Risk and the Psychology of the New COVID-19 Surge

The rising number of COVID-19 cases has many causes, including the question of how many are being found due to increased testing capacity. (Likely answer: some, but not all. Hospitalizations are also rising, which means more people are getting sick at levels that would have been detected in the virus’s first surge.)

But another part of the answer has to do with what, in retrospect, should have been a predictable aspect of public psychology: as the pandemic has dragged on, COVID-19 has gone from new and frightening to “normal.”

One of the more esoteric fields I’ve dabbled in over the years is the psychology and economics of risk.

Psychologists have found that our fear reactions do not correlate well to the actual risks posed by a given hazard. Economics has confirmed this by noticing how people, in spending money to guard against risks, tend to spend disproportionate amounts on various types of risks.

Two examples are air travel and bicycle helmets.

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Tulsa Prelude: the 1919 Race “riot” of my one-time home town

In 2007, I was in my car when NPR started a 15-minute segment on the shameful history of the 1919 race riot of Corbin, Kentucky.

That event wasn’t as bad as what would happen in Tulsa two years later, but that’s not saying much: Corbin is a small town, and somewhere between 6 and 8 percent of its population lost everything in a single night in an event that today we would call ethnic cleansing.

It was also a jaw-dropping revelation.

From age 9 to 11, I lived in Corbin, never hearing a whiff of its sordid past. As I reached my destination and sat in the parking lot listening to the end of the broadcast, all I could think was: how could it have been so thoroughly covered up that I didn’t know?

As the old newspaper clip I’ve used as the image for this post indicates, it was a national story. (If you can’t read it, it’s from the El Paso, Texas.)

Continue reading Tulsa Prelude: the 1919 Race “riot” of my one-time home town

Trump, Lincoln and Rosa Parks

For all his flaws, Donald Trump has been handed the opportunity to go down in history on the same page as Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson.

The two are, of course, very different Presidents, separated not only by political party, but 100 years of history. In 1862, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And 103 years later, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To the extent history lurches toward justice in big, widely spaced steps, those were probably the two biggest lurches in racial justice in American experience.

But to all appearances, America is poised to make another big lurch forward. The details are still being worked out, but polls show that 84 percent of Americans support the protests, at least to some degree–a level of agreement rarely seen about anything.

And yet, even today, Trump was defending choke holds as often being “innocent and perfect” and suggesting he was a better racial-justice president than Abraham Lincoln, apparently based on the economic surge that blessed his first few years.

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Take a knee with me for 8:46

Today, on Facebook, I invited friends to join me in taking a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silent meditation and/or prayer, starting at 6 pm PDT (for those who could schedule it) or whenever else they could, for those for whom that time was difficult.

It was an incredibly powerful experience.

I’ve been asked to repeat it on Tuesday, June 9, for those who didn’t hear about it in time on Monday, and then to repeat it every Monday for the rest of June.

The idea is simple. Set a timer and take a knee, like a football player, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time in which George Floyd was pinned to the ground with a knee to his neck.

Or, if arthritis or other health concerns preclude that, just sit quietly on a chair or a couch. The idea is not to stress yourself, but to let yourself contemplate.

If you do take a knee, I recommend a knee pad of some kind, such as a fleece jacket, or some other soft surface. Also, this can be a bit of a balance test (especially if you close your eyes), so kneel next to a coffee table, chair, or other object on which you can steady your balance, so you can focus on prayer or meditation, rather than working not to topple over.

* Image by Zach Dischner / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0).

Me and Race in Minneapolis (part 1)

A couple of days ago, I said I might blog about my experiences with race in Minneapolis. So, with a good deal of trepidation, here goes…

There were two basic experiences. The first was sometime during the dark season, when night falls well before the end of the normal business day. I was a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, and there was a meeting I wanted to attend, downtown, after the workday ended.

The law school is about a mile from downtown, and I either didn’t have a car, or had walked to work. I could have taken a cab or bus, but it was a relatively short walk and I was, after all, a marathoner.

So I walked.

I don’t know what it’s like now, but at the time, it wasn’t the best walk. Much was dark and deserted, as it took me by sports facilities for both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Vikings, surrounded by acres of empty parking lots.

Still, I felt more-or-less safe until a car pulled up behind me, slowed, and started shadowing me.

Continue reading Me and Race in Minneapolis (part 1)

Are we finally reaching a moment of truth on race?

As an older white guy, I’ve been unsure what to write about the present situation in America. Much of the online and news space does, and should, belong to people of color and Millennials. They are, and should be, the future. In fact, I am increasingly impressed by how today parallels events from 55 years ago.

Continue reading Are we finally reaching a moment of truth on race?