Saturday, January 30, 2021

Life After a 95% Effective Vaccine

Congratulations, you scored your double dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines and you are ready to rock and roll, Baby.

Does it matter that the pandemic is still raging outside your door? For those of us old enough to remember Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In” the answer is clear: You bet your sweet bippy it matters.

Ninety-five percent is not 100%. You still have a 1/20 chance of getting the disease given a significant exposure to the virus. Your case may not be as virulent as without the vaccine, but the scientific jury is still out—especially regarding the long-term effects of the disease.

Here’s how to think of your risk. You decide to go to in-person church (or some other super-spreader event). Let’s say for discussion that before your vaccine you had a 50/50 chance of catching the disease. (Even in super-spreader events, not everyone was infected.) With the vaccine, your chances fall to 2.5% for that one event. Life’s for living, right? No more sheltering in place because that doesn’t sound too risky.

Although, on average, if forty of you made that same decision, one of you will come down with the disease.

But okay, you take that chance. Of course, if you are going to chance it once, you’ll chance it twice, three times, ’cause heck, the odds are 39-1 against anything bad happening.

Except that’s not the way probabilities work. To stay healthy, you must win against every encounter with the disease. Your chance of winning each one (based on the assumptions above) is 97.5%. To determine the chances of staying healthy after two events, you multiply the chance of staying healthy for each of those events. 97.5% x 97.5% = about 95%.

After 10 events, your chances of not catching the disease are down to 78%. They become less than 50% after 28 such events. If you are part of a couple who attend the events together, the chances of both of you staying healthy drop to below 50% after only 14 events.

To allow us to get back to normal, we must significantly decrease our chances of being exposed to the disease in gatherings. There are only two ways to do this: Increase effectiveness of the vaccine (nope – it doesn’t work that way) or decrease the chances of being exposed during an outing. That means continuing to make safe decisions until enough people are vaccinated (or have caught the disease and are no longer contagious) so the chances of being exposed in what had been a super-spreader event decline significantly.

The math is powerful. If we can drop the original assumption of 50% to 10%, our chances of staying healthy after 28 events increases from 49% to 87%. If we can reduce the chance of exposure to 5%, the 87% after 28 events increases to 93%. This is the power of herd immunity, but we are a long way from reaching those levels of protection.

Even if you don’t quite understand the math, believe its message: your vaccination improves your odds of staying COVID-19 free, but only if you don’t take unnecessary risks.

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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. Furthermore, a novella is the most recent addition to the series. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

An open letter to my senators

Dear Senators Stabenow and Peters:

Jurors determine guilt or innocence under the law, not whether the law is constitutional. The courts make constitutional decisions. Nevertheless, forty-five of your Republican senate colleagues have taken the court’s powers and made them their own when they voted that it is unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a president who is no longer in office.

It is important for our democracy that every senator vote on whether they believe the evidence presented in the upcoming impeachment trial suffices to convict former president Trump of the article of impeachment voted by the House of Representatives and delivered to the Senate. We must not allow any senator to sidestep a vote on whether Trump committed impeachable actions by instead declaring him not guilty by reason of the trial being unconstitutional.

Therefore, the Senate must delay the trial until the Supreme Court settles this issue. The Senate must send a formal request to the Supreme Court to prepare an opinion regarding the constitutionality of trying a former president on article(s) of impeachment approved by the House while the president was still in office.

If the Supreme Court deems the constitution does not allow this, the Senate should abandon the trial. The Senate and the House can then determine if censure or other sanctions are appropriate based on former president Trump’s behavior leading up to the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capital. If the Supreme Court deems the constitution does not prohibit such a trial, all senators will have to vote on the article of impeachment based on their view of the evidence presented.

I do not know the legal mechanism for having the Supreme Court take up this issue, but I believe it is critical to the future of our democracy that they do.

I encourage you and your colleagues to take the necessary actions.

James M. Jackson.
Amasa, MI

Friday, January 8, 2021

Making Endings for the New Year


English Proverb

In Western cultures, January 1 starts the annual calendar and with it come resolutions for the new year. We vow to lose ten pounds, exercise more, get organized, save more, quit smoking, learn Swahili, et cetera. I have nothing against goals. They can be helpful if used the right way, and five years ago I wrote a blog on Making Your Goals SMART. We can start a self-improvement project any day of the year. Today, however, I want to suggest that making good endings can be a critical step to our success.

Have you had the experience of trying to solve a problem and, seemingly out of nowhere, a solution appears, often long after you have actively been thinking about the problem? In college, I kept a notepad by my bed because I would wake up in the middle of the night knowing how to work a math problem that had stumped me the previous day or two. As an author, my recent experiences take the form of resolving a plot hole that had bothered me, or realizing I have a plot hole that I had not recognized. These sudden inspirations often occur while I am walking or listening to music.

Our minds are wired to work on open issues. Think of a computer that has programs open for Facebook, YouTube, a spreadsheet to collect receipts and expenses for your taxes, three incomplete short stories, a webpage providing information about how long it takes a body to decompose in Georgia clay, a to-do list with a few items checked off, a calendar reminding us that next week we have a colonoscopy scheduled for Tuesday at 9:20 a.m., and we need to pick up our child from soccer practice at four this afternoon, and our email program dings every time a new missive arrives. That’s a lot of stuff going on. The computer has algorithms to tell it how to allocate memory, CPU, space on the screen, and whether to access your printer remotely.

Our brains operate in a similar fashion with the positive result that our brainpower keeps working on problems we couldn’t solve. Often when we least expect it, an answer appears. They are not always great answers, but often they are spot on. Unfortunately, our brains aren’t good at prioritizing which problems to work on. Consider those times when you catch yourself thinking about the job you didn’t take seven years ago, the day Sally laughed because your clothes didn’t match, how embarrassed you felt in fourth grade when you snorted milk out your nose. We can’t change these past events. Although it may be useful to learn from past mistakes, dwelling on them at the expense of moving forward isn’t productive – and yet, if we allow them to remain open issues, our subconscious keeps offering opportunities for review. Example: two days after Sam crushed us with a negative one-liner, we think of the perfect response. Too late to use that response, but if we accept it as a fine solution to the problem, we can close that mental tab.

Sometimes we can catch ourselves wallowing in the mud hole of a past situation and issue a personal cease and desist order. This is the advice not to cry over spilt milk.

We can control a vast number of mind-tabs that opened with the best of intentions that we should put to bed. As part of preparing for 2021, I decided to end five writing projects that once excited me so they no longer suck up precious resources from more desirable projects.

Five writing projects I will end

1. Audio Books & Screen Plays: I will not create audio books for the Seamus McCree series. Closing that path means I don’t have to spend time or effort to compare (yet again) alternative financing methods and royalty splits, or find a narrator, or worry about whether Amazon is treating its vendors well. Nor will I follow several suggestions I have received to convert some of the Seamus McCree novels into screenplays.

2. Analysis Paralysis: For 2021, I will not reconsider whether I should maintain wide distribution for the Seamus McCree series or return to the Amazon-only universe with its access to Kindle Unlimited readers. Nor will I make comparisons to what happened in 2020 or 2019.

3. Dystopian Novels: I will put my idea for a dystopian YA series on hold and spend no more time world-building and sketching character arcs.

4. Class for Writers Using Microsoft Word: I know many writers could use a class to help them efficiently use Microsoft Word to prepare their drafts, manuscripts, and format their material for printed books. I enjoy teaching and could do a good job. But the time it will take me to collect material, prepare lessons, market, and deliver the course far exceeds the financial or psychological benefits I might obtain. I will turn down current requests.

5. Dealing with Psychic Bleeders: I call people who sap our positive energy with their negative energy “Psychic Bleeders.” Their techniques include “Woe is me” posts and emails, constant complaints about others, and refusal to do the most basic work themselves while looking for others to spoon-feed information. I’m giving up trying to help (some might say to save) psychic bleeders. I’ll politely refuse to engage with their antics.

The above list is not all-inclusive, nor (except for #5, I hope) am I precluded from resurrecting a project in the future.

Ending projects also holds for the non-writing parts of my life. I plan to give special emphasis to ignoring political Psychic Bleeders on whom I have spent inordinate energy this past year! [I wrote this before the events in Washington, DC on January 6. I still have some work to do on this one.]

Does this idea resonate with you? What endings should you make to free up time and energy for the important things in your life? I look forward to your comments.

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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. Furthermore, a novella is the most recent addition to the series. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at

(A version of this post first appeared 1/5/21 on the Writers Who Kill Blog.)