Thoughts on statistics….

Its been quite some time since I blogged. Not gonna make excuses…its just been really low on the priority list lately, just trying to survive work, kids virtual school, staying at home, surviving anxiety, and combating some health issues (not related to Covid, but made more difficult because of its presence).

Some folks might know that IRL, I’m an industrial hygienist (IH). In UK-English speaking countries, its also called occupational hygiene, but either way, its a field most people have never heard of. There are various definitions of what a IH does, but basically, we work at the intersection between environmental health and public health in an occupational setting, with a focus on hazards created by the work itself. Our job is to predict, identify, measure, and document certain types of health hazards in the workplace and offer guidance and recommendations about how to control or mitigate them. We specifically look at physical hazards such as noise or vibration, radiological hazards, chemical hazards (things you might inhale or absorb through your skin), ergonomic hazards, etc. We apply a combination of research and regulatory requirements to advise people on how to best stay healthy while doing jobs that create health hazards. I say all this to explain that, while I’m no virologist, in my day job, I am a scientist with actual experience at interpreting and applying data and, more importantly, perhaps, trying to explain it to people in a relatable way.

As of today, there have been 26,957,001 recorded/confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the United States. This number is almost certainly artificially low–as many as half of all infections may be asymptomatic or so mild that they are explained away as other things by people that never get tested.

On average, a person with Covid-19 probably infects 2 other people (estimates are between 1.5 and 3, though the real picture is that lots of people don’t infect anyone and a few people infect lots of people because too many people are still idiots and assholes).

As of today, 462,037 people in the US have died. I’m picking on the US because we have demonstrated ourselves to be the stupidest populations in the world, with a wide swathe of people incapable of following the simplest of precautions.

On January 20, a friend posted a photo of Woodstock from overhead as a demonstration of what 400,000 people might look like. Four hundred thousand people is a hard number to visualize. This photo of Woodstock has about 500,000 people in it, according to TIME:

Aerial view taken from a helicopter of the stage and the five hundred thousand strong crowd gathered at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in Bethel, New York, August 15 - 17 1969.

Its hard though, to estimate numbers from pictures…or even when doing population counts (I’ve done, for example, a number of bird counts…and I’m not that great at estimating flock numbers). I prefer something my brain can wrap around more easily.

At some point, I started using city populations to compare the COVID-19 death rate in the US because I was sick of seeing idiots that don’t understand statistics misuse percentage rates to mischaracterize the seriousness of this illness.

Back in mid-November was the day the number of US deaths reached the population of the county I was born in. The equivalent of dozens of small cities and towns and farming communities outside of a major metropolitan area (St. Clair County, IL is located right across the Mississippi River from the city of St. Louis).

Not even a month later (Dec 14th), you could have upgraded to the population center across the river; imagine the entire city of St. Louis, empty.

By the 19th of January, the death toll was equivelent to the city of Arlington, 49th largest city in the US.

By the end of the 20th, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

By the 21st of January, it was expected to be equivalent to the population of Tampa, Florida

By next week probably (at this rate), Oakland, then Minneapolis a few days later.

At the time, my prediction was that in 2 weeks, the number of deaths would be equivalent to the populations of Virginia Beach, followed by Colorado Springs, Long Beach, and Miami. Seventeen days after I wrote that, we are almost at a number of deaths equivalent to a hurricane taking the entire city of Miami off the map.

Give it a day or two.

By Valentines Day, an Atlanta or Sacramento worth of people will have died. I’m not sure when we are predicted to hit 600,000 deaths, but at that point, we can start talking states worth of people–our least populated state, Wyoming, has around 583,000 people.

At some point, large numbers become abstractions for most of us. Even for those of us that are used to looking at large numbers in data sets, there’s a certain distancing that comes from the abstraction of a number so big we cannot really wrap our minds around the significance of it. We need a way to ground ourselves with what it really means.

For me, its cities. A death isn’t just the loss of a person, its the loss of their memories and knowledge. Its the loss of their love and energy towards whatever it is in life that was their passion. Death empties a home, puts a hole in a family, rips out a few threads of a community.

This past year, we have lost an extra major metropolitan area’s worth of people from our country.

Since science has the ability to model the effects of different measures taken and how they affect transmission rates and death rates, I feel comfortable saying that a good chunk of those deaths were preventable.

A good chunk of those people were killed by those among us who bought into by pseudoscience, idiotic conspiracy ideas, and propaganda.

So don’t tell me I should get over my fury at those of you that were complicit in engaging with, defending, and spreading this administration’s poisonous nonsense. Don’t tell me in the interests of “unity” that I should ignore how too many of you cared so little for your neighbors and your communities that you chose subservience to a small minded, small hearted braggart over the actual doctrine of your professed faiths. Don’t tell me we just have a simple difference of political opinion when you aren’t even done washing the blood off your hands.

We have killed an entire major city’s worth of moms and dads and grandparents and kids and veterans and teachers and nurses and doctors and cooks and clerks and construction workers–from a single disease that was largely unknown to science before 2019–people who had lives and families and communities that depended on them, whom they loved, and whom will forever be missing them, wondering if their beloved dead was a death that could have been prevented.

These are extra deaths beyond the normal background death rate. So the next time some moron on your timeline comments that “only 1% of people die from it” (the 1% probably incorrect–depends on whose estimates you use, far from certain, and given the rate of underreporting of infection, there’s just as much evidence for an underreporting of COVID deaths as well), 1% is a fucking lot of people when we are talking about a virus that is spreading exponentially. Also, anyone that applies the “just 1%” logic to the fact that the virus does not affect populations equally, as an excuse to accept much higher death rates for *some* people, things start to sound awfully…well, like an embrace of eugenics.

We can’t stop a runaway pandemic on a dime. This isn’t going to end, even with vaccines being rolled out, for months. Every person infected is a chance for further mutations that can make the disease more communicable or more deadly…or worse, immune to the vaccine we’ve just created.

Wear your damn mask. Stay the eff home. Listen to fucking scientists not sycophants.

Saturday Evening in Bavaria Musings, Living room edition

I’ve not done one of these in a while…

Rainy-day Playtime: 

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Sharkbait in the playroom, on the aerial hammock

Tea of the Day: I’m not sure.  My son made a cup of tea for me this morning, and by the time it was cool enough to start sipping, the cat was drinking it.  It must have been epic.

And in other news: One advantage of being in Germany at the moment is how very far away I am from the news in the US in some ways.  Thank the gods…

But even so: I feel for those of you much closer.  As it is, I have this feeling that I can only describe as a cross between hamsters in a wheel running nowhere and that feeling when you know your car is running on fumes, your fridge is empty, and you still have two days till payday.  I can only imagine how it feels to be dealing with the crazy up close.  And to change the subject because I know so very many people are so very burned out at the moment….I’ve been…

Weaving: If you follow me on social media, you may be aware that I’ve been making potholders!  There’s this awesome little yarn shop in the Ansbach Alstadt where I picked up a nifty round loom and have been using scrap yarn and dyed fabric to make potholders.

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There’s also been a bit of crocheting…  But either medium, I’ve been doing quite a bit of escapism via fantasy (books, games, shows, and just plain old imagination) and crafts.

Weirdly, without even trying…I’ve lost about 35-40 lbs since moving.  I’d say it from less stress, but that’s a lie, the stress has just been different.  I think its actually from the relative lack of preservatives in food here (while we have access to the commissary on base, there’s only a handful of things we get there) and the incredible lack of fast-food availability.  I didn’t *think* we had it that much, but with two kids in afterschool activities 4 days a week, we probably had it more than I realized.  Plus, we walk a lot more.

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Panoramic view of Ansbach

An Optimistic Closing Quote (one of my favorites): I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. (Theodore Parker)

…eventually (addendum mine)

the family that slays together…

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Just over a year ago (the end of 2018 over the kids’ Winter Break), Scott (AKA: The Hubby) and I busted out one of the moldering skills of our misspent nerdy youth (before it was cool man!) and transformed our family into a costume-wearing, accent-wielding, foam weapon toting band of comedic adventurers of Faerûn.

Today, we parent an adolescent half-elf druid and a pre-teen dragonborn barbarian. …Except when we parent a moon elf bard and a grung pirate.   It gives the hubby and I no choice but to make household chores “taking the trash out from the keep to avoid the plague” or “dishwashing at the inn because you ran out of gold.”  We watch shows like Critical Role like other families watch football and the kids watch YouTube animators like Puffin Forest and Dingo Doodles like the Saturday morning cartoons of my back-in-the-day.

In our adventures, we have taken out a thieves guild, rescued small children from a troll, saved a village’s hunters from a roving band of evil goblins, and more.  But more practically, playing Dungeons and Dragons (we play 5th edition) was a bit of a no-brainer as a family activity:

  1. Players work together for a common goal with individual motivations and have to resolve conflict collaboratively, or they all potentially pay the price.
  2. The game is heavily steeped in imagination and creativity as skills that are frequently overlooked in other games in both character development and during the progression of the game itself.
  3. There’s a huge opportunity for customization and creativity outside of the game that gets them doing stuff they’d normally bypass as “not fun,” from painting tediously tiny minifigures, learning to sew making costumes, writing backstories and reading big fat books (in the immortal words of Sharkbait: “Who knew instruction manuals could be this fun, mom?!?”).
  4. Playing and planning games teaches them strategic thinking, cause-and-effect, organization and planning (both in-game and out), conflict resolution, “public” speaking, storytelling, improvisation, and more;  and
  5. It’s a fun way to spend time together creating valued memories.

mimics&weretigers…As a parent, I value anything that gets my kids to read more, draw more, find ways to entertain themselves without having to hear the words “I’m bored,” and to enjoy spending time together.  As the parent of a kid with ADHD, I value anything that helps teach him to appreciate the value of the tasks he often finds difficult (and therefore tedious) and encourages him to develop the social skills that he so often finds challenging.  As a mom, whose creative outlets often feel stymied by adulting and parenting, I appreciate that I have the opportunity to engage in the former without feeling like I’m shirking the latter…also, I flirt with the hubby’s character, and there’s some good that comes from that as well when the kids aren’t around.

And…don’t just take my word for it…if it’s not something you’ve thought about or considered before… Anecdotal information and some preliminary studies suggest that kids that play RPG games like D&D do better in school, even when they have struggled in school and discuss the mechanisms by which such games may do so.  It’s being used as a form of therapy,  for teaching social skills to kids like mine, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, there are challenges to playing with kids vs. playing with other adults, especially when it comes to adapting to playing with kids for the first time, running an entire campaign of just kids (The Hubby and I hosted a campaign for our kids and their friends–6 to 8 preteens most sessions–until we moved to Germany over the summer), and in running a campaign with multiple kids with ADHD or other challenges (luckily there’s advice for that).  There are simplified character sheets for kids, official books geared towards teaching kids the game (I’ve not gotten these because my kids love the official manuals, but I can see how they might be great for kids with reading challenges), and even choose-your-own-adventure style books.

And the best part about playing Dungeons and Dragons today, compared to 20-30 years ago, is that it’s more accessible and cooler than its ever been!

But (to quote another childhood favorite who has made a comeback), don’t just take my word on it!

Greetings from Germany

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So…

I don’t even know if I have anyone left who follows this little blog, but if so, welcome back.

If this is your first time here, hey there and welcome!

…don’t feel bad, it has been a while since I’ve been here too…

Life has its ebbs and flows, just like the tides, and when one thing rises to the forefront, others fall to the wayside.

This blog–really writing for pleasure in general–has been one of those things.  I’m hoping that can change since we’ve become a bit more settled after some huge HUGE changes.  The biggest change, the one that defines all of the other changes, is that we’ve moved (for at least the next 2 1/2 years, but hopefully for 4 1/2 years) to Germany (specifically, the Ansbach region in Bavaria).

This is our new home:

We look forward to many new adventures, which I hope to share!

The Irreverent and Unconventional Guide to Holiday Tunes

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As a Pagan, I have a confession to make…

I love Christmas.

Ferreals.

I love it. I love the trees, the decorations, the lights, eggnog–I even love fruitcake.  Sure, we have Yule/Solstice (Happy Belated, BTW, either way you celebrate it), but it’s still weird to celebrate a what amounts to a major cultural holiday on the wrong day (even if much of the iconology we associate with Christmas has its start in pre-Christian traditions)…  It’s a bit like being the only person celebrating the 4th of July on the 1st of July.

But the thing I love the most of all is the music.  I think it because I associate it with one of the most treasured traditions of my childhood…  You see, I come from a musical family upbringing (unfortunately, I’m the least musical of them all), and every Christmas of my childhood included a rousing hour or so of various relatives pounding out tunes from yellowing pages of sheet music (I am, however, an excellent page turner) and taped together books of Christmas music on the piano..or whatever other instruments they had brought along (including the good ole voice box).

Unfortunately, the Winter Solstice just doesn’t have that many singable carols…

Yes, we have music (a huge improvement from my early days as a Pagan).  As much as it makes me smile when I hear it on the rare occasion its played radio, Jethro Tull’s Solstice Bells does eventually get tiresome on the 347th replay for the season.  And sure, there’s the ever-popular Santa Claus is Pagan Too, by Emerald Rose and The Christians and the Pagans by Dar Williams and Bring Back the Light by Gypsy, or there’s Inkubus Sukkubus’s Hail the Holly King and Solstice Evergreen by Spiral Dance and Lisa Thiel’s Winter Solstice Song…but (with the exception of Santa Claus is Pagan Too), they just don’t have the same je ne sais quois as a rousing round of Jingle Bells.  Nor do many of them possess the solemn beauty of Silent Night, though there are some lovely mostly songs  the Solstice–like this piano solo on Michele McLaughlin’s Christmas album or this demo by Peter Gundry, or Tori Amos’s Winter’s Carol:

Or, perhaps familiarity is partially to blame; after all, Oh Holy Night, which is one of my favorite Christmas AND Yule tunes, only requires a slight bit of rephrasing to celebrate the night of the Sun’s rebirth instead of the night of Christ was born.  There’s this rather lovely rendition of What night is this? and about a dozen different Silent Nights (none of which I like).  None of this, however, solves the problem of what to do with holiday music once Yule is over and everyone else is still gearing up for Christmas.

So, here’s a few songs that celebrate the holiday season (all the holidays) with honesty and a jaunty tune…in no particular order of irreverence or unconventionality:

 

And, my personal favorite…

 

So, whatever your faith may be, and with all sincerity “I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer | From a heathen and a pagan | On the side of the rebel Jesus.”

May your day be merry, whether you are celebrating Christmas tomorrow or not.