Suggested readings, #87

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

7 pandemic differences between the U.S. and Europe. Why Europe is doing a much better job handling Covid-19. Hint: it has to do with government priorities and support for its citizens. (Medium)

Is JK Rowling transphobic? One of the best, most thoughtful essays I’ve read in a while on the debates between transgender advocates and gender critical feminists. Of course, as soon as I posted the link on Twitter I was accused of being transphobic… (Open for Debate)

Can an 18th century statistician help us think more clearly? Distinguishing between types of probability can help us worry less and do more. A basic intro to Bayes’ theorem. (Mind Matters)

So you’re on the side of progress? So are your opponents. Which is not a call for moral relativism. (Medium)

Maxims from the Delphic Oracle. Socrates, Stoicism, and the Philosophy of Apollo. (Medium)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

9 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #87”

  1. This is a serious issue with which I have some further semi-personal experience. The Georgia Green Party adopted the “Declaration on the Sex Based Rights of Women” as part of its state party platform last summer and was accused of being transphobic. I am not a GCRF, but I am skeptical on the issue of some people doing hand waving and then maneuvering on substituting cultural gender for biological sex. A lot of “trans activists” wanted to suspend the state party’s membership. Didn’t happen this year but will surely come up again at the 2021 GP national convention. As part of this, I’ve realized that many trans activists foot soldiers don’t realize what the leadership supports on “transitioning” interventions in juveniles. They also ignore that a number of studies show that the great majority of juveniles with sex-gender-relationship dysphoria, if UN-interfered with, grow up to be …. wait for it …

    gay adults. Makes me wonder if there’s some subconscious homophobia that many male trans activists have, and now I’ll be in trouble for calling some of them male.

    As part of this, I referenced Alice Dreger’s discussion (generally good) in Galileo’s Middle Finger.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m trying to reply to Massimo’s post #87, not Socratic Gadfly; apologies if this is in the wrong spot.

      I read the Medium piece about why Europe is doing much better than the U.S. in terms of the Covid response, and it is so biased as to be fairly designated “fake news.” The entire premise is wrong–Italy, UK, Spain, etc., all have higher deaths per million than the U.S. according to Worldometer despite the draconian lockdowns that we know increase suicides, other health problems, etc. Other European countries such as Germany and France are doing better than the U.S. How does this justify a premise than Europe is doing “much” better? By making this the premise of the article, rather than the topic of discussion, the author skips right over these inconvenient truths to spread his own misinformation. But if the premise is wrong…what good are the supposed reasons?

      Italians are still waiting for their FIRST stimulus checks (the E.U. overlords hate sending money south; just ask the Greeks); remember when we got ours in May? Yes, Germany is supporting its businesses, but so did the U.S. (to the tune of trillions of dollars in the CARES act from April, long before the E.U. was capable of action). “We have your backs” is the general message in Europe? That’s a joke; ask the Italians if the E.U. has their backs in this crisis. Politicians on the left (Conte) and right (Salvini) have all been very clear that the E.U. (i.e., Germany) has left them essentially without support, the only question is whether we keep begging for help that will never come (Conte) or start taking care of our own (Salvini).

      This Medium article seems to be just another volley from the anti-U.S. left, cherry picking comparisons and making misleading statements to further their propogandist narrative. It probably makes a lot of sense to the CNN/MSNBC/NYT/WP coastal elite crowd, as they have been shielded from all contradictory facts (Hunter who?), but we deplorables in flyover country have been exposed to facts that make the U.S. look good, and facts that make the U.S. look bad in equal measure. In the end, the article is divisive, just as the author laments that we aren’t coming together. I wonder why.


  2. The numbers per millions are certainly an important statistics, but they are likely to be higher in Europe regardless of other factors, simply because of the high density of the population.

    The fact remains that every lockdown, including in Italy and France, has immediately been followed by a marked reduction of cases. In the US, meanwhile, the national curve is an almost unbroken rising trend.

    My relatives in Italy have all gotten the government checks. Of course, that’s anecdotal evidence.

    As for the US stimulus, the current estimate is that half of the money earmarked for small business went instead to big ones. Not surprisingly.

    Moreover, instead of sarcastically write “I wonder why,” why not engage in the sort of back and forth that characterizes reasonable dialogue? Differences of opinions are divisive only if one begins with the assumption that anyone who disagrees is an enemy.


    1. Massimo, I won’t mention names but I know a number of people who work professionally in philosophy of science who are in denial that East Asia’s methods brought down the number of cases (just the heads up, not convinced by their analysis) Where are your close peers on the question matter?


  3. OK, I’m not sure what the issue is, so my actual original comment’s going to get chunked into 4-5 small ones.

    Montana: On cherry-picking, really? I’ve had Worldometers open in my browsers for months. On deaths/million US is about even with UK, worse than France, and much worse than a lot of Europe. Peru, Italy and Spain are the only three countries in the world with more than 15M population to have higher death rates than the US.


  4. As for suicides? Isn’t that rather, an argument for the government to better fund mental health care … as in part of a true national health care system? Ooops. If you really think this is an actual issue, not “gotcha,” let’s hear actual thoughts.


  5. Montana, I’m a socialist here in Texas.

    If you really want to go there on “coastal elites”? 100 years ago, the most widely circulated socialist newspaper in the US was published in Girard, Kansas. Stop this nonsense.


  6. saphsin, I’m not sure, I haven’t seen publications on the issues. Nobody I know in philscience is in the sort of denial you describe. But I don’t doubt it exists.


  7. All fair criticisms you two, but I can’t imagine that either of you think that the original linked article was fair and balanced, do you? I think that my cherry picking of facts could be seen as presenting the facts left out by the original author. But SG, I think it is disingenuous to call the US “worse” when it is worse (France), but “about even” with other countries when it is better (Italy, Spain, and you left out the UK with your convenient grouping). Your bias is clear (attaching different adjectives to the same reality), as is mine I’m sure. Your selection of countries with populations over 15 million is reasonable (although population density is a far better criterion than total population), but convenient, as the US drops out of the top 10 if you don’t exclude various countries (woohoo! ;-). I’ve heard for months from the left how wonderful New Zealand’s response has been, and nobody seemed to care to note the geographic and population factors that made that so.

    I don’t think my “I wonder why” comment was over the top, and did not even match the negative tone of the original article. Given that I was pointing to the irony of the original author lamenting divisiveness while creating it, I think a little sarcasm was called for to make that point ;-)

    The simple fact is that the narrative that the original article, that the U.S. screwed this up while Europe has handled it wonderfully is not supported by the facts. Just as you noted, MP, Europe likely suffered with a higher population density, and the U.S. likely suffered with more of a tendency to travel as well as poor leadership in our biggest cities where the consequences were disproportional beyond anything explainable by population density IMHO. One need only to look at Cuomo’s emergency order requiring nursing homes to take covid positive patients and the thousands that this killed unnecessarily (it’s a bit of a hard story to find as the media have tried to bury it, but if you look you can find it). Take the NY/NJ urban area out (leave every other urban center), and the picture for the US becomes dramatically better. Every country is different (how nice to live in the outback right now!). This is truly a virus that has punished developed nations and let less developed nations off the hook, for once. Combinations of geography, density, culture, what we do with the elderly–put them in homes or take care of them upstairs–genetic susceptibility, health policy, and a dozen other things that we don’t understand yet all go into determining the effects of the virus, so to make blanket statements like EU good, US bad are the hallmark of simplistic thinking. It marks someone immediately as a member of the blame-America-first crowd (the author, not either of you). This virus rocked us all, from Bangalore to Boston. Nobody saw it coming, nobody had the answer when it did.

    About the lockdowns, you know of course that the W.H.O. is recommending essentially no more lockdowns. The have adopted the Swedish approach. Since October this has been their stance. Is it possible for European politicians to say lockdown while the WHO says don’t? Of course it is. One day you are a psychopath for suggesting that schools open, the next day you’re a psychopath if you don’t. One day you shouldn’t wear masks, the next day you’re selfish if you don’t. Lockdown. Don’t lockdown. Pardon me if I remain skeptical of all the pronouncements of the scientists (not to mention local, state, and federal politicians), stated with such authority and certainty at every wrong turn. This is just as true in the EU as it is in the US.

    I’m sure you noticed that the U.S. and the U.K. are distributing Pfizer vaccines while the E.U. is still going through the approval processes. They somehow know it will be approved on the 23rd, but can’t seem to sign the form today.

    I’m glad to hear that your relatives in Italy have received some support Massimo–my friends in Calabria and Sicily have not. (I did more research on it and you are quite right that funds have been distributed). From what I can tell, Italians are just as frustrated at the governmental response as many Americans are, although they are far more willing to accept the fact that sometimes bad things happen (i.e., viruses escape from labs) rather than always and only looking for someone to blame as we seem to do in this country (this seems true from Trump and Biden all the way down to the lowliest segment producer at CNN).

    As for suicides, I just think it is important to separate the effects of the coronavirus from the effects of the lockdowns. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis, and I’m glad that doing it is no longer considered anti-science or anti-human or just plain cruel. The latest stats on deaths in the US show that fewer people will likely die here this year than last year (2.9 million last year, probably 2.8 million this year). Obviously a lot of things go into determining the number of deaths, but The Plague this is not. Given that, and the sack of negative effects of the lockdowns from psychological (can you imagine trying to get through an ethics board a research study in which you hide adult facial expressions from an entire generation of 1-2 year olds, or isolate an entire generation of 16-18 year olds from their friends for a year? to name only 2 of the 1000 examples I could cite) to economic (too many to list) to educational that will take decades to reveal themselves, I don’t think that a little cost benefit analysis is unwarranted (and yet, asking the government for one prior to a lockdown is frowned upon–just look at the UK this last week, and how the politicians have squirmed on shows like Julia Hartley-Brewer (on the left). They don’t seem to have any real science to back up their decisions).

    Last point, more people will die in the US from smoking than from coronavirus this year. Think of the trivial encroachment on individual liberty that would come from banning cigarettes (for which virtually every ex-smoker would thank us a year from now) compared to the massive encroachments we have seen to fight the coronavirus, to save fewer lives, and massively fewer life-years, with dramatically negative side effects instead of dramatically positive ones. If you want, add on top of that the fact that the hundreds of thousands of lives saved by merely banning cigarettes would recur every single year, whereas the coronavirus lockdowns have an effect one time only (but negative consequences for decades). Any rational analysis would show that the real public health crisis between the two is smoking, and yet look at how we have handled the two situations. I think in 10 years time we will look at this as a period of mass hysteria, propagated by the media and political divisions, rather than as a reasonable reaction to a troubling situation.

    Sorry, I’ve been long winded and off topic ;-)

    p.s. oops, SG, when you look at the voting patterns (red everywhere except the coasts and a few interior urban centers) combined with income levels and academic degrees of voters, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that it is coastal urban elites and rural working class, don’t you think? I’m sure you are right about the socialist newspaper from 100 years ago, but clearly now the rural Kansas working class voters are very skeptical of progressivism/socialism/globalism social justice ideology pushed on them from the consortium of silicone valley millionaires, the Wall Street donor class, media, and social media censors. I mean, Biden got only 41% of the Kansas vote despite running against an offensive game show host. They’re not dumb, they’re not racist, they just see things from the perspective of their own lives, as we all do.



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