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Gus Van Horn blog

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  1. At what now feels like an eternity ago, I expressed gratitude for a recent pleasant experience at Disney World, and expressed hope for a quick return to normal. Needless to say, that hasn't happened. Fortunately, for those of us with kids -- I have three, if I count my wife, who loves all things Disney -- the company doesn't take its "faith, trust, and pixie dust" too seriously. The folks over there are being just as creative as businessmen as they have been as entertainers, as a recent Intelligencer piece discusses regarding the company's novel release of the live-action Mulan for thirty bucks to its Disney+ subscribers: Image by Felix Mooneeram, via Unsplash, license. Is $30 a lot? That depends. Obviously it's more than a movie ticket for one, but it's less than a family of four would typically pay to see the movie. And while you don't get to watch Mulan on as big a screen, you also don't have to leave your house, and you can make popcorn a lot more cheaply than you could buy it at a theater. From Disney's perspective, online sales are better than sales at a theater because it doesn't need to share revenue with a theater operator, so this plan doesn't need to bring in as much revenue as an eventual theatrical release would in order to be the company's best financial strategy. And [CEO Bob] Chapek noted that there were two elements to the company's revenue strategy with Mulan: getting $30 in incremental revenue from Disney+ subscribers who watch the movie; and getting nonsubscribers to subscribe to Disney+ (which costs $7 a month or $70 a year), as a necessary step to pay $30 to see the movie.Interestingly, the company doesn't plan to release other movies this way, but will try to learn what it can when it does this experiment. As a customer, this looks like a great idea. And I am a little surprised that the company seems like it wants to avoid making this the default release model, even if only for the duration of the pandemic. In any event, even if the plan isn't a roaring success, I'd say it bodes well for the long-term. -- CAVLink to Original
  2. At Car and Driver is a short piece by a man who fell in love with a recent Porsche model for a reason he never saw coming: its headlights. As we see from the matrix LED headlamp of a 2015 Audi, this technology has been around for at least five years. (Image by Mario von Berg, via Wikimedia Commons, license.) Each of the 911's lighting units includes 84 individually controlled LEDs that allow the car to continuously morph the pattern of its beams. When a car approaches in the oncoming lane, the 911's headlights dim around it while leaving the rest of the pattern bright. The other driver doesn't get blinded, but you still have blazing lights on your side. It's a wonder to behold. During nighttime drives in the Turbo S, I never had another driver flick their high-beams at me in annoyance -- which sometimes happens with cars that simply have bright LED low-beams... [bold added]That sounds really neat, on top of the fact that I have wondered for years why -- as regulated as our car industry is -- the obnoxious American version of LED headlights has been allowed at all. My best guess was that there was some kind of environmentalist requirement for LEDs, which require less energy than incandescent bulbs. After all, regulations often prioritize fashionable pet agendas like that over the rights of human beings that proper law is supposed to be protecting, so why not? The truth surprised even me:Porsche's adaptive lights are clearly a major improvement over the simple high-beam or low-beam setup mandated for the U.S. So why can you get them in Munich but not Milwaukee? At issue is Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108, which has defined our headlights since 1967. And ol' FMVSS 108 set out rules that only defined high-beams and low-beams... [link omitted]The article goes on to discuss (and blame) the cumbersome process of updating regulations like this, but the fact that these headlights have been in use in Europe for years is enough to indicate that something is wrong. I have often noted such rights-respecting alternatives to regulations -- like best practice guidelines set by professional standards bodies -- but never explicitly made the connection that a major advantage could be faster responsiveness to changing technology. (I don't know who handles headlights in the EU, or how, but that is beside the point.) So there you have it. On top of the government improperly and unnecessarily ruling on such matters, its doing so has, in this case, led directly to less safe safety products entering the market. -- CAVLink to Original
  3. A few days ago, I ran across an article at NPR titled, "Why Forgiving Someone Else Is Really About You." Intrigued, I read through it and learned that much of what it discussed came from a book called Radical Forgiveness, by Colin Tipping. (The piece links to a 21-minute show and a worksheet. I have not had a chance to look at either.) I found two interrelated things within the article interesting: (1) Some of the advice it discusses sounds like it could be good; and (2) the title of the book reminds me of a book, Nonviolent Communication that I read some time back, and found to contain very good advice despite its awful (and arguably misleading) title. Here is an example of some of the potentially good advice: Image by Lina Trochez, via Unsplash, license. Contrary to popular opinion, the practice of forgiveness is not about condoning or making excuses for unfair treatment and other hurtful behaviors. It's not about getting an apology or a show of remorse from the offending party. And despite what's portrayed in films, novels, poems and love songs, it's not necessarily about reconciliation. Granted, reconnecting with loved ones can be a wonderful byproduct of forgiveness, but it's not a requirement or even a goal in some cases -- especially if doing so would subject you to more harm. "The expanded version of forgiveness that I love to teach is a deep, soul-level letting-go of our pain, our sorrow, our suffering," Holub says. "And we do that because we want to be free. We do that because we want to be healthy and we want to have peace of mind."The gist of the process, from what I can tell from the article, is to get the negative emotions from past events out of one's system; and then consider the facts of the troubling episode objectively with the aid of one's greater knowledge and experience. This sounds like a great idea, whether I am interpreting correctly or not. But it does also remind me of something I recall saying about Nonviolent Communication:The influence of altruism on [Marshall] Rosenberg's thinking was so pervasive that at every level, it was often necessary to think carefully about what made a given point good or bad. This is on top of the fact that the author never defines what he regards as "violent": The closest he ever got was, towards the end of the book, was when he referred to the way most people communicate as, "life-alienating communication" (loc. 3646). So communication is supposed to further "life", but since Rosenberg is an altruist, he skirts around lots of points that would really hit home if expressed in egoistic terms. (Instead, he either misses or evades lots of connections that someone familiar with Ayn Rand's ideas will often make without much effort.) It is somewhat fitting, then, that the author also misses out on a positive title, which might have been something like, Mutually Beneficial Communication.So I may have stumbled across another Nonviolent Communication. Or not. At a better time, I plan to look into the matter and decide for myself. In the meantime, if any passer-by is familiar with Radical Forgiveness, I'd be grateful for your thoughts. -- CAV Link to Original
  4. Four Things 1. An assortment of errands and appointments have allowed me to catch up on a few episodes of Don Watkins's interesting and enjoyable Liberty Unlocked podcast. Watkins is on a mission to understand how best to aid the cause of liberty by exploring how and why individual human beings decided to take up the fight for freedom. It is hard to do justice to what he accomplishes with this approach in a short recommendation, but I'll try, anyway. You get to meet real people, one at a time, who are on your side. You gain insight by seeing the individual paths the participants take to the conclusion that they need freedom. Likewise from their approaches to the problem of promoting freedom. With each interview, you begin to see in more fully real terms the enormous value of freedom for yourself, and the many ways it can appeal to others. Both sides of this equation are important. These things are valuable, but, again, the thing I like most about the interviews is that it's a little bit like actually meeting the participants. Today's rancorous, clueless, superficial, politicized culture seems designed to make an individualist feel isolated and completely invisible. If this sounds familiar, I recommend trying this podcast for a very welcome and, yes, necessary change of pace. Whatever you do, don't just take my word for it. 2. It may be patting my own back, but I deserve it: Good on me for using what I call evolving checklists for nearly everything. A brief trip out of town, as of this morning, will now double as a hurricane evacuation. This happened last year, with a visit from Hurricane Dorian enough of a possibility that I had to get ready for it ahead of a trip across the state. (At least this time, I don't have to worry about the storm following me after I leave: We can just go.) This time, I already have a fairly comprehensive list of preps and gotchas to work from, based on last year's list. Part of this Floridian misses the Florida I used to know: The one I sometimes visited. If there was a hurricane coming, I could just stay at home. 3. Some time ago, I learned that the hilarious Science Made Stupid, by Tom Weller is available with his for download in multiple electronic formats. A bonus for me was that I did not know about Weller's Cvltvre Made Stvpid, which is also available. Image by Renee Comet, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain. 4. I haven't posted a recipe here in ages, and this one's short, so I might as well pass along this foolproof way to bake potatoes now. Your ingredients are: baking potatoes, olive oil, koshering salt, and pepper. Here's the executive summary: Heat oven to 350°. Thoroughly clean and dry potatoes. Use a fork to poke small holes all over surface of each potato. Coat the potato skins with olive oil. Season the skins with salt and, if desired, pepper. Bake for 90 minutes. If you follow the link, you see lots of verbiage before the actual recipe. Credit that verbiage -- which gives reasons for each step -- for getting me to try this recipe, which someone invariably asks for when I make these for anyone new. "But everybody knows you need the oven on high," you may protest. No. They do not. -- CAVLink to Original
  5. For anyone who suspected NASA was a mess, John Stossel's recent report on America's first space launch in a decade will more than confirm that hunch: [Aerospace engineer Robert] Zubrin once worked at [government contractor] Lockheed Martin, where he ... discovered a way for a rocket to carry twice as much weight. "We went to management, the engineers, and said, 'Look, we could double the payload capability for 10 percent extra cost.' They said, 'Look, if the Air Force wants us to improve the Titan, they'll pay us to do it!'" [link added] This is awful, but it wasn't the only time Zubrin was rebuffed for the sin of offering a good idea:Twenty years ago, at Lockheed Martin, Zubrin had proposed reusable boosters. His bosses told him: "Cute idea. But if we sell one of these, we're out of business."Damn straight that the SpaceX "flight happened because government was not in charge." More important than this, Stossel's story, which I highly recommend, also gives hope, in the form of illustrating the positive alternative of private enterprise: Image by SpaceX, via Unsplash, license. An Obama administration committee had concluded that launching such a vehicle would take 12 years and cost $36 billion. But this rocket was finished in half that time -- for less than $1 billion (1/36th the predicted cost). That's because it was built by Elon Musk's private company, Space X. He does things faster and cheaper because he spends his own money.Lest that seem incredible, Stossel supplies relevant details, such as that Musk's company saves money ... by re-using rocket boosters. There couldn't be a better time -- in the middle of a pandemic being aggravated by government meddling -- for such a story to hit the news. First, it confirms our hope that private enterprise will win against the corona virus, and probably sooner rather than later. Second, it should cause us to ask similar questions of other expensive, non-performing creatures of the government, especially the education sector. -- CAVLink to Original
  6. In a post cleverly and imperfectly titled, "The Worst Tool for the Job," statistician John Cook discusses, the "advantages of not using the best tool for the job." Here is the broad point: If you follow this strategy, you'll sometimes waste a little money by buying a cheap tool before buying a good one. But you won't waste money buying expensive tools that you rarely use. And you won't waste money by buying a sequence of incrementally better tools until you finally buy a good one. The advice above was given in the context of tools you'd find in a hardware store, but I've been thinking about it in the context of software tools. There's something to be said for having crude tools that are convenient for small tasks, and sophisticated tools that are appropriate for big tasks, but not investing much in the middle... Image by Igor Figueredo, via Unsplash, license. And the savings will also include time, which works similarly to money here. Time savings obviously comes into play with time not spent researching the best available tools before obtaining that adequate tool. But there's a subtler point, which a commenter brings up that applies for cases when you know you'll need the tool (or something like it) more than once. On top of being able to get started faster, the adequate tool allows your to learn what you actually need: The other advantage of this route is that your requirements will become more clear with a subpar tool. If I buy the subpar tool and use it, it may not meet all my needs. In some cases, these may be needs I did not know I had until I had a tool to build the thing I needed. In this case, the cheap tool helped me define my requirements and helped me learn about what I really need from the object I am building. Now I am much better equipped to go and buy the correct tool I need. [format edits, bold added]There is no way, particularly when doing something new, to anticipate every requirement of the job or to know what your best work flow will look like. The adequate tool will indeed let you get to work faster, but it can also lead to saving lots of time and money down the road. Cook's example was of a simple diagram he made for a client, using a simple tool. He named a well-known tool as possibly the "best" for the job, but it's possible a simpler tool than that would be better for his particular use case, because of cost (assuming he doesn't need every feature of the more common tool), ease-of use, or some other reason. It's easy to want to "get it right the first time" and it can be fun to research tools. But sometimes, ignorance stands in the way of the perfect start many of us like to imagine. And there can be satisfaction in finding a good tool few know about, or that is much better for a purpose than the answer that even people in the know might give. -- CAVLink to Original
  7. Over at The Hustle is a piece about Martha Matilda Harper, who invented the modern hair salon and the franchising business model. These she accomplished despite starting from poverty, and having to defy social conventions. I am very impressed with how creatively she turned problems into opportunities along the way: Harper's own hair figured prominently in her advertising. (Image by unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain due to date (pre 1900).) In the beginning, business was slow. Her high-end clientele -- still insistent on home visits -- were opposed to the idea of going to a public salon. As a trailblazer of the modern salon, Harper realized she'd have to change the behavior of her customers. Soon, she got a break. When a music teacher next door to her business mentioned he had no waiting room, Harper offered up her salon. Women began to wander in to get hair treatments while waiting for their children to finish their piano lessons. At a time when customer service was still something of a foreign concept, Harper reinvested profits in enriching her clients' experience, inventing the first reclining shampoo chair and a special sink with a unique cut-out for the neck. Word of this exotic new salon concept spread among Rochester's elite. In short order, the 3-chair shop was bustling with prominent women from other cities, too. [link omitted]Her approach to expanding her business was equally impressive: She insisted on petitions from areas that wanted new locations and trained her operators thoroughly in her methods, among other things. The piece is a bit under 1800 words and, for those who find the story gripping enough, it points to her biography, Martha Matilda Harper and the American Dream, by Jane Pitt. -- CAVLink to Original
  8. Back in the pre-scientific days of medicine, diagnosis and cure were largely the province of quacks. Even so, it was still possible to know when a patient was sick and what that might mean if his condition did not improve. That's how I think of a Politico interview of economist Betsey Stevenson I encountered this morning: I disagree with much of its diagnosis and practically all of its suggested cure, but I think it does well to raise the problems our government is causing or worsening by its poor response to the pandemic. For those who might not know already, I agree with Ben Bayer and Onkar Ghate, both of the Ayn Rand Institute, that we could have and should have "maintain[ed] a free society while effectively addressing" this epidemic. I also regard the school closures as unnecessary in the first place and am appalled that reopening the schools is even a question at this point. So, while I agree that the pandemic would have been a problem no matter what, I regard what Stevenson (rightly) calls the "child care crisis" as largely caused and perpetuated by government policy. First, our government should have never imposed the policy of indefinite universal home incarceration that has put so many small businesses (including daycares) at mortal risk. Second, as soon as it became evident that young children neither suffer badly from nor spread this illness, the schools should have reopened. (There has been ample time to plan for this. Instead teachers' unions are fighting this tooth and nail.) Within that context, I offer a couple of choice quotes from Stevenson's observations: Image by BBC Creative, via Unsplash, license. [H]ow terrible would it be ... if we lost all our child care and our schools? ... That would leave not only the current working generation unable to go back to work in the same way, it would mean that we are not preparing the next generation so that they have skills. ... ... [C]aregiving responsibilities erode a woman's career, it takes a long time. It's about not accepting the job that's going to push you further in your career, because it's going to conflict with your family. It's about taking part-time work so that you get more time at home. It's about choosing the job that has the most flexibility. It's about choosing the job with the shortest commute. Those are the trade-offs. And those trade-offs end up giving them less opportunity, fewer opportunities for promotions or raises. That's why you see much bigger gender gaps for women by age 50 than you saw at age 30. These things just happen slowly over time. Even though the pandemic has come as a big crisis and we saw the labor market crater, I think the impact of the child care crisis on women's outcomes is going to be felt over the next decade. The good news, such as it is, is that we are finally seeing a discussion of some of the long-term problems our government's un-American and ineffective pandemic response is causing. The bad news -- and it looks worse every time I go back to that interview -- is that so many people see everything in purely collectivistic terms, including the impacts and, worse, how to mitigate them. The latter includes fighting these effects of central planning with ... even more central planning. It isn't just that "the economy" is being dragged down, though it is; or that children are losing out on their educations, though they are; or that parents are losing out on opportunities; though they are. We are speaking of countless individuals suffering far more than necessary, and for a much longer time in many cases, because our government has, from the get-go, failed to do what it ought regarding this new disease, and actively made the problems it can cause much worse. Admitting a problem may be half of the battle, but what a half still remains! -- CAVLink to Original
  9. Four Things 1. Did you know that the Segway "personal transporter" is no longer in production?[F]or all the mall-cop gags and PR disasters, the original vision of the Segway seems newly prescient in an age of abundant e-scooters and e-bicycles. Indeed, as these newer products find their footing in the mobility ecosystem, they owe much to the dorky grandfather of urban micromobility.The rest of the article is part retrospective, part post-mortem. 2. An article about the origins of a kind of apartment characteristic of Athens describes an accidental (and successful) experiment in mixed-use urban development:Not that these buildings were exclusively residential. The municipality of Athens only practiced zoning for heavy industry, leaving people free to set up shop in a polikatoikia. Even today, these buildings are often hives of activity, mixing offices, medical practices and even the odd workshop among homes. According to [architect Panos] Dragonas, this was "a cancellation of all the problems of modern urban planning, just by mistake. No one had thought about it, but the result was a fantastic mix of uses within a small-scale building. That's why the streets of Athens have a wonderful level of life all day, all night and all week."I visited Athens briefly in my college days, but did not notice the '50's-to-'80's era apartments. I don't think I'll be able to help but notice them on any future trip, and I'll be glad to know the story behind them when I do. Soonish. (Image by Adam Wilson, via Unsplash, license.) 3. Via Hacker News, I learned of a new, crowd-sourced map of beer-related businesses. It's new enough, in fact, that my neck of the woods is missing a few places I know about. That said, it looks promising and I plan to use it as a resource when I start home-brewing again some time in the next year after having to quit over a decade ago: First, I had to ditch my equipment to save space for a move, and then we had kids. The kids are old enough now that they might find it interesting. At the very least, they'll know enough not to get too close to the apparatus when I boil the wort. (I used one of these outside, back in the day.) Making that connection, by the way, helped me realize that I can probably get away with going back to charcoal when I grill. I'm a charcoal guy, but have been using propane for the past few years, mainly for safety reasons. 4. I'll close this week with my Android solution for listening to podcasts in areas with spotty connectivity. As you may know, errand days in the sprawling area where I live are my main times for listening to podcasts and the like. My phone connectivity in this area -- and across northern Florida -- is inconsistent, making it preferable to save anything I want to internal storage ahead of time. For anyone in this situation, I highly recommend the ugly, but very effective Total Commander file browser. Without you having to do anything but point it to your storage location, it will simply open there every time, saving you from RSI and annoyance. The built-in media player is extremely easy to use and, unlike any other Android media player I've used, keeps its place indefinitely when not actually playing. (It amazes me that I'm having to heap praise on something for having such qualities, but here we are.) Currently, I know that after I drop my kids off this morning, I can pick right up where I left off on my current listening list. Furthermore, if you're like me, and prefer to manage files on a real computer, you can install Syncthing on both for a fairly seamless experience. (Unlike, say, Dropbox, Syncthing moves the files directly to the device, rather than defaulting to cloud storage and requiring extra steps to move the files to the device.) -- CAVLink to Original
  10. At Intellectual Takeout is a column by Walter Block that gives a snapshot of the status of the union-driven war on gig work, based in California. That state (via its AB-5 measure), states with similar measures or proposals, and Democrats at the national level who support the idea are endangering the livelihoods of 57 million -- one third of the American work force -- according to Block. Block tells mainly of cases wending their way through the court system while most of us are preoccupied with the pandemic and civil unrest: Neither is possible without freedom. (Image by Hannah Grace, via Unsplash, license.) [T]he anti-gigsters may not fully succeed in their evil plan. There has been opposition from many quarters, and exceptions have had to be made. For example, the new law mandates that all freelance writers must now be considered employees if they publish 35 articles per year or more, but legislators are considering removing this restriction. Free speech lawsuits will test that provision in court. The judges, too, will have to rule on whether or not a state has jurisdiction over some 70,000 independent truckers who are engaged in interstate commerce. In like manner, Uber, Lyft and Postmates are refusing to cooperate; this, too, will have to be settled by the judiciary. However, it pays not to be too optimistic on this score. The taxman has prevailed, as have the rent controller and the tariff imposer. It may well be that these court cases will take the wind out of California's Assembly Bill 5's sails, but don't bet the farm on such an outcome. [link omitted, bold added]Don't bet the farm indeed. I wouldn't put it past California's power-drunk legislature to exempt writers -- an obviously vocal constituency -- for purely cynical reasons, and if the Supreme Court's failure to rule Obamacare unconstitutional taught us anything, it's not to hope for a court to do its job -- as its Chief Justice put it then -- while demonstrating that he did not know what that job was. If I recall correctly, there may be measures on the ballot this fall to limit or outright repeal AB-5, although even those may be lacking in terms of fundamentally challenging the premise of this freedom-destroying law or pushing back this power grab in any meaningful way. -- CAVLink to Original
  11. One of the things I like best about Miss Manners is how widely applicable her advice is. My latest case in point: Advice she gave to someone who is thinking about quitting his Bible study group. I am not religious, but I found it quite profitable, so I thought I'd share her thoughts regarding how to address the inappropriate political jokes a man was being subjected to by the younger leader of his group: Image by Sincerely Media, via Unsplash, license. [Y]ou have a good subject for Bible study. There is a great deal in there about how to treat other people. Miss Manners suggests you begin setting an example by refraining from criticizing your leader directly -- or condemning entire generations -- but instead talking about the temptation, in these politically volatile times, to jeer -- or worse -- at those with whom we disagree. It might be interesting to the group to examine the virtues and discuss the difficulties of practicing compassion and kindness. If the response includes cracks about any faction or person, then yes: Find another group.Setting aside, for the sake of argument, my qualms about the Bible as a source for moral guidance, it is very easy to essentialize what is going on here and see how useful this advice is: We have people who care (or say they care) enough about moral issues to meet regularly to discuss them -- and yet blatantly fail to practice one of their own tenets. Miss Manners recognizes this situation as a chance for the writer to leverage the values he shares with this group (if they really do share those values) to improve his small part of the world. Of course, as her last sentence indicates, this group may not really value that tenet. In such a case, the writer now has learned the truth, and is free to find others who do share his values. (Indeed, the man has still improved his small part of the world, but did not have as wide an immediate effect as he had hoped.) An important part of persuasion is to determine what values an audience has that are good and match one's own -- and build on those shared values to provoke thought about other issues. It is not always possible to do this in advance or know that one has an accurate read on the question. In such cases, we see that it is possible to filter for a receptive audience and attempt to persuade all at the same time. -- CAVLink to Original
  12. As I noted in May -- which feels like an eternity ago -- it is wrong to dismiss or insult someone simply for drawing a parallel between corona and the flu: Image by the CDC, via Unsplash, license. [W]hile 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... 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.There were two types of people being wrongly lumped together by the crowd who would call us "COVID deniers:" (1) those who had not fully grasped -- or, yes, denied -- the dangers posed by corona, and (2) those who really were interested in learning relevant lessons from the past. This is wrong, morally and practically. And it raised the question: Why would anyone do this? (More on that later.) Fast forward to now, when our nation still (!) faces the question: Do we reopen the schools? For the record, I agree with epidemiologist Amesh Adalja on the answer:"Schools ... were closed basically reflexively because of extrapolations from Influenza. And, we're finding that this virus behaves very differently than Influenza," he stated. "In influenza, children are major magnifiers of infection. And, we're not seeing that so much with this virus. We're not hearing about epidemics that are being started or outbreaks being started or driven by children." ... "We know that there have been schools already open in the United States, in places like Montana and Idaho, and they seem to be operating okay," Adalja noted. "We know some countries didn't close schools. And, we also know that daycare centers for essential workers were open throughout this pandemic and we haven't heard about outbreaks there. "So, I think that when it comes to opening schools -- because children are relatively spared from the epidemiology of this -- meaning, they don't transmit it, they don't seem to be driving outbreaks, and they seem to be spared from severe cases -- I do think this is something that's one of the first things that probably can open. And, I do think that we will see schools being opened," he predicted. [links omitted, bold added]This jibes with everything that I, a parent, have seen about this disease. Furthermore, conservative commentator Daniel Horowitz notes just how different the flu -- for which we only sometimes, temporarily close schools -- is from corona as far as children go:The reality is that every flu season, many more children die from this common ailment than have from COVID-19. And unlike with COVID-19, where the rare pediatric deaths are among those who have serious conditions, many of the flu deaths occur in perfectly healthy children. According to the CDC, "influenza is dangerous to children," and during the 2017-2018 flu season, which everyone forgets was considered a pandemic, the federal agency estimates that the actual number of pediatric deaths was closer to 600. ... Moreover, other kids get seriously ill and develop side effects, such as blindness. One four-year -old girl in Iowa was left blind by the flu this past season. Even those who suffer no serious consequences are often bedridden for a week or longer with high fever, muscle ache, and incessant coughing, unlike with COVID-19, where almost every child who develops it is asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic. ... ... nlike with this virus, where children barely contribute to community spread, with the flu, children contribute substantially to the spread and pick it up most often from other kids in school. [links omitted, bold added] At first, it might seem odd that the same people who started off telling us not to equate this with the flu seem to be ... equating this with the flu. But Horowitz gives us a hint of what is going on when he speaks of "the context and perspective that is lacking in the hyper-focus on the worst outcomes in any group of people in a country this size." That is exactly the kind of thinking that will lead someone to do this without batting an eye. A brief pause, though, to state what ought to be obvious: It is just as wrong to equate corona with the flu in the process of overestimating risk as it is in underestimating risk. Horowitz is right: There is either very bad or very cynical thinking going on here. I'd wager the former for the rank and file of the paternalists, who seem to suffer from anything from fear of the unknown to a lack of cognitive self-confidence in learning about new dangers and weighing risks, on the negative side of the ledger. But this combines with a legitimate concern: Since the government (improperly) runs everything, they do worry about being corralled into a situation they would not volunteer for. Thus they'll express their risk aversion as calls for "caution" that unwittingly exclude the many risks associated with, for example, not educating children. (The real solution to this problem would be to privatize education. This would have the benefit of making it easier for every parent to weigh their own risks and act accordingly.) And those leading the charge to keep the schools closed? Some want power, and others want the prestige of looking like they care the most about children. With our society's dominant altruist ethical persuasion, this is too easy to achieve with measures whose unnecessary pain can be glorified as sacrifice. The media-led stampede to keep the schools closed is motivated largely by a most shameful triad of character flaws: willful ignorance, power-lust, and the second-hand desire to look good, one's actual moral stature be damned. -- CAVLink to Original
  13. "Taiwan, which has nearly 24 million citizens, has had only 451 cases and seven deaths." (Image by Vernon Raineil Cenzon, via Unsplash, license.) The good news is that some media outlets, like CNBC, are finally beginning to report on how some countries have successfully dealt with the corona pandemic. The bad news, as far as I can tell from this report on Taiwan, is that the way these stories are covered will affect both what data are deemed relevant and what big picture lessons are learned. Two examples of the latter are (1) how the government dealt with demand for face masks, and (2) a baseless and wrong criticism of an aspect of American culture as exacerbating the epidemic here. Regarding face masks, the article takes for granted that it is the government's job to procure and distribute face masks. As is well known in economics, this results in shortages, which do not exist in free markets. So, without a free market to signal supply levels, both prompting conservation and incentivizing production, the Taiwanese found themselves standing in lines or shopping at strange hours to procure face masks. (The article does note that foreigners had trouble getting masks for a time, but does not speak of a freer market as a solution.) And so, a major shortcoming of that nation's otherwise better response went unnoticed, and could even be wrongly taken as something for us to emulate in the future by implication. As for the opportunity, so frequently taken by American journalists these days, to castigate their customers, we have the following:n Taiwan, there's a strong feeling that sometimes people have to give up their "individual desires and benefits" for the sake of their community -- a mindset that [Harvard professor William] Hsiao contrasts to Americans' tendency to be more individualistic, based on his experience living in this country. That community-oriented mentality helped Taiwan come together to tackle the threat in a more unified way, and it meant that very few people declined to follow the public health recommendations. Taiwan also has a saying that roughly means, "This is your country, and it's up to you to save it." This bears a remarkable resemblance to our, "A republic, if you can keep it," which was popular shortly after America gained independence. Plainly, it is wrong to breezily imply that individualism is incompatible with long-range thinking, coordinated effort, and patriotism. Better than slamming Americans for not following orders would be to ask whether health policies and recommendations could have been formulated and communicated better in such a way as to be (1) genuinely conducive to our welfare and (2) more clearly in our best interests as individuals to comply with. Fortunately, we do not have to rely on journalists to put all these pieces together. The Ayn Rand Institute recently published a white paper on the very subject of how a government should best respond to an epidemic. This news story reminded me of the piece and caused me to realize -- as soon as I looked at the white paper -- that the table of contents, having been written in complete sentences, itself just about stands alone as a general overview of the subject. I'll excerpt it here: I. WE MUST DEMAND BETTER FROM GOVERNMENT. Our response to SARS-CoV-2 was un-American. The alternative to coercive, statewide lockdowns was not two million dead. A truly American response requires new laws. II. THE LAW SHOULD FOCUS GOVERNMENT ON STOPPING THE THREAT POSED BY CARRIERS OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE. We need to legally specify a threshold for when infectious diseases qualify as active threats. We need to legally delimit appropriate coercive interventions. Proper laws would focus government on one task: to test, isolate and track carriers of infectious disease. III. IN PRACTICE, PROPER LAWS WOULD HAVE ENSURED GOVERNMENT WAS PREPARED TO TEST AND ISOLATE CARRIERS OF SARS-CoV-2. With better laws we would have had Taiwan's level of readiness. With better laws we would have had South Korea's widespread, strategic ability to test. IV. WHEN GOVERNMENT IS UNABLE TO ISOLATE MOST CARRIERS OF AN INFECTIOUS DISEASE, THE LAW MUST LEAVE US FREE TO ACT. If government is unable to isolate most of the infected, the law should grant it few additional powers. An improper public health goal led to coercive statewide lockdowns. The proper public health goal is for government to protect our right to the pursuit of health. This means government's public health goal is not to coercively "flatten the curve." But during a pandemic, government must be transparent and explain how government-controlled healthcare will be rationed. The law should prohibit statewide lockdowns and require governmental transparency. V. IN PRACTICE, IF GOVERNMENT HAD NOT POSSESSED THE POWER OF STATEWIDE LOCKDOWNS, THE RESPONSE TO THE UNCONTAINED SPREAD OF SARS-CoV-2 WOULD HAVE BEEN FAR BETTER. Governmental action would have been more strategic, targeted and effective. Private action would have been more strategic, targeted and effective. VI. WHAT YOU CAN DO Write your representatives in government. I'll note further that the white paper, although it is available as a PDF, is reproduced in full as a web page at the above link, which will make it much easier for many people to read. At the site, the outline headings link to the relevant portions of the paper. I highly recommend reading the whole thing and being ready to recommend it to others. -- CAV Link to Original
  14. Four Things 1. "Finally Getting Somewhere," is the title of Jonathan Lynn's enjoyable and humorous essay about Oliver Sacks, my favorite writer about science. Sacks made the quip that is the title to his psychoanalyst after a half-century of sessions and just before he died. Here's a sample, about the man behind Awakenings and several other favorite books of mine:It seems that Oliver always wanted to combine medicine, science and literature and he found a way when he wrote Awakenings (1973), his next book. It was unusual in many ways. It is a selection of twenty case histories but in the first and last chapters Oliver outlined a then revolutionary view of medicine: that it is not enough to repair the parts of the body that go wrong. Illness, he proposed, changes us, whatever the outcome. We are different afterwards, and therefore the whole person must be understood and treated. He was in the vanguard of what became known as holistic medicine, but Awakenings, which Auden proclaimed a masterpiece, was not well received by the medical profession. Maybe it was because, almost uniquely, Oliver was writing about how his idea and his treatment ultimately failed. That wasn't done. It took real humility. Doctors wrote about their successes. His extraordinary empathy shone out of Awakenings, and became a beacon for others...There is much more about the man's "shy, eccentric brilliance" within, but in case you're on the fence, know that the biographer co-wrote the comedy series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. 2. Part of a song on the radio sounded like it could be a sample from something I vaguely remembered a college roommate playing ages ago. So I looked it up at the gas station and discovered a very pun-ny song by comedian Kip Addotta that I'll list here by its alternate title, "Let's Get Tanked." Similar, but a little catchier, is his "Life in the Slaw Lane." So if I remember the song, why am I saying I "discovered" it now? It was mainly because that roommate over-played it, and I'd gotten into the habit of mostly ignoring music I'd hear over and over again. (That was one of my keys to sanity in the age of Top 40 radio and songs that were just six words long.) Otherwise, I would have learned sooner of this man who was weird before Weird Al. 3. A common complaint in our modern age is, "Where are the flying cars?" I don't know either, but I now know that there once were flying Winnebagos:In addition to the standard landing gear, the Heli-Home could be obtained with optional floats. That meant you could forget the trouble of having to find a narrow clearing in the woods to land. You could just set right down on a lake and drop anchor. I'm not sure how much time I would want to spend with five other people inside a cramped helicopter that's anchored in the middle of a lake, but then again I've never tried it. Perhaps 115 square feet feels bigger when there's no property tax.The homes were ex-military transport helicopters outfitted with all kinds of amenities. Predictably, they were very expensive -- a million dollars give or take a few hundred thousand in today's currency. Only eight were sold, and none survive. 4. I like hats, and often wear them for walks. But I'm glad they're not regarded as obligatory. Interestingly, one author argues that it was cars and improved hygiene that "killed" the hat, and not JFK, as so many think:A hat could protect a person from the rain, the wind, or the soot from local smokestacks. Long before SPF 55 was readily available, hats were also the single biggest protector from the sun. The sweatband could catch beads of perspiration before they got into your eyes. And at a time when showering regularly wasn't especially feasible, hats could also keep environmental dirt and grime away from the hair. The advents of standing showers, shampoo, and an interest in more stylish hairstyles were very much a part of the hat's demise. Every time a man removed his cover, he'd need to recomb his hair, which was often slicked back or parted to the side. As longer, more styled hair became the style in the 1950s -- think Elvis's close cut and James Dean's artful mess -- coifs and covers were at odds. [link in original]As for cars, their enclosed space meant that commuting involved less exposure to the elements -- and thus need for a hat -- than it had in the past. -- CAV Link to Original
  15. At the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) is a critical look at the dishonest narrative/media trope about Sweden being a "cautionary tale" of a government mishandling the coronavirus epidemic. The data presented speak for themselves, but there are links to John Ioannidis just in case. That statistician-epidemiologist was highly critical of nationwide lockdowns early on, and has turned out to be more correct, I am sure, than he would have liked. That said, it was good to see someone zero in on the following: Image by Jonathan Brinkhorst, via Unsplash, license. ... Sweden is being criticized less because of the results of their public health policies and more because of the nature of them. By embracing a much more market-based approach to the pandemic in lieu of a centrally planned one, Sweden is undermining the narrative that millions and millions of people would have died without lockdowns, as modelers predicted. Without Sweden and a few similar outliers, it would be far easier for central planners to say, Sure, lockdowns were harsh and destructive. But we had no choice. In the wake of the most destructive pandemic in a century, there will be considerable discussion as to whether the lockdowns, which stand to trigger a global depression in addition to other psychological and social costs, were truly necessary. [links omitted, bold added]It is especially interesting to contemplate how FEE and such organs as the New York Times have discussed Sweden, with the former forthrightly admitting that Sweden was hardly an unqualifed success, and the latter passing along falsehoods so long as they made Sweden look bad. Such an exercise might provoke the following question: Do American journalists, like Michael Powell of the New York Times, not know or not care how to evaluate a given government's reaction to the pandemic? -- CAV P.S. The following, from John Ioannidis, are more recent estimates of the fatality of this disease:"The death rate in a given country depends a lot on the age-structure, who are the people infected, and how they are managed," Ioannidis said. "For people younger than 45, the infection fatality rate is almost 0%. For 45 to 70, it is probably about 0.05-0.3%. For those above 70, it escalates substantially ... " Because of this, Ioannidis sees mass lockdowns of entire populations as a mistake, though he says they may have made sense when experts believed the fatality rate of COVID-19 was as high as 3-5 percent.It is especially damning that so many media outlets happily smear Sweden, while failing to hold the likes of Governors Cuomo and Whitmer to account for their policy of remanding corona cases to nursing homes.Link to Original
  16. A great teacher is not merely a subject-matter expert, but also a good mentor, as we learn from Richard Feynman's correspondence with a former student. Shaun Usher of Letters of Note sets up the context: Image from 1959 Cal Tech yearbook, via Wikimedia, public domain. In 1966, nine years after gaining his Ph.D. with a dissertation titled The Self-Energy of the Scalar Nucleon, physicist Koichi Mano wrote a congratulatory letter to Richard Feynman, the man who had originally taught him at the California Institute of Technology and, more recently, joint-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering work in quantum electrodynamics. Feynman replied with an enquiry about Mano's current job, to which Mano responded that he was "studying the Coherence theory with some applications to the propagation of electromagnetic waves through turbulent atmosphere [ ... ] a humble and down-to-earth type of problem." Feynman responded with this letter. [links omitted, format edits]What follows is exactly the kind of gentle encouragement and correction Mano needed. Feynman first counsels his former student to take on even simpler problems in the vein of enjoyment, confidence-building, and exploration via delight. Feynman then apologizes for giving "you the problem instead of letting you find your own; and [leaving] you with a wrong idea of what is interesting or pleasant or important to work on." All of this is excellent and worth reading, but what I really like is his closing paragraph:You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself -- it is too sad a way to be. Know your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly, not in terms of your naïve ideals of your own youth, nor in terms of what you erroneously imagine your teacher's ideals are.Feynman makes the virtue of judging oneself fairly sound obvious, and yet this letter rightly appears on a web site dedicated to "correspondence deserving of a wider audience." But that point isn't obvious: If it were, we'd have all gotten it within our educations and such a letter, from a widely-revered teacher, would never have been needed, much less deemed inspiring. -- CAVLink to Original
  17. Recently, I said of pandemic news, "t can be helpful to follow the odd contrarian." For similar reasons, it can be helpful to listen to a foreign voice with regard to American affairs. Enter Australian writer Xin Du, whose 1500-ish words in Spiked! take a look at the "systemic racism" claim of an organization whose name I can't agree with more, and whose ideas and methods I can't agree with less. I highly recommend its whole essay as a look at the real progress America has made in racial equality and a reality check on its current state of affairs. But I particularly liked the following part of Du's conclusion: Is there any to end? (Image by Clay Banks, via Unsplash, license.) In a debate on reparations, the late, great Christopher Hitchens defined racists not as those who discriminate, but precisely those who are unable to discriminate between individuals. Instead, the racist prefers to see individuals as groups, based on arbitrary markers like skin pigmentation. This is exactly what the so-called anti-racists are doing. They clump together all black people, and all white people. They then paint all black people as mendicant, and unable to forge their own way without the white people getting out of the way. Theirs is the soft bigotry of low expectations. [bold added] Du continues, although I think this applies more to the rank-and file than the leaders of this odious movement: The latest anti-racist [sic] lynching of America shows how much damage can be done by well-meaning people who follow narratives rather than facts, and who treasure feelings over truths. The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions. But back to the previous quote: This reminds me both of Ayn Rand's seminal essay on racism and Tyler Cowen's recent call for the piece to be "resuscitate[d]." Rand's money quote is quite similar to that, although it elaborates on important points: Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage -- the notion that a man's intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors. Racism claims that the content of a man's mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man's convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. This is the caveman's version of the doctrine of innate ideas -- or of inherited knowledge -- which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of animals, but not between animals and men. Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man's life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination. [bold added] It can be difficult, within America over the past few weeks, to maintain a sense of optimism about our country in general and racial equality in particular. I thank Xin Du for offering us the perspective of someone for whom there is psychological distance, and for reminding us of who we are at a time when tempers can cause us to forget. -- CAVLink to Original
  18. Today, I start only the second week in which I will have kid-free time on weekdays ... since early March. Yesterday, my home state of Florida set yet another record for new cases. With case numbers also rising in several other states, the specter of new or extended "lockdowns" raises its ugly head. Bearing that in mind, now might be a good time to consider (a) what lockdowns accomplished the first time around, and (b) what our government ought to have done with the time those months-long, "two week" lockdowns were initially supposed to have bought us. Regarding the first, physician-economist Joel Zinberg ends a statistical analysis at City Journal as follows: An old poster explaining contact tracing during an Ebola outbreak. (Image by the CDC, via Wikimedia, public domain.) The lockdowns led to wide unemployment and economic recession, resulting in increased drug and alcohol abuse and increases in domestic abuse and suicides. Most studies in a systematic literature review found a positive association between economic recession and increased suicides. Data from the 2008 Great Recession showed a strong positive correlation between increasing unemployment and increasing suicide in middle aged (45 -- 64) people. Ten times as many people texted a federal government disaster mental-distress hotline in April 2020 as in April 2019. As we consider how to deal with resurgent numbers of Covid cases, we must acknowledge that mitigation measures like shelter-in-place and lockdowns appear to have contributed to the death toll. The orders were issued by states and localities in late March; excess deaths peaked in the week ending April 11. Reopening began in mid-April, and by May 20 all states that had imposed orders started to lift restrictions. In June, as the economy continued reopening, excess deaths waned. Our focus must be on ensuring that the health-care system can simultaneously treat Covid-19 and other maladies and reassuring patients that it is safe to seek care. Otherwise, today's young physicians will have to start entering a new cause of death on death certificates -- "public policy." [links in original, bold added]Zinberg is on the right track with his observation that the government is worsening this epidemic, but he doesn't go quite far enough, since he's mainly writing a critical piece. The full scope of our government's folly becomes apparent only when we consider what it should be doing. And unfortunately, in addition to actively violating our rights with universal, indefinite, mass incarcerations, our governments have utterly failed to do what they could have and should have been doing regarding this disease from the start -- test, isolate, and track -- as Onkar Ghate and Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute put it in The Hill:Months of statewide lockdowns across the country were meant, in part, to buy time to ramp up testing and contact tracing with regard to the spread of COVID-19. Now, amid an upsurge of cases in Florida, Texas, Arizona and elsewhere, we still have nothing like a strategic approach to testing and tracing. ... With the ability to test, isolate and contact-trace at scale, the United States could have identified and quarantined many who are infectious, significantly slowing the spread of the virus as states loosened lockdowns. Instead, the virus goes uncontained and we face the prospect of rolling shutdowns to come. Imagine if the Army tried to fend off an invasion with a small fraction of the needed troops, antique weapons and no plan. That, in a nutshell, appears to be how our government is responding in the pandemic.Within, Ghate and Journo point to a white paper that outlines in detail what a proper government response would look like, and why -- in sharp contrast to the right, which often seems unwilling to acknowledge the severity of the epidemic and the left, which seems to think the pandemic will go away if we treat sick and well alike as prisoners for long enough. Our government is thus not only making this epidemic worse by locking down, it has failed to do what it can and ought to do by failing to test, isolate, and track active cases of infection. -- CAVLink to Original
  19. Four Things 1. In October, Boom will be unveiling a scaled prototype of its planned "Overture" fifty-seat, supersonic jetliner:Boom Supersonic is the only private supersonic company funded all the way through to flight test says chief executive Blake Scholl. Mr. Scholl told AirlineRatings in an exclusive interview at last year's Paris Air Show that there would be many thousands of test-flight hours for the XB-1. The prototype is a proof of concept before production of a full scale 50-seat supersonic airliner, to be called the "Overture". The timeline for the planned entry into airline service has now also slipped from the previously envisaged 2023-24 to between 2025 and 2027. [format edits]Japan Airlines is Boom's first major airline partner, and has an option for twenty of the jetliners. 2. Pinboard, my favorite bookmarking service -- which is also a one-man show -- is now eleven. On the occasion, its proprietor informs us of some behind-the-scenes maintenance and improvements in his usual entertaining style:Doing this on a live system is like performing kidney transplants on a playing mariachi band. The best case is that no one notices a change in the music; you chloroform the players one at a time and try to keep a steady hand while the band plays on. The worst case scenario is that the music stops and there is no way to unfix what you broke...Maciej Cegłowski notes that he will be adding a few new features soon. Fortunately, this is coming from someone who did not like what the once-simple Delicious became after its "upgrades." So this reads to me more like the promise of new functionality than the threat of bloat and broken workflows that the u-word so often means these days. 3. Speaking of bookmarks, here's a site I've tagged for later on when my kids are old enough: Progress Studies for Aspiring Young Scholars. The landing page for the guided self-study program reads in part:This program will explore: what problems, challenges and hardships in life and work were faced by people in earlier generations and centuries? And how did we solve those problems through science, technology, and invention? Learn about manufacturing from blacksmiths to assembly lines; about power from water wheels to combustion to electricity; about food from famine to industrial agriculture and genetically modified crops; about disease from basic sanitation to scientific medicine -- and the struggles and circumstances of the men and women who worked to bend the arc of humanity upward. Your learning will be supported by instructors who will help you develop your reasoning and research skills. You'll also have the chance to engage ideas with a community of like-minded peers.Most of our education system completely neglects instruction about the history entire idea of industrial and technological progress, so learning about this program is welcome news indeed. The current paid program, which is relatively inexpensive and has a manageable time commitment, is geared towards high-school students, but there are plans to develop a college-level version. In addition, content will be made available for free self-study later this summer. 4. When government limits and freedom from regulation collide, you get a physician who makes more from his side-hustle than from his profession: Image by Kyle Glenn, via Unsplash, license. He's just posted a video on how he uses Notion to organize his YouTube activities. That doesn't sound too exciting until you discover that he makes more from his Youtube videos than he does as a doctor. Although he describes his YouTube and other activities as a "side hustle," a case could be made that medicine is the real side hustle and that he's primarily a YouTuber. He's currently aiming at posting 3 videos a week and has a support team to edit the videos and perform other vaguely administrative chores. [links omitted]This interesting tidbit comes from a blog I check occasionally for productivity advice. In this case, the blogger's take-home, though, sounds quite a bit like something I already do. -- CAVLink to Original
  20. Amidst media hysteria over sharp rises in confirmed corona cases in Texas and Florida comes commentary by Matt Strauss. The Canadian physician and medical professor speaks of the deafening silence about Georgia -- which also dared defy respectable blue state opinion by reopening for business. Strauss's City Journal piece reads in part: Image by Victor Diaz Lamich, via Wikimedia Commons, license. On April 21, the Washington Post called Georgia "America's No. 1 Death Destination." On April 29, The Atlantic declared the state's early reopening an "Experiment in Human Sacrifice." On April 30, The New York Times was a bit stodgier, saying merely that Georgia had "Screwed Up." After two months, though, Georgia remains open, and its Covid death rate stands at 27.2 per 100,000 -- well below the U.S. average of 39.7 per 100,000, and eight times lower than the state of New Jersey. ... ... Absent an effective vaccine or transformative treatment, and given the economic devastation of long-term lockdowns, why not focus public-health efforts going forward on the vulnerable, and allow young healthy people to resume life, taking certain precautions? This is what Georgia has done. Governor Brian Kemp lifted the statewide lockdown on April 30 but ordered persons over 65 and the "medically fragile" to continue sheltering in place. This policy continued until June 11, when healthy elders were let out. Indeed, cases of Covid-19 have been increasing in Georgia since about June 11, with a rapid upward inflection of the curve coincident with ongoing Black Lives Matter street protests and increased testing capacity. If these new cases are found predominantly in young healthy people, or are a function of increased testing rates, we may hope that they will not yield an increase in daily Covid-19 deaths -- and bring the state closer to herd immunity. [links in original, bold added]As best as I can tell, Florida's governor has pursued similar policies to that of Georgia, and Florida's new cases are occurring primarily among a less at-risk age cohort. As I noted yesterday, time will tell whether Florida will look more like Georgia or New York, but my money is on the former, and I fully expect to hear absolutely nothing about it from our negligent-at-best news media. -- CAVLink to Original
  21. The American news consumer could be forgiven for thinking the guy who couldn't see the forest for the trees was in an enviable position. (Image by Zbysiu Rodak, via Unsplash, license.) In an age when it seems that every major media outlet, left or right, politicizes everything, it can be helpful to follow the odd contrarian -- in addition to hearing both "sides" and paying attention to experts, of course. Regarding the corona pandemic, which is neither the left's Armageddon nor the right's hoax, my favorite contrarian has been Michael Fumento, and he recently put out three new columns focusing on various aspects of media coverage of the epidemic. Of these, my personal favorite is the one linked above at three, which appeared a few days ago in Townhall Finance. It discusses the recent upsurge in cases, as well as some of the lurid coverage of complications alleged to be due to the new disease:We also saw lots of attention given to, as a Washington Post headline put it, "Young and middle-aged people, barely sick with covid-19 ... dying of strokes." Turns out it was essentially based on a study comprising five (5) people. A later wider analysis concluded (translated from Spanish) "Stroke does not appear to be a major manifestation of Covid-19... As testing has expanded from the clearly sick to persons with no symptoms, we're getting more headlines like: "Coronavirus is infecting more young people in their 20s and 30s... " Right. That's the way it works. And the game continues. Now the Florida Sun-Sentinel breathlessly informs us that two people who tested positive for COVID-19 have appendicitis. With "only" 250,000 Americans getting that disease annually and 2.3 million positive for coronavirus, it cannot possibly be sheer overlap. [links in original, format edits]Regarding that five-person study: Three of those had comorbidities that put them at risk of stroke. Fumento notes another couple of egregious cases of the media incorrectly attributing the deaths of young people to the disease. These are all helpful reminders of the poor quality of American journalism overall. That said, Fumento isn't flawless or completely objective. I've already dinged him for pooh-poohing models as such -- which FiveThirtyEight has since started making available for perusal. And regarding this last batch of articles, my main reservation is that his discussion of how lockdowns may or may not be effective is flawed in a similar way to his discussion of models. From the piece linked at column above, we have:And inevitably the media ignore rising testing in favor of the explanation they presumed from the start, as with "Alarming Rise in Coronavirus Cases as States Roll Back Lockdowns." It's merely synchronous. They were convinced through confirmation bias or whatever that lifting lockdowns would lead to increased cases and their bias has been seemingly confirmed. [link omitted, bold added]I oppose lockdowns (and agree with this editorial), but strongly suspect that they probably overall reduced transmission rates. One could more effectively critique coverage of the increased number of cases by conceding this point and noting that case number increases should lag the end of the lockdowns -- and note that the increased number of cases is, in many places, among a younger (and less at-risk) population and would likely have been missed altogether without the better testing availability we have now. And speaking of lagging indicators, hospitalizations and deaths from the localized outbreaks will be the proof in the pudding. I wouldn't feel entirely comfortable calling the "second wave" a "scam" (as Fumento does at column above) -- although I wouldn't call it a "second wave," either. I have reasons enough based on my age and family background to be concerned about this virus, and will be especially interested in seeing how the outbreak in my home state of Florida plays out. Whatever his faults, I am grateful to Michael Fumento for exposing some of the more ridiculous claims about this disease I keep hearing. In the meantime, I'll continue adding my own grains of salt to whatever I hear from him, the media, and even the experts -- many of whom really undermined their own credibility by changing their tune about social distancing the moment there came a left-wing cause masquerading as a call for racial equality. -- CAVLink to Original
  22. Image by The National Cancer Institute, via Unsplash, license. Over three months ago, government officials across the country started locking things down in a panicked response to the beginning of the corona epidemic. These lockdowns were sold to the public as a temporary measure to keep from overwhelming hospitals. But we all know where that went, as someone from Illinois quipped on Twitter: "Day 110 of 15 days to 'flatten the curve.'" This is bad enough, and I am glad that the good folks at the Ayn Rand Institute have argued in editorials and at length that a major part of preparing for the next pandemic will be defining the role of the government ahead of time. But the problem is much bigger than that: Our government has played the role of central planner for so long that nobody bats an eye anymore -- much less offers an alternative. Our educational system is a case in point and the epidemic has just given us a stark example. Ever since the early stages of the epidemic, the schools have been closed. Locally closing schools for a short time is a common method of dealing with disease outbreaks. But children do not appear to be as susceptible to this disease or as prone to spreading it as adults. Keeping the schools closed -- indefinitely and everywhere -- makes no sense as a policy: The government shouldn't continue such school closures as a means of controlling the epidemic. This question is complicated by the fact that our education sector is mostly socialized. Even with a proper policy regarding the epidemic, we have the government improperly running the schools, and so we have news stories like, "Florida Department of Education Orders Schools to Reopen to Students 5 Days a Week in August," and what a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution it is:Those requirements include ensuring services that are legally required for all students, such as low-income services, English language learning and accommodations for students with disabilities are all maintained next school year, the order states. That means that the only option for schools to not be physically open in August is if local Department of Health officials say schools cannot open, according to the emergency order. The order also means that school districts cannot schedule certain students to spend part of their time in school and part of their time at home, as educational leaders in several First Coast counties have indicated they are considering. Every student must have the option of being in school five days a week. [bold added]This might sound relatively harmless, and even flexible, in the sense that the order isn't forcing all the students -- say children whose parents are high risk or not convinced that children don't spread the disease -- to physically attend school. But it does override some slightly more flexible plans at the county level, such as the one my county has proposed that incorporates students being in classes part-time during periods of increased spread of the virus. The state plan removes that from the table, which would probably result in pressure on the county health department to close the schools completely during those times. So we have an order that sounds like it forces every public school student to attend class in a building in the fall, but doesn't -- and that sounds like it will keep schools in session, but probably won't. So, on top of the many crimes of a government-run education system, we now see what little creative thinking and flexibility there still was being quashed by top-down planning. Probably the strangest part of this "emergency order" is the following:The emergency order comes the same day President Donald Trump posted a tweet emphatically stating "SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!"The government shouldn't be running schools at all, nor should it be operating anything by decree. Interestingly, even though Trump's general sentiment happens to be right here, the wrongness of rule by force is on full display: This loyalty-signaling decree actually will make it more likely that schools will end up closed altogether in some parts of Florida, if the epidemic becomes unmanageable there. This is but icing on the cake. The real crime is that so many parents have been lured by price or forced by taxation into these schools, which were (and will) always be insulated from market forces and subject to the whim of bureaucrats. The fact that these same parents will be made less able to plan their time is a direct result of this centralized control and the lack of options caused by the existence of government schools in the first place. (It's hard to compete with "free.") Forcing all schools to open is not fundamentally different than forcing them all to close. The real solution is to free the schools to operate as best as the needs and judgement of the parents and students at each particular school indicate, along with the freedom enjoyed by paying customers in any other free industry to seek alternatives when they are not satisfied. -- CAV P.S. This reminds me of how conservative states deal with the question of labor unions. Rather than leave companies and employees free to unionize or not, they interfere with freedom of contract in the opposite direction, in the form of "right to work" laws. Link to Original
  23. Those who study the works of Ayn Rand will sooner or later become familiar with the idea of unit-economy, that is, of concepts enabling man's mind to increase its awareness of the world far beyond what it would be able to juggle at the perceptual level. Regarding the latter, Rand spoke of the "crow epistemology," a limitation in our ability to function at the perceptual level. Her student, Leonard Peikoff, puts it this way: Image by Jesse van Vliet, via Unsplash, license. This experiment illustrates a principle applicable to man's mind as well. Man too can deal with only a limited number of units. On the perceptual level, human beings are better than crows; we can distinguish and retain six or eight objects at a time, say -- speaking perceptually, i.e., assuming we see or hear the objects but do not count them. But there is a limit for us, too. After a certain figure -- when the objects approach a dozen, to say nothing of hundreds or thousands -- we too are unable to keep track and collapse into the crow's indeterminate "many." Our mental screen, so to speak, is limited; it can contain at any one time only so many data. Consciousness, any consciousness, is finite. A is A. Only a limited number of units can be discriminated from one another and held in the focus of awareness at a given time. Beyond this number, the content becomes an unretainable, indeterminate blur or spread, like this: ///////////////////////// For a consciousness to extend its grasp beyond a mere handful of concretes, therefore -- for it to be able to deal with an enormous totality, like all tables, or all men, or the universe as a whole -- one capacity is indispensable. It must have the capacity to compress its content, i.e., to economize the units required to convey that content. This is the basic function of concepts. Their function, in Ayn Rand's words, is "to reduce a vast amount of information to a minimal number of units ...." [bold added] (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff, p. 106)The above is easy enough to grasp with low-level concepts, such as table or chair or human being, but we can (and do) also abstract further from concepts (correctly formed or not):You have no choice about the necessity to integrate your observations, your experiences, your knowledge into abstract ideas, i.e., into principles. Your only choice is whether these principles are true or false, whether they represent your conscious, rational convictions -- or a grab-bag of notions snatched at random, whose sources, validity, context and consequences you do not know, notions which, more often than not, you would drop like a hot potato if you knew... You might say, as many people do, that it is not easy always to act on abstract principles. No, it is not easy. But how much harder is it, to have to act on them without knowing what they are? [bold added]Having briefly thought about how we form and why we need abstract ideas, it is a worthwhile exercise to consider the ideas of government in general (and police in particular) in light of recent events. Let's start with Ayn Rand's pithy, principled summary of what we saw in Seattle, which she foresaw decades ago:Anarchy, as a political concept, is a naive floating abstraction: ... a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into the chaos of gang warfare. But the possibility of human immorality is not the only objection to anarchy: even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government.[bold added]And now, let's hear an update on the very predictable results of our most recent experiment with anarchy, as told by a couple of journalists:[O]nce they created a police-free zone, they immediately had to deal with all those issues and more -- with only the donated time and supplies of fellow protesters, who still had day jobs. With police absent from the 6-square-block area, the experiment spun out of control, with accusations that it ended up causing exactly what it had aimed to stop: more violence against Black people. [bold added]If anarchism -- like socialism -- fails every time it is tried, why do people keep trying it? Because neither their proponents nor, frequently their would-be opponents -- who should have an advantage in any debate -- really know what government is or what it is for. And that is because they have failed to form valid principles for understanding how a society must be organized to be successful. (In addition, opponents who are absolutely correct may fail at persuasion for a variety of reasons.) It is worthwhile to consider this in light of something else Rand said about concepts:The formation of a concept provides man with the means of identifying, not only the concretes he has observed, but all the concretes of that kind which he may encounter in the future. Thus, when he has formed or grasped the concept "man," he does not have to regard every man he meets thereafter as a new phenomenon to be studied from scratch: he identifies him as "man" and applies to him the knowledge he has acquired about man (which leaves him free to study the particular, individual characteristics of the newcomer, i.e., the individual measurements within the categories established by the concept "man"). [italics in original, bold added](Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, by Ayn Rand, pp. 27-28)It is the same with concepts like society and government: Many people do not have these things properly conceptualized, and so do "study" such phenomena from scratch, essentially by trial-and-error. And so, where concepts would save an individual's mental capacity, they could also save an individual or a whole society time. (And, in this case, unnecessary bloodshed.) Rather than go straight to "tear down the system" (or "defund the police," whatever that's supposed to mean), a proper approach would be to consider what "the system" actually is, what part(s) of it we need and why, and how to reach what we need. Even in a case where a system needs tearing down, doing so is worthless without already having a positive alternative in mind. "History repeats itself," need not be a pronouncement of doom. It is only a description of what happens when, out of ignorance or poor thinking, individuals attempt to solve universal problems without recourse to universals. Our society needn't reinvent or rediscover the police or government. The knowledge is already there and there is a correct and productive way to think about the problems it addresses. And, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there are people out there who would be selfishly and gratefully receptive to learning more about both. -- CAVLink to Original
  24. Image by Jon Tyson, via Unsplash, license.Notable Commentary for May and June, Part II Continuing from last week... "What we need and what is realistically achievable is an approach to infectious disease that codifies into law the best aspects of what Taiwan, South Korea and Sweden have implemented." -- Onkar Ghate, in "A Pro-Freedom Approach to Infectious Disease: Preparing for the Next Pandemic" (PDF, white paper) at The Ayn Rand Institute. "One of the worst days of my career was the day I had to call this charming, intelligent, benevolent man, whose enthusiasm for teaching math and science to children bubbled out of him like water from a spring." -- Rebecca Girn, in "Keeping America Safe From ... Montessori Teachers?" at Medium. "Many people may not care, because they do not own bonds." -- Keith Weiner, in "Defaults are Coming" at SNB & CHF. "Under the proposed OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy] policy, if a copyrighted, peer-reviewed journal article reports on or discusses research that was funded with only one cent by a government grant, the journal article -- a product created with private, nongovernmental investments that is distinct from the underlying government-funded research -- must be made freely available online immediately upon publication." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Radical OSTP Proposal Would Undermine American Research and Sacrifice American Intellectual Property" (PDF, legal brief) at The Heritage Foundation. "Now people are being crucified for the actions and views of their relatives." -- Charlotte Cushman, in "Conformity Is the New God in Leftist-Run America" at The American Thinker. "Reporter Megan Moltini explains the training she received at a coronavirus contact tracing academy." -- Paul Hsieh, in "9 More Bizarre Consequences of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic" at Forbes. "Populism is where our money is being used to purchase our political allegiance by creating the illusion that government is the source of these benefits." -- Raymond Niles, in "Letter From a Populist" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "Have you (those of you who approve of Trump's threat against Twitter) thought about how the future president may use the new authority to censor that President Trump will have created for him, if he makes good on his threats against Twitter?" -- Raymond Niles, in "Free Speech Is Not Just Partisan Speech With Which You Agree" at The American Institute for Economic Research. "[ESG] is a tool used by radical egalitarians to control business decisions by good, profitable companies." -- Don Watkins, in "The ESG Myth" at Medium. "If we want thought leaders, we need to offer training that equips them for thought leadership -- and encourage the pursuit of for-profit models rather than the non-profit model that dominates our movement." -- Don Watkins, in "The Liberty Movement's Influence Model Is Broken" at Medium. -- CAVLink to Original
  25. Most commentary I hear regarding individual behavior that could but the brakes on the corona epidemic reminds me of the phrase a month of Sundays, for a variety of reasons. Alicia Sparks of Wise Geek explores the phrase in some detail, of which I find her opening paragraph the most relevant: Image by Kenny Luo, via Unsplash, license. The simplest definition of the idiom "a month of Sundays" is "a very long time," though like many sayings, it's possible to dissect this expression and find more literal meanings and cultural origins. For instance, a person might reference the literal idea of a month filled with Sundays, which would reference the time it takes for 30 or 31 Sundays to pass. He might use the saying to refer, directly or indirectly, to the religious and cultural connotations of having a month filled with Sundays or a time period of limited or unexciting activity. Some people use the saying when referring to an event that is impossible or unlikely to happen, just as a month will never be filled with only Sundays. Still, although it might not be universal, this idiomatic expression is widely accepted among many English-speaking cultures as one that means a particular event or time period is extremely long. [bold added]My complaint stems not from how we must all restructure our calculations of personal risk or from the need to change aspects of our routines that are due directly or indirectly from the virus. If a black bear were in my yard when I wanted to go out, I'd change those things for that circumstance, too, and without thinking of that phrase. I think of that phrase because the advice is almost always distorted by collectivistic thinking and couched in altruistic terms. I am to think, not so much of my own welfare, but of some number of hospital beds. And I am not to consider how something might affect my life or its quality so much as whether some random person continues his physical existence. Or -- worse -- whether somebody, somewhere, catches the virus at all. Here's a typical example: The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States will continue to "get worse before it gets better," but the situation might improve as clinicians gain a better understanding of how to treat the virus in the absence of a vaccine or a cure, experts said Tuesday. Seeing an improvement assumes the public renews its commitment to "basic" approaches to containing the spread of the virus, including social distancing and wearing face coverings in public, according to Dr. Mark McClellan, a physician and economist who directs the Margolis Center for Health Policy at Duke University. If the spread of the virus can be slowed, and the stress on the healthcare system caused by increasing numbers of seriously ill patients limited, the United States might be able to contain the outbreak within eight months, McClellan said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. [bold added, links omitted]From the beginning, the whole issue of facemasks has been muddled by collectivistic thinking necessitated by government controls of the free market, such as "anti-gouging" laws that caused shortages of face masks. So ... we were first told not to wear masks for selfless reasons, before we were told to wear them, again for selfless, unmotivating reasons. Each time, expert opinion has been cited, although as far as I can tell, it has been and remains divided on the question of how well they confer protection to the wearer. And this was all against the backdrop of the burdensome, damaging, and blatantly improper government decrees that enforced universal and indefinite detention within our homes. The latter have been partially lifted, giving us a restless public dying for freedom, but conditioned to act on guidance from above on the matter of the sickness and completely unpracticed at navigating life with this new risk in the background. And our only "guidance" is to do things to keep other people from getting sick? No wonder some people -- understandably! -- view mask-wearing with scorn, and even those who don't need to be reminded to wear them! If only selfishness, the long-range and thoughtful consideration of what is best for oneself -- weren't so stigmatized as to be beaten out of so many people from childhood on! For that very reason, most probably fail to see the contradiction -- or the connection -- between the assertions about the epidemic in the first and second paragraphs quoted above, for example. On the one hand, better treatments are already here and the prospects of a vaccine coming are pretty good. In that sense, it doesn't matter what people do to slow down the spread of the virus: The situation is improving. On the other hand, the first paragraph provides a great selfish argument to do exactly those things we are being commanded to as if they have nothing to do with our own lives: The longer we go without catching this crud, the more likely we are to get better treatment, or even avoid it altogether. A selfish person would keep an ear out for evidence about how the disease spreads and how severe it is likely to affect him and anyone he cares about. He'd now likely know to avoid crowds, prolonged close contact, and confined spaces. He'd know that the virus is transmitted mainly by droplets coming from the mouths and noses of other people. If he runs a business, he'd be concerned about harm to his reputation caused by people catching the disease on his premises -- and so take measures like requiring temperature checks or face coverings by his customers and employees. Likewise, the decision to wear a face mask or face shield would involve (a) a small measure of direct personal protection from larger droplets, (b) the ability to enter public establishments, (c) good will towards the at-risk, and (d) the knowledge that by cutting off transmission paths, including from himself, he keeps hospitals freer to treat anyone he cares about. I find that last much more inspiring than some floating abstraction about the number of ICU beds. And people would feel personally motivated in a way that those who use masks for superficial virtue-signaling can't and don't. Here's how I think about this and wish others would: The slower this disease spreads, the less likely it is to get me sick and, possibly, into a hospital. I want others to wear masks and will ask them to do so at appropriate times for real, personal reasons. Assuming a self-righteous tone or being rude -- like a virtue-signaler -- would understandably have the opposite effect than I desire: to provoke a careful, self-interested examination of how one confronts this epidemic. "Flatten the curve" successfully manipulated large numbers of people to drastically change their behavior in unnatural ways for a time. It might have bought the medical sector time to adjust for the epidemic, but it came at the cost of making the personal consequences of this epidemic less real. Rather than sacrificing our quality of life on the altar of the false gods of ICU beds and fashion, let us preserve our freedom and our lives by taking responsibility for keeping ourselves and those we love as safe from this illness as warranted by our own circumstances. Just as many religious people demonstrate by their actions that they do not take what they hear on Sunday seriously, so are many people reacting to the end of what they laughably call "quarantine." The epidemic is not over, but after our months of Sundays, lots of people are acting like it. -- CAVLink to Original
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