URLs du Jour


  • Happy Easter. A truly wonderful combination of beauty, cuteness, humor and (oh oh) impending bad news from Michael Ramirez.

    [Happy Easter, Kid. Also: sorry.]

    Happy Easter, kid. Also: sorry.

  • Could I Be Surprised by Joy? I'm a LINO (Lutheran in Name Only), still I was impressed with Joseph Loconte's telling of How C. S. Lewis Accepted Christianity.

    Shortly before he was admitted to Oxford University in 1916 to study English literature, C. S. Lewis, a recent convert to atheism, got into an argument with a friend about Christianity and its supernatural elements. His letters on the topic during this period reveal the spirit of the age: a disposition against religious belief. It has found many allies over the last century.

    Lewis chided his friend for not accepting “the recognized scientific account of the growth of religions.” The miraculous stories of the life of Jesus were “on exactly the same footing” as that of Adonis, Dionysius, Isis, and Loki. All religion, he wrote, was an attempt by primitive man to cope with the terrors of the natural world. Just so with Christianity: The story of the resurrection was a sublime retelling of ancient pagan myths about gods and goddesses who, by initiating the cycle of the seasons, represented the pattern of death and rebirth.

    And how's this for clickbait: you'll never guess who the friend was. And you'll never guess what happened next. Well, maybe you will. Or maybe you know already. Still, it's a pretty good story. And maybe I should start a C. S. Lewis reading project, for the benefit of my immortal soul.

  • Need Optimism? Ron Bailey's article from dead-trees Reason is out from behind the paywall: The Last Pandemic.

    "This will not be the last pandemic, nor the last global health emergency," declared WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a September 2020 report. A World in Disorder estimated that the world's governments had already spent $11 trillion (of often borrowed money) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far resulted in 115 million diagnosed cases and 2.6 million deaths.

    But take heart: There are good reasons to believe that the WHO director-general is wrong. The greatly speeded-up biomedical innovation provoked by the current global scourge has provided future generations with tools to keep subsequent viral invasions at bay. These include fast new vaccine production platforms, the development of better diagnostic and disease surveillance monitoring, and progress in the rapid design of therapeutics.

    Ron gives a suitable-for-laymen description of what happened vaccine-wise. And what might happen in the future. And isn't afraid to point fingers and name names at people (including himself) who got stuff wrong.

    If audio is more your thing, here is Ron's interview with Nick Gillespie.

  • You'd Think This Would Be a Given. Alden Abbott and Tracy C. Miller describe why Antitrust Law Should Focus on Consumer Welfare.

    Politicians and policy analysts have expressed concern about the growing size and impact of large digital-platform companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. Some are advocating more aggressive antitrust enforcement or major changes to the law. Although competition policy can be improved, promoting consumer welfare should continue to guide antitrust enforcement in the United States.

    Critics claim that antitrust law, which is intended to condemn business practices that undermine competition or maintain monopolies, is being neglected as competition weakens across the economy. They claim that the failure to enforce antitrust law allows unchecked abuses — not just by digital platforms, but by powerful firms in other market segments as well.

    The problem seems to be that antitrust law is written vaguely enough so that large companies find themselves with no clear notion of what business decisions may or may not turn out to be illegal. That determination is made, often years later, because of the whims and prejudices of whatever political faction is on top in D. C.

    But if we are going to have antitrust law, the "consumer welfare" standard is probably the best practical one. Abbott and Miller argue that it "has served consumers well". Certainly, whatever the likes of Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren cook up will be worse.

  • Pun Salad Will Link to Just About Anything With 'Gutless' in the Headline. Bari Weiss's substack hosts a guest essay by Peter Savodnik: America's True Believers and Their Gutless Enablers.

    The mountain of witches is piling up. At the top of the heap is Sharon Osbourne, the Captain Underpants guy, the Bachelor host, or whatever C-list celebrity failed to condemn “Gone with the Wind” on Instagram with sufficient fervor. But by the time you read this they’ll surely be eclipsed by another faux-outrage pieced together by the microaggression-hunters poring over old text messages or yellowing screen-shots of Halloween parties past.

    Most of these disappearances won’t matter much, because the disappeared are already known. Even if their contract isn’t renewed or their agent indignantly — and very publicly — cuts ties with them, they’ll be fine. They’ll resurface.

    The people who won’t are the countless, less visible who have lost jobs, lost businesses, lost reputations, lost friends. The schlubs. The cautionary tales. Those who have been cautioned, made to comply, squeezed into the Procrustean Bed of identitarian absolutism.

    The "True Believers" in Savodnik's essay are "the children of Park Slope and Echo Park with their graphic tattoos and nut allergies and an odd inability to form complete sentences." Bad as they are, they are children, in an emotional if not chronological sense.

    The "Enablers" are worse. The adults in the room who just want them to shut up and leave them alone. Will firing this assistant professor make them go away? Fine. So the true-believing mob gets appeased.

    Until next time.

  • While We're At It, Abolish Every Government Agency Beginning with 'F'. Katherine Mangu-Ward advocates that we Abolish the FDA.

    Last year, hashtag activists were ready to #AbolishICE, in part over the deaths of about 20 immigrants in custody in 2020. Protesters called on the government to "defund the police" over more than 1,000 killings by law enforcement during the same period. Those deaths are tragic, and many could have been prevented with better policy. But they pale in comparison to the blood on the hands of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the last 12 months.

    Faced with the challenge of COVID-19, the FDA screwed up on nearly every level. When the agency did do something right, it was almost always by making exceptions to its normal policies and procedures.

    How many people does the FDA have to kill before it goes away?

False Alarm

How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet

[Amazon Link]

I know the front cover says the author's name is "Bjorn Lomborg". I'm going with Bjørn, because my knowledge of how to deal with funny characters was hard-won. And still imperfect; so I need to practice when I can.

Lomborg has been lumped in with climate-change "skeptics". That's not really accurate; he thinks climate-change is real, due to our greenhouse gas emission, and likely to cause problems in the future. He has long been off the "alarmist" train, however (as long as we're slinging simplistic, semi-invidious labels around). He updates and extends his argument in this book.

I think he clarifies the argument quite a bit with an analogy in the introduction:

Imagine a similar discussion on traffic deaths. In the United States, forty thousand people die each year in car crashes. If politicians asked scientists how to limit the number of deaths to an almost impossible target of zero, one good answer would be to set the national speed limit to three miles per hour. Nobody would die. But science is not telling us that we must have a speed limit of three miles per hour—it only informs us that if we want zero dead, one simple way to achieve that is through a nationwide, heavily enforced three-mile-per-hour speed limit. Yet, it is a political decision for all of us, to make the trade-offs between low speed limits and a connected society.

That's an important, and very generalizable, observation about social risk management. The collective "we" have decided that 30K-40K annual deaths are worth it, in order to have a convenient, flexible, vehicle-based transportation system. Sounds more than a little cold-blooded when you put it that way, doesn't it? Yet it's true.

I think this applies a lot more generally, illuminating a number of public issues: the COVID-19 response, gun control, the war on drugs, and more. But Lomborg is talking about climate change, and we'll stick to that from here on out.

Lomborg argues that holding humanity to unrealistic climate goals is equally wrong-headed, even dangerous on net. Despite the doom-saying hoopla, of which there is no shortage, most actual scientific evidence says that climate change will be managable. Not without problems aplenty, mind you. But we would be far better off to have a richer world to deal with those issues. Instead of giving in to panic, totally shutting down the fossil-fuel economy, making us all poorer.

I said "making us all poorer" above, but that's not really accurate. Yes, most of us would be worse off, but in rich countries, we'd probably muddle through. But a successful fossil-fuel shutdown would really sock it to the poorer parts of the world, dooming them to (almost certainly) eternal deprivation and early death.

All the more reason why we need to come up with a panic-free realistic approach. Lomborg first advocates a carbon tax, one set optimally. Set too high, it will wreck the overall economy. Set too low, and it won't get much carbon reduction. Set juuust right, it will discourage low-hanging-fruit emissions and incentivize shifts to renewables while letting high-value fossil-fuel uses continue. That's why we have green-eyeshade economists: to play Goldilocks.

Realistically, the whole world won't go along. Lomborg realizes this, and discusses how that changes things.

In addition to a carbon tax, Lomborg recommends directed R&D on further innovation. That's tough, because innovation is notoriously unpredictable. But energy storage is a pretty vital thing we could (in theory) get a lot better at. (So we could save up the solar/wind energy abundant on sunny/windy days, and release it as needed.) Also: nuclear energy. And if there were some way to suck CO2 out of the air economically at scale, that would be pretty neat too.

But we should also bring thoughts to bear on adaptation. If we forget about chasing unattainable temperature-increase "goals", then we'll have a richer would in order to implement various methods of dealing with increased warmth. It's likely (for example) that flooding will increase; but flood control already works in rich countries, avoiding death and mitigating economic damage. It's not cheap, but probably worth it.

And then there's geoengineering: manipulating the environment on a macro scale to increase overall albedo. Lomborg examines the various schemes, and recommends that we keep those in our back pocket in case things get really bad.

But finally, Lomberg returns to the best tool for dealing with climate change: prosperity. We need to encourage worldwide economic growth through free trade (and, I'd add, free-market capitalism). That's the magic dust that will allow us to deal with climate problems as they occuur, and provide a cleaner environment overall.

If I had a quibble, it would be with Lomborg's (relative) optimism. I get that he's advocating a path forward, but it relies on many governments doing the "right" thing. Something they've so far shown minimal interest in doing on this issue. But maybe if enough movers and shakers read this book…