The Rules of Contagion

Covid has enabled the spread of contagion theory.

n the US, people without children in their house typically spend a few weeks of the year infected with viruses; people with one child have an infection for about a third of the year; and those with two children will on average carry viruses more often than not.

Byington C.L. et al., ‘Community Surveillance of Respiratory Viruses Among Families in the Utah Better Identification of Germs-Longitudinal Viral Epidemiology (BIG-LoVE) Study’, Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2015.

“The red-blue divide in the US in the light of contagion/network studies”

There is a long-standing paradox in medicine: people who have a heart attack or stroke while surrounded by relatives take longer to get medical care. (Dhand A., ‘Social networks and risk of delayed hospital arrival after acute stroke’, Nature Communications, 2019)

Centola D., How Behavior Spreads: The Science of Complex Contagions (Princeton University Press, 2018).

Bayesian probability – Wikipedia

Bayesian inference – Wikipedia

Notes on Christakis, Apollo’s Arrow

Immunizing the elderly, while it will reduce their deaths, does not have much effect on the actual course of the epidemic. Immunizing working-age people helps break chains of transmission through social networks and can be much more effective in preventing deaths on a population level (an idea that resembles what we discussed above with respect to targeting socially connected people for immunization). p 66 Christakis

Petrarch of the Black Death: What are we to do now, brother? Now that we have lost almost everything and found no rest. When can we expect it? Where shall we look for it? Time, as they say, has slipped through our fingers. Our former hopes are buried with our friends. The year 1348 left us lonely and bereft, for it took from us wealth which could not be restored by the Indian, Caspian or Carpathian Sea. Last losses are beyond recovery, and death’s wound beyond cure.  p. 139

Plagues can amplify existing social divisions and often create new ones—between the sick and the healthy or between those considered clean or contaminated. And in times of plague, we witness a chasm between those deemed blameless and those considered blameworthy. Simpleminded Manichaean thinking surges—good versus evil, us versus them. p  180

[Physical distancing will lead to social distance. Covid already has dug deeper moats between classes, races, genders- GL]

So, just like the pandemic gave us a glimpse of a world with less traffic, it also gave us a glimpse of a world with less medical injury, p 269

Unbeknownst to most people, the manufacture and distribution of toilet paper in the United States is bifurcated. Paper products for offices and factories form a totally different supply chain than those intended for home use, which meant that many grocery stores were short on toilet paper for months.  p 274

If the Roaring Twenties following the 1918 pandemic are a guide, the increased religiosity and reflection of the immediate and intermediate pandemic periods could give way to increased expressions of risk-taking, intemperance, or joie de vivre in the post-pandemic period. p  283

In general, by killing working-age adults but leaving agricultural lands, buildings, mines, metals, and other capital assets relatively untouched, these deadly pandemics, on average, resulted in a rise in real wages and a long-term decline in interest rates. p 284

.In her essay “On Being Ill,” Virginia Woolf complained that the culture had neglected an obvious source of inspiration: “Novels, one would have thought, would be devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia.… But no.” p 288

A total of 38 percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form sometime in the last ten thousand years.104 Over 25 percent of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the Earth. And 61 percent cannot correctly identify that the universe began with the big bang. p 290

For instance, rural residents [in China] set up crude roadblocks of felled trees to keep outsiders out, and they interrogated visitors in local dialects in order to detect interlopers. p 10

A Letter in Portuguese

When in Morocco last year, I atruck up a friendship with an young expatriate there from Guinea-Bissau. The instant forging of the bond between us was that I knew something about his native Portuguese creole language and that I cited a proverb from Haitian creole.

he and I were speaking French at the time and, telling him I was hungry, I turned to the Haitian proverb Sak vid pa debou (An empty sack cannot stand  up). There  is apparently an equivalent in Guinea-Bissau Crioulo.

He recently asked me via Instagram if I could write him a letter of invitation for a visit to the US.  Diasporans and the otherwise exiled, refugees economic or not, will know how important that is.

Here is my reasoned response, in rather stilted Portuguese.


É uma época terrível para vir para os EUA.

Por causa de cobiça, provavelmente você ficaria em quarentena por 14 dias às suas custas. Além disso, o período pós-eleitoral aqui será caótico, motins nas ruas, etc.

A minha própria residência nos Estados Unidos é problemática. Eu fui um insoumi durante a guerra no vietnã. Uma carta-convite minha pode não ter nenhum efeito positivo.

Tudo isso para dizer que você deve pensar duas vezes sobre seus planos de viagem.

Por mais difíceis que sejam as coisas em Marrocos, seria melhor ficar lá ou voltar para Guiné-Bissau. Essa é a minha opinião de qualquer maneira.

Melhores votos a Solimão, sua esposa, e ao novo papai.

As Adorable as They May Be

Children, adorable as they universally are, function as little germ factories with a suboptimal sense of personal space and hand hygiene.

– Anjana Ahuja FT 1-2 Aug. p 7

On cancelling Halloween: “I don’t think allowing lots of little hands to rummage through sweets would be a good idea.”

– Jamie Dowery Guardian 13 Sept