URLs du Jour

2020-04-06

  • Our Getty image du jour is meant to illustrate our first item, from Roger Koppl at the Library of Economics and Liberty: Pandemics and the Problem of Expert Failure. It's part 3 of a (so far) three-essay series, and you may want to read the entire trilogy. But I'll quote this bit, mainly because it contains a subquote from my all-time favorite physicist:

    I think we have made our lives harder – and put them at greater risk – by trying to contain expertise in officially recognized boxes controlled by the very experts ensconced within them. I refer to the “expertists template” of certification, professional education, and continuing education that I described in my previous essay in this series. When expertise is organized into state-supported professional organizations such as the AMA, it tends to enforce orthodoxy. And that means less pliable, flexible, and adaptive thinking. It means less tinkering and more doctrine. Oops.

    The expertist template is premised on the view that knowledge is hierarchical. It starts at the top with science and cascades down to ever lower levels of the knowledge hierarchy. Mere practitioners must not question the knowledge elite. But questioning is precisely what we need in crises. In his essay, “What is Science?” Richard Feynman remarked “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” When we give experts power, including the power to decide who the experts are, we choke off science. The premise of a rigid hierarchy of knowers is mistaken. The knowledge we need in normal times and crisis times alike is distributed. It’s out there in thee and me and in all our habits practices and experience. It is not a set of instructions and doctrines coming from on high. It arises of its own from our many decentralized interactions. 

    [Amazon Link]
    And yet, if you're gonna listen to someone, you're better off listening to an epidemiologist than an Uber driver. As Alec Baldwin's character said didn't actually say in Glengarry Glen Ross: ABB—Always Be Bayesian.

    Koppl has a book on the subject, link at right, and I've put it into the Interlibrary Loan queue, optimistically assuming the libraries will reopen before I die.


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie notes an amusing similarity: Coronavirus Reveals Utter Sameness of Democrats and Republicans. "Amusing" in the sense that you have to laugh to avoid the alternative of utter despair. It's summed up by two tweets about Justin Amash, one from the Dems:

    And two from the Republicans, Amash's former party thirty minutes later:

    If you need a reason to never vote for another Republican, this is a pretty good one.


  • I know, I'm Confirming My Priors, but at AIER, John Tamny explains Why the Crisis Should Turn Everyone Into a Libertarian.

    Amid all the negativity of late, one bit of good news has come via the internet. In particular, Americans haven’t suffered slower internet speeds despite a reported uptick in home computer use related to work, along with the frenzied streaming of movies and documentaries on portals like Netflix.

    About all this, Farhad Manjoo ought to apologize to his readers. Back in 2017 he wrote a piece for the New York Times titled “Without Neutrality, Say So Long to the Internet.” Whoops!

    Funny about it is that readers can bet Manjoo is scribbling yet another misguided column from home as you’re reading this. He’ll file it on his WiFi-enabled computer with ease, before engaging in all manner of internet-based activity despite his downcast prediction from just a few years ago.

    Net Neutrality failed, and that's why I didn't post this and you're not reading this.


  • Theodore Darlymple makes another observation in today's general theme: Pandemics Are the Health of the State. An observation from France:

    A foretaste of the discussions and no doubt political disputes to come was published in the French left-wing newspaper, Libération, on the 27 March. The newspaper has come a long way in the direction of reason and moderation since its foundation by Sartre in his most Maoist days and is now a journal of the domesticated left. The article that caught my eye bore the headline “Covid-19: the return of the Welfare State?” It is by a Jesuit professor, Gaël Giraud, at one of France’s elite colleges.

    The following words are printed in red: “If there are French dying of coronavirus, it is because three decades of budgetary austerity have reduced the capacity of our public hospital service.” Most of the article is an attack on the bête noire of practically all French intellectuals, the so-called neoliberalism, that is to say the economic policies that have been followed (with variations) by all western countries in the last few decades.

    Darlymple observes that France's public expenditures are already 55% of their GDP. There is no level of "democratic socialism" that the socialists would not see a burning need to increase.


  • And Cato's Jeffrey Singer tells a tale of those beautiful white hospital Navy ships in New York and Los Angeles: An Epidemic of Red Tape.

    On March 30, the naval hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort arrived in New York harbor, with 1,000 hospital beds and 1.200 staff, ready to assist in the management of the epidemic which has taken a heavy toll on New York metropolitan area inhabitants. Yet, as of April 3, only 20 patients were being treated on the hospital ship. Three days earlier, the 1,000 bed U.S.N.S. Mercy arrived in Los Angeles, and as of April 2 treated 15 patients.

    Both hospital ships were intended to take on and treat patients who are not infected with COVID-19, which serves the dual purpose of sheltering such patients from contagious COVID-19 patients in metro area hospitals while freeing up space in those hospitals for more COVID-19 patients.

    Why so underutilized? The answer may, or may not, surprise you.

Harriet

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This is how I celebrate Black History Month, by watching Harriet two months afterward. I hope nobody reports me to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It's the story of Harriet Tubman, a slave dreadfully abused by her masters. (Like all slaves are, more or less.) Out of a mixture of bravery, desperation, and divine guidance, she escapes her Maryland farm and makes it over the Mason-Dixon Line to Pennsylvania, where abolitionists see that she gets a new job as a maid.

But she decides her true talents lie elsewhere, in helping her family escape as well. So she takes the risk of returning to Maryland to extract more slaves north. These forays are incredibly dangerous but nevertheless they work. Harriet gradually becomes infamous as a slave-stealer in Maryland, and becomes famous as a liberator among her new allies.

Some of the characters and many of the action scenes were (as it turns out) heavily fictionized. That's fine, It's also a darned fine advertisement for the Second Amendment, as Harriet is not shy about carrying and using the weaponry of the day.

The actress playing Harriet, Cynthia Erivo, was Oscar-nominated, but Renée Zellweger won.

Terminator: Dark Fate

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I had higher hopes for this. Story by James Cameron! The return of Linda Hamilton and Arnie! But, eh.

Those old tricky time-travel paradoxes are in force here. We are invited to ignore the last three Terminator movies, apparently because they sucked at the box office. In this timeline, John Connor doesn't make it through the opening scene, because yet another T-800 (Schwarzenegger model) blows him away in front of his mother, Sarah.

There's some mumbling about how the timelines work, but the bottom line is that the preferred method of evil-AI warfare is still to send advanced Terminators back in time to prevent the future leaders of the AI resistance from existing. And, what are you gonna do, the resistance sends back an intrepid soldier to prevent that. What ensues is a lot of CGI-assisted mayhem. Much of it (I won't lie) is impressive.

And there are some funny lines. But this one sucked at the box office too, so maybe we can Move On. (Or maybe there will be a movie about how James Cameron went back in time to write a better movie. That one, I'd watch.)