This week SO called the 7-day return plan was shot, due to shots. I said, “Whaaat?” He was fuming mad at the time of the convo. Un-Christian words were spoken. Threats to relocate the whole business, kit and caboodle, away from the EU were made. He has to get a 2nd Pfizer shot, from his doctor in the Netherlands, because (apparently) the EU won’t accept his first Canadian AstraZeneca shot as “real” because it was possibly manufactured in the US or India. Color me confused, but that’s was the upshot as I understood it.
For inter-EU travel, the EU will only accept certain vaccines as “real.” For AZ vax? Only EU manufactured AZ is “real” to them. Um….ok? That being true, the SO (and Le Pape) are going to get a second Pfizer shot there while they’re there. Hmm, triple vaxing. Not sure what the research shows on healthy people with good immune response being triple vaxed. Not sure there is any research. His father was ok with the situation. He’s older. To him it’s government required. It’s the cost of doing business. Better to just get it done and dusted.
The SO, being younger and taking a more global humanitarian view (2 good Pfizer shots, that might have vaccinated 1 unvaccinated person, somewhere in the less developed world, had to instead be “wasted” on them) was feeling some moral outrage. I asked what about La Mère? She and Le Pape, like the SO, are all mixed vaxed now. He said she’ll probably have to fly back and do the same. They were looking into getting her a ticket for next week. I’m going to say, level of absurd, super high. But at the same time, I do actually get where the EU is coming from.
As I understand it, Canada does test and certify any vaccine before using it. That is, there’s always a quality check. They’d know if they got a bum batch. The US does the same. So, the AZ vax Canada has given out to protect people was, and remains, 100% legit. There really should be no concern in the EU about Canadian AZ vaccinations. But there are. Because Canada got its AZ from the US and India. The US plant that makes the AZ vaccine was the same one making of J&J, and it botched a bunch of vaccines. So there’s reason to be cautious with US manufactured AZ. I get it.
As for India’s vaccine? Since I have Indian friends, I enquired what they thought. They did not hesitate to tell me. There’s basically a news blackout in India, because that’s what failing authoritarian regimes do. No foreign press, no homegrown are allowed to report on govt failures, like Covid containment. But, from what their families in India tell them, fake vaccines are rampant there. They understand that the EU wants to protect itself from a) visitors who may have been given heavily diluted or even 100% fake vaccine and b) giving their own EU-citizens a vaccine that might be less than 100% good.
The SO did cool down after a day or two. It’s amazing what really good beer with really good friends can do to drown one’s sense of moral outrage. It was pointed up to him, that given the state of the world, if a 3rd, completely unnecessary, shot is all he was being asked to do to keep lots of people happily employed, wasn’t that a win for humanity too? I’m going out on a limb here, but when he said that to me, I translated his friend’s comment as a courteous version of “stop being a giant prick, get a pinprick” or, “wow, stop being so American.” Message received.
I’ve been thinking a lot about language this week. The ways we use it, and it uses us. We tend to think of ourselves as visual creatures, but we’re really not. Sound is the primary sense of humanity. By that I mean, you can hear, and learn via what you hear, in the womb. Things like touch or taste happen in utero. Before you can see (or smell). Yet we still insist we are primarily visual. We spend a lot of time communicating, visually. But language is still our primary means of communication. People gathered round a fire, talking. People gathered around a person reading a book or playing music, listening. Radio.
Not to get political, but you can watch Jan 6th footage, with your eyes, and the sound turned off. It’s violent. And yet, lots of Americans — who keep listening to people who say, don’t believe your eyes — now actually don’t believe their eyes. It truly is a case of having people by the ears. This isn’t new, or even news. The Bible is full of admonitions about not listening to the devil/people who speak evil. I’m not suggesting plugging one’s ears to the world, only that one should consider the subtle nature of language. Consider who is speaking, and what is their intention. Consider how do they use language (or your attention).
In Germany, it’s against the law to spread misinformation about covid or vaccines. To be very honest, I think that’s a solid public health law that harms no one and helps the whole nation. It’s nothing to do with inhibiting free speech, instead it’s an analog to the “Can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater” rule. “Can’t yell ‘vaccines are dangerous’ in a covid filled a world” is the same thing. The lie being told causes people to take an action that is predictably life/health/safety threatening to others. It’s great that the US Surgeon General admonishes people not to spread lies, but…. we’re way beyond that. Though I’m not sure people know it.
LA County just went back to masking because of Delta (the Indian variant, which, according to my Indian friends we’re not allowed to say because Modi didn’t want people around the world commenting negatively his rule, so he pressured the WHO). I’ve been watching the number of cases rocket up in Gran’s county too. A few weeks ago, it was an R of .9, cases were 1 per 100k. Now it’s R of 2 and cases of 4 per 100K. Mutti is thinking of cancelling Gran’s homecare because of it. She just would rather not take the risk of having people in the house. Even if that means cutting back on her hours. I can’t say I disagree.
We, the US, Americans as a nation, shouldn’t be here now. But we are, because of lies. This is true of climate change as well. And especially true of voting and democracy vs the GOP’s white “Christian” male authoritarian vision. The US military is not supposed to be in charge of saving democracy from a rogue president and his “off the rails” political party. Democracy, voting as a wide-scale participatory event, is supposed to make sure that scenario doesn’t happen. Democrats are not taking things seriously enough. They act like the crisis is over. It’s not. Try reading Max Heirich’s Cultural Breakthroughs, 1976. Anyone interested in politics should give it a glance..
Heirich’s article is about fads and breakthroughs, and generating conceptual revolutions. Tennessee taking down vax info to (supposedly) appease anti-vaxers? That’s allowing a few “off the rails” authoritarians to turn a fad into breakthrough. You should be thinking about the Munich Agreement, and how Appeasement always ends with low-intensity war turning into high-intensity conflict. The CDC and the federal govt should be pushing back on Tennessee, really hard. Sane GOP leaders stepping down because they don’t support the Big Lie and some small vocal (deluded) minority do is, again, Appeasement. It allows people who are radically divorced from reality but on a “mission” to take over a party, revolution. Again, this doesn’t end well.
At this point, you might be worried. But consider the word worry. What is worry? Well, if you think of a dog worrying sheep… you have an image of harassment. When you worry, you harass yourself. It doesn’t do you, or your mental sheep, any good. Let it go. There’s a better way. Worry is different from concern (from the Latin root, cernere, meaning to sift or separate). Con-cern means “with sifting.” It’s okay to actively be sifting, separating out, looking at, and evaluating, until you dis-cern (same root), sift out what’s important. But even at that, remember you actually decide, and therefore influence, your finding of what is important. This was brought home to me this week when the SO asked to do a bunch of zoom interviews for interns.
First of all, I was touched he asked me to help out (although I am cheap help). Second, I find this kind of thing fun. I love HR interviewing. But the SO, he had other ideas. Less fun one. I was to ask each person set of questions, all asked in the same sequence. Ugh. Then I had to ship the interviews to a transcription service to be typed up, so he could read them. This, he said, was to eliminate visual bias. Um…ok. But, and here’s where we come back to language again, the language people use is also filled with indicators of class, education, gender, etc ad infinitum.
I did mention this, and he understood. But his response was “gotta start trying to stop bias somewhere.” He said after he read through all the interviews, he’d look at the actual tapes of the interviews later. I’d like to say I did exactly what he asked, but…he did ask me, so no. I tacked on 1 additional question. At the end of the each interview, I asked: “If you were out fishing and caught a mermaid (merman, depending on the interviewee’s chosen gender), what would you do first?” I asked this question because when I was with my Gran last year, she’s a big fan of Family Feud, they asked the question: “We interviewed a 100 men and asked them, ‘If you were out fishing and caught a mermaid, what would you do first?”
Hands down it was a brilliant question for a number of reasons. The answers they had on the board were:
- 26 – keep her/take her home
- 21 – free her
- 14 – kiss her
- 9 – take a picture
- 6 – make love to her
- 3 – swim with her
If you look at the list, and you’re a woman, you understand it instantly. There’s been some progress made, in having women seen as human beings. After all, 54% of the answer were ok. Not great, but ok. On the other hand 46% of men gave answers that meant they intended to kidnap, enslave, sexually assault, or rape a woman they just met. And they didn’t even think about it twice. Those men couldn’t imagine the woman, with a brain and feelings and heart, as anything but an object they caught, to be used as they wished. It was pretty telling about the men in society. (granted small sample)
The man who actually correctly guessed “free her” was a young Black man who, alongside running his own business, viewed his life has helping others by the grace of God and did so through addiction and alcohol recovery work. See the difference? He saw a woman, a fellow human being, in need, first. Not a free piece of tail. I told the transcription service to leave off the last question. Save that for a surprise for the SO later when he watches the videos. But back to my point, language is often very revealing. A picture is not worth a thousand words. A picture, without words, often doesn’t get very far.
Britney Spears is another interesting case of words. She’s in a conservatorship. But if we swap Ms Spears out for Kanye West, a man who has arguably genuine mental illness, can you see a judge putting him into the kind of conservatorship Ms Spears is in? Probably not. Why? Because a) he’s a man. Women always need to be contained. Men? Never. And b) when you swap out total control over a white female life, for total control over a Black male life, including make that man work and take almost all the money he makes to give to a group of others, people recognize that as slavery, not “conservatorship” or “guardianship” (both words I imagine people in the Deep South used in the 19th century for slavery).
Anyway, language is key to asking these (what is freedom, what is slavery, what is truth), and other, big questions. Pictures can’t ask questions. Data can’t ask questions. If I showed you a picture of the sun and moon rising in the east – at the same time – you’d freak out (it does actually happen). That picture is data. Because you probably know the Sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and then the moon comes up in the east. You have a knowledge base, based on language. But then new data blows a hole in your worldview. So you’re forced to ask questions. How can this happen? Why does this happen? What does it mean? And it’s this last question that really bothers some people.
I actually started this post because I feel I might have slighted particle physicists last week. That wasn’t intentional. They do incredibly important work for our society (as do microbiologists). I just have issues with messy language. Particle physics is full of words like superposition, quark, nonlocality, etc. It’s not anyone’s fault. They’re trying to describe a system (the quantum world) that’s not fully understood. They name things as they go along so they can talk about them. But there’s not much of system to naming. It’s a way different approach, way harder to do, than trying to name something once you understand the whole system and how one isolate part works and how it interacts with its own and other systems (the non-quantum world).
I think birding has sort of recently hit a similar wall. People of color have started asking why we have to keep names of racists for birds. Bachman’s Finch for instance. I heard a birder say “Everyone knows he (Bachman was friend of Audubon, who “discovered” the finch) was a racist. Why can’t we go back to Pine Sparrow?” first of all, everyone doesn’t know. I didn’t. The first think I think about when I hear the name of a bird is not “I wonder if the person who named it was a racist.” My feeling is, why not call it whatever the Native Americans called it. After all, they saw the birds first. Why do white people get to name any native birds at all? Just saying. In this case, the name is important, but it’s a layer on top of a foundation that’s a way of organizing information about birds (taxonomy). In physics? Not so much.
I tend to think, as I do with math, if the language is messy, one’s thinking can be held back by that mess. You can’t break through if you can’t state things with clarity. I’m not saying you can’t have big thoughts, like “what does this mean?”, that’s a big (metaphysical) thought stated with clarity. I’m just saying, a lot of (physical) physics seems linguistically, nomenclatural-wise, messy at this point in the journey of discovery. And I wonder if that’s hurting (or helping) physics. I wonder about the attitudes in physics, which tend to be, shut up and calculate — because funding is based on monetize or militarize (or both) each discovery. There’s not a lot of room for broad thought, and physicists even seem alarmed by such free thinking.
To quote Matthieu Beau’s quite interesting 2011 paper (Feynman Path integral approach to electron diffraction for one and two slits, analytical results), the whole point of his solution is: “It thus avoids metaphysical questions…” But why do we want to avoid them? They enrich and push forward discovery. We can’t separate out people, from the world their participating in. It’s like a fish studying the water it lives in. Doable, but it will be influencing the water around it, by swimming in it, pooping in it, and conducting other assorted fish-type actions.
If you’re not asking “what does this mean?” when you get an answer, (such as, to the mermaid question), you’re missing out on quite a lot of available information. Potentially, you’re missing out on the information you need to learn even more, to have a radically new idea, make a bold discovery, or even just a chance to avoid a big mistake (like wasting years on a dead end theory, or hiring the a rape-minded person to be an intern). Recently a computer program was invented to sift through past experiments, created by humans, to come up with novel ways to run experiments. (The program, and it’s 2.0 version were both given male names).
The article title billed it as “AI designs quantum physics experiments beyond what any human has conceived.” And that’s great, but you read the article and see the basis information was all human designed experiments. It’s inventor said of an experimental set up the computer program concocted: “This is a generalization that (to my knowledge) no human dreamed up in the intervening decades and might never have done.” Is that perhaps because the field really doesn’t allow anyone enough “dreamtime”? And openly frowns on those who get “metaphysical”? I really don’t know. Questions lead us to answers, and often more questions. Some people don’t like that.
I admit to thinking a lot about this sort of stuff this week. I was listening to Rainn & Reza have a Metaphyiscal Milkshake with Mayim Bialik about “is religion is still relevant?” And I’ve been reading David Kaiser’s How Hippies Saved Physics (about Bell’s Theorem and quantum mechanics). I guess I’m still two. I keep asking: why? And I think that’s okay. Life is a book of questions, not all of which have answers (now, yet, maybe ever). That scares some religious people, it also scares some scientists. Scientists don’t want to ask metaphysical questions. Religious people don’t want to ask scientific questions. It’s how we got to the current hot mess, I think. But all you can do is play the hand you’re dealt.
You ask questions, of all kinds. You listen to credible people, of all kinds. You sift. You separate. You consider the big picture, and the infinitely small one. You try to guard against your bias and remember that pooping in your own water can be a factor. And sometimes, yes, when faced with people who lie, who are filled with a desire for malign influence over your life, who are so far gone they really should be under a conservatorship, you just have to plug your ears and walk out of earshot till you find a place of Zen. Or maybe you need to unplug to get there. Either way, I’m headed there now.