The Politics of Stupid


by Roxanne Tellier

I know exactly how long I’ve been in lockdown, but what I don’t know is how long I’m gonna have to remain cooped up. 

It is weird, this faux normal. This kind of societal disruption is generally associated with tanks in the streets, burned out houses, and people running down roads while screaming and tearing out their hair. At the very least, you’d think, every one should be carrying some sort of weapon to use against marauders and zombies.

Instead, the people on my street are quiet and thoughtful. At 7:30 pm every evening, some of them open their doors and bang on pots and pans to signal their appreciation for those who are working in the stores, in transportation, and in hospitals, so that they themselves can stay at home, watch Netflix, and complain about how governments are handling an unprecedented, unique, multi-pronged attack on everything we once thought we knew and understood.

I’m guessing those workers would better appreciate a raise. Funny how those exposing themselves to danger every day, who are called ‘essential workers’ still have to beg for decent pay, or even a minimum wage with which they could pay their bills.  

Speaking of zombie apocalypses (apocalypti?) don’t those preppers seem unhappy these days? All those years of preparing for a civil war, a nuclear attack, or the aforementioned zombies, and all they get is this slow motion, invisible enemy.

Wrapping your head around our faux normal is tough, because the time line for personal harm is just too long for most of us to conceptualize. Our DNA and responses are wired to fight or flight events. We’re expecting to fight off immediate threats, things that come at us in a matter of minutes or days. Things we can punch, stab with a knife, or shoot with a gun. 

But that’s not how this particular threat operates.  It’s more like heart disease or type 2 diabetes, those things that stop you in slow motion, years after you’ve enjoyed the ingestible that would, in time, do the mortal damage.   

If I venture to the grocery store, and Covid Cathy has had her hands all over the items I want to buy, I’m not gonna know about it until days later. Maybe I’ll have a serious bout of COVID, or maybe I’ll just feel rotten for weeks. But I won’t know where or how I got the bug. That makes it hard for most of us to wrap our heads around continuing to stay at home, particularly as the warm weather nears.

Bill Maher had an interesting fellow on his RealTime show this week, a Dr. David Katz, who is a preventive medicine and public health specialist. Dr Katz lamented that this crisis was being mishandled by many governments, and said that things would be improved were there grown-ups in charge. He explained that our immune systems are revved up by a healthy lifestyle, and that we’d all be in better shape if there were daily breaks advising the nation on how to keep fit and healthy, instead of the dog’s breakfast of a briefing/Nuremburg rally we now ‘enjoy’ every day at dinner time.

 Sadly, our appetizer nightly is the senile musings of a POTUS who really needs to get more rest – specifically in the time period when specialists, scientists, and actual doctors are advising the American people on how to stay safe during COVID 19.

Exhibit A:  President Trump offered his idea for a cure in the White House briefing room Thursday after a presentation that mentioned disinfectants can kill the novel coronavirus on surfaces and in the air. 

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said during Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” (Washington Post)

Now, before you say that nobody … but NO BODY … could be stupid enough to act upon the president’s dangerous, and potentially fatal advice, I present

Exhibit B: “In Maryland, the Emergency Management Agency received over 100 calls inquiring about the president’s suggestion, forcing the service to issue an alert to remind citizens that “under no circumstances should any disinfectant product be administered into the body through injection, ingestion or any other route.” Washington State’s Emergency Management Division similarly issued a public statement to remind people to not “drink bleach” or “inject disinfectant.” 

More concerning, though, is the number of people who actually went ahead with the suggestion. In New York City, the Daily News reported that the Poison Control Center saw 30 cases of “exposure to Lysol, bleach and other cleaners in 18 hours after Trump’s suggestion” that cleaning products might be used to treat coronavirus. NYC Poison Control saw only 13 such cases in a similar period last year.”

In truth, 330 million Americans look to their POTUS for advice, and many of those good citizens, bless their hearts, are not very bright.  

Exhibit C: Cipolla’s five fundamental laws of stupidity:

  1. Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
  2. The probability that a certain person (will) be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
  3. A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
  4. Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
  5. A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.

(For more on this subject, I recommend https://advanced.jhu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/The-Basic-Laws-of-Human-Stupidity.pdf )

Desperate times strip away society’s veneer, and expose the truth. Our private faces may be hidden by n95 masks, but the lack of sanity, reason, or common sense in many countries will be on display, and revealed in technicolour in the annals of history. Assuming we have one.

……………………………….

Shawn O’Shea is a talented musician, entertainer and songwriter, and is the alter ego of lead vocalist Macky of the heymacs. In the nearly 40 years that I’ve known him, he’s never been one to be kept down by circumstances beyond his control – like a global pandemic. On April 20th he woke with the structure, chords, and most of the lyrics to a song dancing in his mind, and within days, he had recorded the tune, and added my dulcet tones to the duet. 

Last week I put out a call on Facebook, asking that anyone who was interested in being involved in the recording send me a photo of themselves, holding a photo of someone or something they miss, or a photo of themselves with someone they love and are looking forward to seeing ‘when this is over.

I’m happy to say that the photos sent were awesome. And now, for your listening and dancing pleasure .. may I present the debut of this timely tune ….

When This is Over – is dedicated to all of our friends and to future days. These photos represent all of the people, places and events we are missing during these days of COVID 19. Special thanks go to Brenda Meecham Armstrong, Michael Bar, Pat Blythe, Bianca Brynda, Arlo Burgon, Paul Christopher Caldeira, Louise Boucher-Chartier, Lauren Davis, Sheila Douglas, Amanda Flaherty, Lynda Francis, Craig Hastings, Sharon Kaczmarczyk, Peter Kashur, Linda Kennedy, Barbette Kensington, Gina Letros, James McBay, Annalee Orr, Honey Novick, Elke Ramstead, Hap Roderman, Tara Scott, Scott Sutherland, Greg Simpson, Sylvia Surk, Phyllis Taylor, Sheila Horne-Teixeira, Louise Tokar, Teresa Verity and Headly Westerfield

Gene-y In A Bottle


astrology chartHow gullible are consumers? Good marketing seems able to sell us anything, up to and including a president. So, I’d say we’re pretty darn gullible.

The first time I saw commercials for companies that would test people’s DNA … for a hefty price, of course … I laughed out loud. It was clear from the start that this testing was essentially the 21st century equivalent of having your astrological chart done; fun, something to giggle about with friends, a fad that would come and go with varying success over the decades.

I grew up knowing that I’m French and American on my dad’s side, and Irish and British on my mum’s side. My sense of who I am, and who my people are, came from learning the language, foods and customs of these groups, and I have a certain allegiance to all of them. If a DNA test were to show that I’m actually 98% Italian, I’d eat a little more pasta – as if that’s possible! – but it’s not going to change who I am, where I came from, or how I feel about my family. Nurture over nature if you will. I’m gonna dance with the one that brung me.

I’m not saying that DNA testing is a game .. it has it’s place in science, in research, and in the courts. However, attempting to define your place in the world by discovering where your DNA may have been at different moments in time? that’s where the science falls down.

FamilyTreeDNA, 23and Me, Ancestry, MyHeritage… even National Geographic is getting into the act. The trouble is, every company is dependent on the data sets they’re already decided upon, and the algorithms which change based on new information prioritized by the company.

Think of this testing as akin to the blood tests your doctor orders; he decides that the lab will check for certain substances or changes in your blood by asking them to look for those subsets. If he has not asked, for instance, that your blood be checked for anemia, it’s not likely that they’ll either test for that, or find it.

Same with these DNA kits. The companies are looking for certain data subsets of which they are already aware. They are basing what they find on what they have previously found.

So, for instance, if a lot of their customers have a set of genetic markers indicating that their ancestors came from Scandinavian countries, then a lot of the incoming tests will miraculously find a whole lot of distant cousins arriving in the next week’s mail. The companies may be using as few as 115 data sets to define the genetic markers they’re searching for in new samples.

There is no one specific gene that denotes your ancestors exact heritage. It’s all subsets, billions of sets of genetic markers that might indicate where your ancestors were at some point in time. And even within your own biological family, not everyone will have inherited the exact same markers .. which is why testing of identical twins, triplets, etc with identical DNA, may still show different results.

The science is not inherently bad, it’s inherently imperfect. We want to see the testing as a sort of magic, that will tell us where our ancestors came from, and what that means to us in the present. But unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely to bear much resemblance to reality.

My husband thought it would be fun to buy me a kit for my birthday, since I had commented on the commercials that were ubiquitous last year in the months leading up to the holidays. I received it in December, and got my sample result this week.

In order to believe the results they’ve sent me, I’d have to accept that my dad’s mum had a “Bridges of Madison County” encounter prior to his birth, because it seems that the Tellier family’s five hundred year stint in France didn’t make the subset marker cut.

But the data markers used in this testing found that I am 53.5% Irish, Scottish and Welsh, 34.7% Scandinavian, 10.6% Sardinian, and 1.2% Nigerian.

swedish chefThis might explain why I hanker to sing the Swedish Chef blues. Bork Bork Bork!

It’s immaterial, anyway. It’s a fun pastime, something to make you smile, and maybe marvel at the way we’re all interconnected, at least on a genetic level. There was a viral video going around a year or so ago, that showed people of all ages, creeds and colours having their DNA tested, and discovering that they had things in common with people they would never have encountered were it not for the making of the video. Finding out that we have more in common with each other than we know … seems a little sad that some people have to see a DNA test’s results before they can ‘get’ that.

dna testing a racist. jpg

It’s life. It’s all of us being busy spreading our genes all over the planet, every where and all the time. And all of us being, despite how it may appear at the outside, very much the same as each other on the inside.

But there is a good use for DNA testing. DNA tests can be used for testing if you carry certain diseases, especially those that you might not want to unwittingly pass on to your own children.

genetic testingCaveat here, though, is that having a gene marker for a disease does not 100% confirm that you will get that disease, only that you are more likely to do so than others without that marker. You are at risk, but other factors – age, diet, exercise, medications, lifestyle choices – may have a stronger impact on whether or not you’ll succumb to the disease.

I’d feel a lot better if the DNA testing kits on the market which claim to reveal your heritage were labelled truthfully – as entertainment. While they might occasionally hit on a set of data subsets that matches with a customer’s, overall, their ‘science’ is about as scientific as predicting the weather by chicken entrails.

I’m filing my test results with the astrological chart my mum bought for me when I was 12, and my books on numerology and tarot. It’s all fun stuff, but I’m not taking any of it to the bank.