Elizabeth Holmes as seen by those who knew her best

Letters sent to the judge (public because they were officially filed in the case) reveal a more positive side of Elizabeth Holmes, now sentenced to serve 11 years in Federal prison (but maybe Joe Biden will pardon her?). But the letters also reveal a lot about their authors and show that Elizabeth Holmes’s capacity for self-delusion might not be unique.

From the father of her children:

Liz and I met at a friend’s Fleet Week charity event in the fall of 2017. …

When our dog Balto had been carried away by a mountain lion from our front porch Liz had faith that he could still be alive. She searched for 16 hours in brambles, and poison oak to find him. It was only once she saw his lifeless body that she could come to realize that he was gone. It crushed her.

Her selflessness knows no bounds. … So much of what has been written about Liz is untrue.

Her nightmare of being raped at Stanford was replaced by the nightmare of 12 monstrous years with Sunny which was then replaced by the nightmare of losing her life’s work and the vilification to follow. It’s been a long road of hardship for her.

Many people will make arguments that you should have leniency to ensure she can help others, to ensure she can invent great things or lift up a woman facing the unimaginable reality that she has been raped, and incarceration will limit her capacity to do those things.

From her dad:

Church was a very important part of our life together. Even that became an adventure. The priest at Holy Trinity in Washington DC conducted a children’s Mass with a little blue puppet known as Mr. Blue. We learned a lot from Mr. Blue.

We only learned of the true nature of Sunny Balwani’s abuse after she finally left him in 2016. … For us as a family, one painful lesson is how critical it is for rape and abuse victims, as well as the families of the victims, to understand how vulnerable they are to abuse and control, how that plays out over time and how to psychologically respond to that. … Elizabeth’s relationship with Mr. Balwani was not one of conspiracy as the media contended. The relationship was one of fear, control, and submission.

Personal wealth has not been a motivator for Elizabeth in her life.

From a pilot and military drone pioneer:

(For the record, I agree with Mr. Blue! It is the investors in Theranos who should be imprisoned, not the young Stanford dropout whom the investors believed was more capable than the file cabinets full of chemistry PhDs at Philips, Siemens, Roche, et al.)

From Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey:

I knew Ms. Holmes for about six years before charges were brought against her. We first met at a public policy conference hosted by the late Senator John McCain, bonding at a dinner when we discovered we were both vegan – there was nothing to eat, and we shared a small bag of almonds. … she was not only sincere about her interests but a person who would indeed dedicate herself to making positive contributions in the world beyond her company. … I believe that Ms. Holmes has within her a sincere desire to help others, to be of meaningful service, and possesses the capacity to redeem herself.

From Timothy Draper, bigshot venture capitalist (partner more famous due to various encounters with Silicon Valley females, all of whom were having sex with a slate of other guys (when do these folks have time to work?)):

I am a venture capitalist and have been one for over 35 years. I have seen a wide variety of companies in a wide variety of industries. Some succeed and some fail. We backed Tesla, when it was just an idea on paper, agreed to an investment in Skype when it was an entirely different business than the one they ended up with, backed Baidu when no other US investor was even looking at China. When we backed Theranos, we knew it was a long shot. Elizabeth, at 19 came to us and said, “We will change health care as we know it.” She told me how passionate she was about the need for change, and said she would be making the sacrifice of dropping out of Stanford to create the business.

Now we have a horrifying situation. A potentially great entrepreneur with extraordinary vision is being condemned by society for taking that enormous risk, sacrificing everything and failing, by not properly communicating her side of the story to the public.

Elizabeth has a lot of brilliance in her. She will continue to be a positive contributor to society. Her vision for healthcare was only partially portrayed in her efforts at Theranos, and her ideas could save millions of lives over the course of the next few decades. Restraining her would be a travesty. People have asked me if I would back her again. My answer: Not as a CEO, but as an entrepreneur and Chief Science Officer, absolutely!

Who agrees with me that this Draper guy is the one who should be imprisoned? A college dropout as Chief Science Officer? “Vision” as a substitute for achievement?

Jessica Ewing, a former product manager at Google, reminds us that it is women who are the real victims:

And when I saw Elizabeth do that, I questioned my own life. What was I doing with my time, why couldn’t I do something at a larger scale that helped more people? Elizabeth inspired me to start my own company, Literati, which helps kids find books and become stronger readers. We all need heroes that look like us.

(Speaking for myself, it would be a challenge to regard anyone who looked like me as a hero.)

Speaking as a woman who has raised $60M in venture capital, I can confirm it is not easy. It is not easy for anyone, but I feel it’s worth noting that approximately 3% of venture capital goes to women CEOs.

$60 million in capital for a kids’ book club service?!? The home page shows that they send out Women Who Dared, a book that is available for free in our kids’ book club service, a.k.a. The Palm Beach County Public Library. How are the investors ever going to get a return from this when the competition is funded by an infinite river of property taxes?

Note the contempt by this elite feminist for “the masses”:

I’m not sure what actual purpose decades in prison would serve Elizabeth. She is not a threat to society and does not require further rehabilitation. She has already lost her net worth, has been mocked, ridiculed, and has seen her genuine effort to achieve her soul’s highest purpose turned into home entertainment for the masses. In short, I believe my friend has suffered enough for her sins, and putting her away would effectively do nothing but discourage more women from starting businesses

(The lowest risk and highest return business for a young woman to start in California involves meeting with venture capitalists, but no pitch deck is required. See Litigious Minds Think Alike: Divorce litigators react to the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins lawsuit for a calculation of the child support profits available by formula under California law.)

Jimmy Carter’s Director of the CDC weighs in. Just as today’s CDC figured out that cloth masks and bandanas were effective PPE against an aerosol virus, such that vulnerable people could feel free to leave their COVID-safe homes, yesterday’s CDC figured out that the best place to look for scientific knowledge is not among those who actually studied science, e.g., by going to grad school in science and then working as a post-doc:

I was impressed by her scientific knowledge… Ms. Holmes has scientific gifts …

He ultimately joined what he refers to as Theranos’s “Board”. I’m not sure if this was a medical advisory board or the corporate board. Either way, I think that he is more deserving of prison than Holmes.

More on the subject of why women have to lead differently, stretching the truth as necessary:

A couple of letters down, Andrew Goldberg agrees that “It’s incredibly difficult to be a startup founder, let alone a female startup founder.” How does Andrew know? He/she/ze/they was originally Angelina Goldberg and switched to a male-sounding name in order to escape prejudice?

A woman who knew Holmes as a Stanford undergraduate writes “my own experiences had led me to believe that the justice system favored men” (94 percent of Californians collecting child support, i.e., the victors of the winner-take-all family court system in that state, identify as women in Census data (source)). She reminds us of who the real criminal in U.S. society is: “we have seen our democracy nearly overthrown”.

It is almost impossible for a woman to get ahead, writes Genta H. Holmes, Bill Clinton’s U.S. Ambassador to Australia:

She contradicts my theory that the real villains of the story are the professional investors. In fact, it is “social media” that we should blame:

Scanning through the 281 pages of letters, the overall portrait is of a deluded person and the authors of the letters show that delusion is an all too common human trait. Even after the exposure of Theranos in Bad Blood, the letter authors haven’t processed that the person with no scientific or engineering training was not and is not on track to make a scientific/engineering difference to the 8 billion humans who infest what used to be a great planet.

Retail investors weren’t harmed by the Theranos fraud. I’m not sure that patients were harmed by the Theranos fraud, other than being worried for a few days in between a Theranos test and an accurate blood test. I guess the 11-year sentence has to be understood also in the context of Holmes’s refusal to plead guilty. The whole criminal justice system is set up with long sentences for those who insist on rolling the dice at trial, thus forcing the government to work. The idea is that the accused will plead guilty and receive what used to be the standard sentence for someone who had been convicted at trial. Holmes will thus serve 3 years for what she did at Theranos and 8 years for trying and failing to pin all of the blame on Sunny Balwani, the old guy with $40+ million with whom she was having sex.


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Do elites fret about climate change and COVID-19 because nothing else can touch them?

A Facebook friend posted “The Israel We Knew Is Gone” (Thomas Friedman, NYT, Nov 4, 2022):

Imagine you woke up after the 2024 U.S. presidential election and found that Donald Trump had been re-elected and chose … Marjorie Taylor Greene for the White House spokeswoman.

“Impossible,” you would say. Well, think again.

… the national unity government that came to power in Israel in June 2021 … has now collapsed and is being replaced by the most far-far-right coalition in Israel’s history. …

The coalition that Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu is riding back into power is the Israeli equivalent of the nightmare U.S. cabinet I imagined above.

Netanyahu has been propelled into power by bedfellows who: see Israeli Arab citizens as a fifth column who can’t be trusted; have vowed to take political control over judicial appointments; believe that Jewish settlements must be expanded so there is not an inch left anywhere in the West Bank for a Palestinian state; want to enact judicial changes that could freeze Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial; and express contempt for Israel’s long and strong embrace of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

Obviously it would be a nightmare to live in a world where Marjorie Taylor Greene was permitted to spew misinformation such as “COVID-19 vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission” and where there was a room that did not display a rainbow flag. So I didn’t argue with Friedman’s brilliant thesis. My comment was that it could be dangerous to take advice form those who don’t have skin in the game:

Having made the prudent decision to marry the daughter of a billionaire, Friedman doesn’t need Israel. He can continue living in his massive Bethesda mansion (while telling others to emit less C02) and, if the US becomes uncomfortable for Jews, buy citizenship in almost any country worldwide. Israel exists as a refuge for Jews who aren’t billionaires.

That Friedman is a billionaire (via marriage) matters because he is immune to any consequences that might ensue from people following his recommendations. The article you’ve referenced is mostly about Jewish-Arab relations and management of the war declared by the Arabs in 1948 that has never been settled. Should the Palestinians achieve their war goals, Israel will cease to exist. This will have a significant impact on Jewish Israelis who voted for a candidate that Thomas Friedman does not like. The end of Israel would have a big impact on low- and middle-income Jews worldwide who are in countries with populations that become anti-Jewish. It will have no impact on Thomas Friedman. Even if the entire U.S. were to adopt the Nuremberg Laws, Friedman would face no consequence more serious than picking a new country in which to live.

See also Eric Schmidt, who has offered various ideas for U.S. politics. If these ideas prove disastrous, he can get on a private jet and go anywhere in the EU. (Cyprus passport)

The Friedman admirer and his friend:

I don’t care about Friedman’s personal life. I do care about having a refuge for Jews. The more Israel becomes a far-right settler theocracy, the more it will turn away anyone who the Rabbinate judges to be not Jewish enough.

even today, religious Jews who are not orthodox might find Israel less pleasant of a refuge than they might hope. If the new government continues this trend, it might become even less pleasant.


I am not saying that Friedman is wrong or that Israelis who voted for Netanyahu are right. Only that people who don’t live in Israel and who are so rich that there is no situation in which they would ever need to live in Israel are likely to advocate higher risk strategies than those for whom the elimination of Israel would have severe personal consequences. It’s the same tension with venture capital-backed companies. The founders have a portfolio of just one company so it doesn’t make sense for them to do things that put the company at risk. The VCs have a portfolio of 100 companies and need to “swing for the fences”. So the VCs will support bet-the-company risks that don’t make sense for the founders and other employees. Friedman is like an outsider VC with respect to Israel.

Look at Twitter right now. Outsiders with big portfolios are now the owners. The insiders made only incremental changes and never had a dramatic loss in ad revenue. The outsiders are doing a massive restart that will either kill the company or enable it to be highly profitable. If Twitter dies, the consequences for workers will be much more severe than the consequences for the diversified investors who now own it.

The Friedman fans and Netanyahu-haters had some persuasive arguments that this new Israeli government will not be an improvement, but those aren’t relevant to the main point of this post, which is how it prompted some thinking about the differences between elite and non-elite thinking.

Friedman is an elite who spends all of his time with other elites so, from his point of view, a country is its elites. He opens by saying that the U.S. would be a completely different country if Donald Trump were back in the White House and people could once again read tweets from Marjorie Taylor Greene. Friedman starts from the assumption that what the 9 million-ish non-elite people who live in Israel do is far less important than what a handful of elites at the head of the Israeli government are doing. So a changing of the elites completely changes the country. I disagree with this assumption. For an Israeli who actually leaves his/her/zir/their house and interacts with other Israelis, what determines quality of life is the quality of these social encounters. The overwhelming number of these encounters will not be with elites.

Maybe the reason that the elites are so concerned about climate change and viral epidemics is that they are immune to almost everything else. A member of the elite can get into a private jet and escape any problem that is limited to a continent or two: crime, war, unsightly poverty, civil unrest, political strife, etc. But if the Earth turns into Venus, the Boeing Business Jet isn’t of much use. Respiratory viruses take out even people with unlimited access to medicine. If you’re not elite, you might say that climate change is your #30 risk (requiring a move to a new apartment or city) and COVID is your #40 risk (way behind kids not doing well in school, some other disease that causes disability, crime, boredom and mental health issues, being sued for divorce (happens to the elite as well, but they can be re-partnered, if desired, within days, and half of $10 billion is still a lot of money), etc.).

It is the sentence in bold that is the subject of this post. This is probably obvious to everyone else, but I don’t remember thinking it before. The correlation between being elite and being alarmed regarding climate change isn’t perfect, but it is strong enough that Nobel physics laureate Ivar Giaever is never going to be invited to speak at Davos. Elites have been in the forefront of COVID alarmism as well (leading via laptops from their suburban fortresses to which supplies were delivered by essential immigrants from Latinx America).

Tying together the elites and the “LGBTQ rights” (not 2SLGBTQQIA+) that Thomas Friedman mentioned, some rainbow wine in waterfront back yard (Walgreens here in Florida did not get the “Don’t Say Gay” memo, apparently):

(“Everyone’s Welcome in Our House”? What about Kanye West, J.K. Rowling, the January 6 insurrectionists, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and other Deplorables? Are they welcome?)

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How does a fake police scam in Paris work?

We walked to the Eiffel Tower yesterday evening.

At the edge of the park surrounding the Tower, a scene was playing out. A Black man was on the ground, in George Floyd position, while two white guys were handcuffing and generally abusing him. He was pleading for mercy in French. From what I could infer, the noble Black man had been apprehended by these two white cops in the act of attempting to steal a mobile phone from a tourist who looked to be in her 60s. A moment of reflection sufficed to realize that the cops and robber had to be confederates. Since when have the French police actually arrested a pickpocket, much less thrown him/her/zir/them to the ground? The white guys were not in uniform. A younger American man began to shout (in English, of course!) his demand that they show their badges. I’m not sure if he was a confederate or a victim. We edged away, but I don’t think that any badges were shown.

The question for today… how were the three actors planning to profit from this sidewalk theater?

(London seems to be a lot more orderly as well as less plagued by trash on the sidewalks!)

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Excited about the new variant-tailored COVID-19 booster shots?

Who is excited about the new COVID-19 shots? (not to say “vaccines”) I’m not sure the guy in the photo below is going to camp out at midnight outside CVS. Stopped at a red light in Stuart, Florida, smoking a cigarette and not wearing a helmet:

Let’s check in with folks who say that they’re the world’s smartest. A recent “daily update” email from the City of Cambridge, Maskachusetts:

How many Followed the Science and got all four of the shots that Dr. Fauci told them to get? 1 out of 10. Not everyone is the right age for all four shots (“C.D.C. Urges Adults 50 and Older to Get Second Booster Shot” (NYT, May 2022)), but Science says that nearly everyone must have at least one booster, right? Only 1 in 2 Cambridge residents has made even this minimal commitment to public health.


  • From August, in which the smartest state refuses to follow CDC guidance: Maskachusetts rejects Science (90 percent refuse vaccines for children under 5)
  • “At Head Start, Masks Remain On, Despite C.D.C. Guidelines” (New York Times, today): the folks who refuse to follow CDC guidelines and get their 3rd and 4th COVID-19 shots also refuse to follow CDC guidelines and continue to force toddlers to wear masks even without “a high community transmission rate” (but toddlers in Florida, like K-12 kids in Florida, are mask-free: “A group of conservative states, including Texas and Florida, sued to prevent the rules from taking effect, and federal courts imposed an injunction on the guidelines in those states.”). Contrary to Science, the article says that forcing children to wear masks harms them: “Masks can make it more challenging for some children to develop early speech and reading skills, which are learned, in part, by observing mouths in movement, according to research.” (and, statistically, this will cause them to die younger because life expectancy and education are correlated; if we count someone who dies a few weeks early with a COVID-19 positive test as a “COVID-19 death” (ignoring life-years lost) then the 745,000 children currently enrolled in Head Start should be counted as “lockdown deaths”)
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Japan’s low birth rate explained by reductions in employment security

Japanese women have a fertility rate of about 1.4 compared to 1.7 for potentially pregnant American people (some of whom identify as “men”). The Rise of Modern Japan is a lecture series in which Emory University professor Mark Ravina explains his theory that the fall in Japanese fertility is due to the declining number of highly secure jobs. Women in Japan practice sexual selection, in other words, and select against men whose next 20 years of paychecks are not guaranteed. Japan neither valorizes nor financially encourages “single moms” to the extent that we do here in the U.S., so it isn’t practical for 2-5 women to mate with 1 attractive (financially or physically) male.

Separately, the lecture series covers what happened when a lot of guys in their 50s were sent into early retirement in the 1990s following the bursting of the Japanese asset bubble. Their wives referred to these unexpected all-day home-dwellers as “Sodai Gomi” (oversized garbage, requiring a sticker to be hauled away by the city) and “nureochiba” (wet fallen leaves, sticking to one’s shoes and tough to shake off).

(Why don’t the irritated wives avail themselves of no-fault (“unilateral”) divorce and take the house, cash, etc.? “Under the Japanese laws, a spouse cannot divorce at his/her sole discretion. Basically a mutual agreement between spouses are needed to divorce in Japan.” (source))

The lecture series also talks about the long-term effects of “3/11” (the Fukushima nuclear plant failure) on the Japanese psyche. Although the series is new (the professor mentions COVID-19), it might be out of date. Inflation in the price of fossil fuels has finally generated (so to speak) some renewed enthusiasm for nuclear power among the Japanese public. Bloomberg says that only 10 out of 33 possible plants are currently online.

Another interesting observation is that Japanese competence works against political and economic reform. Everything in Japan works reasonably well and therefore it is difficult to motivate voters to demand political change. Japan thus muddles through with its massive conglomerates that are cronies of the ruling parties.

From a 2004 trip to Japan, my rental car (maybe not the best idea if you can’t read kanji) next to a hill that has been concretized and a traditional Japanese garden ornament that I would desperately love to have for our own backyard!

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Happy International Day of Families

(with somewhat unfortunate timing given the tragedy in Buffalo) … the United Nations says that today is International Day of Families. The site has some statistics:

Maternity leave, which was offered in 89% of countries in 1995, was available in 96% of countries by 2015.

What about birthing persons who don’t identify as “mothers”? Based on the photos, the UN’s site seems to be plagued by cisgender-normative and heteronormative concepts of “family”.

Only 57% of women, who are married, or in a domestic union, are able to make decisions about sexual relations and the use of contraceptives and reproductive health services.

How is the term “women” defined? What about “men” who are capable of giving birth? Isn’t their decision-making power relevant? Also, the implication is that it is bad when people (“women”) can’t decide what medicines to introduce into their bodies. Should women also be able to decide whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Here in the Florida Free State, where vaccine coercion is banned by statute, living together as a family means that we solve problems together… problems that we wouldn’t have if we had been more proactive about using contraception.

Readers: What are you doing to celebrate this day?

From yesterday, home of a future sea turtle’s family is staked out on Juno Beach:

(Performing 84 abortions on human pregnant people would yield nearly $100,000 in revenue for Planned Parenthood or similar. But 84 sea turtle abortions earned Lewis Jackson of Brunswick, Georgia 21 months in prison (justice.gov).)

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Design meets human beings: the light bulb 10′ above the ground

The Covidcrats designed all kinds of systems for humans 2 and up to follow, e.g., Wash Hands, Stay Home, Mask On, Mask Off, Mask On, etc. As evidenced by the rate of plague in countries that applied these systems compared to Sweden, which didn’t bother, either the design was so badly flawed that it wouldn’t have worked even if humans followed the complex instructions perfectly or the designers got an education in human nature.

This came home to me the other day when investigating why there was a light fixture on a closet ceiling (10′ high), but no light was coming out of it. I got up on a ladder and found that the bulb was a burned-out incandescent (i.e., pre-LED age). It is possible that nobody had changed the bulb since the closet was built in 2003. An architect obviously thought that humans would be diligent about maintaining the system (otherwise, put a fluorescent light much lower), but he/she/ze/they was wrong.

Is it human nature to overestimate humans?

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Merry Collectivist Christmas to Russian Orthodox readers

Last month we visited the Morikami Museum, a building owned by Palm Beach County, notable for its constant efforts to force schoolchildren to wear masks, contrary to orders from the governor, rulings by judges, and an actual law passed by the Florida Legislature. The latest exhibit of works by Iwasaki Tsuneo (1917-2002) contains one that is sure to warm the hearts of readers who grew up under the Soviet system:

Ants are exemplars of cooperative living. Although in isolated numbers they act independently, once they reach a critical mass, they begin to behave as one organism. They organize according to distinct functions and coordinate in ways that support the group. One might call cooperating for the good of the whole community ‘antropy.’ Human ways driven by notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are manifestly maladaptive. Perhaps humans will also reach ‘antropy’ and begin to move as one organism that acts to sustain the whole.

I thought that the aspiration for us all to become ants and serve the collective would be a heart-warming message for those celebrating Russian Orthodox Christmas today.

[Speaking of serving the collective, what was the mask situation in the museum? The associated gardens are mask-free, as you might expect in Florida. The museum itself has signs demanding that people wear masks indoors. This demand is ignored by all children, 75 percent of visiting adults, and 30 percent of those working on site.]

A few bonus photos of the gardens:

How does it compare to gardens in Japan? The scale is much larger, though it is broken up into sections, each of which may contain a small garden in a style from a particular period in Japanese history. The vast pond contains alligators, which remarkably have not managed to eat the koi. The buildings and other structures are much newer than anything you’d see in a tourist garden in Japan.

If you choose to visit the garden, I recommend stopping at Wakodahatchee Wetlands to see native birds and alligators and also the nearby Green Cay Wetlands. Finally, delight the kids with a trip to K&L 98 HotPot, a restaurant that combines individual at-table cooking with a conveyor belt of stuff you can put in the pot. Not precisely Japanese, of course, but the Japanese copied a lot of stuff from China!

Here are a few images from Wakodahatchee (iPhone and Canon R5, 800/11 lens):

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Perfect illustration of risk compensation rendering COVID-19 vaccines ineffective

“Benefit of COVID-19 vaccination accounting for potential risk compensation” (Nature, by Stanford Medical School professor John P. A. Ioannidis) points out that our current crop of COVID-19 vaccines won’t slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection if humans who are vaccinated change their behavior as a result of having been vaccinated.

Tailor-made for Prof. Ioannidis: “Getting Back to Normal Is Only Possible Until You Test Positive” (The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal). Some relevant excerpts:

I was ultracareful for 18 months. Then I got COVID.

When I first received the invitation to the wedding where I would eventually get COVID, I was on the fence about attending at all. My best friend had gone through a tough divorce and was remarrying. I was thrilled for him. His wedding had been put off repeatedly because of COVID, and this was the couple’s second try at a real ceremony. As a bonus, the wedding would take place in New Orleans, where my friend lives. I hadn’t seen him since before the pandemic. New Orleans is a miraculous place, and my favorite city to visit in America. The notion of a trip there shone out of the fog and dreariness of this whole era of history.

The downside, of course, was the risk of exposure to COVID. Sure, I’m vaccinated—two shots of Pfizer—and the wedding’s other attendees would all be vaccinated too. But breakthrough cases happen, and we’d be in New Orleans in October, a place where cases were still high and vaccination was inconsistent. One could not expect to not get exposed to COVID.

But then I reasoned both with myself and with my wife. COVID was unlikely to kill me, a vaccinated 39-year-old endurance athlete. I would be fine, and even if I gave the coronavirus to any of my family members, they too would almost certainly be fine. My wife is vaccinated, and our young children’s risk of serious illness, while not nonexistent, is very low.

Filled with a surge of love for my friends and New Orleans and a sense that, you know what, I’m ready to nose out into a new tier of risk, I booked a flight; I’d be going solo.

As the day approached, my wife and I had not run through every scenario. I still was not precisely sure how the wedding would work, COVID-wise. My friend is a doctor, and I knew the crowd would mostly be New York and California people. There would be no anti-vaxxers among the guests, and the invitation said they’d follow the local public-health protocols.

If he/she/ze/they hadn’t gotten vaccinated, he/she/ze/they never would have gotten on the packed flights nor would he/she/ze/they have attended the wedding of the righteous (“no anti-vaxxers”) at which “at least a dozen people” contracted COVID-19. I myself exhibited the identical behavior. Not being a believer in the efficacy of facerags for the general public, I avoided getting on a commercial airline flight until after getting vaccinated (and the flights that I took ended up being packed and mostly unmasked).

Separately, the rest of the Atlantic article is a great reflection of Bay Area zeitgeist:

I spent hours in an N95 mask in the Las Vegas airport and on planes before arriving in Louisiana and heading to the welcome drinks.

My kids were so happy to see me, and after my negative result came back, to hug me. Was I actually safe? No, I knew I was not. I should have quarantined. But I had stuck my wife with the kids for four days, and I wanted to get back in the mix and help. That seemed like the right thing to do.

Moms are heroic on the one hand, but on the other hand it is unreasonable to expect a mom to be able to take care of two children for four days,

On Monday, I felt fine, but I took an antigen test anyway (negative). I scheduled a PCR test for the next day. By the time my appointment arrived, I’d started to have some postnasal drip and what felt like a possibly psychosomatic tickle in my throat. Tuesday night—four days after the wedding—my PCR result came back negative, and despite having what felt like a cold, I figured I was pretty close to being in the clear.

The next day, my symptoms were about the same. I did an intense Peloton workout and it felt fine, though maybe my legs were a little slow. I wasn’t eager to test again; a negative PCR test seemed good enough. But my wife heard me cough—one of only maybe 20 coughs throughout my whole sickness—and said, “Couldn’t you take another antigen test?”

I was on the phone with a young geographer, talking about doing research at Bay Area libraries, and kind of absentmindedly did the swabbing. When I looked down a few minutes later, I had tested positive. Maybe a false positive? I immediately took another antigen test and the little pink line was practically red, it was so dark. Wrapping up the call, I packed my things quickly, texted my wife the result, walked outside with an N95 mask on, and waited for all hell to break loose.

Like my dentist friends, he/she/ze/they has a whole closet full of N95 masks! Also note the persistence in test, test, testing until positivity is achieved!

But the real worst-case scenario was everything that happened to the people around me. My kids had to come out of school and isolate with my wife. A raft of tests had to be taken by everyone I’d had even limited contact with. (I was one of at least a dozen people at the wedding who got sick.) I had been with several older people, including my mother-in-law. For my wife and children, the tests went on for days and days, each one bringing a prospective new disaster and 10 to 14 more days of life disruption or worse.

But for me, the very worst part was my children. They knew, cognitively, that I was vaccinated and unlikely to get really sick. That said, COVID-19, for them, is a terrible thing. The past year and a half of their lives has been disrupted by this virus. They take precautions every single day not to have this happen.

Even the kids know that if you’re vaccinated it is safe to party! How old are these kids?

My nonbinary 8-year-old was so mad and maybe so scared that they could barely look at me. My 5-year-old daughter proved her status as the ultimate ride-or-die kid. She brought a chair down the street so she could sit 20 feet away from me outside in her mask, as I sat on the porch in an N95.

Five and eight and they are already experts on a disease that kills 82-year-olds.

Despite his/her/zir/their vaccine, the 39-year-old author gets about as sick as the sickest unvaccinated New Yorkers and Europeans whom I talked to back in spring 2020:

I felt pretty sick, like when you have a cold, but I’ve probably been sicker 15 times as an adult.

In other words, a bad cold/flu. The kicker, though, is that he/she/ze/they imagines that he/she/ze/they would have died without the sacrament of vaccination:

These vaccines are amazing. I was and am fine. [emphasis in original]

I understand that my scenario is far better than could or would have played out in a pre-vaccination world.

What about the people infected with SARS-CoV-2 in 2020, pre-vaccines, who never had any symptoms at all? (81 percent of cruise ship passengers who tested positive, for example; or at least one third, if you believe the other side of the #Science coin) They were and are fine. If the 39-year-old endurance athlete author was seriously ill despite vaccination, shouldn’t he/she/ze/they actually suspect that his/her/zir/their vaccine was, at best, laughed at and ignored by the virus?

Readers: I hope that you enjoy the Thanksgiving flights and gatherings that you probably wouldn’t have risked if you hadn’t been vaccinated!

Practical Take-aways: (1) Don’t get more COVID-19 tests than you have to! With current test tech, regardless of what’s in your body, you will eventually test positive; (2) if you don’t want to get COVID-19, stay home (or move to Florida, currently the nation’s lowest-risk state, and stay outdoors!).

Recent group chat exchange:

  • friend 1: So i am in Poland and i got the f***ing flu. Have been coughing for 10 days. Question: Since everyone is in masks, how do I get the flu if masks work?
  • me: 10 days might just be cold, not flu
  • friend 1: And i didn’t have sex with any polish prostitutes
  • friend 2: YET
  • friend 1: Ok and cold is unaffected by masks? What is the science on that?
  • me: I think those who #FollowScience are ready for you! Coronavirus is spread by airborne particles, which is why we #MaskUpAndStopTheSpread On the other hand, every other disease is spread by surface contact, which is why kids still have colds
  • friend 1: I am so damn sick of all of it. Germany is on the rise despite compliance and FFP2 masks everywhere


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Power of suggestion and wishful thinking (shutdowns and masks preventing the common cold)

Friends and neighbors in Massachusetts who were Shutdown and Mask Karens (i.e., nearly all of my friends and neighbors who weren’t pilots, doctors, or medical school professors!) reported that, in their personal experience, the shutdowns and masks had beaten the common cold. A full year of school closure (Boston Public) and more than a year of mask orders from the energetic governor had shown the rhinovirus who was boss. Yes, adults were still meeting at bars, on Tinder, and in marijuana and liquor stores (“essential”), but a cold is no match for a full glass of vodka combined with healing marijuana smoke.

Let’s check in with #Science… “Kids’ Colds Didn’t Take a Break During the Pandemic” (MedPage Today, October 1, 2021):

As cases of influenza and other respiratory viruses plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic for kids and adults alike, rhinovirus and enterovirus continued to infect children at typical rates, a multicenter study suggested.

In a surveillance analysis involving more than 35,000 children who presented to emergency departments or were hospitalized for acute respiratory illness, 29.6% tested positive for enterovirus or rhinovirus in the March 2020 to January 2021 season, similar to rates for two prior seasons (30.4% for 2019-2020 and 29.0% for 2017-2018), reported Danielle Rankin, MPH, CIC, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

And the combined positivity rate of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and other respiratory viruses (39.5%) was significantly lower in 2020-2021 compared to each of the prior three seasons (P<0.001):

  • 2019-2020: 75.4%
  • 2018-2019: 71.3%
  • 2017-2018: 69.4%

“It has been previously shown that mitigation measures, like mask wearing or social distancing, which were introduced to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, also limited the spread of influenza, RSV, and some other respiratory viruses,” Rankin said in a press release. “This study showed rhinovirus/enterovirus slightly decreased in March 2020, but shortly after resumed and persisted.”

Could the confidence of my friends in Maskachusetts that the common cold had been vanquished be an example of wishful thinking/confirmation bias? Or do we think this research result is another example of “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”? I personally have a tough time believing that shutting schools and chaining children to their TVs and computers indoors for a year didn’t reduce transmission of the common cold. One can argue whether it makes sense to deny children an education in order to protect them from a virus that kills 82-year-olds, but I would have been confident in predicting that denying children an education would reduce their likelihood of catching a cold. (On the third hand, we could argue that my shutdown- and mask-advocating friends and neighbors in MA were a non-representative sample. Nearly all were able to work from home, for example, and nearly all lived in spacious suburban houses (see The social justice of coronashutdowns for the shutdown/mask views of a guy who lives in 8,000 square feet).)

Photos from the tiny strip mall at the heart of our former suburb, August 2021, reminding folks that COVID-19 is deadly, but so are leaf blowers (“toxic tornados” [sic]):

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