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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. Yesterday, I learned of two separate pieces -- one by a layman at Quillette and another by two epidemiologists at The New York Times -- that focus on the phenomenon of "superspreading events" in the current pandemic. In the words of the second of these, "20 percent of Covid-19 cases accounted for 80 percent of transmissions." Might a closer look at these events help individuals better evaluate their risks or evade the virus -- and help government officials make better policy choices in the future? Yes and yes. Both pieces draw essentially the same conclusions regarding how best to avoid infection, but what I like about the Quillette piece is that it takes the time to explain why this is happening. In part, it is due to the primary mode of transmission being droplets, which author Jonathan Kay reviews at the beginning of his piece, and which he determined to be important in part as follows: ... I have chosen to exclude SSEs [super spreading events--ed] that center on hospitals and old-age homes, despite the fact that in many countries (including Canada, where I live), these comprise the main spawning ground for COVID-19. This is because the purpose of this exercise is to gain information about the relative effects of three broad modes of COVID-19 transmission -- large droplets transmitted ballistically, persistent concentrations of tiny airborne droplets, and contaminated surfaces. In hospitals and old-age homes, all three of these mechanisms are almost invariably at play -- as these tend to be shared spaces full of commonly touched surfaces and close interpersonal contact among residents and staff. And so such SSEs serve to inflate the size of the database without providing assistance in isolating variables. The same principle is true of COVID-19 transmission within households (and possibly prisons), which is why I have excluded intra-household clusters as well. [bold added]After further explanation and analysis, Kay notes:[T]he truly remarkable trend that jumped off my spreadsheet has nothing to do with the sort of people involved in these SSEs, but rather the extraordinarily narrow range of underlying activities. And I believe it is on this point that a close study of SSEs, even one based on such a biased and incomplete data set as the one I've assembled in my lay capacity, can help us...The activities are, in my opinion, narrower than Kay's explanation would lead me to believe: For example, he notes a lack of super-spreading events at theaters. Nevertheless, I think his general reasoning is sound and dovetails with the more scientific research summary provided by the Times. That said, it is the Times piece which provides language that can better help us remember and implement the advice. It very helpfully notes how the Japanese -- who got their epidemic well under control without lockdowns -- conceptualize the behaviors and situations that lead to SSEs: Confined and crowded and close, oh my! (Image by Jake Weirick, via Unsplash, license.) It stands to reason, too, that a highly contagious person is more likely to spread the infection in a crowd (at a wedding, in a bar, during a sporting event) than in a small group (within their household), and when contact is extensive or repeated. Transmission is more likely during gatherings indoors than outdoors. Simply ventilating a room can help. We believe that with the South Korean call-center cluster, the essential factor of transmission was the extent of time spent in a crowded office area. Also consider this counterexample: Japan. The government recently lifted a state of emergency after controlling its epidemic without having put in place any stringent social distancing measures or even doing much testing. Instead, it relied on largely voluntary measures encouraging people to stay at home and advice to avoid overcrowding in public venues. In essence, Japan adopted an anti-superspreading strategy. The approach was targeted at limiting what some researchers from Tohoku University have called the "three Cs": closed spaces, crowds and close contacts. [links omitted, bold added]The last sentence of this paragraph is my take-home, and I hope public officials begin basing policy on this proven and freedom-preserving strategy going forward. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. One of the most disturbing aspects of the Corona epidemic is the fact that some individuals can spread the virus despite a lack of symptoms. This is an important consideration for those hoping to avoid catching or spreading the illness, as well as for government officials considering what role they may have protecting individuals in the meantime. Viruses don't teleport, so it would clearly behoove us to understand how this occurs, how often it occurs, and how we can best reduce the chances of it occurring. A big part of understanding the problem is reporting it correctly, neither refusing to acknowledge the problem nor blowing its severity out of proportion. Unfortunately, a superspreading event on (or before -- See note on update at bottom.) March 10 at a church in Mt. Vernon, Washington was apparently misreported as an example of asymptomatic spread long enough ago that it seems to have become common "knowledge." This event, for which early reports put the number of infected at 45 and later ones at 52, is, unsurprisingly, frequently used to justify "lockdowns". (In addition to this being mislabeled as asymptomatic spread, many second-hand reports incorrectly credit the choir members with social distancing.) Here's one example of this mischaracterization, which cites the earlier number and continues: And if approximately 50% of individuals catch this virus from asymptomatic carriers, one must ask, how are these carriers spreading the virus? They are not coughing and sneezing. The answer is probably aerosolization, were the virus can float in the air and be picked up later by an unsuspecting passerby. [notes omitted]And Here's another: The church choir in Washington State. Even though people were aware of the virus and took steps to minimize transfer; e.g. they avoided the usual handshakes and hugs hello, people also brought their own music to avoid sharing, and socially distanced themselves during practice [sic -- See below.]. A single asymptomatic carrier infected most of the people in attendance. The choir sang for 2 1/2 hours, inside an enclosed church which was roughly the size of a volleyball court.Both articles reasonably postulate aerosolization as a mechanism, and to the best of my knowledge, this can occur, but is not known to be a major cause of transmission. Droplets are. And if this person had "cold-like" symptoms and spent lots of time in a crowded room, I'm not so sure we need that explanation for this event. From the paper: No choir member reported having had symptoms at the March 3 practice. One person at the March 10 practice had cold-like symptoms beginning March 7. This person, who had also attended the March 3 practice, had a positive laboratory result for SARS-CoV-2 by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing. [bold added]And now, with this event having been looked into in more detail, we learn the following: Image by Colin Michael, via Unsplash, license. So, 61 members of the Skagit Valley Chorale, half of the choir's singers, came to the evening practice at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, according to the Los Angeles Times, which broke the story. One of those singers had COVID-19. This person had cold-like symptoms starting on March 7, but didn't realize it was the new coronavirus until a test later confirmed the diagnosis, according to the CDC report, which was written by Skagit County Public Health (SCPH) professionals. People infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are most infectious from 2 days before through 7 days after symptoms begin, SCPH said in the report, "which could have placed the patient within this infectious period during the March 10 practice." The practice lasted 2.5 hours. Several members arrived early to place the chairs -- arranged in six rows of 20 and spaced 6-10 inches ... apart. Once seated, the singers practiced together for 40 minutes, split into smaller groups for a 50-minute practice block, took a 15-minute break that included shared snacks of cookies and oranges, and reconvened for a final 45-minute singing session. [bold added]So much for this being an example of asymptomatic spread, or at least a clear-cut one. It remains a highly relevant cautionary tale, but not so much regarding the possibility of asymptomatic spread. Misreporting it as such can fuel two different kinds of inappropriate reactions: (1) panic, by feeding fear of the unknown, and (2) dismissal of the danger of this disease, in the vein of "them so-called experts got it wrong again." We don't need to hunker down in our homes in fear, but we should stay home or mask up at least until tested, if we feel a cold coming on. And we do need to weigh the risk of prolonged indoor group activities. Perhaps the person with the cold didn't seem sick to the others. I bring this up, because twice in the past few days, I have heard lay people I greatly respect mention this incident as a case of asymptomatic spread. It isn't, and we should all be clear on that going forward, in the name of eventually defeating or learning how best to cope with this virus as soon as possible. -- CAV Updates Today: Very shortly after posting, I realized that we're not completely off the hook of pre-symptomatic spread: There was a March 3 practice. I edited a few sentences accordingly. That said, this is not a clear-cut example of asymptomatic spread.Link to Original
  3. Even with a break from the news, it has been impossible not to hear about the death of George Floyd and the protests that criminals and left-wing thugs have seen fit to turn into riots. It has also been impossible not to be disappointed with the responses to same from our elected officials. Most Democrats have predictably failed to stand up against the rioters when they haven't been encouraging them in one way or another. And then, just as predictably, we have had Donald Trump making intemperate and counterproductive comments such as, I believe, a call to shoot the looters. This is all against the usual tone-deafness of most Republicans to racial matters, which often loses ears before anything constructive they can say. And speaking of lost messages, Scott Adams correctly notes that Antifa and other violent actors are making many Americans much less likely to be sympathetic to legitimate concerns about police brutality that this death had brought into sharp focus. Likewise, Yaron Brook correctly notes that Republicans have themselves to blame for the fact that they do so poorly among minorities in most parts of the country. It was interesting hearing this as I drove right after Adams made a case for BLM (by which I take him to mean the cause of racial equality) being much more at home in the GOP (which he seems to take as an individualist political party). (Pro-tip for the odd Republican passer-by: This need not and should not be a pandering contest. There are votes of thinking people to be had for the taking. Now that I think of it, quit pandering to your current constituencies, too. Democrats are popular by default. Educating the public on a superior alternative could do wonders.) The short version of all this is that, until this morning, I hadn't seen or heard of an even remotely appropriate response by a politician. And then, via Hot Air, I saw a five minute speech by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta. I'm not religious and I would probably disagree with her on many political issues, but let me thank her right now for naming so much of what is wrong with the rioting and, especially for condemning it. Her remarks are in the video embedded below. (Note: In case of trouble playing the video below, it may help to use the Google Chrome browser or view at Hot Air.) "This is chaos. A protest has purpose. When Dr. King was assassinated we didn't do this to our city," Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said. "If you want change in America, go and register to vote." https://t.co/1M9DJg6CSz pic.twitter.com/74p8sryX0D-- Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) May 30, 2020 I was further surprised to learn from the same post that Bottoms is being considered for Joe Biden's running mate. She is so far the only one who doesn't scare the bejeezus out of me and, after this, the only one who could get me to consider voting for Biden. (As bad as Trump is, this is saying something.) She may be inexperienced, but if Democrats want any chance of attracting non-leftist voters, or at least not scaring them off, I think she is the one to pick. -- CAV Updates Today: Added note on playing video of embedded tweet. Link to Original
  4. Four Things Editor's Note: The Van Horns will be taking a much-needed and long-overdue break over the next week. Posting here will resume on June 1 or June 2. I will be intermittently reachable by email and may post on Twitter. 1. During the period social distancing, my son and daughter put their bunk beds to creative use by hosting each other for sleepovers, guest in the bottom bunk, of course. For a while there, I would occasionally hear them making elaborate swap deals with each other. Here is a picture of our garden. We are already close to usable tomatoes -- fried green, of course. (Own photo. Reproduction and use without attribution is permitted.) It has been a boon (and a great relief!) that they get along so well together. 2. One of said swap deals involved a timed period, of my son borrowing a cane my daughter uses for dress-up. As you might guess, a neutral third party by the name of Alexa was to keep track. I discovered this one day by overhearing part of a dispute: It was my daughter, mentioning that she had told Alexa to set a timer for whatever period it was. Sadly, I do not remember the exact wording, because the next thing we all heard was Alexa saying something like, "There are no timers set." After a moment, we all burst out laughing. 3. Some time ago, I believe I mentioned that I had been planning on planting a small vegetable garden with the kids. We did, a few weeks ago, and the whole time, the kids bickered over whose turn it was to help Daddy, whose spade was whose, what to name the plants, and so on. I almost regretted the whole thing, and doubted anyone had any fun. And so it came as an unexpected small delight when my daughter, during a video conference with her teacher, enthusiastically volunteered that her favorite thing for the past week was "planting crops with Daddy." 4. As I have mentioned before, my son has both a strong sense of order and a high degree of respect for checklists. This came in handy yesterday when he balked at me reminding him to put spaces between his words for a writing assignment. Earlier, I had been mildly surprised to see a checklist attached to the assignment, populated with things I figured my son already knew. Conveniently, one of those things was "finger spaces." Even more conveniently, it dawned on me to use the list itself to my advantage. As soon as I pointed to that on the checklist, he stopped bickering and simply did it. And, yes, I felt a little bit like I got one over on him: That bedtime list has not been the only time he has suggested I use a list! -- CAV P.S. I was able to write about three quarters of this post using the end-product of a "sanity project" I took up during this egalitarian mockery of the whole idea of quarantine -- a Linux virtual machine hosted on a pen drive. I ran it on a Dell netbook equivalent running Windows. I am pretty sure the difficulty I eventually encountered came from the virtualization layer, and that I could work around the problem if I had to. I fired the VM up again on my main computer -- where it runs much faster and without such hiccups -- to finish things up. Updates Today: Corrected a typo. Link to Original
  5. I am having trouble processing the following news about Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is being considered as a possible running mate for Joe Biden: Yeah, but did you think, first? (Image by Element5 Digital, via Unsplash, license.) In mid-April Whitmer issued an executive order that ultimately instructed many of the state's nursing homes to accept COVID-19 patients. That put other residents in jeopardy, and may well have contributed to the high death rate in Michigan nursing homes. About a third of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been at nursing homes, and the same is true in Michigan, according to some estimates -- although the state Department of Health and Human Services hasn't been able to offer concrete numbers. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had put in place a similar policy, but recently backtracked when it became evident the harm that was being done to the population most vulnerable to the virus -- the ill and elderly. Whitmer, by contrast, renewed her initial order when it expired last week, extending it with an identical mandate -- disregarding the concerns and advice of nursing home advocates and legislators.Yes. After it became clear that her order was almost certainly spreading the coronavirus through the most vulnerable demographic, she extended it for a week. She amended this directive afterwards, but I agree with the Detroit News that she should have ended it at once. The only thing more frightening than the prospect of this person being one of Joe Biden's heartbeats away from the Presidency is the fact that, as of today, Michiganders approve of her handling of the epidemic by a wide margin. What difference does it make if Whitmer is monumentally incompetent or malicious when so many voters more than match her in their degree of indifference or willful ignorance? -- CAV Link to Original
  6. (And Other Heretical Realms) Do you remember, back in the good old days, that whenever the subjects of socialized medicine or socialism came up, you could practically bet the farm on Sweden being held up -- incorrectly -- as an example of those ideas working? I do, too. And -- if life and liberty weren't at stake -- I'd find it quite amusing that now, whenever the subject of Sweden comes up at all, it is framed in such a way as to frighten us from following its once-unimpeachable example. This is, of course, because that nation stands almost alone among civilized, developed countries, as having chosen not to "lock down" in order to control the course of the coronavirus epidemic within its borders. Writing about Sweden's sane response to the pandemic, Michael Fumento raises a couple more issues pertinent to the discussion. One of these issues, which I believe I heard during a podcast I can no longer find (and featuring Yaron Brook, Alex Epstein, or both), is that Sweden's policy decisions were not based on the pursuit of herd immunity. While we're on the subject of Iceland, finding an image for this post was a real treat. Go here and start scrolling to see what I mean. (Image by Tim Trad, via Unsplash, license.) This is not invoking the ... issue of "herd immunity," which many advocates of the "Swedish model" (including Sweden's own ambassador to the U.S.) have proffered, but is one that Tegnell has explicitly rejected for Sweden or any other country. [Chief Epidemiologist Anders] Tegnell speaks, instead, of "some immunity," meaning perhaps 20-25%. Herd immunity requires extremely high proportions of a population protected by vaccination, for example 85 -- 90% to prevent transmission of mumps. [original links omitted, one link added]So, no, Sweden hasn't been acting as if the virus doesn't exist, let alone aiding its spread, as the incorrect framing of its program of voluntary social distancing and minimal government intervention would imply. Second, Fumento draws several comparisons between Sweden and some other countries, incidentally mentioning a few other nations which have also not locked down -- and have not seen their medical facilities overwhelmed with Corona patients. Sweden isn't the only European country that didn't lock down. Iceland didn't either, and can point to a minuscule death rate/per 100,000 population of 2.83. "We have taken a middle of the road approach, rather than lockdown," reports Kari Stefansson, founder and CEO of deCODE, an Icelandic subsidiary of U.S. biotech company Amgen. "Elementary schools, childcare and stores are still open, for example, but we have banned gatherings of more than 20 people and closed theatres and concert halls." ... (Don't be deceived: There's no inherent advantage to having a small population in a tiny geographic area. The European microstates of Andorra and San Marino locked down and yet have extremely high per-capita death rates. As for any island effect, Ireland's death rate is ten times that of Iceland's.) [links omitted, bold added]]I might add that neither Sweden nor Iceland are warm, a factor I've heard some use to dismiss the apparent success Florida and Texas have had controlling their epidemics with less severe or lasting lockdowns. But back to the roll-call of international honor: Fumento also lists Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong as polities that have escaped Armageddon without locking down. This is not to say that the propriety of mass indefinite home detention is purely a scientific matter: It is not. But it should give everyone pause to consider the fact that so many proponents of this policy claim disease control as their motive, while pretending that there is no need to admit of any evidence to the contrary, let alone consider it. -- CAV Link to Original
  7. I was happy to learn yesterday that the Pacific Legal Foundation has written a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom and other officials on behalf of art gallery owners Quent and Linda Cordair, who have defied a statewide lockdown by reopening their doors. The letter is just over six pages long, but I highly recommend reading it for the many very good philosophical, legal, and historical issues it raises in regard to the irrational policies so many officials have pursued since the epidemic gained steam. Too many have, like Newsom, continued these policies well past the point that a reasonable person could see them as wrong, but at least motivated by panic or genuine concern. Here is just one passage: Image by Tingey Injury Law Firm, via Unsplash, license. The State must act in accordance with due process While the government may adopt laws to protect public health, its power is not unlimited. Even during a pandemic, the State and County must abide by constitutional limits. As one federal court has ruled, the government may legislate to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, but "it does not at all follow that every statute enacted ostensibly for the promotion of these ends is to be accepted as a legitimate exertion of the police powers of the state." And the United States Supreme Court has held that a community's power to "protect itself against an epidemic" might be exercised "in such an arbitrary, unreasonable manner, or might go so far beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public, as to authorize or compel the courts to interfere for the protection of such persons." Together, principles of due process and equal protection ensure that laws are a rational means for achieving legitimate ends rather than arbitrary restrictions on personal liberties. Due process requires laws to have a means-ends fit, while equal protection ensures that similarly situated people are not treated differently without a legitimate reason. In the context of public health, these principles "guard against the risk that governmental action may be grounded in popular myths, irrational fears, or noxious fallacies rather than well-founded science." In other words, due process and equal protection ensure that the government's actions are designed to protect people and not merely to control them. [notes omitted, bold after subtitle added]Knowing that good people at the Pacific Legal Foundation are on the case is cause for relief and optimism, and not just on behalf of the Cordairs. State and local governments almost everywhere have displayed a disgraceful and disconcerting appetite for improper and intrusive power over the last few months. We are all Cordairs, now. -- CAV Link to Original
  8. One of my favorite business writers, "Evil HR Lady" Suzanne Lucas, has long been one of my go-tos for advice on working from home. She has been doing so herself for years, and yet has the business knowledge that her pen name implies. This combination of experience and perspective practically makes her required reading on that subject, and that goes double now. This is because she sees this situation from the eyes of both workers and managers at once. If many businessmen now at least better tolerate the idea of people working from home, some see dollar signs and have become a little too eager to go all in. This is where Lucas comes in, as we can see from two of her recent columns on the subject. As usual, she has things to say for employer and employee, but I think employers are more in need of advice by this time. For example, in a piece at AIHR, Lucas notes that "It's okay to hate working from home," and reminds bosses that, "Not everyone lives in four bedroom houses." Working from home has gotten pretty old pretty fast for lots of people, and even for those of us who liked it before the pandemic, it's not so great now: The in-home commute has its hazards, too. (Image by Markus Spiske, via Unsplash, license.) All of this doesn't mean I'm not a champion for working at home. I am! I love it. Or at least, I did love it, and I'll love it again when my children go back to school, and my favorite cafés re-open. But, if you have found that you hate working from home, there's not something wrong with you. If you're a business owner that is tempted to go to a 100 percent remote model, think about how that move will impact your business and your employees. It may be fantastic. It may not be. Talk with people before you make final decisions. [bold added]All I can add to that might be to do a thought experiment about what remote working would be like after we reach herd immunity. The upside of this being a way to avoid illness would obviously go. On top of that, while some would be able to thrive again, others might find that they lack the discipline to work away from an office. Lucas underscores this point in another piece at Inc., where she helps bosses realize that every apparent new advantage of this situation comes with tradeoffs they may not be aware of: I had a boss once for whom everything was an emergency. She would often call me at 4:30 and say, "[Super important executive] needs this report tonight!" At first, I stayed late and did the reports, and noticed that the emailed reports remained unopened for days. Then I got smart. She would tell me it was an emergency, and I would then call the executive's admin and say, "I understand Jane needs XYJ report. When does she need that?" The response was never tonight. Frequently, it was many days or even a week away. I would then pack up my things and go home, and do it the next day. But I had the advantage of a long tenure and a good relationship with tons of people within the company. Your employees may not have that. Don't use the word emergency unless it truly is one. And keep in mind what a real emergency is. That varies from business to business, but not everybody who says they want something immediately actually needs it immediately. A little pushback can be a good thing for maintaining healthy boundaries.I like how Lucas reminds bosses about boundaries, while also giving employees of clueless or indifferent bosses an idea for how to work around them. (Elsewhere, she offers the following admonition: "Don't reward people who are constantly working -- they are going to burn out. Instead, tell them to take a break.") If statewide closures were a blunt response to the pandemic, permanently making every office worker remote would be equally ham-handed. If there is anything the pandemic should have taught us by now, it's that one-size-fits-all, top-down initiatives are problems disguised as solutions. -- CAV Link to Original
  9. Four Things Image by Glane23, via Wikimedia Commons, license. 1. I've considered the idea of career-finding as being similar to computational "hill-climbing" before, and I think a story I encountered about a man who purchased domain names on a whim is a decent example of the process. His apparently aimless pursuit exposed him to options that intrigued him and challenges he enjoyed meeting -- until, one day, he found that he had become a successful seller of Vidalia onions. Here he is, on his way: And so I did. I'm just dumb enough to try a project of this complexity. The market size justified an online venture. Google Trends showed strong search volume for the phrase. And chefs around the world had already belted their praise over the 'caviar of sweet onions'. So I just started down a path, with no end goal or milestone set. I just started going. No angel investor. No VC backer. I just used some modest profit from my other domain name developments to fund the endeavor. This was Feb of 2015. Once I began, I discovered there was a Vidalia Onion committee which represents all the Vidalia farmers. So I reached out to them. They were kind enough to listen to me.The author paints his story as more random than I read it. It is worth noting that this is as much a story of exploration and observation as it is of satisfaction and success. 2. Far and Wide ranked every state's most over- and under-rated tourist attractions a while back. For the most part, they nailed the states I'm familiar with and looked at, including the following, regarding Baltimore's underrated jewel, the Inner Harbor: While it doesn't have a beach and arcade games, the waterfront of downtown Baltimore provides a relaxing, yet cultured setting. The Inner Harbor is home to an aquarium, science museum, children's museum, historic ships, shopping and dining, not to mention boat rides. [As a visitor put it]: "The Inner Harbor is a great place to visit. It's good for walking around, bringing your family, or going for a run. There are multiple stores and restaurants to go to. You can take a boat ride. It's a nice place to take pictures. If you're visiting Baltimore you should visit it; it's a good place to go for a day."The national aquarium there was expensive, but well worth taking the kids to before we moved away. 3. Pharma blogger Derek Lowe points to some advice -- from a novelist -- on science writing. Whatever you think of that, I found his description of the process of scientific writing spot-on: Applying general writing advice to a scientific paper is somewhat tricky, though, since it is a rather specialized form. I find writing a scientific manuscript much slower going than putting almost anything else to paper; it's like high-stepping through a swamp. But that probably makes such advice even more valuable, because it's too easy otherwise to make your manuscript so dense as to be unreadably unpleasant (and thus incapable of getting its points across clearly). Turning research results into clear prose can be hard, even for a very good writer, which is even more reason to put the effort into doing it.I recently saw someone remark that many seminal papers are extremely clear. Claude Shannon's monograph, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, comes to mind. Clarity of thought certainly aids writing, as does a better memory than I have. But I cannot help wondering if being far-enough ahead of the pack makes such writing easier by reducing the need to keep so many references straight! 4. Many people, finding themselves with lots of time on their hands, have taken up side projects, some more incredible than others. Since I'm home with my kids, my time has been ... less than conducive ... to concentrating on anything. But I have still found something interesting I can do to engage my mind: I'm trying to create something like Portable Ubuntu, a virtualized instance of a Linux computer that runs off of a pen drive. Back in the day, it came in quite handy, but neither the software nor the virtualization layer behind it were maintained. I've wanted that back ever since, but my various attempts didn't quite get me what I wanted. I eventually decided it was above my paygrade, so to speak. Randomly thinking of that a couple of weeks ago, I decided it might be a good off-and-on project. I've already reached proof-of-concept, using the QEMU emulator and a scaled-down version of Linux. Practical concerns (e.g., maximum FAT32 file size) take me to a fork in the road, though. I've learned that something that can use some of the legacy hardware I originally had in mind will have such tight requirements that it won't be terribly versatile. Relaxing those constraints is the path I'm pursuing instead, as I hope to have something generally useful on reasonably modern computers by the time things begin reopening. But yes: I wasn't already pursuing such a project, with its many blind alleys, for a reason. (Pro tip for people interested in building operating systems for legacy hardware: Make your installer optionally able to see and use more than one (small legacy) hard drive.) -- CAV Link to Original
  10. Writing at Issues and Insights, Michael Fumento discusses some of the effects locking down most of the developed world will inevitably have on children. For example: Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary, in forced quarantine after infecting dozens of people as a cook. (Image by The New York American (June 20, 1909), via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.) The chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Gita Gopinath, published an assessment of what she called "the Great Lockdown," saying it will be "the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the global financial crisis" of 2007-2008. One result, according to the U.N. report: "Economic hardship experienced by families as a result of the global economic downturn could result in hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020, reversing the last 2 to 3 years of progress in reducing infant mortality within a single year." Further, it said, " ... this alarming figure does not even take into account services disrupted due to the crisis -- it only reflects the current relationship between economies and mortality, so is likely an under-estimate of the impact." [link omitted]Fumento does not use the term egalitarian to describe the lockdowns, but he very well could have. Despite commonly-known evidence Fumento briefly reviews, governments in many places are, for the first time in history, isolating everyone rather than imposing restrictions -- calibrated to the risk an illness poses -- only on the sick and those carriers who do not take reasonable precautions to avoid infecting others. -- CAV Link to Original
  11. In the ongoing debate about when and how to end the improper government lockdowns of entire states, I keep hearing the terms testing, long-term immunity, and vaccine being bandied about. I'm skipping testing for active infection because: (1) It looks to me like the cat of contact tracing as a means of containing the disease left that bag long ago (It is still valuable as a way of warning people about possible exposure.), and (2) Testing for those who need it would appear to be in adequate supply. It's the question of immunity and the closely-related one of vaccination that I want to consider here, because I think it illustrates how ridiculous statewide, indefinite lockdowns are, setting aside whether they are legal or moral, which they are not. The following paragraph comes from Allahpundit of Hot Air, one of the better conservative layman commentators I know of, as he discusses Rand Paul's trenchant questions for Anthony Fauci, yesterday: Image by CDC, via Unsplash, license. I'll say this for Paul, though. I think he's pinpointed the two most consequential mysteries about the disease so far, solutions to which would vastly improve our decision-making. One is whether antibodies to the virus produce durable immunity, a question in which Paul has a personal stake given that he contracted COVID-19 awhile ago. He's impatient with scientists' reluctance to say flatly that people who have recovered are now immune and can go back to work. I understand that, but I'm also not sure what the alternative is. Without a study to confirm immunity, how are world governments supposed to potentially tell tens of millions of recovered patients that they're in the clear? Imagine if they gave that assurance without evidence and then some started getting sick again. [bold added]Either the disease confers long-term immunity or it doesn't. (My best guess is that it confers temporary (months to years) immunity.) And we will eventually develop a vaccine or we won't. (I am optimistic about this, but still.) As for the question in bold, isn't it funny how governments are basing decisions about such intrusive policies on worst-case scenarios about contagiousness, and rates of hospitalizations and deaths -- and yet isn't doing so for immunity or vaccination? What if there isn't long-term immunity and we never develop a safe or effective vaccine? Does that mean we stay jailed in our homes -- or subject to indefinite detention without warning -- forever? Note further that these "precautions" don't even hold the full medical context, let alone other considerations, like economics or education, both of which are also important to human life, and both of which are taking a beating. It's time to question both relying on the government for everything, and using out-of-context, worst-case scenarios as guidance. The question in bold shouldn't be, "How are governments supposed to tell us we're in the clear?" It should be, "Why are we sitting on our hands, waiting for these questions to be answered to the satisfaction of someone else -- rather than learning how to live our lives with this virus lurking around? These questions may take years to answer fully, if they can be answered at all. We are not serving ourselves well by hoping for a sort of instant old normal to be delivered by the grace of a shot or a nonfatal infection. We need to each assess risks and rewards for ourselves and act accordingly. Some of us may have to live like hermits for a time, or even permanently. Others have very little to fear, and should choose to carry on, with due caution for the elderly and the less-well. And many lie somewhere in between. It is unconscionable that government officials are making those choices for us, rather than ensuring that we respect the rights of others as we make and act on difficult decisions during a difficult time. Physical existence in a prison is not a human life, and there are no guarantees in life. We must insist that the government quit pretending otherwise and forcing us to go along. -- CAV P.S. Assuming we can acquire permanent immunity, or at least immunity of a predictable-enough duration, it is conceivable that proof of such could legitimately be used in some situations (e.g., as a condition for certain kinds of employment, or in court cases alleging endangerment by the disease). This does not mean we have to wait until this is known to begin to try to function somewhat normally again. Link to Original
  12. Paul Mirengoff of Power Line draws attention to an E. J. Dionne column he notes, with alarm, that he mostly agrees with. Dionne argues that the Democrats may find themselves running both houses of Congress and in possession of the Presidency after the elections in November: Cipher to voters, sock-puppet of the left, and shim for a leftist adult female to be named later. (Image by David Lienemann, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.) Let's start with the presidential race. Come November, the U.S. will likely be in a depression. Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. might well be in the 125,000-150,000 range. A new wave of the virus might be adding to the toll. If President Trump wins reelection under circumstances like these, he will prove himself the unsurpassed political genius he thinks he is. It's true that Trump won't be facing a high quality opponent. However, Joe Biden isn't disliked or distrusted the way Hillary Clinton is. And the pandemic will give him an excuse to run a campaign that doesn't fully expose his deficiencies. I have argued that Biden is the Democrats' None-of-the-Above, in Human Form, and I think Mirengoff is correct to note that the pandemic will help him hide his senility-enhanced dimness and obvious frailty. Indeed, I (and others) wonder if Biden will cross the finish line in the election, much less finish his term. The race will really be between Trump and whatever woman Biden picks as his running mate. Yeah: I can't think of a likely pick who isn't even further to the left than Biden already is, either. And I can't see either of them not signing the raft of horrible legislation that is guaranteed to spew forth from such a Congress. Mirengoff signs off by noting that he disagrees with Dionne's final paragraph: If the GOP does lose everything, it will be because the Trumpian circus-plus-horror-show is entirely off-key for an electorate that has so much to be serious about.The conservative basically blames the pandemic, and what he says on those lines is not wrong. Nevertheless, I think someone who had been more truthful and serious about the epidemic early on, in the vein Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute has pointed out, would have come out of this crisis much better than Trump has. I am not a conservative or a Trump fan, but such an outcome is a guaranteed disaster, as the frightening excesses of numerous Democratic governors have shown over the past few weeks. A second Trump term would be breathing room (at best) for advocates of freedom, but that is better than no breathing room at all. -- CAV Link to Original
  13. Writing at The Hill, Heather Mac Donald argues that we are getting it wrong: The onus of proof in the the public debate over coronavirus lockdowns lies with the proponents: Image by Sam Korn, via Wikimedia, public domain. In litigation, allocation of the burden of proof often determines the outcome of a case. If the advocates of continued lockdown had that burden, they would have to answer the following questions, now kept off stage: What have the lockdowns accomplished so far and what will they accomplish in the future? What are the public health consequences of a global depression? Do the benefits of keeping people from working outweigh the costs in lost and stunted lives? How will herd immunity be achieved under lockdown conditions? [format edits]They would have also had to answer the moral question, "By what right does the government indefinitely detain anyone without good cause," as well as the obvious constitutional one. Mac Donald's analysis echoes a question Ben Bayer of New Ideal raised recently in a post titled, "The Dangerous Thinking Behind Pandemic Partisanship:" As there is a legitimate scientific debate about how doctors should treat coronavirus, so there is a legitimate debate about government's role in containing it. It is fairly obvious that government can justifiably quarantine individuals with a threatening infectious disease. But statewide mandatory shelter-in-place orders are legally unprecedented. To justify them would require shouldering a heavy burden of proof. So we should expect and welcome criticisms of these orders. Yet I've now seen advocates of statewide mandatory lockdowns accuse their critics of not caring if people die and of thinking that all social distancing should be abandoned. That's another false choice. One can be concerned about both the destruction of livelihood resulting from the lockdowns and about the sickness and death wrought by the coronavirus. One can oppose widescale mandatory lockdowns and still think people should voluntarily engage in social distancing to the extent they can. Advocates of the lockdowns who engage in such false-choice arguments should think seriously about why they exhibit the same defensiveness that the hydroxychloroquine boosters do. Do they support the lockdowns because of careful consideration of the evidence? Have they looked at scientific studies that demonstrate the superiority of widescale lockdown measures over campaigns for voluntary social distancing? [bold added]The parallels even extend to the side-effects of the respective treatments. Hydroxychlorquine can have serious cardiac side-effects and the lockdowns health-threatening side-effects such as those Mac Donald and many others have pointed out. It is long past time to end the lockdowns and pursue more targeted and appropriate government responses to this pandemic before we kill the patient in the name of curing him. -- CAV P.S. An important element of the left's advocacy of lockdowns is an implicit assumption that freedom is dangerous. On that score, it is worth noting that Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight site recently discussed evidence that Americans -- even many of us supposedly backward Southerners -- were already venturing out into public less before all of this nonsense started. Imagine that: Men free to pursue their own self-interest don't need to be told at gunpoint to avoid a contagion! Link to Original
  14. Four Things Or: Feeling tired one morning, Gus bails himself out with bookmarks. Enjoy! 1. Over at Hacker News, someone said, name one idea that changed your life. Here's a good one: Favor interrogative-led questions over leading questions. A leading question attempts to get the listener to agree or disagree with a premise you feed to them. An interrogative-led question often begins with the words: who; where; what; when; why.I know someone with a tendency to give answers based on what he thinks the asker wants to hear. I'm using this on him the next time I need a real answer to a question. That said, it occurs to me that it can be interesting to do the opposite, and find out what someone thinks you'll want to hear... 2. Here's another good comment thread, from Hacker News, this one set off by an article on signs that a business will probably fail. Within is good advice for those times when one is bursting at the seams with ideas to try: One suggestion that has worked for me to stop me working on dozens of ideas at once is to write them down in detail in an ideas diary. This seems to take away most of the desire to start working on the idea right now.It also records them for later, in case they have merit. Someone else elaborates on a further benefit of this approach: The good thing about this approach is that when you review them (after a certain amount of time) you lose the personal attachment to the ideas.I'd put this a little differently: You gain psychological distance from the delay. I'll note here that what first drew me to Hacker News was the wide variety of interesting and thought-provoking materials its readers would post. I used to check the site multiple times every day, until I decided I was spending too much time browsing. I wrote a program to collect the links for me several times a day so I could look at all of them in one sitting every day or so. Eventually, I realized I was visiting the site anyway to look at comments, and revised the script to also include a link to the comments for each article. Now, I often go to those first to see if something really is worth reading. 3. If you like maps, you may enjoy this map of Pangea with modern national boundaries superimposed on it. The Coliseum was designed to look like a circus tent and had the tacky paint job that implies when I lived in Jackson. I believe it was painted differently at some point. In any event, I must say that this image nearly succeeds in making it look like a handsome building. (Image by Ken Lund, via Wikimedia Commons, license.) 4. Mental Floss put out a pretty decent list of "25 Things You Should Know About Jackson, Mississippi," where I grew up. Being a rock collector then, I knew about Item 13: Seventy-five million years ago, present-day Jackson sat on a volcanic island. Roughly 2900 feet below the intersection of East Pascagoula Street and I-55, a long-extinct volcano has its origins. Today the Mississippi Coliseum, a 6500-seat multipurpose arena, sits on top of its caldera.I was wrong about the location of the volcano then. I had gotten it into my head that a shopping center on a hill near my home was the site. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. A piece at Issues and Insights describes a provision in the CARES relief act that will make economic recovery from the lockdowns more difficult in multiple ways. "New York Sen. Chuck Schumer was right to call this 'unemployment on steroids,'" the piece notes of the unemployment rate, which will incentivize not returning to work in any locale whose minimum wage isn't at least $15 per hour. Issues and Insights quotes the following from the Wall Street Journal: A welfare-state politician, lying in wait for election time, after passage of the CARES Act. (Image by David Clode, via Unsplash, license.) Tracy Jackson, 50, of Nacogdoches, Texas, started receiving unemployment benefits after losing her job as a cook at a college. Her benefits total $1,200 every two weeks, almost twice what she would earn on the job. She wants to return to work, but being stuck at home has given her time to reflect. The extra money she receives in unemployment benefits has made her conclude she had been underpaid at her previous job, earning $10.30 an hour after five years. "I like the college, I really do," she said. "But they're going to have to come with more money. If they don't, I'm not going to be there."The article elaborates a bit further on the economic and possible political consequences of this latest attempt by the Democrats to not "allow a crisis go to waste" -- or as a normal and decent person might put it, to kick us while we are (locked) down. -- CAV Link to Original
  16. I'd barely opened a browser window this morning when a new, yet somehow familiar-sounding term met my eye: COVID denier (also spelled "COVIDenier" and, equally predictably, sometimes replaced by another catchy term: COVIDiot). Aside from a user attempting to build himself up by tearing others down, we should ask ourselves what such a term is supposed to accomplish. Predictably, revealingly, and somewhat amusingly, a top search result for the term led me to an article at the left-wing DeSmog Blog website, which also employs the sister term, climate science denier. A related post, titled "The Reason COVID-19 and Climate Seem So Similar: Disinformation," is ostensibly out to set us straight about the latest political debate that is both disguised as a scientific one in some ways and dependent on science in others. And it helps, for anyone who can read between the lines. I'll do some of this here -- after first noting that I have not found an actual definition for "COVID denier" anywhere. And we'll also consider what Ayn Rand wrote about a very similar term, McCarthyism, many years ago in her essay, "'Extremism,' or the Art of Smearing:" Where they want you, apparently forever, whether you agree or not. (Image by Logan Liu, via Unsplash, license.) In the late 1940's, another newly coined term was shot into our cultural arteries: "McCarthyism." Again, it was a derogatory term, suggesting some insidious evil, and without any clear definition. Its alleged meaning was: "Unjust accusations, persecutions, and character assassinations of innocent victims." Its real meaning was: "Anti-communism." Senator McCarthy was never proved guilty of those allegations, but the effect of that term was to intimidate and silence public discussions. Any uncompromising denunciation of communism or communists was -- and still is -- smeared as "McCarthyism." As a consequence, opposition to and exposés of communist penetration have all but vanished from our intellectual scene. (I must mention that I am not an admirer of Senator McCarthy, but not for the reasons implied in that smear.)You can almost do a plug-and-play here: The alleged meaning of "X (science) denier" is "ignorant or dismissive of science," and its real meaning is "opposed to central planning." This is why "green" anti-capitalist activists lump together everyone from sloppy thinkers like Donald Trump (who means well, but can't muster anything better than "hoax" as a counterargument) to revolutionary thinkers, like Alex Epstein, as "climate deniers." Is it any wonder that fans of such oppressive measures as indefinite, universal isolation would do the same? And now, just for a few notes of dissent on the piece, whose host deserves to be nicknamed "Deh Smaug Blog." (It's not just that these evil entities have similar names: I also picture the beast sitting at home on a pile of loot, refusing to work, forever. It's fantasy, either way.) I'll offer my take after quoting from each of its three numbered sections. From Point 1 (He who controls the language controls the narrative.): In the COVID-19 context, we've seen this too. It's gone from a "flu" to "a really bad flu" to "a pandemic" in a relatively condensed amount of time. But you'll see those trading in disinformation continue to refer to it as "just a bad flu" or point out how many people the flu kills every year.First, the author draws a bad parallel between the terminology of the climate crusade which has been dictated by thought leaders of that movement from the beginning and the current pandemic of a new disease we are still learning about. And, while I agree that anyone who equates this with the flu is wrong, that does not mean that we can't learn from past experience dealing with flu pandemics, which have relevant similarities. As far as the changes happening quickly, they are in two directions at once: Deprecation of "flu" and adoption of "pandemic." These both reflect natural changes due to rapidly evolving knowledge and, unfortunately, the rapid spread of the virus. It is disingenuous to liken shopping around for a term that will cause a political stampede with the natural evolution of terms used in a changing situation. I'd even go so far as to say that the appropriateness of calling this a "really bad flu" depends on context. For example: by comparison to, say, Black Death, the coronavirus epidemic is much more like a flu in terms of the precautions individuals and governments ought to take. Pointing this out is not the same thing as poo-pooing the disease. From Point 2 (Leverage science illiteracy to create doubt.): Of course models, like science in general, have a bit of uncertainty baked in; they represent both the most extreme outcomes and the most likely scenarios, they encapsulate multiple variables. And if you know enough about them, it's quite easy to cherry pick data and flaws and argue, as Fumento does, that modeling in general is bunk that ought to be thrown out.I have already stated my disagreement with Michael Fumento about the absurd idea of throwing out models. That doesn't mean, though, that commenting on the unreliability of the models of this pandemic so far is off-limits. You needn't trust me on this point: Nate Silver -- not a man of the right -- and his group didn't even try to model the epidemic for lack of data. Indeed, statistician-epidemiologist John Ioannidis has called this epidemic a "once in a century evidence fiasco." Yes, it's wrong to call models (in general) bunk. But it's ridiculous to imply that questioning models is to prey on scientific illiteracy, especially regarding this pandemic. The models are being used to justify some heavy-handed policies with major consequences. Assuming a worst-case forecast is as ridiculous as not trying to make a forecast at all. From Part 3 (Astroturfing): Someone on Reddit figured out all the "re-open the economy" websites were made by one guy in Florida. [link omitted]And: Astroturfing is fake activism meant to give the illusion of grassroots opposition to policy. My favorite example is the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, a petrochemical and plastic manufacturers-backed group that protests bag bans and bag taxes.Aside from my relief that Florida Man seems to have found a hobby that is not illegal or physically dangerous, I find it supremely ironic that this author seems convinced of the following: That it took him and some nefarious cabal to cause so many people to get sick of being confined to their homes and wondering how they'd make ends meet without any definite end point. Oh, and speaking again of scientific illiteracy, the author seems unaware of (or in denial about) the science behind why several locales rolled back their plastic bag bans. Back on the subject of livelihoods and corporations, it is worth noting that many "green" activists are threatening the livelihoods of millions of people in the business of providing cheap, plentiful, and reliable energy to people who need it. I don't blame them for fighting back in any way they can, and the merit of a position is not up for popular vote, anyway. Ditto for anyone fighting for their livelihoods in this new, very similar confrontation with the Leviathan state and its leftist lackeys. But, yes, the policy preferences and tactics of the left are remarkably the same regarding the pandemic and fossil fuels. And everything else. We already know what they want, so let's re-cap how they intend to fight for it: Smear opponents as manipulative, anti-science, and (most revealingly of all) unpopular. -- CAV Link to Original
  17. Recent events have reminded me of a short piece by the late John Lewis. He warned Americans over a decade ago about a type of mentality which is on full display across the country, in the form of the universal, indefinite lockdowns that have ruined or are imperiling the livelihoods of millions of Americans. In 2006, John Lewis described an army, of little dictators, which was already too powerful then. He stated in part: Plans and whims are fundamentally incompatible. (Image by Sven Mieke, via Unsplash, license.) Their names are friendly; their power immense. One I knew, "Jim," had final say over whether a 42-story office building in a major city could open. Another, "Marty," said he did not care that his failure to read a blueprint had cost a small business $10,000 -- "that don't matter" were his words. Another, an inspector named "CJ" (the initials have been changed to protect his victims) was asked whether building requirements had changed "in his town"; he said, "I haven't decided. I'll let you know." Another, "Frank," showed up smelly and unshaven at the final inspection of a new high-tech manufacturing plant, and delayed its opening for three days pending a test of the fire alarm system's batteries. Some personalize everything. "I ain't gonna allow it," I heard one decree, as he told a contractor to tear down a stone chimney and start over because the hearth was an inch too narrow. Another told me, "I ain't lettin' no more cottages be converted to year-round use. There's too many now," as he slapped a red tag on my neighbor's door. Once I was doing a project at a very remote site, which took hours to get to, including a boat trip. An official said, to my face, that he'd require our technicians to return as often as he saw fit: "Not everyone can work in my town." Another made similar demands at a major state university; his son was our competitor, and had lost the bid. These Little Dictators have the power of government guns to enforce their decisions. To avoid their wrath, a productive individual must suppress his rational judgment, and go by the rules they enforce. They are enemies of independent thought and comrades of conformity. Their whims and their rules coercively substitute for reality in the minds of their victims.It is disturbing enough that so many of these people are in charge. In many cases, the lockdowns have crossed the line from blunt actions taken in panic at a time of crisis to blatant attempts to widen government control over our daily lives. And it is worse that these little dictators seem to enjoy some popular support. This morning, I read in a news report that someone blamed businessmen for not planning on the sudden, unnecessary, and arbitrarily long shuttering of their doors. That's thoughtless and unempathetic on a par with telling a reasonably prudent gunshot victim that he's an idiot for not wearing a bulletproof vest all the time. Except that it's worse, because presumably that wouldn't come with a whitewashing of the crime. What Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, and countless other less-prominent little dictators are doing is wrong. Americans need to rediscover their old suspicion of government, and fast. Until we place government back on a short leash, our best-laid plans will remain increasingly at the mercy of small-souled people who don't give a tinker's dam about our lives, are clueless about living, and are more than happy to treat our lives as playthings. -- CAV Link to Original
  18. A Politico story confirms something I already strongly suspected: The calculus behind the decision to wear a mask (or not) may, for many people, be mainly about indicating one's support for (or opposition to) the government policy of universal, indefinite home confinement, which began soon after the coronavirus pandemic reached our shores. For example: I don't care to have writing on my clothing, but even I would consider a face mask that says, "I value health and liberty." (Image by Pavel Anoshin, via Unsplash, license.) But there is clearly a growing partisan split. Democratic leaders in the House have made more of a point about wearing masks on camera than Republican leaders. Democrat Jim Clyburn donned one at a news conference on Thursday with Nancy Pelosi, who generally uses her scarf as a mask. None of the top three House GOP leaders wore masks at an outdoor news conference at the Capitol last week. The mask divide is spilling into policymaking. Congressional Democrats, backed by flight attendant unions, have been leading a campaign to force the use of masks on airplanes, which the Trump administration has resisted. (In the absence of a mandate, Delta, American, United, JetBlue and Frontier have all recently adopted a mask policy for passengers. Some people seem as worked up about face coverings as others are about tax policy or abortion. In response to a recent POLITICO report about the Pence imbroglio, one person on Twitter wrote, "Get over it, I don't wear a mask either and I NEVER WILL!" [links omitted]This (sometimes) mask-wearing opponent -- of the immoral and ruinous "lockdowns" improperly imposed by so many governments -- sees an opportunity. And it exists for anyone else -- mask-wearing or not -- who is concerned about the shocking degree of power our governments have exercised lately, and the consequences. Note that, although I wear a mask in some situations, I am aware that the matter of how useful they are is debatable: Procedure masks, bandannas, and the like offer very little protection to the wearer, but may help prevent coughs from the wearer from infecting others. (On the other side of the coin, many people seem unaware of this, and gain a false and possibly dangerous illusion of protection from wearing them. Only a properly-worn N95 mask (or better) can do that for the wearer.) Partly because I don't want to send someone to the hospital, and partly because keeping hospitals from filling up is in my best interest, I wear a mask when out shopping or in other public areas where I am likely to encounter lots of strangers or inadvertently get closer to someone else than I'd prefer. (If I want to protect myself, I may also wear gloves, depending on what I am doing.) I don't wear a mask when I'm outdoors to walk or bike. That said, I realize that, for the people who have made the visible evidence of my best judgement into an opportunity to lecture (or commiserate with) me, there is a chance to offer a thoughtful and corrective opinion. And there would be, but often at different times, if I chose not to wear a mask. As the stereotypes of the dictatorial mask-wearers and the reckless bare-facers indicate, there will be chances to argue for freedom sometimes. At other times, there will be a chance to make the point that caution needn't include (or imply support for) a nanny state or virtue-signaling. And experience has often taught me that I'll probably even get to make both points often enough! -- CAV P.S. It also occurs to me that many people on the two sides of this "divide" are ignoring or failing to consider the fact, that like anything else, the appropriateness of an action, like wearing a mask, depends on context. If, for the sake of argument, we assume that there is some small benefit to wearing a non-N95 mask, it just as ridiculous to wear one all the time as it is to not wear one at all. This is a point that governments forcing people to do things during this pandemic is burying, and at a time people need to be thinking carefully. Link to Original
  19. Four Things I normally end the week on a lighter note than I do today, with four items of good or interesting news. But today, in the spirit of the old saw about a crisis being both a danger and an opportunity, I present hopeful news on the epidemics -- of both government oppression and of the disease. 1. Quent and Linda Cordair, of Napa Valley, California run an art gallery that has been shuttered for a ludicrous amount of time, even when allowing for California's statewide shutdown being a typical initial response. They have decided to defy state and local officials by reopening their gallery on Monday, May 4. Here is an excerpt from their timely and inspiring open letter to their state and local officials, which appears in the Napa Valley Register: We welcome other Napa business-owners willing to join us in re-opening next Monday, if and as they are able and deem proper -- but we'll open alone if necessary. Public officials: know that we're prepared to risk fines, arrest, or jail. We're pursuing resources for any necessary legal challenge, up to the Supreme Court if necessary. Our constitution and system of government was created and established to secure the right of each and every individual in these United States to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There can be no life without work; there can be no work without liberty; and, with so many others, we're increasingly unhappy being unable to work and live for lack of liberty. The present situation is untenable, unacceptable, unjustifiable. It's unhealthy and unsustainable. Not dying is not living.Please read the whole thing, and consider supporting the Cordairs in any way you can. On that score, Tim White of The Objective Standard offers a few suggestions at the end of his piece about the reopening. 2. I am heartened to learn that some officials, like Sheriff Don Barnes of Orange County, California, are beginning to stand up for the rights of Americans. Via Twitter, I have learned that Barnes has publicly refused to enforce Governor Gavin Newsom's asinine closure of the beaches there. I am particularly impressed with the last two paragraphs of his short statement: [T]he vast majority of people on the beaches this past week acted responsibly. Law enforcement was able to address instances of unsafe activity in a reasonable manner. I implore the Governor to reconsider his action and work with local authorities, allowing us to address the few while not penalizing the majority. We must all recognize that this is a time of incredible stress. The goal of our actions will be to protect constitutional rights, preserve safety, and maintain order. No one should fear being subject to a criminal violation merely for seeking out and exercising healthy activities, especially when using good judgment and appropriate protective measures.Governors like Gavin Newsom, as well as lots of lower-level officials are endangering our livelihoods, damaging respect for rule of law, and arguably imperil our health with their prison warden-like responses to the coronavirus pandemic. They must stop this -- or we, the American people, must stop them -- sooner, rather than later. 3. I have mentioned Sweden's coronavirus response here a couple of times and am glad to see that it was praised as a model for the rest of the world by the WHO. Relevantly: "I think there's a perception out there that Sweden has not put in control measures and just has allowed the disease to spread," [Dr. Mike] Ryan said Wednesday. "Nothing can be further from the truth. Sweden has put in place a very strong public health policy around physical distancing, around caring and protecting for people in, in long-term facilities, and many other things." "What it has done differently is it has very much relied on its relationship with its citizenry, and the ability and willingness of citizens to implement physical distancing and to self-regulate, if you want to use that word," Ryan continued. By contrast, too many of America's officials have betrayed our trust and treated us like infants, for whom it would never occur to watch out for our own health. And our news media have not helped: By continually conflating universal, indefinite house arrest with (actual) social distancing (which can and should be voluntary), they have needlessly politicized pulling back to a more sustainable and effective response. (I have seen, for example, well-meaning people denounce wearing masks as symbolic of support for the lockdown mentality. For what it's worth, I oppose lockdowns, but I do wear a mask and gloves for errands.) Voluntary social distancing -- by millions of adults working together for their mutual self-interest -- is how we could have and should have addressed this danger from the beginning. And we still can. Our choice is NOT from the false alternative between tyranny and recklessness. Whatever the merits of Sweden's policies, its example provides an alternative and can help make public discourse about how to respond to the virus in the long term more rational and productive. 4. Before I move on to the viral epidemic, let me state something up front: I am not a physician. Nevertheless I pass along what I regard as the best actionable news about how to survive the illness that I have encountered so far. It comes from Richard Levitan, a physician who recently volunteered at the busy Bellevue Hospital in New York: Image by ALFRM, via Wikimedia Commons, license. There is a way we could identify more patients who have Covid pneumonia sooner and treat them more effectively -- and it would not require waiting for a coronavirus test at a hospital or doctor's office. It requires detecting silent hypoxia early through a common medical device that can be purchased without a prescription at most pharmacies: a pulse oximeter. Pulse oximetry is no more complicated than using a thermometer. These small devices turn on with one button and are placed on a fingertip. In a few seconds, two numbers are displayed: oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Pulse oximeters are extremely reliable in detecting oxygenation problems and elevated heart rates.The "silent hypoxia" of which he speaks is dangerously-low levels of oxygen saturation in the blood that the patient does not sense because his lungs are still removing carbon dioxide. The use of a pulse oximeter can help one detect trouble sooner, rather than later, by spotting this problem before it becomes catastrophic. Again, I am not a physician, so take my advice with the appropriate grain of salt, run it by your own physician, and weigh contrary opinions, such as in the first letter here. For what it's worth, I have slightly elevated risk for hospitalization from this virus, and I now check my oxygen saturation in the morning and in the evening regardless of how I feel. -- CAV Link to Original
  20. Everyone enjoys a good magic show, as attested by the fame and career longevity of Penn and Teller. It takes a remarkable degree of skill to fool an entire audience while it is watching you. And the ability to create an illusion is closely related to the ability to ask the right question, as that duo's documentary series, Bullshit! also shows. It makes sense that someone who can anticipate what most people would focus on would also be good at uncovering things that many people miss. That said, I mean zero disrespect when I say that there are stories out there that put even the best illusions to shame. I enjoy and have started collecting such stories, and so was delighted to find a small collection I thought likely to contain a few good ones recently, "Software Folklore." The title isn't quite accurate, because this is really a collection of strange bugs -- not limited to software or even computers -- and how people solved them. (For example, one of the stories is about a French bullet train whose brakes would engage whenever a toilet was flushed.) My favorite story of the few I have read so far is "Sit Down or Log In," and a nice thing about the story is that it helps the reader understand on a general level the mindset he should aspire to in order to work similar magic himself: Image by JC Gellidon, via Unsplash, license. ... A programmer had recently installed a new workstation. All was fine when he was sitting down, but he couldn't log in to the system when he was standing up. That behavior was one hundred percent repeatable: he could always log in when sitting and never when standing. Most of us just sit back and marvel at such a story. How could that workstation know whether the poor guy was sitting or standing? Good debuggers, though, know that there has to be a reason. Electrical theories are the easiest to hypothesize. Was there a loose wire under the carpet, or problems with static electricity? But electrical problems are rarely one-hundred-percent consistent. An alert colleague finally asked the right question: how did the programmer log in when he was sitting and when he was standing? Hold your hands out and try it yourself. [bold added]Everyone was stumped at first, because everyone was so focused on the electronics that they forgot that the system exhibiting the odd behavior included a human and his relationship to the machine. The prosaic solution should not detract from the intelligence it took to realize this and solve the problem: The problem was in the keyboard: the tops of two keys were switched. When the programmer was seated he was a touch typist and the problem went unnoticed, but when he stood he was led astray by hunting and pecking. With this hint and a convenient screwdriver, the expert debugger swapped the two wandering keytops and all was well.Having praised this collection, I'll surprise you by noting that I have not yet read The Medical Detectives. But I will now, based on the recommendation for the same from this story. The author refers to it as "the best book I've seen on debugging." -- CAV Link to Original
  21. It's easy to encounter career advice on the web, but have you ever had a thought like the below cross your mind? Most career advice on the internet is from people who had some sort of meteoric success. Why read advice from someone who's had a mediocre career? But there's massive sampling bias. All this advice will try to draw grand, sweeping narratives and also typically fails to sufficiently factor in luck.If so, I've found a short post for you! Almost everyone will, through mistakes or circumstances not entirely under one's own control, find oneself in a situation where there is no clear-cut, best path forward. And while that doesn't mean we can't learn from those "grand, sweeping narratives," it also doesn't mean we can't learn from those who have been in similar situations to our own before. The general solution is to enter such situations with open eyes -- and to keep them open. The following example, informal language and all, is illustrative, I think: Sometimes, you need advice on the stubborn twenty percent remainder... (Image by Austin Distel, via Unsplash, license.) When picking a job, yes, your manager matters. But if you have an amazing manager at a shit company you'll still have a shit time. In some ways, it'll actually be worse. If they're good at their job (including retaining you), they'll keep you at a bad company for too long. And then they'll leave, because they're smart and competent. Maybe they'll take you with them.The whole thing is a quick and entertaining read, and the author, who has solicited war stories, may follow up down the road with more advice in the same vein. -- CAV Link to Original
  22. Rich Karlgaard, author of the excellent Late Bloomers, offers a creative way to consider the cost of COVID-19. He calls it "living days stolen": I'm from the government, and I'm here to save you from the coronavirus. (Image by Yomex Owo, via Unsplash, license.) As I write this (April 25, 2020), 53,000-plus Americans have died from COVID-19. One could argue whether coding errors have overstated deaths due to COVID-19 infection; others have made that argument; I won't. Rather, I'd like to call your attention to another COVID-19 statistic missing in action. I've not seen it discussed anywhere. It is based on simple facts and actuarial tables. Call it ... living days stolen by COVID-19. Do you know the number? I don't. This is an extraordinary gap in our COVID-19 knowledge and damage calculations. Lack of analysis regarding the most essential unit of human currency -- living days -- has tilted public policy toward an economically ruinous lockdown. [emphasis in original]Karlgaard goes on to calculate that the disease has caused "80 million stolen days," in an estimate that updates to his column show to be high. No matter: Karlgaard plainly invites us to compare this number to the days our government's panic-driven measures are costing us, and for this I salute him. Even if you undercount, by using only eight hours of every newly-unemployed person's day, the number of days the government has already stolen is much more staggering. That said, I must add that I disagree on one point. Covid is an act of nature: It may be costing us lives, but it is not "stealing" anything. The only thief here is the government, which had no business shutting down our whole economy in the first place. And while I think Kargaard's heart is in the right place, now is not the time to mince words. This is much worse than an actuarial calculation can convey. We are closing in on the time when civil disobedience might be appropriate, if we aren't already there: Lives are being ruined right now, and many more will be put into mortal peril surprisingly soon by our government's reckless closure of the economy and dithering -- in the name of safety (!) -- about pulling back from this dangerous precipice. "Flattening the curve" without also "raising the line" (No, I never heard that phrase, either.) has quickly morphed into a quasi-permanent policy of Americans (of all the world's peoples!) basically waiting in line to get sick. In the meantime the government has turned our homes into prisons and is handing out boatloads of fiat money that will be unable to buy the goods, including food, that are now not being produced. Living days stolen is the understatement of the century. -- CAV Updates Today: Edited third from last paragraph. Link to Original
  23. Over the weekend, I have encountered references to a Michael Moore-backed movie called Planet of the Humans. I have not watched it myself, but it is presently available on YouTube. Here, I'll pass along the gist of the references and my take, as well as a good resource on the matter of politically popular, but expensive and unreliable ("green") energy. The first mention of the film I encountered was by Dilbert Creator Scott Adams, who briefly mentions it towards the end of a podcast. His summary is that, the "Green New Deal [has been] decimated by [a] Michael Moore backed film." His comments are brief, but worth considering: Essentially, they boil down to the idea that, when the subject of the Green New Deal comes up, one of the first things that someone might now say is, "But have you seen Planet of the Humans?" This, he says, will occur because the film casts a strong light on the many drawbacks of solar and wind energy, in the forms being pushed by environmentalists and subsidized by governments today. The gist of Moore's attack is quite predictable, as we see from his writeup at YouTube: [W]e are losing the battle to stop climate change on planet earth because we are following leaders who have taken us down the wrong road -- selling out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America. This film is the wake-up call to the reality we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the environmental movement's answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. It's too little, too late. Removed from the debate is the only thing that MIGHT save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption... [bold added to de rigueur (but wrong) equivocation of capitalism and cronyism](Also notably absent from the film, according to Adams, is any mention of nuclear power, which is the only remotely viable alternative to fossil fuels we currently have.) So, yes, Moore might have given ammunition to the argument that unreliables are impractical, but I am less sanguine than Adams. Leftists have repeatedly impressed me over the years with their willingness -- and speed! -- to dismiss as "propaganda" or moral treason anything that might call their causes into question in any way. But Michael Moore backed the film! you might reply. Leftists have a long, time-honored tradition of turning fellow travellers who make their power grabs difficult into non-persons. They'll find some excuse to ignore, suppress, and discredit this film, whatever its merits; even if it means ruining Moore. Just give them time. A post by John Hinderaker of the conservative Power Line blog indicates that this is starting to happen already. If how and on what grounds Moore would attack solar and wind were predictable, the thuggish reaction on the left has been even more so: Despite his loony point of view, Moore is right about wind and solar: they are intermittent, unreliable, ridiculously expensive, and bad for the environment. That message was too much for the lavishly funded "green" establishment, which has responded by trying to shut Moore up and ban his film... The claim that Moore's distributor had "retracted" the film was false. The distributor is Moore's Rumble Films. A single outlet, Films For Action, took Planet of the Humans down from their site, but later restored it. The movie is available on YouTube, where it has already been seen more than 2.5 million times. Talking about film distribution at the moment is a little ironic, since all of the theaters are closed. While they were wrong about their claimed success, the "green" left has indeed tried to suppress Moore's documentary. They say it is full of lies and misinformation, but are slow to cite any instances. Mostly it is generalities... [links omitted]In the interest of having a clearer idea of what people are talking about, I have already downloaded the film -- in case it gets pulled -- and plan to watch it. But will it be that helpful to the noble and life-giving cause of cheap, plentiful, and reliable energy? Will it be helpful at all? Adams rightly notes that many conservatives are already aware of the shortcomings of wind and solar, so some eyes might be opened in that regard among rank-and-file supporters of "green" energy. That will be a good thing, but it will be of limited value. Worse, if that lesson gets framed as, "Green energy is a noble, but impractical cause," it risks allowing the greens to continue to appear to occupy the moral high ground that fossil fuel advocates deserve. Hinderaker signs off by recommending a resource about wind and solar. I'll see that and raise him by offering an outstanding resource that has the further advantage of comparing all of the pros and cons of all of the currently available energy sources out there: Alex Epstein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. -- CAV Link to Original
  24. Four Things 1. I have never been to Japan, but should I go some day, I'll keep an eye out for the railroad personnel who constantly point at things: Train conductors, drivers and station staff play an important role in the safe and efficient operation of the lines; a key aspect of which is the variety of physical gestures and vocal calls that they perform while undertaking their duties. While these might strike visitors as silly, the movements and shouts are a Japanese-innovated industrial safety method known as pointing-and-calling; a system that reduces workplace errors by up to 85 percent.Other Japanese industries have also improved safety with the shisa kanko ("point and call") system, and even limited adoption elsewhere has led to improved safety. 2. In the "sounds odd until you think about it" department today, we have Alaska's humongous produce: Alaska's summer sun ... gives growers an edge, says Steve Brown, an agricultural agent at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who also serves on the fair's board of directors. Basking in as much as 20 hours of sunshine per day, Alaskan crops get a photosynthesis bonus, allowing them to produce more plant material and grow larger. Brassicas like cabbage do especially well, says Brown.With that going for them, giant crop competitions are a common event at state fairs, so farmers have naturally come up with strategies to make their produce even bigger. A video about this indicates that, although you might expect such large specimens to be woody, that is not the case. 3. Concerned about artificial intelligence-aided camera surveillance? The good news is that researchers have developed clothing that "hides" you from such systems: [University of Maryland's Tom] Goldstein and a team of students late last year published a paper studying "adversarial attacks on state-of-the-art object detection frameworks." In short, they looked at how some of the algorithms that allow for the detection of people in images work, then subverted them basically by tricking the code into thinking it was looking at something else. [link omitted]The bad news is the good news: The clothing that can do this is so unsightly that you'll stick out like a sore thumb to anything possessing actual intelligence. 4. Long-time readers here may recall that I once passed along the story of how Colonel Sanders became a sort of Father Christmas in Japan. The story of "How Santa Survived the Soviet Era" gives us Ded Moroz, a figure who might rival the Colonel in terms of strangeness to the American public: Image by Sergeev Pavel, via Wikimedia, public domain. "The vast majority of people living in these countries [Russia, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine] still perceive the New Year as a much more important holiday than Christmas and most of those claiming to celebrate Christmas view it merely as an occasion to launch a party that usually lacks any religious content or even the sentimental sweetness typical of Christmas celebrations in the West," says Alexander Statiev, a historian at the University of Waterloo who focuses on the Soviet Union. Through it all, there is Ded Moroz and his granddaughter Snegurochka. They appear in seasonal cartoons, on greeting cards, in advertisements. People dress up as these characters for celebrations of various sorts. There are many classic Ded Moroz movies, which people watch every year, the equivalent of A Charlie Brown Christmas or Home Alone. [link omitted]So, while he's an obvious variant on Santa, Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost") is a New Year's character. -- CAV Link to Original
  25. A hypothesis I have mooted here several times is that, given: (1) the contagiousness of the coronavirus (including from asymptomatic carriers), (2) the slow roll-out of testing for COVID-19, and (3) the fact that a significant plurality of the afflicted do not even realize they are infected; then the actual case count should be higher than the widely-reported figures, perhaps by an order of magnitude or more. This obviously has implications for herd immunity (if infection confers significant and long-lasting immunity) and both hospitalization and death rates. (For a simple example, if case numbers were an order of magnitude higher, those rates would be a tenth of what is being reported, assuming those numbers were otherwise accurate.) This is an important question for evaluating what to do about the virus, and that emphatically includes you and me, as individuals. Preliminary serological results have come out recently, notably out of Los Angeles and Santa Clara County, California, that estimate under-reporting by a factor of 50-85. This is great news, if it holds up, but it may be too early to feel relief, as a story from NPR explains in part: Refusing to confront a danger does not make it go away, to say the least. (Image by Caleb Woods, via Unsplash, license.) The test [with] a specificity of 99%, which means it only falsely says a blood sample contains antibodies against the coronavirus 1% of the time. But despite that impressive statistic, a test like that is not 99% correct, and in fact in some circumstances could be much worse. That's because of this counterintuitive fact: The validity of a test depends not only on the technology, but how common the disease is in the population you're sampling. "It is kind of a strange thing," admits Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a scientist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who studies issues surrounding tests and screening. "An antibody test is much more likely to be wrong in a population with very little COVID exposure." This is a result of statistics, rather than the technology of any given test. Here's a simple way to look at it. Say you are running a test that gives five falsely positive results in a group of 100 people. That doesn't sound too bad. But consider this. If 5% of those 100 people were actually infected with the coronavirus, you should get five correct test results (true positives), along with the five false positive results. [bold added]In this light, the tests I mentioned earlier -- which indicated low single-digit percentage infection rates in the general population -- might not alone offer much reassurance that the above hypothesis is correct, as reasonable as it is. (The authors report a specificity of 99.5%, and at least one discussion raises concerns over sampling. Furthermore, the study has not yet been peer-reviewed.) That said, the NPR piece indirectly raises another issue that should give us even more pause. "Flatten the curve," originally sold to the American public as a means of giving hospitals time to adjust to the pandemic has morphed into an excuse by government officials to impose indefinite universal lockdowns on the population. I seem to recall that Governor Newsom of California may be among those who expect everyone to hunker down until there is a vaccine. At most wildly optimistic best, this will take one or two years. More realistically, it's five or more years down the road. Even if it were not wrong to imprison people in their own homes, this would be a ridiculous amount of time to wait, even for a guaranteed result. But, as NPR notes, "it's not clear whether someone who has antibodies to the coronavirus in their blood is actually immune." This puts the whole idea of herd immunity into question. And if herd immunity is in doubt, then so is the deus ex machina of a rapidly developed, perfectly safe, and completely effective vaccine. Hell, there may never be a vaccine. Wouldn't we be better off resuming our lives as much as possible now -- with open eyes and thinking about how we manage the continued stalking presence of this disease -- than tolerating imprisonment and fantasizing about a salvation that may never come? And too many people are lazily and dangerously relying on the tender mercies of government. Each of us should consider what, "Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best," means for ourselves as an individual, versus for a government official. In the former case, it means exercising vigilance and carefully weighing things in a way one did not have to before the virus came along. This can be hard at first, but at least quality of life -- your one, irreplaceable life -- comes into play, too. And, so long as you repect the rights of others, the only person who should have a say in that -- you -- gets to decide. A politician is motivated primarily by whether he will get reelected (so long as it's not a "safe" district, in which case, deuces wild), and as for bureaucrats, they just want to not be seen as wrong by their bosses. -- CAV Link to Original
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