URLs du Jour

2020-03-28

[Amazon Link]

  • At the Josiah Bartlett Center, the question is asked: How many New England governors really issued "stay home" orders? And answered:

    Here’s a surprise. In New England, only the Republican governors of New Hampshire and Vermont have issued COVID-19 executive orders that direct all individuals to stay home unless otherwise allowed to go out.

    JBC goes on to note that New Hampshire's "order" has piles of exceptions. As noted yesterday, including florists.


  • In his column, Jonah Goldberg says Pandemics Are a Terrible Time for a Frivolous Spending Spree. And he's right!

    During the debate over the economic rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instance of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

    If you want to convince normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a surefire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

    As with past crises, Jonah notes, "a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway."

    Also see: the Patriot Act, way back when.


  • At National Review, David Harsanyi has shocking news: Political Media Are Failing America.

    Here are some of the public figures and institutions that Americans hold in higher esteem than the media according to Gallup:

    • Hospitals
    • Their child’s school and daycare centers
    • State governments
    • Their employer
    • CDC and NIH
    • Mike Pence
    • Donald Trump
    • Congress

    Only one institution that Gallup asked about, the media, had negative approval rating — sitting 19 points behind its archenemy Donald Trump. And there are likely many other people and places that the public has more trust in than journalists.

    I'll go against the grain somewhat and opine that my local TV station and the Wall Street Journal have been pretty good. But I haven't bothered with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, …


  • At Reason, Paul Detrick: The Coronavirus Testing Debacle Stems From Decades of Bad FDA Policy. One example:

    Take the case of Alex Greninger, a doctor and researcher at the University of Washington, who, according to a report in GQ, submitted his application to create a coronavirus test via email. Then he learned that he also needed to submit a paper copy, and then another version burned to a compact disk or loaded onto a drive and delivered to the FDA's Maryland headquarters.

    After he complied, the FDA did not approve his test right away, according to a report in ProPublica. They asked him to make sure his test didn't cross-diagnose with SARS and MERS, other coronaviruses which hadn't been seen in the U.S. in years. His test was finally certified on February 29, at which point the fatal outbreak in his home state of Washington was already underway. 

    As the crisis worsened and the testing shortage drew headlines, the FDA simplified the process. But then on March 20, it shut down efforts to rapidly make available at-home testing kits on the grounds that they were unvetted and could be fraudulent.

    As they say, the country's in the very best of hands.


  • And the Google LFOD News Alert rang for Matt Simon: Coronavirus threatens medical cannabis program, endangers patients. Specifically, those who use it to alleviate pain, manage nausea from chemotherapy, etc.

    Patients living in neighboring states are much more fortunate in this regard than those in New Hampshire. Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine all allow dispensaries to deliver medical cannabis to patients, and they also allow individuals to grow their own plants at home.

    Sadly, patients in New Hampshire do not have either of those alternatives. Here, patients’ only in-state option is to drive or send a designated caregiver to one of five dispensary locations. And home cultivation, which is now legal for adults in all three neighboring states, remains a felony for patients in the “Live Free or Die” state.

    How about it, Governor Sununu? As long as you're issuing decrees…

URLs du Jour

2020-03-27

  • The Club For Growth emits its 2019 Scorecards for last year's votes by Senators and Congresscritters.

    Club for Growth’s annual Congressional Scorecard tracks how members of Congress vote on economic legislation. Each year the Club for Growth issues Key Vote Alerts urging Representatives and Senators to vote in favor of economic policies that strengthen our nation’s economy and against legislation that would raise taxes, increase harmful regulations, and grow our already massive government. At the end of the year, the Club for Growth Foundation conducts a study of how members of Congress voted on key issues, including the Club’s Key Vote Alerts, and ascribes a score.

    The CfG has taken on a more partisan cast, unfortunately. Despite their claim to track "economic legislation", it seems they put the Trump impeachment votes on the scoreboard. Whether you think impeachment was a good idea or not, it's hard to cast it as an economic vote.

    And, since both NH senators and my congresscritter are Democrats, they got lousy scores.


  • So my Governor, Chris Sununu, stepped up his Covid-19 game, issuing a "stay-at-home order" for the Granite State. You can Read The Whole PDF here. It's pretty porous. I'm still allowed to walk my dog, for example. Anywhere I want, except Hampton Beach is off limits, social distancing guidelines must be obeyed, etc. At Inside Sources, Michael Graham has some fun asking us to Meet New Hampshire's 'Essential' Workers.

    Who’s ‘essential?’ Doctors and nurses certainly are, and first responders, too. Grocery stores have to stay open and vital supplies must be trucked across America’s highways.

    And then, of course, there are the florists.

    When New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced his state was going on stay-at-home lockdown, he issued a list of ‘essential’ jobs and services exempted from the no-go order. Among them: “Workers supporting…florists, and farm stands.” Is a bouquet of roses and a loaf of farm-fresh bread an ‘essential’ service? It is in New Hampshire.

    Not to mention a freshly dry-cleaned shirt.

    I'm slightly inconvenienced by the closure of the UNH Library, my primary source for "serious" non-fiction. (The Portsmouth Public Library, my primary source for everything else, closed back on 3/16.)

    I'll live. I hope.


  • Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the latest nonsense, namely Washington’s Counterproductive Attack on Stock Buybacks.

    Back in 2013, I joked that “you get bipartisanship when the Stupid Party and the Evil Party both agree on something.”

    That generally means bad outcomes, with the TARP bailout being a prime illustration.

    We now have another example since many Republicans and Democrats want to restrict – or even ban – companies from buying shares from owners (i.e., company shareholders).

    If you're weak on what stock buybacks are, Dan has links to more information, mostly describing the awfulness resulting from politicians substituting their own judgment for that of business owners and managers.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson accurately skewers pundits and pols who see dead people market failure everywhere. Coronavirus Face-Mask Shortage: Failure of Planning, Not Economics. (Current headline: 'More Cowbell'.)

    For Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other comrades in the socialist vanguard of the Democratic Party, the coronavirus epidemic proves that the world needs socialism. For admirers of Western European universal health-care systems, the outbreak proves the need for the United States to build a Western European universal health-care system. (Like Italy’s?) For Joe Biden, the plague proves that the world needs Joe Biden. It is pretty easy to imagine Joe Biden demanding “More cowbell!” but that is what every political opportunist is saying right now. Like climate change or that infinitely plastic thing known as “national security,” the coronavirus epidemic is a policy palimpsest that political entrepreneurs will be writing over forever, or at least until something more convenient comes along. We know how that story goes, because we have heard it so many times before: Al-Qaeda flies airplanes into a building and Arianna Huffington gets to tell you what kind of car to drive.

    Kevin has a good rundown of the actual producers of facemasks and what they've been up to.


  • At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf detects Two Kinds of Pandemic Failures. Current headline: "The Government Is Failing by Doing Too Little, and Too Much". Is it too much to ask for Goldilocks Government—just right?

    The United States is performing more poorly than it should in the present crisis, even apart from the actions and rhetoric of President Trump, for at least two distinct reasons: underinvestment in public-health infrastructure and unduly onerous government regulations.

    That first category of error has received far more attention. To cite one example of many: the Bush administration noted in its “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza,” released in 2005, that if an infectious disease spread across the nation, federal officials planned “to distribute medical countermeasures ... from the Strategic National Stockpile and other distribution centers to federal, state and local authorities.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the Strategic National Stockpile shipped out roughly 100 million N95 masks to protect doctors and nurses during the 2009 swine-flu epidemic, prompting a task force to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to replenish the supply.

    I'm pretty libertarian, but maintaining public health in the face of pandemic is pretty high up on even my short list of "Valid Government Functions". But even less libertarian folks should wonder: if the government is so bad at this, why should we expect them to do better on more complex and subtle tasks?

Motherless Brooklyn

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A pretty good movie. Edward Norton wrote it for the screen (adapting a Jonathan Lethem novel), directed, and stars. A cynical take: he's thinking Oscars! Unfortunately, it got zero Oscar nominations (but one Golden Globe nomination). Don't know what happened there. Maybe it was too long. (Two hours, twenty-four minutes.)

It's set in 1950s New York, and Norton plays Lionel Essrog, who works for an investigatory firm headed by his father-figure mentor, Frank (Bruce Willis). Unfortunately, Frank keeps Lionel and his co-investigators mostly in the dark on a job that gets him seriously killed. Lionel and the rest of the crew try to find out what Frank was working on, and bring his killers to justice.

Lionel has Tourette's Syndrome, which causes him to blurt out uncontrollable streams of words at unpredictable times. This bothers people a lot less than you might think. Pretty soon, he's made connections to New York's major development guru, Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a thinly-disguised Robert Moses. Opposing Moses is a plucky activist, Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones), an equally thinly-diguised Jane Jacobs. But also in the mix is Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who unexpectedly becomes a love interest.

Well, it's long and the mystery's solution is pretty sordid. Alec Baldwin is well-known these days for doing a one-note Trump impression on Saturday Night Live, and I'm pretty sure some of that leaks into his performance here, where Moses talks about his, um, liaison with a woman decades past.

The period details are pretty amazing: lots of old cars and storefronts. And a resurrected Penn Station.

The American Dream Is Not Dead

(But Populism Could Kill It)

[Amazon Link]

This short book by (168 print pages, including end matter) was published in late February. It's by economist Michael R. Strain, who works for the American Enterprise Institute. I got the Kindle version for a mere $7.49, link at right. It's a quick read, very accessible.

Consumer note: some of the book's graphs rely on color. If your primary Kindle reading device is monochrome…

Strain's thesis is simple, set out right there in the title; he sets out to debunk the various doomsayers on left and right who claim that the American Dream is … well, if not dead, then seriously unwell. We're simply not doing that badly. Strain is no Pollyanna, setting out various challenges that the US is not meeting well. But he trots out some pretty convincing statistics showing that typical workers have been enjoying modest income gains over the past thirty years or so. He uses the "personal consumption expenditures" price index to account for inflation, as opposed to the more popular Consumer Price Index, arguably a more accurate choice.

Strain also looks at mobility, very relevant to the dream. He looks briefly at "relative" mobility—e.g., how likely is it that a kid growing up in a bottom-income-quintile family will move into a higher quintile? But he makes a good point about relative mobility as judged by income quintiles or some other N percent fraction of the income spectrum: when somebody moves up, someone else has to move down.

So he prefers absolute mobility, and the results are pretty cheery there. Most American men (about 59%) earn more than their fathers did at the same age. And about 80% of sons from the bottom 20% of income out-earn their fathers.

The numbers could be better. But we won't make them better (Strain goes on to argue) by various populist nostrums proposed by left and right: protectionism, industrial policy, punitive taxes on the successful.

Strain's book does something interesting by including rebuttals: one from the left (E. J. Dionne) and one from the right (Henry Olson). And then a final response to these critics—author's privilege—from Strain.

Even though it's a short book, I've left some stuff unmentioned here. It's very accessible and (to my mind) convincing.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-26

  • It's not all bad. Some things have become more obvious. Like, as Eric Boehm points out at Reason, Most Politicians Are Disingenuous Opportunists. The Coronavirus Outbreak Only Makes That More Obvious. Trump, of course. Sen. Richard Burr (R–N.C.) fer sure. But also:

    With millions of Americans out of work and the country facing the prospect of a recession unlike any in recorded history, Congress got to work on a stimulus package that was supposed to tide workers over until the virus passed and the economy reopened. Partisan disagreement sank a Senate coronavirus bailout bill on Monday, so Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) rode to the rescue with a $2.5 trillion spending plan that included such pandemic essentials as $35 million in funding for a performing arts center in Washington, D.C., new rules requiring more diversity on corporate boards, and new emissions requirements for airplanes.

    Pelosi withdrew that proposal on Tuesday afternoon. But the $2 trillion spending bill that appears ready to pass the Senate on Wednesday contains a few questionable provisions of its own, like codifying regulations that limit arbitration agreements, a huge giveaway to trial lawyers.

    Yup, can't wait to be stimulated. I only hope Netflix keeps sending us DVDs.


  • It's late Thursday afternoon as I type, so I'd better point you to The Tuesday from Kevin D. Williamson. And it's mostly not about Covid-19.

    Here is some news that may not exactly rock conservative circles: Several versions of the Toyota Prius hybrid automobile have been discontinued, and there are rumors that Toyota is considering the discontinuation of the model as a whole. Prius sales have been in decline for some time — down by 23 percent in 2018 — and the 2020 facelift may not be enough to revive the O.G. mass-market hybrid, first sold in 1997.

    The Prius is one of those cultural totems — right up there with Birkenstocks, organic kale, and yoga classes — that conservatives associate with a certain especially obnoxious brand of well-heeled consumerist progressivism. In Texas, where I live, you don’t need a “Beto for Senate” bumper sticker on your Prius: “Prius” may as well be Latin for “Beto for Senate.” (The hardcore true believers in my very lefty neighborhood still have “Beto for Senate” signs in their yards, not “Beto for President” signs. These political hipsters were into Beto before he went mainstream.) You can recite the litany of abuse: “Prius-drivin’, soy-latte-drinkin’, Sanders-votin’ wastes of space.”

    I share the contempt for Robert Francis O’Rourke. But the Prius is a work of genius, a genuine landmark, and, almost inevitably, a victim of its own success: The Prius has been so successful that its hybrid technology has been mainstreamed. The Prius C will be replaced by an updated version of the . . . Toyota Corolla, a car that has been with us since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. There are hybrid models up and down the lineups of Toyota and Honda and other economy-minded marques, but also available from makers ranging from Jaguar to BMW to Porsche, which offered a monster hybrid supercar at a price of just under $1 million as well as hybrid versions of many of its less exotic vehicles. A great many things are up in the air right now for American businesses, but Ford is even planning to introduce a hybrid version of the F-150 — the anti-Prius — using those electric motors to increase its torque and towing capacity.

    And there's more, so get on over there. Prius, we hardly knew ye.


  • Back to the Coronavirus: At Commentary, Christine Rosen notes: Public Anxiety over COVID-19 Will Increase Without Straight Talk, brought to us via the Google LFOD News Alert:

    As state and local governments enforce “shelter in place” edicts and President Donald Trump publicly mulls how long people should halt all non-essential activities, it is worth revisiting what we know about authority, responsibility, and obedience in times of crisis. Are we the country of “Live Free or Die” and “Don’t Tread on Me,” or are we able to temporarily suspend essential liberties to accommodate restrictions on our behavior for the common good?

    False choice, Christine. (And how do suspend an essential liberty, anyway?) Everything beyond the first two paragaphs is paywalled, and … eh, that's OK. If someone looks, let me know how it goes.


  • Sensible Sally Satel wonders at the Dispatch: Amid Coronavirus, What Are the Risks to Vapers?

    Does coronavirus present an incremental risk to people who vape? The notion is by no means irrational. While the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes contains vastly fewer toxins and carcinogens than cigarette smoke and those present exist at much lower levels, vapor is not comparable to fresh air. 

    However, early media coverage seems to be trending toward the kind of distortion that we saw with the vaping “epidemic” last fall. At that time, the frightening rash of lung disease and deaths were not due to commercial nicotine vaping products, as was alleged for months, but rather to contaminated THC.

    Consider the headlines now. “Doctors Say Vaping Could Make Coronavirus Worse for Young People,” warned a headline in the New York Post last weekend. A Morning Joe health column written by two physicians echoed the threat, “Vaping: One of the Best Ways to Trash Your Lungs and Maybe Die if you Catch Coronavirus.” Even the surgeon general weighed in on the Today Show on Monday, saying that, “we don’t know if [vaping] is the only cause” among younger people who are stricken with COVID-19.

    Sally recommends Snus, if you must.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-25

  • Brendan O'Neil looks at The luxury of apocalypticism at Spiked Online:

    People’s refusal to panic has been a great source of frustration for the establishment in recent years. ‘The planet is burning’, they lie, in relation to climate change, and yet we do not weep or wail or even pay very much attention. ‘I want you to panic’, instructs the newest mouthpiece of green apocalypticism, Greta Thunberg, and yet most of us refuse to do so. A No Deal Brexit would unleash economic mayhem, racist pogroms and even a pandemic of super-gonorrhoea, they squealed, incessantly, like millenarian preachers balking at the imminent arrival of the lightning bolt of final judgement, and yet we didn’t flinch. We went to work. We went home. We still supported Brexit.

    Our skittish elites have been so baffled, infuriated in fact, by our calm response to their hysterical warnings that they have invented pathologies to explain our unacceptable behaviour. The therapeutic language of ‘denialism’ is used to explain the masses’ refusal to fret over climate change. Environmentalists write articles on ‘the psychology of climate-change denial’, on ‘the self-deception and mass denial’ coursing through this society that refuses to flatter or engage with the hysteria of the eco-elites. Likewise, the refusal of voters to succumb to the dire, hollow warnings of the ferociously anti-Brexit wing of the establishment was interpreted by self-styled experts as a psychological disorder. ‘[This is] people taking action for essentially psychological reasons, irrespective of the economic cost’, said one professor.

    Unfortunately for me, the local elite is … Mrs. Salad, who's pretty freaked out. And is not particularly happy with my refusal to panic.


  • Kevin D. Williamson, writing at National Review is a born editor, and is not enamored of one current cliché. Coronavirus Response: ‘Is The Cure Worse than the Disease’ Question Unanswerable. (NRPlus article)

    Jonah Goldberg wrote a book arguing that we live in part under a “tyranny of clichés,” and one of the most shopworn of clichés — “The cure is worse than the disease” — is at the moment at the forefront of our public discourse. Millions of lives and untold trillions in wealth and income may be saved — or lost — as the result of public policies shaped by that cliché.

    In the matter of the coronavirus epidemic and our response to it, the question “Is the cure worse than the disease?” is almost useless, because it asks us to judge one discrete thing we know against a half-dozen critical things we do not know.

    I refer you back to yesterday's post with a link to the distinction between risk and uncertainty.


  • Some site maintenance is resurrecting old articles at the Law & Liberty site, and here's one from about a month ago, from James C. Capretta: Market-Driven Health Care Is Worth the Effort

    The alternative to Medicare for All is a market-driven health system, but, at the moment, it has few champions. Republicans in Congress and officials in the Trump administration will fight “socialized medicine” in its many forms, but they show little appetite for advancing policies that would move decisively in a less governmental direction.

    Their reticence, though regrettable, is understandable. An unavoidable lesson from other high-income countries is that voters like government-run health care. Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh off of securing a substantial majority in the U.K’s December election, has stated that his number one priority is securing more funding for the National Health Service (NHS). Voters see personal autonomy and responsibility as non-negotiable on most matters, but when it comes to their health needs, they want others—mainly their physicians—to make the majority of decisions for them, and the government to take care of the bills.

    I get the psychology, believe me. Nobody wants to "need" medical care that they can't afford. Better to imagine that, whatever ills befall, the government (or "insurance") will provide appropriate care, no questions asked.


  • At the Federalist, Chrissy Clark looks at recent history: Hypocritical Media Downplays Wuhan Virus For Weeks, Then Critiques Fox News For Shifting 'Rhetoric'.

    Mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Vox, have criticized Fox News for allegedly promulgating lies about the severity of the widespread Wuhan virus. But their critiques land with a thud, as these same outlets also played a role in in downplaying the crisis.

    On Monday’s edition of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” host Tucker Carlson showcased the mainstream media’s inability to hold themselves accountable for initially pushing a relaxed narrative about the coronavirus in late January and early February.

    Chrissy accumulates evidence from Vox, CNN, the NYT, and the WaPo to bolster her contention. It's pretty damning.

    Was there a major media outlet, politician, or health organization that got this precisely right? Finger-pointing is easy, why be selective?


  • And Power Line notes the evolution of the online NYT headlines for the same article: Our Garbage Media in One Story. No excerpt, just check it out.


  • And our local freaks at Free Keene caused the knelling of our Google LFOD News Alert. They're upset about our Gov: As Governor Bans Assembling Over Ten People, Nobody to Lead Gathering at NH State House on April 1st at 2pm! ("Nobody" in this case refers to an actual person that's going by that monicker.)

    On his official campaign blog, ElectNobody.com, Nobody announced the civil disobedience event and reminded people where the state’s supposed motto came from: “Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils.” – General John Stark. Before last week, New Hampshire was not a free state, but now all illusions of freedom have been completely wiped away and it’s become all-out tyranny. Something must be done. It’s time to stand up for the freedom to assemble.

    Well, fine. I'll be here. Let me know how that works out.

The Second Life of Nick Mason

[Amazon Link]

This book really has some big guns writing laudatory blurbs: Harlen Coben (front cover), Steven King, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Don Winslow (back cover). Makes you wonder what the author, Steve Hamilton, has on those guys.

But never mind that. Mr. Hamilton takes a break here from his series character Alex McKnight, and tells the story of (surprise) Nick Mason. As the book opens, Nick's getting out of the high-security United States Penitentiary Terre Haute, where he was serving a long sentence. Which has been overturned. Yay, right?

Wrong. Because the release was arranged by a powerful Chicago crime boss, Darius Cole, who sees Nick as sort of a ninja he can groom to be a warrior for his continued dominance over the city's organized crime scene. All Nick really wants to do is reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter, live some sort of straight life. But Darius demands loyalty and obedience, which involves Nick perpetrating some more crimes. And trying not to get caught or killed.

It's a convoluted tale of criminals and dirty cops. A page-turner, no question. But the whole sub-genre of "guy gets out of jail only to get involved in a lot of violent mayhem" is pretty well-travelled. (Remember Jim Thompson's The Getaway? 1959.)

If I had a further quibble, it would be overuse of the f-word, which seems to be Mr. Hamilton's way of indicating that his dialog and the characters' inner monologues are gritty and realistic.

Broken Harbor

[Amazon Link]

This is the fourth entry in Tana French's "Dublin Murder Squad" series. The protagonist narrator here is Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, a supporting character in the previous book, Faithful Place.

Mick makes it clear from the get-go that he's nobody's sweetheart. He's all about the job, corralling the perps, being the best detective on the squad. He's got no patience for fools, and he thinks just about everyone is a fool. For a new and horrific case, he takes on a new partner, Richie. Not because he'd like to show the youngster the ropes and act as a benevolent mentor; instead, he thinks that the youngster will be easier to browbeat into doing things Mick's way.

But the case really is horrifying. "Broken Harbor" is the old name for a new real estate development on Ireland's east coast, and it's only partially finished because the developers have gone bust. But one of the finished houses has been the scene of a gruesome attack, leaving a dead husband, two dead kids, and a wife in intensive care. And there's some really weird shit at the crime scene, involving a lot of baby monitors, holes punched in the walls, an open attic hatch with wire mesh over the opening.

As the case develops, it turns out Mick (unfortunately) has Broken Harbor history that shook his own family, and threatens his ability to deal with the present situation. As has been the case with the previous books in the series, the story is not just about solving the case, but also the psychic damage that the solution wreaks on the participants.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-24

[Amazon Link]

  • Probably-paywalled commentary from Allison Schrager in the WSJ: Risk, Uncertainty and Coronavirus.

    The government response to the coronavirus pandemic has seemed chaotic—underreaction one minute, piling on restrictions the next. It has left many wondering whether anyone is weighing the trade-offs. Do heavy-handed measures carry the benefits to justify the considerable costs? The uncomfortable answer: We don’t know.

    The novel coronavirus appears at first to be a problem of risk management. It is a dangerous disease that threatens the lives of our neighbors and loved ones. Our response—increased social distancing, shutting down businesses—is aimed at reducing that risk. But the problem isn’t risk so much as uncertainty.

    The difference is important. Risk is a measurable quantity and can be managed. Uncertainty means you just don't know enough about the situation.

    The distinction is lost on politicians.


  • I respect the argument Sally Satel makes at National Review: Trump's ‘China Virus’ Coronavirus Phrase -- Needlessly Antagonistic.

    But over the last few weeks, politicians and the media have taken heat for missteps in terminology, particularly since Trump seemed most strongly to insist upon calling it the “Chinese virus” in the wake of China’s “putting out information, which was false, that our military gave [the virus] to them,” as he put it.

    The remedy is easy, critics say: Just call it coronavirus. They’re right. In fact, the profession has been trying to take identity out of diagnosis for a long time. Calling it the Chinese virus goes against a humanizing trend.

    Pissing people off isn't going to get us back to normal any faster. Obvs. Ms. Satel goes through a lot of examples, among them the move away from (for example) calling a patient "schizophrenic", and toward calling him “someone with schizophrenia.”

    Fine. But it seems like another example of the "euphemism treadmill". It will only be a short while before we're looking for even gentler language to designate a problem.


  • Virginia Postrel proposes something sensible: Coronavirus Testing Should Be Random, Not Celebrity-First.

    When something is in short supply, getting it can depend on who you know. That’s true of the coronavirus test, with an added twist.

    A striking number of rich and famous people, from basketball star Kevin Durant to Senator Rand Paul, have tested positive for Covid-19 without showing symptoms of the disease, let alone being hospitalized. That’s led to charges of unfair access. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio criticized Durant’s team, the Brooklyn Nets, for testing its players. “An entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested,” he said on Twitter. “Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”

    Virginia has a long history of reasonableness. Must have been that stint as Reason editor.


  • Unexpected announcement from Robert Tracinski at the Bulwark: We're All Libertarians Now.

    In a moment of crisis, people like to assert a sense of control, no matter how illusory, by reverting to well-worn habits. In the case of COVID-19, that means using it as a vessel for whatever political hobbyhorses they had before the pandemic. So it’s no surprise to see the headline, “There Are No Libertarians in an Epidemic.” By “libertarians,” the author means advocates of small government and individual liberty.

    This talking point has since been taken up by others in a more technically accurate form: there are no libertarians in a pandemic. The idea is that when a crisis hits, everyone suddenly realizes how much they need Big Government.

    This is a bizarre argument to make about a virus that got a foothold partly because of the corrupt and tyrannical policies of a communist government in China. The outbreak is currently at its worst in Italy, where socialized medicine has not turned out to be a panacea. And it was allowed to get out of control in America because the feds imposed an incompetent government monopoly on COVID-19 testing, blocking the use of better and faster tests developed by private companies.

    Agreed. And finally:


  • I can't help but chuckle at a Tweet from Rand Simberg:

    I went to Walmart for their 6am Senior Hour this morning. I'm pretty sure everyone was wearing pants. Although I'm not sure I would have noticed if someone wasn't.

URLs du Jour

2020-03-23

  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie may be on to something: We Will Regret Not Taking the Economic Effects of Mass Quarantine More Seriously.

    It won't be popular to call attention to the possiblity that such actions might be an overreaction. But it's a serious point, even if that sentiment has no hopes of carrying the day. The federal government botched the early response to coronavirus, so why should we expect it to get its act together now? Whenever we are finally clear of this pandemic, we will need to study our response to understand what we did right and what we did wrong. With a virtually complete halt of the American economy about to begin, we should enter this phase with full awareness that it wasn't the only choice available to us.

    On Friday in The New York Times, David L. Katz of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center outlined in no uncertain terms what is known about the effects of coronavirus and its likely spread among older and sickly Americans. He pointed out that the death rate on the Diamond Princess cruise ship—"that insular and uniformly exposed population"—is roughly 1 percent. Similar or smaller numbers are observed in countries such as China, Taiwain, Singapore, and South Korea, where the rate of new infections is declining, signaling that infection is at least temporarily under control. As a medical professional, Katz in no way scants public health concerns. But he is also

    deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life—schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned—will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself. The stock market will bounce back in time, but many businesses never will. The unemployment, impoverishment and despair likely to result will be public health scourges of the first order.

    I'm no epidemiologist, but I know what panic looks like, and I know that it rarely … oh, heck, never … results in good rational decisions.

    We'll muddle through. We always do. But my guess is that the next few years will be much rougher than they should have been, and the "lessons learned" will be minimal, because it will be in nobody's partisan interest to look back in honesty about how foolish everyone is behaving.


  • At Power Line (a few days ago), John Hinderaker offered the results of what must have been a pretty fierce competition: The Day’s Dumbest Comment….

    comes from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who issued an order yesterday shutting down all “non-essential” businesses in the state. Of course, pretty much all businesses are essential to those who own them and work for them. But that isn’t what Cuomo meant:

    “I want to be able to say to the people of New York — I did everything we could do,” Cuomo said. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

    This is profoundly stupid. When you are dealing with the lives of millions of people, everything you do–or don’t do–has consequences. When you drive thousands of businesses into bankruptcy, people die. When you unemploy millions of people, some of them die. When tens of millions live in more straitened circumstances, some of them die. There is robust social science research on this point. Shutting down New York’s “nonessential” businesses will kill. How many, we will never know. So Cuomo won’t have to take responsibility for his ill-advised action. And, of course, millions of lives will be blighted even when no one dies.

    One can only hope that the politicians will be held accountable, but if history is any guide, they will not be.


  • David Harsanyi is another lonely voice of sanity: Coronavirus Pandemic Doesn’t Discredit Small-Government Conservatism.

    There are no libertarians during a pandemic, they tell me. Everyone is a Keynesian these days, apparently. It’s not just socialism that leads to shortages and empty shelves, fans of socialism point out. (They neglect to mention that, unlike the grocery shelves in socialistic nations, ours will be restocked as soon as the worst passes — and probably sooner.)

    Yet the coronavirus crisis has only strengthened my belief in limited-government conservatism — classical liberalism, libertarianism, whatever you want to call it. Years of government spending and expanding regulation have done nothing to make us safer during this emergency; in fact, our profligate spending during years of prosperity has probably constrained our ability to borrow now.

    Yes, unforeseen existential threats to America sometimes require extraordinary temporary measures that would normally be considered terrible policy. Asking most of the United States to self-quarantine during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic makes some sense, but asking 350 million people to self-quarantine when there’s no unique health risk would be ruinous, not to mention utterly insane. Perhaps sending Americans $1000 government-stimulus checks, instituting temporary sick- and family-leave pay as an emergency measure to keep families afloat, and bailing out our hardest-hit industries makes some sense, too, but not all ideas are equally beneficial in all situations.

    This pandemic also shows us that government does far too much of what it shouldn’t, and is far too incompetent at doing what it should.

    As noted above, neither Republicans nor Democrats are in any mood to make that point. That would make it difficult to maintain the narrative that they are saviors of America


  • Steven Landsburg wonders: Is It A Crime to Stop the Economy? He hosts a small essay by Romans Pancs:

    It is a crime against humanity for governments to stop a capitalist economy. It is a crime against those whom the economic recession will hit the hardest: those employed in the informal sector, those working hourly customer service jobs (e.g., cleaners, hairdressers, masseurs, music teachers, and waiters), the young, the old who may not have the luxury of another year on the planet to sit out this year (and then the subsequent recession) instead of living. It is a crime against those (e.g., teachers and cinema ushers) whose jobs will be replaced by technology a little faster than they had been preparing for. It is a crime against the old in whose name the society that they spent decades building is being dismantled, and in whose name the children and the grandchildren they spent lifetimes nourishing are subjected to discretionary deprivation. Most importantly, it is a crime against the values of Western democracies: commitment to freedoms, which transcend national borders, and commitment to economic prosperity as a solution to the many ills that had been plaguing civilisations for millennia.

    Pancs makes a provocative and subtle argument. I fear he's right.


  • Ah, but let's look at a stupid argument that has nothing to do with the Kung Flu. Wired hosts one from Gilad Edelman: Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising?

    Let’s pretend it really happened. Imagine Congress passed a law tomorrow morning that banned companies from doing any ad microtargeting whatsoever. Close your eyes and picture what life would be like if the leading business model of the internet were banished from existence. How would things be different?

    Many of the changes would be subtle. You could buy a pair of shoes on Amazon without Reebok ads following you for months. Perhaps you’d see some listings that you didn’t see before, for jobs or real estate. That’s especially likely if you’re African-American, or a woman, or a member of another disadvantaged group. You might come to understand that microtargeting had supercharged advertisers’ ability to discriminate, even when they weren't trying to.

    Gilad is pretty cavalier about trashing the business models of a host of companies simply because he doesn't like seeing Reebok ads.


Last Modified 2020-03-23 2:50 PM EDT