of asymptomatic ones have long term health effects. Many have shown no improvement in 8 months, but it’s too soon to say whether the disability is permanent or not. The cognitive deficits will likely get better over the next decade, but may never resolve completely. Lung and heart damage may worsen though rather than improve.

    Peak infection rate, and consequent death rate a month later, for the US is likely to occur in early March, with 4000 deaths daily. Assuming the vaccination campaign goes well, you should be down to no more than 200 deaths daily by the end of 2021. If it goes very well, a lot less. We don’t expect it to, but we don’t expect 300 deaths daily either, barring really amazing screw ups.

    You might get away with 500,000 deaths total, another 200,000 yet to come before Spring mostly.

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