URLs du Jour

2020-04-08

Just a small comment before we get on to the normal stuff. I've been watching TV (probably too much) and a lot of big advertisers have decided to put Coronavirus-specific advertising. And you can always tell, because the music is similar.

It's like they fed the specs into a computer: "Something somber, yet hopeful. Sad, yet optimistic. Nothing memorable or even catchy."

So the most common thing I've noticed: slow, random piano chords. Maybe a violin in the background. I don't know what the technical term for this is, but I've been calling it "plinky-plink" music.

I know: this doesn't matter. But I'm kind of looking forward to not hearing it any more. That's when we'll know it's over.

  • Jacob Sullum explains How the CDC and the FDA Wrecked the Economy. Save it to show your grandkids!

    Public officials across the United States are flying blind against the COVID-19 epidemic. Because of a government-engineered testing fiasco, they do not know how fast the virus is spreading, how many people have been infected by it, how many will die as a result, or how many have developed immunity to it.

    The failure to implement early and wide testing, which was caused by a combination of short-sightedness, ineptitude, and bureaucratic intransigence, left politicians scrambling to avoid a hospital crisis by imposing broad business closure and stay-at-home orders. It foreclosed the possibility of a more proactive and targeted approach, focused on identifying carriers, tracing their contacts, and protecting the public through isolation and quarantines.

    I know we've said this before: Trump is ultimately responsible, the buck stops there, etc. But people overeager to score points against Bad Orange Man miss a good deal of the point about the serious malfunctions at all levels of government.


  • [Amazon Link]
    And don't get me started on "experts". Because Steven Hayward at Power Line already got started on Experts, Pseudo-Experts, and Other Progressive Conceits. And he did it better than I could.

    […] it is worth lingering for a moment on the fetish for expertise, which runs especially strong among progressives ever since Woodrow Wilson at least. No one is against specialized expertise as such. After all, when you want heart surgery or a complex legal transaction processed, you will naturally turn to an expert surgeon or lawyer. (Or auto mechanic if you need your car fixed, etc.) But as you move beyond this kind of common sense specialized expertise to a more general style of expertise as applied to complex social and political phenomena, the scene changes.

    The great examination of this issue is Philip Tetlock’s 2005 book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? The answer to his first subtitle—”How Good Is It?”—is, not very. In fact, rather terrible. He begins the book by pointing out the massive failure of nearly all the “experts” to foresee the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union. I could—in fact have, in my two Reagan books—go much further than Tetlock on this question, pointing out for example how bad the CIA’s analysis of the Soviet Union was right up to the very end. I don’t mean just off by 50 percent, but often completely wrong in the opposite direction. And yet liberals seemed shocked that the CIA didn’t have much of a handle on bin Laden or Iraq back in 2001 and 2002.

    Amazon link to the Tetlock book at right; I've added it to my UNH Library "get" list (Usual morbid disclaimer: "assuming the UNH Library opens up again before I die.")


  • Hey, kids! What time isn't it? At National Review, Veronique de Rugy has an answer: Energy Prices & Oil Market: Now Is Not the Time to Intervene.

    Prices move up and down depending on factors too numerous to count, including changes in input prices, consumer income, consumer and producer expectations, regulations, and other countries’ economic conditions. This fact means that prices are the result of millions of decisions made by countless individuals at each and every moment in time. In some cases, it is obvious why the price of something goes up or why it collapses. What is never obvious is how to reverse the price trend, precisely because any such trend is the product of decisions made in response to so many details dispersed across the globe. And so it’s never desirable for politicians to intervene and try to achieve what they think is the “right” price.

    And yet here we are again. Over at the Washington Post, Henry Olsen is urging President Trump to intervene in order to ‘correct’ — that is, to raise — the price of oil, which has fallen dramatically, in part as the result of a fight between Russia and Saudi Arabia, but also because of a sharp reduction of demand for gasoline around the world.

    Yes, as Veronique acknowledges, many are hurt by the low prices. But many are helped. And everyone gets hurt in the long run when government messes with prices.


  • And occasionally, the good folks at Wired slip up and publish an article seemingly free of leftist cant. Such is the case with Hilda Bastian who notes The Face Mask Debate Reveals a Scientific Double Standard.

    The recent back-and-forth debate—and policy reversal—over the use of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 reveals a glaring double standard. For some reason, we’ve been treating this one particular matter of public health differently. We don’t see op-eds that ask whether people really need to keep 6 feet away from each other on the street, as opposed to 3 feet, or that cast doubt on whether it’s such a good idea to promote bouts of handwashing that are 20 seconds long. But when it comes to covering our faces, a scholarly hyper-rigor has been applied. In recent weeks, experts have counseled caution—or rejected the use of masks by the general public outright—as they pleaded for better, more decisive evidence. Why?

    They’re right, of course, that the research literature on mask usage doesn’t provide definitive answers. There are no large-scale clinical trials proving that personal use of masks can prevent pandemic spread; and the ones that look at masks and influenza have produced equivocal results. But this smattering of evidence doesn’t tell us much, either way: The trials neither prove that masks are useful, nor that they’re dangerous or a waste of time. That’s because the studies have been both few in number and beset with methodological problems.

    A refreshing reminder that there's a lot of fumbling in the dark at all levels, all around the world.


  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang out for a New York Times article about comedian Eugene Mirman: He Made Brooklyn Comedy a Scene. But His Life Took a Different Turn. Interesting story, and here's the LFOD bit:

    Mirman’s own stand-up is infused with a warm and cheerful sense of the ridiculous, including satirical bits that sting instead of lash and stories using show-and-tell-style props. He has a prickly side, too, and some of his best-known stunts build on minor grievances, as when he took out a full-page newspaper ad venting ludicrous rage about a parking ticket in a New Hampshire town. The ad closed by turning the state’s motto (“Live Free or Die”) back at the town, saying drivers don’t even get “freedom to back into a spot.”

    Well of course that sent me Googling for more details about that. The "town" was Portsmouth, the ($15) ticket was for backing into a diagonal parking spot. The letter is pretty easy to find, and here is one site with it; as a bonus, the text of the letter is annotated for Brits, who are (probably understandably) a little miffed about LFOD's origins with Revolutionary War General Stark, who ate their lunch at Bunker Hill, Bennington, …

    Anyway, the LFOD (and PG-13 rated) part of Mirman's letter:

    Lastly, as you know, New Hampshire‘s state motto is General John Stark’s celebrated quote, “Live Free or Die,” which he famously said before attempting the first recorded self-BJ. If John Stark was alive today, he would be 287 years old — also, right after learning about cars, General Stark would then be disgusted to discover that Portsmouth doesn’t even give people the freedom to back into a spot—which by your own state’s twisted logic, turns my $15 ticket — into a fight to the death.

    Forget it, Eugene. It's Portsmouth.