Tag Archives: unwarranted optimism

Am I supposed to say something about the invasion of the United States Capitol?

Or the reimpeachment of the President, a week before the end of his term?

I feel like I should, just because it’s history, and I might wonder how it seemed in real time. It is hard to understand what actually happened on January 6, even though we live in a world where everything is logged in real-time video. We still don’t know who left pipe bombs outside the offices of the Republican and Democratic National Committees. We don’t know what parts of the invasion were spontaneous and what parts were planned, and by whom. Some people are saying members of the House of Representatives collaborated with the invaders, giving them a guided tour of the building the day before the attack. Some people are saying some of the Capitol Police force collaborated, while others fought off the mob.

We don’t know what to expect next. There is said to be “chatter” about armed, angry people at all 50 statehouses. I don’t know how seriously to take that, but I won’t be going downtown this weekend. Moving trucks have been sighted at the White House and some people say the President has given up pretending he won re-election; but then again he is also said to have met with one of his favorite CEOs today to talk legal strategies for keeping up the show.

As I said last week, it is temperamentally hard for me to expect the worst. Probably Trump will slink away and the inauguration will happen without incident and the idea of renewed armed rebellion against the United States government will slink away too, albeit more slowly. But — as last week — I don’t have a good argument that it has to be that way.

What I find really chilling is this. Imagine it had been much worse and some number of Democratic senators, known for opposing Trump, had been kidnapped or killed. Mitch McConnell would have somberly denounced the crimes. But he would also have allowed Republican governors to appoint those senators’ replacements, and reclaimed his role as majority leader, and do everything he could to prevent the new government from governing, saying, what happened on January 6 was terrible, to be deplored and mourned, but we have to move on.

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Unwarranted optimism and the new strain


Seems fitting for the first non-pandemic post to be about the pandemic.

So let me own up to a reasoning failure. I have found that I’m not really capable of expecting the pandemic to get worse. In May, I understood rationally that there could be another wave of infection, but I wasn’t really able to anticipate it. Then there it was. In September, I could have given you no reason to be certain the worst was past, but I felt that it was. But it wasn’t. The worst came back and got worse and is still with us. Maybe now cresting.

Now the vaccine is available, and is going into people’s arms; not as fast as people would like, but faster than almost everywhere else in the world, except Israel, which for some reason is lapping everybody else by a factor of ten. So does that mean it’s over? Maybe. But also there’s a novel strain, already present in the United States, which some people think is 50% more transmissible! Is there a reason to think we couldn’t have yet another period of rapid growth of cases and deaths in the months before we have time to achieve mass vaccination? There’s no reason! That could totally happen! It is right there in the interzone, neither inevitable nor impossible. And yet I can’t really bring myself to treat that possibility as real.

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Pandemic blog 42: Thanksgiving

A lot of political tumult about Thanksgiving and whether turkey dinners are likely to give the pandemic another boost in the last few months before vaccines become available.

Maybe! But I think these things are really hard to predict and my conviction that they’re hard has only gotten firmer over the last few months. Here’s a sketch of how large-scale interstate travel and protracted indoor maskless multigenerational proximity might not generate new outbreak conditions.

  • At least one family I know who traveled for Thanksgiving quarantined for two weeks before hand. In general, public health advice has been not so much “never see anyone” as “ration your in-person interactions to prioritize the ones that really matter to you.” It doesn’t seem implausible to me that people who are planning to spend five hours eating dinner with grandma would have limited their bar-going in the weeks before. If that’s the case, total November transmission opportunities might not be any higher than if there hadn’t been Thanksgiving.
  • In the same vein, it’s possible that people who chose to celebrate Thanksgiving in person are differentially likely to be those who have already contracted COVID and recovered, which makes them much less likely sources of spread.
  • Am I being too optimistic about people dialing back their in-person socialization if they’re doing Thanksgiving? Maybe! But it really does seem to be the case that people, in the aggregate, respond to disease conditions. When a region gets hit hard with virus, the wave does tend to crest, whether the regional government imposes hard limits on gatherings or not, and it really doesn’t look like that crest is happening because immunity levels have gotten high enough to suppress outbreak without behavior change. I think that, despite lots of coverage of defiant COVID truthers, the median person is aware of the outbreak status where they are and changes their behavior accordingly. So you get some amount of homeostasis from aggregate behavior change. I really do think this is part of the story! My memory is that in Wisconsin in March, cellphone data showed that visits to stores dropped sharply before there was a state stay-at-home order.

Anyway, we were not among the travellers; I bought a smoked turkey from Beef Butter BBQ and candied up some yams and made a green bean / cream of mushroom soup / french fried onion casserole, which, like the WKRP Thanksgiving episode, turned out to be enjoyable but not as great as I remembered from childhood. We had long Zoom calls with both my family and Dr. Mrs. Q’s, We felt grateful, as we have been all year, that this is easier on our family than it is on most other people.

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Orioles optimism update

My Orioles optimism from the end of April hasn’t held up too well. When I wrote that, the team was 10-18. Since then, they’ve won 16 more games, and lost — it kind of hurts to type this — 43.

Why so bad? The team ERA has dropped almost half a run since I wrote that post, from 6.15 to 5.75. Their RS and RA for June were about the same as they were for May, but they went 6-20 instead of 8-19.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but — maybe the Orioles aren’t really that bad? Their Pythagorean record is 28-59, which is terrible, but not even worst in MLB right now. (That honor belongs to the Tigers.) John Means continues to be great and Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy have now been pretty consistently turning in utterly acceptable starts.

The thing about baseball is, things happen suddenly. On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, less than two years ago, Manny Machado hit a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 9th to give the Orioles a 7-6 win against the Yankees. The Orioles were 71-68.

The next game after that, they lost 9-1. And then went 4-18 the rest of the way. They haven’t had a full month since then with a record better than .360. The Orioles became terrible in an instant. I don’t see why it can’t go the other way.

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Why not?

I’ve said all along it was wrong to imagine the Orioles being as bad as they were last year. And so far my optimism has been borne out. Don’t get me wrong; they’re bad. But they’re not excruciatingly, world-historically bad. The Orioles, on April 24, are 10-16; last year it took them until May 10 to win their 10th game, at which point they were 10-27. Chris Davis, after starting 0-for-everything, has hit .360 and slugged .720 since the middle of April. Nothing makes me happier than to see this poor guy hit after his long winter, even if it’s only for awhile. And Trey Mancini, who’s just about the right age to have a sudden career renaissance if he’s going to have one, is maybe… having one?

The pitching is terrible. 6.15 ERA in the early going, a half-run worse than anyone else in the league; flashes of goodness from Hess, Cashner, and Means, all of whom could be OK, but there’s no real reason for confidence any of them will be. And of course the team could make the choice, as they did last year, to flip Mancini, Means, and anybody else who’s producing for prospects at midsummer and lose their last 70 games; who knows? But for now; why not?

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Are the Orioles the most improved team in baseball?

The CAIRO projection system has the Orioles winning an average of 77 games this year; that’s 11 games better than their 2010 record (biggest projected jump in the majors) and 7 over the 2011 projection for the team as constituted prior the winter meetings, also baseball’s best figure.  I don’t think the Orioles are 11 games better than last year’s squad, but I think the 2010 team was better than their record.  So 77 wins sounds about right.

I don’t think this is even the biggest lineup upgrade the Orioles have seen lately — between 2003 and 2004 we replaced Brook Fordyce with Javy Lopez and Deivi Cruz with Miguel Tejada.  What I never realized is that the terrible Fordyce wasn’t even the second-worst hitter on that team; that would be Tony Batista, who despite hitting 26 home runs managed to rack up an OBP of .270.  According to Play Index, Batista’s 2003 was the worst offensive season of all time by a guy with at least 25 home runs!  Anyway, he was replaced in 2004 by Melvin Mora’s career year.  And still the Orioles only improved by seven games!

Making a bad team good is hard.  Even making a bad team substantially less bad is hard.

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Thank God for Pittsburgh

Tom is right about Terry Crowley but wrong that the Orioles are “the worst team of 2010 and potentially the worst team of modern times.”  The Pirates are 4.5 games ahead of us, sure.  But they’ve scored the same putrid number of runs we have and allowed 20 more.  They’re a titanically crappy team that’s lucky enough to be playing .350 ball.  What’s more, they’re doing it in the NL Central, not the AL East; the Orioles have played 68% of their games against winning teams, as against 56% for the Bucs.  And the winning teams in our division include the three best in baseball.

None of this will be much comfort if we actually lose 120 games.  But I don’t think we will!

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Something magic happens every time you go

I’ve been avoiding writing about the Orioles’ hot start because, well, the Orioles are fundamentally kind of a bad team getting some breaks. I don’t want to be weepily re-reading my optimistic May posts at the end of another 70-win campaign.

But they’ve already swept a two-game stand from Boston and taken two of three from the Yankees, and tonight, they laid the unremitting hurt on New York again, winning 12-2. Let’s enjoy it! Particularly sweet was Mike Mussina being the Mike Mussina we remember so well from Baltimore. The one who gets let down by his defense (Jeter’s bad throw on what should have been the third out) and then petulantly pisses away the game — Mussina couldn’t record another out as the Orioles batted around. By the time he left the mound (to an ironical standing O — you stay classy, New York) we were up 7-0.

Anyway, here’s an updated version of Orioles pep-song classic “Orioles Magic,” clowned along to by the 2008 squad. They played this before every game when I was a kid, and I can’t lie, it chokes me up. Orioles Magic! Feel it happen!

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