‘Invisible’ Statistical Patterns

That govern our lives.

Some 50 years ago I was a trustee of a community hospital outside of New York City.

I noticed after a couple of years on the board that the regular hospital statistics indicated the number of automobile accident hospital admissions varied within a very narrow range of 3 to 5 per month. That was always the number, month after month and year after year.

It wasn’t directly relevant to our work – except in planning for emergency room capacity. But the ceaseless conformity intrigued me.

I asked how that pattern was possible – I would have expected a wider range of occurrence. I was told, essentially, that it was and had been the pattern for years, so why bother with the question?

Well the bother has a simple, interesting reason, made more interesting now by what the number may be at this moment—which I do not know.

The reason for the numbers back then arose simply from the number of cars on the roads around the hospital, and the population of the region. Our world consists of many moving parts and they all interact in various ways to create statistical sub-facts that describe the operation of our world.

For example, today hospitals have been caught short by a pandemic that has produced a need for far more hospital beds than we have – a function, in part, of the privatization of health care, which makes idle beds a financial burden.

Now, today we have a new set of questions, with new inputs.  How many seats on public transportation will we need going forward? How many private offices will be needed?

The virus has radically changed and speeded up human behavior— quite likely for the long-run — and may have sped up changes already underway.

Human behavior gets set in patterns and moves very slowly unless jarred into radical change.

I wonder how many auto crashes get to that hospital today? We need to ask a lot of questions like that to get a better grip on the shape of tomorrow’s human activities — when and if we get to a new normal.

Scams!

Of all sizes and shapes –BEWARE!

Like all of you –my regular readers –I have been getting scam phone calls and emails for many years. So far, I have not been bitten, but news reports and personal experience indicate that the pandemic has unleashed a new wave of fraudsters seeking your money!

Today I got a new one, which I am sharing with you for your protection [like your mask]..

The caller – a young, male voice somewhat similar to one grandson- said, “Hello, Grandfa” (my regular name to my grands). “I have a problem – I was in a car accident and broke my nose, which is why you are having a hard time understanding me. I was in the East at a school reunion and I need help…”

I broke in and asked what he had been doing in the East amid stay-at-home orders. Then, I asked him what my mother’s nickname was. He abruptly hung up.

This was a first-time experience for ME, but the scam is sufficiently widespread that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau includes it in a list of coronavirus-related scams making the rounds.  Others include thieves pitching cures, treatments, air filters and other non-defenses against Covid-19; fake charities claiming to be helping respond to the crisis; infinite varieties of the ‘person-in-need’ story I encountered; and various pitches around supposed problems with your Social Security or Medicare benefits. For those of you who are more experienced (since I’m 89, relatively few of you can make this claim) and quicker witted (possibly all of you!), this might be old stuff. For me it was one newer trick in the bags of scammers. They must have a miniscule success rate (a fraction of a percent, I’d imagine) but the cost of trying is negligible, and, as my experience shows, they’ve learned to bail quickly and move on to the next mark.

Pandemics, it turns out, are well-suited to the aims of people trying to unscrupulously separate you from your money. We’re all on edge to begin with, and out-of-sorts from months of disrupted routines. With most offices closed, we’re all too familiar with hours-long waits on hold, and therefore more inclined to take things we’re told by strangers at face value (since the burden of verifying is high).

I might have written down the calling number, but it’s one of the great shortcomings of our connected world that, in 2020, our telephone network can’t guarantee the most basic of things – that the number displayed by Caller ID is, in fact, the number that is calling you.

So, I’m left to shrug my shoulders, be thankful I didn’t fall for this latest scam, and, share it with you in the hope of sparing others from the risk!

 The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created under the Obama administration in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, has a summary of common scam techniques and ways to protect yourself. Visit https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/beware-coronavirus-related-scams/

‘Out Like Flynn’

Flying in the Face of Justice

It would be easy to claim that Attorney General William Barr and Donald Trump have lost their marbles in moving to drop criminal charges against former national security advisor Michael Flynn.  Or do they know something that we do not/cannot know?

First, recall that Trump fired Flynn for lying.

Second, Flynn pled guilty (twice).

Third, Flynn went to jail.

Fourth, Barr now says a ‘mistake’ was made –lying to the FBI is NOT a crime –which in fact it is.

Fifth, Trump appears to be worried that Flynn knows a lot of stuff about Russia and Trump – “stuff” he wants to keep private before the election.  Flynn seems to be holding significant cards and appears to be using them to hold Trump hostage. (Who can really blame Flynn, who has been in jail for Trump.)

The eagerness with which Trump and his minions have sought to get Flynn off the hook strongly suggests Flynn’s stories must be very ‘HOT.”

The lawyers in Justice are up in arms that Barr alone overturned their findings without explaining how and why there was no crime. When something prima facia does not make sense; it does not, in fact, make sense. This situation sure does smell that way.

We should all be screaming to hear the rest of this intriguing story?

In the meanwhile, it is fair to assume Flynn is peddling his story to the highest bidder.

Now, that would seem to favor anyone who can keep him out of prison. The Judge who has jurisdiction over the matter did a very wise thing. He appointed a distinguished retired federal judge to argue the case before him for the Justice Dept position.

That looks promising for the term “JUSTICE”.

God help us all, if Trump wins a second term!

This is how Hitler took over Germany in the 1930s.

COVID ‘Central’

Where the ‘buggers’ get their orders

Over the last 3 months I have written previously twice about this subject – the first was about ‘virus talk’ and the second was Covid from the inside out – you can find them if you like on fawideas.com. Given that this whole subject still is in the realm of fantasy land, here is one more take which might amuse or terrify you –let me know?

The conventional wisdom about the virus bugs that are infecting the whole world today is that they know nothing, go anywhere and everywhere and are ‘mad men’ capriciously and randomly bent on destroying humanity.

Admittedly, there must be considerable truth in that conventional wisdom.

But, it is curious to note how and why those bugs appear to come and go seemingly in response to humans’ responses. There almost seems to be some kind of ‘brain’ behind what is going on?

There is genuine effort to pin down where the bug started.

Whether that was a wild animal market or a lab in Wuhan may not matter. What may matter is what remains in that first bottle out of which the bugs originally came?

There could be a new theory that still in that bottle is the original ‘Emperor Bug’ (EB). That bug is a modest bug –she looks just like all the other bugs – no brass epaulettes. But that EB has made the bottle feel like what we call a Pentagon. And, the other bugs still in that bottle have remained in touch –via a superbug WIFI way beyond human imagination –with all their emissaries around the world reminding them of their duty to follow the instructions of Ben Franklin in 1800 about proliferating [like a penny doubled daily] in which the whole world and all humanity would be gone in just about 93 days.

The Emperor bug knows that they are playing in an up/down, win or lose game.

Now she seems concerned about the ultimate outcome.

She had not anticipated how effectively humans might utilize social distancing.  So, she ordered her armies of bugs to leave young people alone so that they -the young -might break down the social processes that were impeding her progress by pushing for reopening everywhere.

It is certainly too early to predict the ultimate outcome.

But, there is a lesson in this wisdom, never take nothing for granted!

#MeToo and Justice

Muddle vs. Fairness

The late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once famously commented of hard-core pornography — in a case concerning obscenity — that it was very hard to define BUT “I know it when I see it.”

I was reminded of the phrase by the recently emerging allegations of sexual assault against former Vice President Joe Biden. If people actually saw such behavior, they would, of course, be appalled, disgusted and horrified. But, as in most cases of this sort, the only witnesses—the alleged participants — have totally conflicting accounts and very slim—or no — supporting evidence.

In a court of law, those circumstances tend to favor the accused – indeed, it’s a well-known cornerstone of our justice system that it’s better for a guilty person to go free than to wrongly convict an innocent person.

The court of public opinion, though, is another matter. Guilt is in the eye of the beholder, according to whatever facts, values, or evidence they care to apply (or ignore). For Joe Biden, the jury is not 12 peers, but about 120 million Americans from all walks of life.

During the massive cultural shift sparked, in part, by the #MeToo movement, the framework of the legal system is rightly recognized as insufficient to this task, and our society does not yet have widely-accepted standards for assessing either the certainty or severity of cases outside of that system.

Perhaps we simply haven’t gotten far enough down our new, enlightened path. “Believe women,” after all, makes an important point, but that leaves half the population essentially presumed guilty. That can hardly be anyone’s idea of a just society. “Hear women” might be a better way of stating it, but falls short in its own ways. From there, we probably must forget about the idea of certainty and learn to replace up-or-down guilt or innocence with a spectrum of unclear conclusions, from which to determine the different societal responses appropriate at each point.

While such new standards could never be universal, people are likely to coalesce around one of several based on their underlying views, interests and values. Like much of America’s history, getting there will probably be messy, and in most cases unfair to too many. In the meantime, the trolls and propagandists will spew vitriol and manufacture ‘fake news’ regardless.

But, we’re not there yet, so we’re all considering how to weigh the allegation against Biden as an individual case. For me, I find the shifting story of the accuser and at least one of her witnesses disturbing; Biden’s reluctance to publicly search for personnel records at the University of Delaware is not helpful; and the Senate’s refusal to release any information that might confirm or refute the existence of a 27-year-old complaint is ridiculous.

I am unwilling to ascribe a nefarious motive to the accuser. If her story was provably false, it would be despicable (beyond deplorable—thanks Hillary!) – as it would be if provably true.

In this muddle, I simply do not see enough to disqualify Biden from seeking the presidency or serving in that office.  Absent more clarity, doing so would offend democratic principles – the common goal, after all, is justice, and no one (except perhaps Trump) would argue that a standard of guilty until proven innocent advances that lofty ideal. Others might reach a different conclusion, and Biden himself has urged people to “vote their heart” on the matter.

For disqualifying behavior, one needn’t look any further than the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Indeed, I know obscenity when I see it—on TV, almost daily.

Full stop!

How to Invest?

In Good Times and Bad

When I was about 15 in the 1940s and away at school, I had a friend whose grandfather and father had a nice broom business in Brooklyn. In the late 1930s they had been sold an accounting machine by a little-known company called IBM. The machine was PERFECT and helped them improve their already solid broom business.

My friend’s father was so impressed by the machine that he took ALL his savings and bought shares in IBM and continued to do so every year thereafter. By the time I knew this fellow, the broom business was doing fine, netting about $100,000 a year or so. Their IBM shares were already worth about $10 million.

God knows what they are worth today!

Modern finance is far different today than it was in my school days. There are now so many ways to invest that the processes crash into one another. But the broom story highlights some key lessons that apply even now.

First, look beyond what’s in front of you. My friend’s father could easily have invested more money in his own business and quite likely have grown it, maybe considerably. But in looking at what enabled his business, he saw something with broader potential.

That is how best to invest!

Keep your curiosity alive and looking around. Not everyone will find an early IBM, of course. But good old common sense still has great VALUE.

It is hard at this moment to find such businesses to like. With so much froth in the market waves, clarity will be a rare occurrence.

But, with strong curiosity and persistence, it still is possible!

From Mother Nature…

… to Nothing?

My recent piece about ‘man vs mother nature’ provoked a lot of interest. It also revealed a universal belief that Mother Nature is destined to win.

The discussion provokes me to reopen a question that has tantalized me since childhood: Where did Mother Nature come from?

In talking about space and time, many scientists assert that TIME did not exist until THE BIG BANG. (Others doubt time exists at all, except in people’s minds.) Before then was … nothing.

OK, so the raw material of a vast universe (itself ever expanding into other “nothing”) sprang from nowhere, from nothing. It wasn’t, nothing was, until it suddenly was. When I was a kid there was an expression – “let’s make something out of nothing.”  We rarely got around to finding what the something was, much less the nothing.

Obviously, we are constrained by language. We simply do not have the words to describe those things we really do not know or understand. But, we could anytime have found/created such words, if we either needed them or had any real idea of what it was we wanted to say.

Now, as we creep forward through this pandemic, we’re compelled to speculate about who/what Mother Nature is and how powerful she can be. We might finally have reached the point where the need to get a grip on where SHE came from is key to our survival.

Admittedly, much of this subject is about a state of mind as abstract as a belief in a God. Yet, despite that abstraction, God has been a very important part of keeping humanity in tow to behave the way Mother Nature wants.

And however philosophical the questions may seem, they contain real challenges for science, too.

So, my current conclusion AGAIN is that the question of what came before something, which is effectively nothing, pushes us back to what we incontrovertibly know: a simple belief in LIFE itself and, with it, an obligation to cast our glance always forward, building a better future instead of mourning a flawed past.

After all, if Mother Nature had wanted us to look backward, she would have put eyes in the back of our heads, too.

End of Our World

AS WE KNOW IT?

I cannot remember ever having had a thought or a conversation about what, when and how our world might end.

Do you suppose that we have been genetically designed to block out such thoughts? Perhaps it’s a protection mechanism or, maybe, it’s a feature of nature, preventing us hubristic humans from trying to stop or change what lies ahead?

At the highest level, nature’s core responsibility is simply the perpetuation of life. Evolution is the mechanism by which this is assured, with all living things (including viruses) capable of mutating. We could not, for example, have anticipated the current virus in any meaningful detail, despite long experience with this category of pathogen. Such insight might have let us have a vaccination ready or at least some ameliorating drugs. That would have likely have changed a lot of what we are experiencing. And that, in turn, might have thwarted nature’s attack on our very existence.

Perhaps we are (and have been) at war with our earthly creator—Mother Nature? Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, we’re the threat – draining the planet of resources and choking off its very life with climate change – and Covid-19 is nature’s weapon of choice against us?

Thus, we appear to have been destined to face what we are now experiencing. And, in theory and in practice, nature will still be capable of wiping out our species.

The import of end of the world as we know it, boils down to what we mean by as we know it? When the asteroid hit in the Caribbean a long, long time ago, dinosaurs ruled the roost. Perhaps mother nature did not like those monsters.

When the earth cooled rapidly in 1815 after Mt. Tambora erupted in the Dutch East Indies the year before, crops around the entire globe suffered. And, there have been several other similar periods since before Christ. Yes, the Earth continued to revolve, BUT it did not continue as it had before.

The significant point is not that our planet has basically changed all that much BUT that our place and role as humans, who like to believe in our powers of control over our planet, seem to need occasional reminders that we humans are not as all-powerful as we seem to think, or would like to be.

So, when we say, ‘as we know it’, we mean predictable seasons, freedom from want, long term planning ahead and confidence that the world ahead will be at least as good as the world we knew, for our descendants.

If this virus experience does not teach us anything else other than ‘do not grow complacent and always take mother nature’s warnings seriously,’ we may, at least, temporarily come out ahead?!

Biden on Trump

SIMPLE AND SAD — SO SAY “JUST TRUST JOE”

People have asked me repeatedly what I would say, if I were Biden, about Donald Trump.

It’s an interesting question, because the answer for me (and I suspect others, as well), is somewhat different from what I, myself, think regularly. I tend to rip into Trump’s most recent outrageous nonsense.

 Today, if I were Biden, I would only say something like this:

I feel really sorry for that poor guy Trump. It doesn’t take a doctor to realize he is basically a very sick man. His extreme narcissism means Trump has no real understanding of or control over how he behaves. My mother taught me to have sympathy for people suffering from mental illness, and my faith taught me to treat everyone with compassion. So, I feel sorry for Trump. Yet, I feel even sorrier for ALL Americans, who have had to live through his nightmare with him.

Instead, I want to talk about your health, jobs, peace in the world, how being an American makes you feel proud, and my pride in the prospect of becoming President of all Americans, whether you vote for me or not.

Have I gone soft?

I do not see it as soft. Rather, I see it as realistic. Biden should be asking people to vote for him, not against Trump.

When I was in college I spent a couple of months working in Boston Psychiatric Hospital. At first most of the people I saw seemed perfectly normal; later, I would see the same people acting weirdly. I asked the doctors how that was possible. The answer was simple: everyone lives on a continuum that embraces all sorts of different behavior. The difference between ‘normal’ and ‘sick’ is more about how often and much a single person’s behavior veers from the ‘normal’ range of that continuum to abnormal…

Trump, in the context of my hospital experience, was/is simply just another person who was in and out of appearances of normality. We all would have been better off if Trump had never run for office. Those people back in Boston were apparently in the hospital for a reason.

At this point there is not much benefit in retelling the American people what they already know about Trump.

Telling Trump’s believers “the facts” is unlikely to change their minds. And, his haters already know.

There will be plenty of people going on an attack against the sick Trump to remind the American people of our collective problems.

So, I think the best way today to get back on track is for us to simply accept that the 2016 election was a big, sad mistake and to look forward to 2020 as the chance to restore America to its historic role as a Just, United, Sympathetic and Trusted country. Those are the words that that I think best describe Biden.

“JUST TRUST JOE” says it all.  Biden should talk about himself, his experience and his plans for the American people.  He should not waste his time on anti-Trump rhetoric.

Leave that to others (I’ll certainly do my part!).

Just Trust Joe.