1,451 thoughts on “Open Thread 150.75

  1. Purplehermann

    Hi, thoughts on osteopathy for injuries taking a long time to heal? Physical therapy hasn’t helped much.

    Osteopathy looks like it is either quackery or a highly qualified professional from the internet, thoughts?

    1. Iago the Yerfdog

      I’m curious if you actually expect anyone here to have, or anyways admit to having, a positive opinion on this.

      1. albatross11

        The way I understand it, many doctors in the US are DOs instead of MDs, and they generally have the same kind of medical school education as MDs, do residencies, pass board exams, etc. There are also osteopaths who actually try to do some weird bone-manipulation-alternative-medicine thing, rather than just doing standard medicine but having a different set of letters after their names.

        1. Purplehermann

          Do the DOs who aren’t quacks have any particular extra knowledge on joints, tendons etc or are the quacks the only ones claiming that expertise?

      2. Purplehermann

        Iago this didn’t look like an obvious case of homeopathy/essential oils, ie a bunch of people feeling that things work vs science.

        I wasn’t sure if osteopathy was part of the “magic” crowd or just an honest to goodness doctor specialized in bones/joints/muscles.

        1. SamChevre

          No, osteopaths (technically, Doctors of Osteopathy–D.O.) are medical doctors, with the same training and ability to practice medicine as an M.D. (My family doctor when I was a child was a D.O.) They tend to have a bit more training in bones/joints/tendons and general wellness and a bit less in biochemistry, but they are eligible for the same residencies.

  2. Deiseach

    A good news story from the coronavirus outbreak in Ireland – 82 year old man has recovered from it.

    It mentions that he’s a veteran of the Siege of Jadotville, see the Wikipedia article here.

    My father served as part of Irish U.N. troops in the Congo and Cyprus; he never spoke much about times there (he seems to have liked Cyprus a lot more) and of course by the time I was old enough to take an intelligent interest in such matters, I wasn’t particularly interested in military affairs and like many other things, it’s only when it’s too late to ask people about them that you then regret never talking about it.

    But the Irish forces were not particularly well-equipped or supplied (my father did regale us with some anecdotes about how the American soldiers were perceived as living in luxury by comparison), so holding out as they did at Jadotville was impressive. I did get the impression that my father wasn’t too impressed by the Belgians (one story he did tell us was of being sent as part of a guard, or some other reason his group were living in the house, of a Belgian; my father used to play traditional Irish music on the accordion so he was playing this at nights and eventually the guy snapped and yelled at him to stop that “diddly-diddly music”) but did like the natives, for whatever that’s worth.

    He does seem to have preferred his service in Cyprus – no stories of being shot at there, just of driving around the periphery of the island in the night time on unfenced and unlit roads where the cliffs fell off sheer to the side, talking to the Greek interpreter/guide/whatever he was with him about Irish and Greek music and how it sounded similar to my father as sean-nós singing 🙂

    1. Robin

      And the thirst! Oooooh, the thirst!
      (Sorry, could not resist… I don’t mean to belittle what your father went through)

      1. Deiseach

        No, laughing about it is the best response. I think he probably had something equivalent to PTSD after the Congo, but naturally at the time (early 60s and indeed until quite recently) there was nothing in the Irish army to even contemplate, much less set up to treat, such a thing so he (and others) were pretty much left to get on with it.

        Anyway, that’s all in the past!

        Now, think you are bored stuck at home with the lock-down? The Taoiseach is so bored that, even while in discussions about trying to form the next government, he’s doing a nixer with the HSE! 😀

  3. 4thwaywastrel

    I’ve noticed there’s a part of me that goes ‘ahhhh, you scamps’ when exposed to suspect alt right thinking. Where I’m much more negative on an equivalent level of leftist malfeasance. Am I alone in this? Is it actually fine to have higher standards of political actors you’re more sympathetic to? Do people on the right experience this?

    1. toastengineer

      I think it’s just a question of how actually threatening the subject group is. The alt-right is funny, not scary, because they’re not very good at actually accomplishing stuff outside of the Internet (yet.) The left is scary, not funny, because they really can hurt you.

      1. Conrad Honcho

        Yeah, putting up “It’s Okay to Be White” signs on campus is cheeky scamp stuff. Instituting university policy that they will prefer accepting black instead of white students with equal scores or eject men accused of rape without anything resembling due process or a fair hearing is not so funny.

        1. albatross11

          Contrast with the subset of the right that wants to bathe Iran in nuclear fire. That group sometimes gets significant power, and so is harder to joke about…

          1. Matt M

            And yet, the amount of times they’ve successfully bathed Iran in nuclear fire (or even small arms fire, for that matter) is zero.

            Whereas, the amount of times the left has successfully instituted anti-white entrance policies and expelled students on flimsy sexual assault justifications numbers in the hundreds, at least.

            Edit: Also worth noting that the “go to war with Iran” people are very much neocon establishment and not at all “alt right.”

          2. albatross11

            They haven’t yet gotten us into a shooting war with Iran, but they’ve sure gotten us into plenty of shooting wars over the last couple decades. Though to be clear: the alt-right (to the extent I can untangle that term) mostly opposes that stuff.

      2. edmundgennings

        Also the alt right seem to much more embrace humor and use it. This might be because of their marginal position in society and their youth.
        I may disagree with the ultimate political goals of putting up posters around town that say “Islam is right about women.” But people doing so and causing a bunch of outrage about how this is so offensive without explaining why is just funny in a way in which leftist activism rarely is. The alt right is in a position where they can make statements that the dominant cultural powers can neither say is right nor can they say that it is wrong and they use it.

    2. Randy M

      I suspect different people will have different ideas of the central example of alt-right thinking, some of which will definitely get labeled much more harshly than “scamp.” It’s not a very precisely defined term.
      I don’t know if by ‘suspect’ you mean intellectually sloppy motivated reasoning, or attempts at deception, or what.
      I think it’s understandable for non-mainstream right people to be cagey about their true beliefs given overactive pattern matching on the part of the volunteer thought police, but on the other hand I wouldn’t give them any more slack for actual deception or falsehood.

    3. DavidFriedman

      Is it actually fine to have higher standards of political actors you’re more sympathetic to?

      For one thing, you are probably more able to evaluate the arguments of those close to you. For another, someone on your side making bad arguments is driving away smart people who might otherwise support your position. Someone on the other side making bad arguments is helping you.

      So far as actions rather than argument, someone on your side doing bad things makes you feel in part guilty. Someone on the other side doing bad things — that’s what the other side does, and provides additional evidence for your side.

      1. DinoNerd

        [oops – this should have been a response to the OP, not to your response]

        When it comes to statements, I’m more intolerant of idiotic opinions among my allies. E.g. currently some collection of wingnuts in the UK has decided that Covid-19 is caused by 5G cell phone signals, or made worse by them, and some of those people are burning down cell phone towers in response.

        On the one hand, when I heard of this I immediately pictured these yobs as data-hating right wingers. But on the other hand, if they proved to be data-hating (or simply intellectually deficient) left wingers, I’d be much more upset about it. When (members of) my outgroup act stupid and destructive, they are doing what I expect; when (members of) my ingroup do the same, they both reflect badly on me and leave me feeling like I have no ingroup at all.

        FWIW, I have no data about the political affiliations of either the arsonists or their fellow believers. I hope they remain insignificant and their pet theory doesn’t spread to other counries.

    4. meh

      The far right lies in advancement of their goals, while the far left lies to the determent of their (stated) goals. This makes the far right detestable but rational given their beliefs, and makes the far left seem frustratingly psychotic.

      1. JayT

        Can you give an example of this? Because I feel like I see the same type of lying from both sides.

        1. albatross11

          I’m not really clear on what alt-right means–is that Tucker Carlson, Steve Sailer, Razib Khan, Charles Murray, Jared Taylor, Richard Spencer? There’s a *very* wide range of beliefs there.

          I’d rather engage individually with interesting thinkers rather than worry overmuch about labels, TBH. I don’t have to decide what team jersey Interfluidity puts on to notice that he’s often got interesting things to say. Likewise for Razib Khan, Scott Alexander, Sam Harris, Paul Graham, Freddie DeBoer, etc.

          As best I can tell, those guys are all pretty good about honestly expressing what they believe to be true. None seem to be fans of social truth trumping real truth, or of propagating noble lies, or whatever. They are often off-message, which is good because the need to stay on-message is also a need to shade the truth or your actual beliefs.

      2. Spookykou

        I think this speaks more to your perspective than the internal beliefs of either group, FWIW I assume both lie to advance their goals.

    5. bullseye

      It’s common and perfectly natural to have double standards. That doesn’t mean it’s good. Screw all the liars; as far as I’m concerned lying to promote your views is an admission that your views are based on, at best, sloppy thinking.

  4. johan_larson

    If you’re looking for a film to watch this weekend, consider “Their Finest”. Here’s the summary from IMDB:

    During the London Blitz of World War II, Catrin Cole is recruited by the British Ministry of Information to write scripts for propaganda films that the public will actually watch without scoffing. In the line of her new duties, Cole investigates the story of two young women who supposedly piloted a boat in the Dunkirk Evacuation. Although it proved a complete misapprehension, the story becomes the basis for a fictional film with some possible appeal. As Cole labors to write the script with her new colleagues such as Tom Buckley, veteran actor Ambrose Hilliard must accept that his days as a leading man are over as he joins the project. Together, this disparate trio must struggle against such complications such as sexism against Cole, jealous relatives, and political interference in their artistic decisions even as London endures the bombs of the enemy. In the face of those challenges, they share a hope to contribute something meaningful in this time of war and in their own lives.

    The film is based on an earlier novel with a far better title, “Their Finest Hour and a Half”. The film came and went in 2016 without much notice. It was made for a mere 10M euro, and I suspect the marketing budget was a buck fifty. But it’s now available on Netflix and well worth your time.

      1. johan_larson

        It only takes a working week to watch all three films in the extended editions with all the alternate soundtracks.

      2. metacelsus

        I recently finished watching these with my GF (it was her first time seeing them and she really enjoyed it)

      3. acymetric

        I don’t think I’ve ever been enough of a fan of the LotR movies to want to watch extended editions. I already felt like I was going to walk out to a world flying cars and jetpacks by the time I was done sitting through the regular theatrical release of Return of the King in the theater.

        1. JayT

          That was probably the worst theater experience I’ve ever had, it kind of made me hate the other two movies, even though I had really enjoyed them. I couldn’t imagine trying to sit through the extended version.

    1. Tarpitz

      Happily seconding this. Very fine little movie, with a cracking central performance from the widely underrated Gemma Arterton.

    2. Doctor Mist

      This sounds good. Do you mean streaming on Netflix, or on DVD from Netflix? I don’t find it on the former and we terminated the latter a while ago. I do see it on Amazon, currently for $1.99, which I can probably afford.

  5. Wrong Species

    You would think now, in these circumstances, people would think in less partisan terms than normal but they don’t. 90% of Americans are only able to conceive of politics in terms of what Trump has tweeted about. I don’t know how he manages to put a spell on people like this but Jesus Christ, I’m getting sick of it. Have any of you ever managed to convince anyone that Trump’s twitter feed is not the center of the world?

    1. Machine Interface

      Today I rewatched Dawn of the Dead (the original). One of the themes in the movie is how the zombie problem is getting out of control because society is unable to take action in a concerted manner. A scene notably features an exasperated expert on television, lamenting that “this isn’t about Republicans and Democrats anymore!”

      This movie was made in 1978.

    2. Edward Scizorhands

      When shit hits the fan, it’s much easier to find someone to blame than to deal with the shit all over the room.

      1. albatross11

        This is especially true when at every level of government, there are people who have utterly shit the bed, and who need to somehow find someone, *anyone*, other than themselves to take the blame.

        This is an old game, right? Every elite failure in my adult lifetime has devolved into partisan battles, probably because that’s what most of the talking heads understand. But there’s a deeper and sadder reason. We’re like some tribe somewhere who depends on the chief and the head witch doctor to know how to appease the gods and assuage the spirits and ensure good harvest and avert plagues and locusts and storms. And when that doesn’t happen, because the chiefs and witch doctors don’t really have any idea how to do those things, we depose the chief and the witch doctor and put in new ones. And of course, they can’t appease the gods any better than the last bunch, but hey, when they fail, we can just depose *them*, too.

        But of course, this doesn’t help much. It doesn’t matter which chimpanzee you put into the cockpit of an A-380–none of them can possibly fly the damned thing.

          1. HeelBearCub

            Interesting point of view from Cowen.

            The libertarian vice is to assume that the quality of government is fixed. The libertarian also argues that the quality of government is typically low, and this is usually the bone of contention, but that is not the point I wish to consider. Often that dispute is a red herring.

            I’ll take exception to a couple of the ideas here, because I don’t think it is a red-herring that libertarians view the quality of government as definitionally low. I think the view of the quality of government as fixed comes primarily from the view that government is bad by definition.

            Regardless, I think the view that government cannot be improved, and therefore any attempts to reduce the effectiveness of government are necessarily good, leads us to great extent where we are today.

            The libertarian wants to improve the quality of the engine (of government) by throwing sand into the dirty oil. Ya know, to clean the oil.

          2. albatross11

            If you think the government is usually lousy (because of internal incentives or the public-goods problem of voting or just because it attracts the wrong sorts), this pretty naturally leads to wanting to give it less power and resources, and trust in private/individual responses to most problems more than government responses.

          3. Paul Zrimsek

            If there’s a general perception that government is not doing well in fact, I doubt that it has much to do with the views of a fringe ideology about whether or not it’s capable of doing well in theory.

          4. JayT

            Regardless, I think the view that government cannot be improved, and therefore any attempts to reduce the effectiveness of government are necessarily good, leads us to great extent where we are today.

            Any attempts to “improve” the effectiveness of the government by the two parties undoubtedly involves making more government, and there’s that old adage “the best way to get out of a hole is to stop digging”. So, most things the libertarians support naturally shrink the government.

            Libertarians have backed policies that did make the government more effective and not necessarily much smaller (abolition of the draft, welfare reform), it’s just that those opportunities don’t actually show up very often, because it almost always goes against the interests of the people in power.

          5. salvorhardin

            There are plenty of libertarians who specifically want to improve government by narrowing its scope, on the theory that it’s inherently hard and requires unusual, limited-resource focus and effort for government to do anything well, so therefore we should restrict it to the few things we most need it for (i.e. providing true public goods, which definitely include pandemic prevention and mitigation) so it will do those less badly than if it had a broader scope. I would cite Ilya Somin as an example of this view.

          6. matthewravery

            @Paul Zrimsek

            If there’s a general perception that government is not doing well in fact, I doubt that it has much to do with the views of a fringe ideology about whether or not it’s capable of doing well in theory.

            “Starve the beast” has been a mantra of Republicans since the time of Nixon. It isn’t just libertarians that hold the view. It was the throughline of Republican domestic policy from the 80s through Paul Ryan’s speakership.

            Quoth Grover Norquist:

            I just want to shrink [the Federal government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub

          7. JayT

            End of Nixon to the start of Trump is when the libertarian wing of the Republican party was at its strongest. Most of the guys wanting to starve the beast were pretty heavily influenced by libertarians.

          8. DavidFriedman

            End of Nixon to the start of Trump is when the libertarian wing of the Republican party was at its strongest.

            Republicans often used libertarian
            rhetoric, but from the beginning of Nixon’s term to the beginning of Trump’s, real federal expenditure more than tripled, which doesn’t look as though the beast got starved.

          9. JayT

            Well, I didn’t say they were the majority or effective!

            It seems to me that the Republican party, aside for a few holdouts, aren’t even looking at spending as a bad thing any more. So even though the libertarians were fairly weak in the party at that time, they at least had some of their talking points on the table, and got some things passed (free trade, abolition of the draft). I don’t really see that any more.

          10. baconbits9

            End of Nixon to the start of Trump is when the libertarian wing of the Republican party was at its strongest. Most of the guys wanting to starve the beast were pretty heavily influenced by libertarians.

            This is very misleading. Goldwater was the presidential nominee in 1964, the Nixon through current era is characterized by the Republican party moving away from libertarian positions and the libertarians becoming less influential, not more.

          11. JayT

            You could definitely put the start at Goldwater, but I feel like he was a bit of a false start. Nixon was very not libertarian, so that’s why I put the start at the end of him. That’s when Goldwater’s policies seemed to really get ahold of the Republican establishment.

          12. Paul Zrimsek

            And there you go. The core project of the libertarians ended up having approximately zero effect on the course of events– so if this side point they made along the way, about the ineffectiveness of government, has (as we’re told) swept all before it, there’s reason to suspect that the cause was something other than the persuasiveness of libertarians.

          13. baconbits9

            Goldwater was the high water mark for libertarians, you see the growth of the libertarian wing/libertarian party because the influence of libertarian philosophy was waning. Prior to Nixon you could just say you were a Republican and have it understood what some of your preferences were, after Nixon you had to say ‘libertarian leaning’ before ‘Republican’ because just ‘Republican’ was starting to mean something significantly different. You get sub-groups as power wanes fairly frequently, as a split becomes more and more likely.

          14. DavidFriedman

            Prior to Nixon you could just say you were a Republican and have it understood what some of your preferences were, after Nixon you had to say ‘libertarian leaning’ before ‘Republican’ because just ‘Republican’ was starting to mean something significantly different.

            I can’t speak to the Republican context, but among conservatives in the early sixties it was common to distinguish between libertarian and traditionalist.

        1. Buttle

          @albatross, Apologies for deliberately missing your point, which is a good one, but I have seized upon a shiny linguistic thing. Open thread, right?

          Specifically, I have always understood “shit the bed” as a euphemism (or maybe a cacophemism) for “died”. Learned it from a nurse, who spoke from experience. I’m curious about how many use “shit the bed” to mean “cocked up”.

          1. HeelBearCub

            That sounds like a nurse specific thing (because it’s definitely one thing that happens frequently in death).

            I’ve never heard it to mean anything other than “screwed up”. Although, I’ve never thought to wonder at its derivation.

          2. acymetric

            I’ve never heard it used that way (and I live with a nurse who has ICU and Cardiac post-op experience, so plenty of opportunity for dying patients). I’ve always seen it used to mean “screwed up royally” or a stronger version of “choked under pressure”. Used when people fail and fail hard (or unexpectedly, like screwing up something that should have been a slam dunk).

          3. Doctor Mist

            Interesting. My feeling is that I’ve pretty much always heard it as the latter. The Online Slang Dictionary mostly agrees, though it does include “to die” after several variations of “to cock up”.

            On the other hand, I’ve heard “died” used similarly: “I really died on that test”.

            The earliest reference I could find via Google Ngrams was ambiguous, in the novel Zomburbia (who knew zombies were a thing that long ago?):

            My plan to save the world from the zombie hordes was going to shit the bed if the US. military didn’t get on the stick.

            ETA: No, wait, what the hell? The next line is

            This situation was so massively screwed it demanded that I update my Facebook status.

            Ngrams says 1949, and in fact Amazon says 1949.

            Also, I thought Amazon usually had a button I could use to report inaccurate product information…

            We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast.

          4. Paul Zrimsek

            Not necessarily a person dying. When I’ve heard it, it’s usually referred to some piece of equipment conking out.

          5. Buttle

            Thanks all for the responses — it seems that albatross’s usage is considered mainstream, my experience notwithstanding. The thing is that wetting the bed is something I think all of us probably recall, if only from very early childhood, but literally shitting the bed, once through with diapers, is really quite unusual.

    3. Conrad Honcho

      I can’t even do that on SSC. Three years after Scott wrote “You Are Still Crying Wolf.” You think that’s possible for the rest of the world?

      1. broblawsky

        To be fair, “You Are Still Crying Wolf” is about whether Trump is (unusually) racist. That question is settled in most people’s minds. Then the debate turned to whether he’s a criminal, and now it’s about whether he’s competent enough to handle the current situation. These are all distinct questions.

        1. Matt M

          These are all distinct questions.

          In theory they are.

          In reality, the correlation between believing Trump is a racist, and Trump is a criminal, and Trump is incompetent (or not) is probably something like 0.99.

          1. matthewravery

            I don’t think that’s true. There’s plenty of folks that have nuanced views of the President. For example, ~20% of people who voted for Trump think some tweets of his were racist. 64% of voters believe Trump committed crimes before he was in office but only 45% believe he committed crimes while in office.

            Perhaps you were deliberately exaggerating for effect, but I think the distinction is important. Partisianship in this country is high and has been on an upward trajectory the past 10-20 years, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s locked in. That’s why things like Obama-Trump voters exist.

            Among high information (read: people who watch cable news and), you might be right, but for the general public, I don’t think it’s nearly that high.

          2. Spookykou

            I think believe is creating some of the confusion here, criminal as applied to Trump is a pretty fuzzy term, a lot of people are not thinking he secretly murders people, they are assuming some sort of white collar tax evasion fraud type of crime. Racism is also notoriously fuzzy, I think the better form of what Matt is saying is, the correlation between people caring a great deal about how racist and criminal and incompetent Trump is, to the extent that he is unfit to be the president(see how my version precludes(most?) Trump voters!) is highly correlated.

          3. albatross11


            Nice point. I think the people who are most visible on the internet/in media are people who are like 95% one direction or the other. But probably a lot of people are much more mixed.

    4. gudamor

      SSC comments are the last place I expected to see this sentiment. To have the political parties come together and unanimously agree on something is how you get [insert historical example here].

    5. Matt M

      Politics is society’s most popular sport.

      And with all of the other sports cancelled, it’s now the only game in town… I may not be able to root for Alex Ovechkin to lead the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup, but I can still vote for Trump to lead the GOP to own the libs in November.

      1. matthewravery


        Asking MSNBC or Fox to not cover the President’s twitter feed is like asking ESPN to ignore the NFL Hot Stove season.

    6. AG

      Voting is something low-power people can do at low cost to themselves, as opposed to starting a revolution or making enough money to change corporate or political policies that drive societal incentives.

  6. Le Maistre Chat

    Somebody sell me on “the Hammer and the Dance”, where instead of the government stealing Christmas and every day before it, we stay home for 7-8 weeks like Wuhan and then the state releases everyone except people who test positive, and they follow up those tests with competent contact tracing, etc to eradicate the virus.

    1. Edward Scizorhands

      The US has the second-biggest test capacity per capita (355 tests/day/million) and this is likely to grow.

      If you are not near NYC, then once each location gets over its hump, it will reach a place where you can track individual carriers and their contacts. This is much easier to start doing if people are mostly sheltered in place.

      Los Angeles County has 10 million people. At current testing, that gives them a quota of 3,550 tests per day.

      They have 5277 cases right now, about 720 more than yesterday.

      Say they ignore the old cases and do contact tracing only on new cases. Also, pretend that they are effective at only targeting the new cases. That gives them 4.93 tests per new case. With one of them going towards the new case, they can then trace back 3.93 other people per case. If people are limiting their contacts, that’s . . . almost reasonable?

      There are a lot of assumptions I made that are incorrect, particularly that they are using 1.0 tests to find each new case. California is taking about 10 tests to find each case https://covidtracking.com/data/state/california#historical

      Still, an aggressive increase in the number of tests combined with a drop in the number of new cases gives cause for hope.

      Incidentally: everyone should keep a log book of each time someone in their house goes outside and interacts with other people. If you haven’t, start it today.

      1. LesHapablap

        If LA has 5300 confirmed cases, and increased 720 today, that means there are around 100k to 200k infections present, growing by 20k to 40k today if there aren’t isolation measures in place.

        This is based on Italy’s spread rate prior to their isolation measures and assuming a .4-.9 IFR. 3550 tests per day isn’t close enough without two months of full lockdown to bring new cases right back.

      2. Radu Floricica

        You got community spread, so you need a lot more fishing around. Also you need, I think, about 3 tests per infection: first to confirm, last two to clear.

        Incidentally: everyone should keep a log book of each time someone in their house goes outside and interacts with other people. If you haven’t, start it today.

        Could be you’re living in a much more civilized country than I, but I don’t think convincing a minority to go above and beyond will make much impact. The 80-20 law still applies – if people stay mostly indoors and wash their hands, they’re ok. Problem is people still doing house party or church events.

        To give a local example. We have shelter in place laws and can’t have groups of more than 3 people together in the streets. Ok – so far so good. But this rule does not apply to public transport – so we still have overcrowded buses (because our criminally incompetent and corrupt mayor had the brilliant idea of fucking reducing the number of busses. Not that they were enough before).

        Anyways, my point is why you have such low hanging fruits, making rules like “3 people walking together” or “logging your contacts” are superfluous and possibly even counterproductive – if they distract from the real sources of infection.

        1. Del Cotter

          I think London Mayor Sadiq Khan has done the same in his capacity as boss of transport, cutting the buses and the Underground so more people are crammed in.

          There has been some discussion of the relative responsibility of Trump, Cuomo and di Blasio for the situation in New York, I’m surprised to see so little discussion of Khan’s performance in London.

        2. Faza (TCM)

          There was a brief moment here in Warsaw, shortly after the first – somewhat milder – iteration of the lockdown was introduced in mid-March, where public transport was reduced to weekend levels all week long.

          The result was what you might expect. Whereas prior to the change I could count the number of post-lockdown passengers in a typical bus/tram on one hand, the number increased markedly when there were fewer buses going out.

          Since then, we’ve had a legal limit imposed on the number of passengers (one half the number of available seats), together with normal frequency being restored. Currently, the limit for a single tram car is around 8-9 people and I rarely see it approached.

    2. WoollyAI

      For California:

      Based on the LA Times Covid Tracker, the growth rate in new cases and new deaths has slowed from about 20%/day to about 10% a day from late March to now. Presuming these numbers accurately reflect reality, then in mid-late April the number of Covid cases/deaths should peak. In California at least this will mean a lot of medical strain but there should be enough medical care for everyone who needs it. At this point the government can slowly begin returning to normal. For example, you could probably reopen a lot of stores but not sit down restaurants and see whether the number of infections spike. From there just slowly reopen the state.

    1. The Nybbler

      People wanted the Defense Production Act invoked. This is what happens when you invoke the Defense Production Act.

        1. eric23

          A lot of people wanted it invoked to produce more ventilators.

          Of course, it can be invoked to help and also to hurt.

        2. Matt M

          Nearly every Trump tweet in the past week has been inundated by replies from Trump haters screaming that his not invoking the DPA was essentially an act of mass murder.

      1. HeelBearCub

        No, this is what happens when you straight up refuse to coordinate, and also don’t communicate.

      2. Tatterdemalion

        People wanted Trump to invoke the DPA to increase production. Using it to do something else and then saying “but you wanted the DPA invoked” is disingenuous at best.

        1. Matt M

          You can’t just order increased production of masks into existence. I mean you can try, but that takes a lot of time and money to actually result in more masks.

          Whereas “stop exporting” is an order you can give that will plausibly result in more masks available in the US right now, and will be less harmful and obtrusive to 3M than ordering them to somehow shift their post-it production into mask production would be.

          1. albatross11

            Isn’t this exactly what China did when COVID-19 started spreading rapidly in their country? This may or may not be the best policy, but blocking exports of currently needed emergency supplies isn’t obviously a bad idea.

            The government isn’t in the business of making N95 masks or hand sanitizer[1].

            What can government do about mask shortages? Buy masks from people that make them, offer them more money to make more, or seize masks already made and sold to someone else. That’s about it. Buy them or steal them. (Or maybe allow people to use different masks that don’t meet the paper requirements but are probably fine and definitely better than nothing, but hey, that’s crazy talk.)

            [1] It’s actually in the business of making it hard to make/import/sell those things, instead. Gradually, the administrative state seems to be relaxing some of those rules. Maybe eventually nurses taking care of people with COVID-19 will even be allowed to wear KN-95 masks instead of homemade bandana masks and breweries will be allowed to sell hand sanitizer without messing up their production lines. But hey, better that another 10,000 Americans should die of a virus than that one jot or tittle of regulations be waived for even a minute. Gotta keep your priorities straight, here.

          2. The Nybbler

            allowed to sell hand sanitizer without messing up their production lines.

            Note that the TTB, which is responsible for the Federal Excise Tax, is allowing this. It’s the FDA which still objects, saying hand sanitizer has to have a bitterant. It is also FDA which objects to KN95 masks. So we’ve found a Federal agency more unyielding than the tax man.

          3. Edward Scizorhands

            The problem with stopping exports is that other countries will block their exports, and do you really know what foreign components we require for our medical equipment?

            Even for things like N95 masks.

    2. JayT

      I don’t think there’s enough information there to really draw any conclusions. Did they redirect those ventilators headed for Massachusetts to New York instead? New York has 100,000 more confirmed cases, so if they did, that would seem to be the right choice. If they just put them into a warehouse for no particular reason, then it would be the wrong choice.

      1. Machine Interface

        That’s how I’m calling Trump from now on. Come on, it works on so many levels!

          1. HeelBearCub

            Mandarin is also an orange fruit.

            A “mandarin” is “a powerful official or senior bureaucrat, especially one perceived as reactionary and secretive.”

            Plus the Marvel supervillain.

          2. DavidFriedman

            On the other hand, the actual (Chinese) mandarins got that position by passing a set of tests on literature, poetry composition, calligraphy, philosophy, … the middle one of which had a pass rate of about one percent.

            I don’t think that fits Trump very well.

          3. Viliam

            literature, poetry composition, calligraphy, philosophy

            The modern equivalent of this is called tweeting. I heard that Trump is actually quite good at that.

          4. Leafhopper

            @DavidFriedman what’s the middle one? Your list is four terms long.

            I’m curious whether it’s poetry composition or calligraphy that was so hard to pull off.

          5. DavidFriedman

            Not the middle subject, the middle test.

            There was a series of three tests — you had to pass the first in order to take the second, and the second to take the third. The second test, hence “the middle one,” had a pass rate of about one percent.

  7. Faza (TCM)

    Anyone else here a fan of Neebs Gaming (the guys behind Battlefield Friends/Doraleous and Associates)?

    For some reason I remembered one of their… skits, I suppose, and thought I might share it, ‘coz laughter is good.

    Church Gone Wrong, animated by Fantishow.

    Content notes: death, foul language, somewhat irreverent approach to church.

    Context: this was a scene in one of their 7 Days to Die gaming videos. Mostly (or wholly) improv, I believe.

  8. Konstantin

    What information is out there on the mental health effects of extended isolation? I’m seeing some people in my social circle who aren’t coping well. A close friend broke down in front of me, hugging me while tearfully apologizing that she knows she shouldn’t be hugging but she hasn’t hugged anyone in weeks and she’s been stress eating and an event she has been looking forward to for months has been cancelled and she can’t get a haircut and her work might lay her off and she just doesn’t know what to do. I’ve heard many people are trying to cope by using more alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs than normal. With the bars closing people drinking on the street has been a common sight in my neighborhood as they need somewhere away from home to chat with their friends. People are reaching their limits, and it looks to get much worse if this is extended another month or two. I’m lucky because I’m an introvert who can tolerate being alone for extended periods, but what’s the best way to help others?

    1. Purplehermann

      I’ve been calling friends and a family member who are at home alone, and taking a bit more time to send a “hello” to friends than I usually would. Give them a bit of extra social contact, another person they can talk to

    2. Machine Interface

      It’s hardest during the first 10 years, but after that you get used to it.

    3. Radu Floricica

      I’m introv… well, floater really. But still I felt it too. What clinched it for me was realizing I can have skype beers. It’s a freaking wonderful concept. Video call a bunch of friends, and just, you know, drink beer and hang. Bonus: you can finally catch up with old friends in distant places.

      Also, I credit a lot of my wellbeeing to buying a stationary bike when the crisis started. Watching a movie and pedaling leisurely is about 500 cals. Two weeks in and Oura already tells me I have a lower resting pulse.

    4. AG

      A friend of mine has a daily family Skype call. I have a standing invitation to a weekly Zoom call for a particular community I’m a part of.

      And I repeat from a couple of threads ago, people can talk to their own neighbors from over six feet away. Hold a silent, or not-so-silent, disco. Hold a driveway karaoke event. Even have a coordinated potluck, where everyone leaves a tupperware portion of their chosen dish on each others’ doorsteps so that there’s no direct contact. Or have everyone order the same takeout, support a local restaurant. Then share that event together, with everyone staying on their own driveways/lawns/porches/balconies, but in sight of each other so they can talk.

      Have your friend buy one of those body pillows or giant teddy bears to hug while on teleconferences with her friends.

      Instead of stress eating, have her redirect that stim need with chewing gum.

  9. albatross11

    General pandemic comment:

    At every level, the pandemic seems to me to be exposing just how mediocre our decisionmakers are. I keep feeling like there are all these already-known broken parts of our society that we’ve let slide because fixing them would be a lot of effort, and this is coming home to roost at a maximally inconvenient time–as deferred maintenance often does.

    There are isolated people who’ve shown a good performance so far–the governor of Ohio seems to be one. But most people we’ve put in positions of trust to deal with this kind of situation have so far mainly served as a demonstration that we put a lot of third-rate people in positions of trust, or that we have a lot of dysfunction in our institutions that bite us *hard* during any kind of crisis.

    I’m not sure what the right response to this is. Short term, it’s easy–make sure we’ve got enough pasta and potatoes and toilet paper, keep our kids on-task with studying at home, thank God we had masks and hand sanitizer because we prepped a little for this kind of thing. Long-term, I’m not sure, except that I am beginning to suspect it’s going to look like a (hopefully peaceful) revolution.

    Consider the US fallout from the visible elite failures of the Iraq war and 2008 meltdown–loss of faith in mainstream media, Obama’s election, the rise of the Tea Party, Occupy, and later the rise of Sanders on the left and Trump on the right. Now consider how much bigger and more damaging and more catastrophic this set of visible elite failures is. What’s the fallout from *this* look like? The economic impact is likely going to be 10x as big, and along with it, almost everyone is likely to know people who die of COVID-19.

    Whatever anyone does now, it’s plain that all kinds of preparation that should have been done wasn’t, and that a lot of previous preparation (done after the H1N1 flu) was allowed to fall apart/lapse. Our regulatory agencies seem to be optimized for slowing down any effective response, doing exactly the opposite of what we need. Trusting the authorities and the system to do what’s right is visibly about the dumbest decision possible in a lot of cases.

    The heroes of this story, so far, are mostly people who went outside the system, violated rules, and often got screwed over for it, from that poor Chinese doctor who got hassled by the authorities for notifying the world about the initial outbreak to the scientist doing the unauthorized tests that showed community spread in Washington State to the ship captain that blew up his career to force the people above him to take care of his sailors.

    I’m a middle-aged guy with a wife, three kids, a dog, and a mortgage. It’s not a great sign when the status quo loses the support of guys like me. But I’ve lost what faith I had in most of the respectable institutions in my society, thanks to continued demonstrated failures and ineptitude and now a demonstration that they can’t get it together even in the most dire crisis.

    1. salvorhardin

      Yep. I would add that a lot of large companies have done extremely well, have demonstrated themselves to be more resilient, rational, and public-spirited than most political actors, and… who knows what will happen to their status? In a just world it would go up, but we certainly don’t live in a just world.

      For now I’m going to watch what Martin Gurri says and take that as the least inaccurate likely prognostication, given his track record so far. On the one hand, continued institutional failure in general ought to accelerate the Revolt of the Public. On the other, many of the institutions that have failed are run by the people that Revolt put in office, who have consistently demonstrated that they govern even less well than the failing elites they overthrew. So, will the public go searching for the few experts and institutions who did well and cling to those, or double down on “tear it all down” outsider types? I have no idea, but that’s the question I’d look for believable predictions about.

    2. gph

      The majority of the best and brightest aren’t motivated to become politicians and bureaucrats, and likely never will be. And while I think there’s been a few major letdowns, I don’t think it’s been that bad overall. The Chinese covering it up early was a huge problem, but I don’t know what we can do to change that in the future. The US federal govt response (and the equivalent national govts in other Western countries) has not been good, and Trump has been Trump, but it’s questionable if the populous would have accepted the type of response that would have contained the virus like we’ve seen in Korea etc. Beyond just testing, they have been doing contract tracing on a level that many in the US would find unacceptable. And would normal people in the West have accepted and maintained self-quarantines as well? I don’t think so. So I’m not even sure if a more competent administration would have been able to force the citizenry to do what was necessary to contain the virus. Governors have more power on that front, but again the best and brightest aren’t super motivated to spend their lives as politicians. And it’s hard to say back at the end of February if there was a complete consensus on how to response, even among the brightest and most well informed. There was still some debate between ‘herd immunity’, ‘flatten the curve’ and ‘complete lockdown in order to contain until it fizzles out’. That last option would have been the smartest looking back, but it was still questionable at the time if it could be pulled off, especially without causing more harm than the virus. It probably wouldn’t have been legal to take the steps necessary to go that route in most western countries.

      More planning would have been better, but it’s not just on our decision makers. Countries that are coming out looking good are mostly those that have dealt with similar epidemics in recent history, so it didn’t just come down to the politicians/bureaucrats making the right decisions. The culture was already there amongst the common person on how to respond. A lot of people here didn’t know how to respond other than to panic buy, or not care and go on spring break or keep gathering together.

      1. mtl1882

        The majority of the best and brightest aren’t motivated to become politicians and bureaucrats, and likely never will be.

        While it would take major changes in how we currently operate to make being a politician/official attractive to such people, I disagree it is a constant. I would argue at least into the early twentieth century, this was much more common in America. Some possible reasons: There was more autonomy: such people exercised much more power with much less red tape, and could/had to appeal to the public more directly in a less mediated manner–less of a song-and-dance thing as it became in the televisual era, and less dependent on physical appearance. There was much less specialization and standardized legibility: who we considered the best and the brightest had less to do with technical skill or credentials, and more about the ability to act effectively and advocate for one’s position (which often required high technical skill, but in a good balance with other things).

        Scott’s view of the Hoover biography kind of got at this—perhaps he isn’t a good example of the best and the brightest, but the point is that the definition can change. Many find it impossible to understand how someone can be that successful and that alienating. I don’t find it weird–it was common in earlier eras, because effectiveness was much more paramount to considerations we tend to conflate with competence, but that are related to it in complex ways (likeability, consistency, lack of involvement in corruption, typical emotions). Hoover was highly, persistently, and broadly *effective* compared to most people, even if he had some big failures. And for someone with his level of ambition, politics was attractive because at that time it was more ruthless and practical–an arena where skill in getting things done mattered more than looking good on TV. He easily moved from business battles to political ones, because they were more similar and individuals exercised more power then. Highly effective people, while often highly skilled, tend to want power in a broader field more than prestige (of course, great if you can have both!), because they want to put their ideas into action. Not sure if I’m explaining this well, but I think Scott Adams’ “talent stack” concept is a good way of thinking of this. Someone who is the best and brightest in the sense of the best overall combination of skills/knowledge at the time (rather than the best physicist, who probably doesn’t want to be a politician and probably wouldn’t be a good one) doesn’t want to be a bureaucratic (or corporate) drone, but they would like to exercise some form of political power. A politician or government official can hold that type of power where the systemic incentives support it. Being a Senator was at one point a really big deal, more like being a tycoon than whatever they are today.

    3. johan_larson

      I guess the question is, “Who did better?”

      At the national level, the countries that really distinguished themselves are ones that got early practice with SARS. They’re veterans on their second tours of duty; they rest of us are fresh recruits.

      My employer suggested we start working from home March 16th. A few people kept coming to the office that week, but I think we were all gone by a week later. That doesn’t seem particularly farsighted to me. Public schools were closed here March 12, and an office probably promotes about as much transmission as a high school, perhaps a bit less.

      The first confirmed case here in Ontario was on January 25. The first really strong public-health measure — closing the public schools — was taken on March 12. That’s about six weeks of watching, waiting, figuring, and hoping. Did any major institutions take strong action in February?

      1. eric23

        At the national level, the countries that really distinguished themselves are ones that got early practice with SARS.

        That’s not really true. SARS was mostly focused on East Asia, but not entirely. Japan had no SARS cases, but did well this year. Canada had many SARS cases, but did badly.

        The real distinction is geographical: East Asia versus everyone else. Every East Asian country has controlled COVID19 well, but no other country has. That may be partly due to use of masks; besides that it seems to be the result of political culture and organization.

      2. keaswaran

        I believe it was February 29 that the American Physical Society announced the cancellation of their large conference in Denver, scheduled for March 2-7. I think some conferencegoers had already reached Denver by the time the cancellation was announced.

      1. albatross11

        It seems likely that the 2020 elections will be affected by this, and that will be enough for the losing side to spend lots of ink trying to put an asterisk by the winner’s name, whichever person wins. It’s also quite possible that one or both of the current major-party candidates catches this stuff and dies or is permanently too disabled to govern. I have no idea what that looks like if it happens. (Just about every state has restrictive ballot-access laws intended to keep third party candidates and joke candidates off the ballot, and whatever happens will interact with those laws.)

        Probably every state needs to be working out how to do postal voting for everyone, so that the national elections can go on even if we get a second peak around late October.

        1. LesHapablap

          Worst case scenario: the next election does not go ahead as normal and Trump is either reelected in a very weak election process or just declares that he’ll run things for the emergency. With 30% unemployed, mass riots and protests occur which are brutally repressed: all gatherings with more than 10 people are illegal. China senses weakness in western governments amid all the rioting, distracted military and failing economies. And they are tired of all the anti-China rhetoric, which at this point is pervasive and extreme. Anyone with ties to China is accused of sabotaging the economic recovery and is monitored by the government. China brazenly starts taking territory, regional fighting breaks out. Trump escalates and promises that nuclear weapons are not off the table. Soon shots are fired between the US and China, and Trump responds to the sinking of a US ship with tactical nukes, and things escalate from there.

        2. HeelBearCub

          Probably every state needs to be working out how to do postal voting for everyone

          Do you actually find that to be a realistic expectation? Republicans are broadly hostile to this, while Democrats are broadly in favor. That strongly argues against an expectation that it will happen in every state.

          1. eric23

            Republicans are hostile, because voting-in-person increases the turnout of retired people (who don’t have to leave their jobs to vote), who lean Republican. However, if coronavirus is still around this November, retired people will likely be too scared to go to the polls and voting-in-person will become a liability for Republicans. That makes me think Republican states will support it. I also think Democratic states will support it, because this helps them in the long run, and because they are a bit less focused on zero sum political battles than Republicans.

          2. HeelBearCub


            Republicans are hostile, because voting-in-person increases the turnout of retired people

            The option of by-mail voting can, necessarily, only increases their relative turnout. This is a, well, interesting way to state that Republicans are in favor of suppressing the turnout of other groups, the groups that have more problems voting in person. I think most people here aren’t going to miss this point. Might as well just come out and say it.

            We may see a sea change in Republican attitudes about this, but I am doubtful. Trump (and a number of others) have already explicitly stated the reason for their opposition by voicing their belief that allowing vote by mail would mean they would never win another election.

            I actually don’t think that it is true that it would prevent Republicans from winning elections, all though it would reduce some of the possible tactics for manipulating the electorate through turnout.

          3. The Nybbler

            It’s not “suppressing” the turnout to not have mail-in voting. Mail-in voting does make it easier for the lazy to vote. It also vitiates the secret ballot; now you can be pressured in who to vote for, by family at the very least.

          4. Matt M

            However, if coronavirus is still around this November, retired people will likely be too scared to go to the polls and voting-in-person will become a liability for Republicans.

            Not at all sure about this. Of everyone I know, the most reckless people I’ve seen in violating basic social distancing requirements has been the at-risk elderly demographic. My fiance’s grandparents are still going to the grocery store twice a day because they like being out and talking to people. We tell them they’re at risk. They don’t care.

            If the election was held today, there’s zero chance they wouldn’t go out and vote.

          5. albatross11

            I guess if your old and sickly already, you at least are probably bearing the full costs of your actions. At least when you take risks, you’re not imposing risks on me you’re not willing to take yourself….

          6. Edward Scizorhands

            Not only does vote-by-mail enable vote-selling, but it was also the cause of the vote fraud that cost North Carolina a Congressional Representative for 8 months.

          7. HeelBearCub

            It’s not “suppressing” the turnout to not have mail-in voting. Mail-in voting does make it easier for the lazy to vote.

            This is one of those comments that really shows the inherent contempt.

            The fact that there is, in fact, a difference in the willingness to vote in person depending on whether, for instance, the line is 1 minute, 30 minutes or 8 hours long, and whether you are scheduled to work the day of voting, have kids at home who need dinner, or a myriad other things, does not mean that the person who doesn’t vote is “lazy”.

            The actual cost to different voters of inflexible voting differs. No surprise that those who incur greater costs are less likely to vote.

            Yes, there are “lazy” people who don’t vote, but that in no way comprises the entirety of the set.

          8. Matt M

            The state of Oregon has had vote by mail as a default for over a decade I believe.

            I suspect nobody has cried about it suppressing votes or enabling fraud or destroying anonymity because statewide elections have been won exclusively by Democrats in that timeframe. But maybe that’s a little cynical of me?

          9. HeelBearCub

            I suspect nobody has cried about it suppressing votes

            Say wha?

            enabling fraud or destroying anonymity

            or there hasn’t been evidence of such. If there is good evidence of fraud, and Republicans in the state aren’t pointing it out, then, well, I don’t think they are stupid.

            I agree that absentee ballots are more subject to fraud. This is definitely true.

            However, voter fraud of any kind becomes more efficient, effective and possible the fewer people vote. The more people vote, the greater the number of votes you need to buy to reliably effect the election, the greater the risk of discovery.

            The vote buying scheme in NC was germane precisely because so few voters were needed to win, as the election was so tightly contested. In a higher turnout election, I’d expect that the Republican candidate would have won easily, as 2018 saw Republican turnout suppressed and Democratic engagement unusually high.

            But there are other ways to make voting highly available, and retain mostly in-person voting. Republicans generally aren’t in favor of those either.

          10. acymetric

            Not only does vote-by-mail enable vote-selling, but it was also the cause of the vote fraud that cost North Carolina a Congressional Representative for 8 months.

            I’m going to object to calling that the cause. It made the fraud much easier, but the cause was that the candidate and his staff decided to commit vote fraud. I can’t help but point out that it is the Republicans who are constantly up in arms over voter fraud, and using that excuse to implement thinly veiled (or sometimes totally unveiled) voter suppression policies in place, and yet it was a Republican candidate who was caught red handed committing it.

          11. HeelBearCub


            While I agree with the general sentiment, that particular case has more to do with Bladen and Robeson county specifically and less to do with party.
            I’m pretty sure that the guy doing the vote harvesting was doing it for Democratic candidates before he was doing it for Republican ones. He had been at it for quite a long time.

          12. The Nybbler

            Yes, there are “lazy” people who don’t vote, but that in no way comprises the entirety of the set.

            I do not claim they are the entirety of the set. I do claim they’re a significant group. And I consider that requiring at least some effort besides checking a few boxes and putting a form in the mail basically saying “Send me my NEETBucks please” to be a feature, not a bug.

          13. matthewravery

            I do not claim they are the entirety of the set. I do claim they’re a significant group. And I consider that requiring at least some effort besides checking a few boxes and putting a form in the mail basically saying “Send me my NEETBucks please” to be a feature, not a bug.

            This opinion is in such direct contradiction to the mythological history of America and so consistent with the actual history of America that I view it as art.

          14. Loriot

            It’s not “suppressing” the turnout to not have mail-in voting. Mail-in voting does make it easier for the lazy to vote.

            I’m a pretty enfranchised person, but even so, mail-in voting *absolutely* increased turnout in my case. Since moving to California, I’ve voted in every single election, even the obscure local special elections I would have never heard about otherwise. It’s pretty easy when they mail a ballot to you.

          15. Spookykou

            As a lazy(mentally crippled) person who doesn’t vote, mail-in voting would not change my behavior.

          16. albatross11

            As a thought experiment, suppose there was a change to elections we could make that would get 100% participation in voting by people who are crazy and delusional, people who dropped out of high school because it was too hard, violent sociopaths, and members of violent criminal gangs .

            We’d get higher voter participation. So this is good, right? We’d definitely want to make that change, right? Or might there be some downside to increasing the electoral voice of a bunch of people who are delusional, deeply uninformed, or evil?

            I think whether this sounds good or bad comes down to whether you see democratic representation as a good in itself, or a good in that it leads to better government and more human flourishing than other ways to choose who gets power.

            I don’t have any strong feelings about postal voting (it’s making a security/convenience tradeoff, but it’s one that’s right out in the open), but it’s not a given, at least to me, that every mechanism for increasing the number of people who vote must be good. Convincing lots more crazy, dumb, and evil people to vote seems very unlikely to me to lead to better government or better collective decisions.

          17. HeelBearCub

            100% participation in voting by people who are crazy and delusional, people who dropped out of high school because it was too hard, violent sociopaths, and members of violent criminal gangs .

            Go look at a) registration rates, and b) participation rates and realize this thought experiment isn’t particularly germane.

            In 2018, less than 50% of the voting age population cast a vote for US Congress. In the 2016 presidential contest that rose to a blistering 61% of the total voting age population.

          18. AliceToBob

            I realize the mechanism in albatross11’s thought experiment is unspecified, but I don’t see any reason to believe that mailing in votes will incentivize high school dropouts, evil sociopaths, and violent gang members to participate any more than they already do.

            I figure the time subtracted — by filling out the ballot (correctly!) and walking to their mailbox — from whatever languid/nefarious activities they pursue, is likely a sufficient deterrent.

            Yeah, how’s that working out?

            Perhaps HBC is in favor (as am I) of people voting, even if it does not align with his political goals. So, it’s probably working out as it should, at least by that metric.

          19. J Mann

            Vote by mail multiplies the effect of get out the vote campaigns. Now you don’t need buses to run people from Church or the local college campus to the polls, you just need people to show up in their house and help them fill in the ballot. (Assuming you can enter their house, which isn’t super clear right now).

            It also opens the door to pressure, vote-buying, and fraud.

            I don’t know enough to do the cost-benefits.

          20. eric23

            This is a, well, interesting way to state that Republicans are in favor of suppressing the turnout of other groups, the groups that have more problems voting in person…. Might as well just come out and say it.

            Yes, this is pretty well known and not particularly controversial (for example, its effects are weaker than those of gerrymandering). It’s not that Democrats are innocent of these tricks (they gerrymander too) but it seems Republicans generally go further.

    4. LesHapablap

      There is still more to come: western states have spent decades ratcheting up compliance costs in nearly every industry (construction, transport, education, medicine, everything). We are soon going to find that industry during a depression can’t afford these measures but legally they will be impossible to strip away. Millions of small businesses will fail and it will not be economical to replace them, since start up costs are now vastly higher than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

      I just hope someone notices.

      1. acymetric

        I’m not even sure magically stripping away the compliance costs solves the problem (at least not entirely). 2021 will be the year of national chains and large corporations.

        I’m especially concerned about what will happen to small locally owned music venues (please for the love of god do not let them all get bought up by LiveNation), but that’s probably only a concern for a small percentage of other people.

        1. Matt M

          please for the love of god do not let them all get bought up by LiveNation

          It’s probably either that, or they go away entirely.

        2. Le Maistre Chat

          I’m not even sure magically stripping away the compliance costs solves the problem (at least not entirely). 2021 will be the year of national chains and large corporations.

          Even national retail chains will file for bankruptcy or get bought out as their stock prices continue to crash after earnings reports of “0 dollars.” We’ve barely entered the bear market and look at this.
          Small business people are in vastly worse shape.

          1. HeelBearCub

            I think it’s possible national retail chains are more at risk than local small business retailers. The local retailers that survived the big box era already had to figure out some way to offer more than just the product on the shelf. It’s the various chain retailers that were already under immense pressure because they were having trouble getting online sales right, and their brick and mortar presence was less and less profitable.

          2. JayT

            Yeah, I agree with HBC, at least in the long run. A bunch of stores will never reopen. Most of those will be small businesses, sure. However, I expect some national chains to run the numbers and realize that it just doesn’t make sense to reopen. Sears is the obvious one, but I could see JCPenney, Bed,Bath and Beyond, Pier One, and others making the same choice.

            The difference I see is that I think the mom and pop shops will be largely replaced. The big box stores are just going to go away.

          3. ltowel

            Personally, I expect Nordstrom to end up as “Amazon Fashion” after the end of this. Partly because the headquarters are blocks apart.

          4. acymetric

            I guess I’m thinking more restaurants than big box stores/retail. I agree that some of those are going to decide to ditch some of their less profitable local stores in favor of additional emphasis on online ordering.

            More of “Mel’s Diner” is now “Chili’s” or “Carraba’s” kind of stuff. Starting a successful restaurant is hard and I don’t expect we’ll be able to replace all the local ones that close shop with new local restaurants in the near or medium term.

            Personally, I expect Nordstrom to end up as “Amazon Fashion” after the end of this. Partly because the headquarters are blocks apart.

            No way they ditch the Nordstrom brand. Nordstrom shoppers are like a cult.

          5. JayT

            I think the same will hold true for restaurants as well. I expect some big box restaurants to close because of this, and those are a lot harder to replace than mom and pop restaurants. To go from a small chain to a national chain is a pretty big undertaking. To take over a closed restaurant because it’s your dream to run a restaurant is easy, and people have already been doing that. Something like half of restaurants fail in their first year already, maybe this year it will be closer to 75%. I expect things in that industry to get back to normal faster than most others.

      2. eric23

        I don’t see a single source or number in your post (except “10 or 20”). Just unfalsifiable speculation.

          1. Nick

            This should be a familiar refrain to long readers of this blog. Take for instance section III of Considerations on Cost Disease:

            I also want to add some anecdote to these hard facts. My father is a doctor and my mother is a teacher, so I got to hear a lot about how these professions have changed over the past generation. It seems at least a little like the adjunct story, although without the clearly defined “professor vs. adjunct” dichotomy that makes it so easy to talk about. Doctors are really, really, really unhappy. When I went to medical school, some of my professors would tell me outright that they couldn’t believe anyone would still go into medicine with all of the new stresses and demands placed on doctors. This doesn’t seem to be limited to one medical school. Wall Street Journal: Why Doctors Are Sick Of Their Profession – “American physicians are increasingly unhappy with their once-vaunted profession, and that malaise is bad for their patients”. The Daily Beast: How Being A Doctor Became The Most Miserable Profession – “Being a doctor has become a miserable and humiliating undertaking. Indeed, many doctors feel that America has declared war on physicians”. Forbes: Why Are Doctors So Unhappy? – “Doctors have become like everyone else: insecure, discontent and scared about the future.” Vox: Only Six Percent Of Doctors Are Happy With Their Jobs. Al Jazeera America: Here’s Why Nine Out Of Ten Doctors Wouldn’t Recommend Medicine As A Profession. Read these articles and they all say the same thing that all the doctors I know say – medicine used to be a well-respected, enjoyable profession where you could give patients good care and feel self-actualized. Now it kind of sucks.

            Meanwhile, I also see articles like this piece from NPR saying teachers are experiencing historic stress levels and up to 50% say their job “isn’t worth it”. Teacher job satisfaction is at historic lows. And the veteran teachers I know say the same thing as the veteran doctors I know – their jobs used to be enjoyable and make them feel like they were making a difference; now they feel overworked, unappreciated, and trapped in mountains of paperwork.

          2. Edward Scizorhands

            Doctors Wasting Over Two Thirds of their Time Doing Paperwork
            Survey Captures cost of Compliance – FarmersWeekly

            For what it’s worth, someone I know who verifies HIPAA compliance has been put on reduced hours. Because even though hospitals are operating at breakneck speed, they have decided to drastically reduce time spent on that.

            And they aren’t worried about it at all.

            I think our overblown administrative state is crazy. And there are good questions about what it’s caused us to do that got us in this shit, like the FDA bitching about testing. But once the situation got real, they seem to have relaxed that nonsense.

          3. eric23

            Your link about teachers never says how much time is spent on paperwork. Just that it’s “too much”.

            Your links about social workers and doctors criticize the large amounts of “paperwork” these workers do, without asking how much of that paperwork is necessary or not. For example, “paperwork” includes the doctor writing down which disease he thinks the patient has. According to the article, that is a “waste”. That seems dubious.

            Your link about farmers says that farmers have to install expensive equipment to avoid polluting the groundwater. You don’t think farmers can survive economically without polluting? Anyway this has nothing to do with bureaucracy, rather with the cost of equipment to avoid damaging other people’s property.

            Your link about housing essentially says that local NIMBYs have been empowered to veto any nearby development for arbitrary reasons. NIMBYs are a big problem, but this isn’t really a “compliance” issue because the NIMBYs will always find some excuse to veto. It’s not really any better for society if they pass law (zoning code) outright banning development, even though in that situation the “effort to comply” has been reduced to zero.

            In short, none of the links provide more than circumstantial evidence for bureaucracy having an effect on economic productivity. Do you have any more substantive links?

      3. peterj

        I don’t have much hope that regulatory compliance will be relaxed for businesses small or large. While job losses will be high in the private sector, few if any of government employed regulators will lose their jobs. The powerful hand of the environmentalist-regulator-tort lawyer industrial complex will continue to see that compliance costs only move in one direction. Said complex seems to generate enough public outcry at any attempt at even the most sensible reform of existing regulations as to prevent any progress.

        1. Matt M

          Agreed. If the FDA/CDC stopping localities from deploying COVID testing wasn’t enough to move public opinion against them, nothing will be.

          1. albatross11

            I wonder if we’ll just see increasing noncompliance. That’s a very risky strategy if you’re the only one doing it, but if everyone’s doing it, it’s a pretty low-risk strategy.

          2. The Nybbler

            Nope. The Seattle Flu Study got stopped. And every researcher and research institute knows they won’t have a career, grants, or any necessary licenses if they defy the regulators now. The government has too much power for defying them to be a viable option; you’ll end up dead, jailed, or broke and forgotten, and most likely you still won’t get what you were trying to accomplish.

    5. Matt C

      I share your disappointment. I didn’t hold our leaders in high regard before, but somehow I thought in a real crisis we’d see more . . . leadership. More people willing make decisions and act without waiting to be told. More people willing to break or change rules when it’s obviously needed. Less tragic incompetence, less blatant and callous indifference to injury.

      (True, we have seen some admirable behavior. Helen Chu is a national hero, but maybe it’s for the best, for her, that she sort of fades into the background.)

      Was there ever a time that the USA had better leadership all around? I have the idea that my parents and grandparents were more competent in difficult times, but maybe that’s just mythology and if you were actually there it was just as bad.

      I doubt there will be a peaceful revolution. I think despite this crisis we’re pretty much on the same track we were before, except the slope we’re sliding down got a little steeper. If we had any idea how to get better leaders we would have done it already.

      1. Matt M

        I thought in a real crisis we’d see more . . . leadership. More people willing make decisions and act without waiting to be told.

        As someone who thinks things are shaping up such that the cure is definitely going to be worse than the disease, and that it’s clear our “leaders” have no endgame other than “indefinite quarantine until vaccine,” I think we have the exact opposite problem.

        Far too many people making decisions and acting quickly without sufficient data and without regard for the consequences, because it is of short-term political benefit to look like you’re “doing something” rather than be accused of not acting quickly enough.

        It’s overwhelmingly clear that the first shutdowns were ordered well before anyone actually attempted to model a cost-benefit scenario of the economic destruction that would ensue. In a just world, leaders who do that sort of thing end up with their heads on pikes, but I suspect we do not inhabit such a reality.

        1. ltowel

          I think it’s pretty clearly becoming apparent that the cure is worse then the disease and it has been decided that the less fortunate will be gristle at the altar of Moloch for the sake of the rich, old and powerful.

          May it have gone differently if something was done ™ in January or early February? probably.
          The cat is out of the bag, appeasement has failed – ruining the lives of the poor, young, healthy is not the correct approach.

          1. Edward Scizorhands

            I think it’s pretty clearly becoming apparent that the cure is worse then the disease and it has been decided that the less fortunate will be gristle at the altar of Moloch for the sake of the rich, old and powerful.

            If the government had done nothing, “the rich, old, and powerful” would have been the ones who could have ridden out the wave of death the easiest.

            All the white-collar workers who can work from home would have hidden there. All the blue-collar workers would keeping going to work so they didn’t starve. A few percent of them would die, but not enough to stop the food and power from flowing, whew.

            I’m expecting to be paying for the relief from this disaster for the rest of my life, either in increased taxes or inflation eating my savings. I’m not saying that to bitch or complain; I mean it neutrally as we discuss how to get out of this mess. It’s inevitable at this point and I’m resigned to that.

        2. Matt C

          One example of my idea of leadership would have been the relevant authorities doing testing and containment, similar to what we saw in several of the Asian countries, as soon as it was clear the virus had gotten out of China.

          You might say that this wasn’t politically attainable for the USA. But if we go there, I would say that lockdowns were similarly unavoidable once we saw what was happening in Italy.

          It seems like we at least agree that our leaders are blundering around in confusion and, even now, weeks into the crisis, are unable to plan or carry out plans effectively.

        3. eric23

          “and that it’s clear our “leaders” have no endgame other than “indefinite quarantine until vaccine,””

          No, it’s “quarantine until we figure out how to replicate what East Asian countries are doing successfully”

          1. Matt M

            Do we agree that East Asian countries are actually successful?

            More and more I’m hearing pushback on that premise. That Japan’s lack of action has them poised for a horrible outbreak in a matter of days. That Korea’s success is contingent entirely upon a lack of international travel and as soon as that starts up again they’ll become overwhelmed. That China’s numbers are absolute fiction. Etc.

          2. John Schilling

            No, it’s “quarantine until we figure out how to replicate what East Asian countries are doing successfully”

            This would be a lot more convincing if our leaders were saying something along the lines of “this is what we think the East Asians were doing successfully and this is how we’re gearing up to do it here”. Pretty much all I’m hearing is A: lockdown and B: we’re working on a vaccine but it will take a year or more and C: moar testing! But if that’s all there is to it, then we’re going to be locked down for a year or more.

          3. Matt M

            But both of those are things we’ll have an answer to in another month or two.

            Will we?

            If Japan is still looking good in two months, what will stop people from saying “They’ve just been lucky, they’re due for a huge outbreak any day now, and they’re lying about their numbers anyway.”

          4. HeelBearCub

            At the end of this, if Japan has looked good throughout while not advancing any special measures, I think everyone, especially the infectious disease experts, will be examining what specifically made this possible.

          5. Thomas Jorgensen

            John, “Moar Testing” and selective quarantine is, in fact, a perfectly viable strategy if you push it hard enough. The question is, is anyone actually gearing up for “test everyone every day for a month or four”?

          6. John Schilling

            Who, aside from a handful of nerds on the internet, is talking about selective quarantine?

          7. keaswaran

            “Who, aside from a handful of nerds on the internet, is talking about selective quarantine?”

            I’m not sure who counts as a “handful of nerds on the internet”, but basically *everyone* who is talking about plans at all is talking about some sort of selective quarantine measures. That is, after enough weeks of this harsh lockdown that cases get under control, we start ramping up contact tracing and testing around all these cases, with positive tests sent to strict quarantine, and everyone else moving to the restrictions we had in the first couple weeks of March (ie, no big concerts or conferences, but restaurants are open with half the tables empty, and companies encourage people to work from home but don’t require it, and we actually greet people with elbow bumps, as opposed to handshakes like in the before time or not greeting at all as now).

          8. eric23

            That Japan’s lack of action has them poised for a horrible outbreak in a matter of days.

            People have been saying that Japan is “poised for a horrible outbreak” for a very long time now, but for some reason it never happens…

            That Korea’s success is contingent entirely upon a lack of international travel and as soon as that starts up again they’ll become overwhelmed.

            That makes no sense. They were “overwhelmed” by the outbreak in the megachurch, yet rapidly overcame it. Why should they be overwhelmed by a small number of travelers, who can be tested and quarantined upon arrival and then watched?

            That China’s numbers are absolute fiction.

            You must believe in prophecy. China’s case numbers (the doubling time, and the interval between lockdown and case number peak) exactly match the experience of other countries later on. If these numbers were faked, they could only have been obtained by clairvoyance. If the outbreak was not under control there, we would know from a casual glance at the state of their hospitals.

            (I have seen suggestive evidence that China’s death totals are inaccurate – I am guessing that many of the coronavirus deaths were assigned other causes in the official records. But that has little bearing on the public health measures we are debating)

          9. eric23

            Who, aside from a handful of nerds on the internet, is talking about selective quarantine?

            A handful of nerds who are making all the public health decisions? (Just not on the internet)

      2. Edward Scizorhands

        When we were fighting the Soviet Union, I got the feeling that Basic Competency was a desired value. Being right mattered. The enemy didn’t value truth, so we did.

    6. Loriot

      I have a hard enough time getting the higher ups at my company to get on board with important maintenance work. Mostly we do it without their knowledge. Our CEO and founder has a “move fast and break things” attitude that we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of many years later.

      So given that it’s hard to do unglamorous work even to prevent forseeable disasters and even when the decision makers have strongly aligned incentives, I hold little hope of government doing a better job.

    7. The Nybbler

      Nothing will change. Reason being, those who tried to do right got punished for it, like you said. The doctor got hassled by authorities, then died of the disease. Another Chinese doctor involved in sounding the alarm, Ai Fen, has disappeared (or been disappeared). Companies trying to make tests and masks have hit roadblock after roadblock. The Seattle Flu Study got put in their place for not going through proper procedures. The Captain got fired. The lesson is clear: Follow procedure, don’t stick your neck out, take care of yourself…quietly.

    8. CatCube

      I think we’re seeing the effects of pursuing lower-variance strategies in government. I’m sure there’s a public policy name for this that I don’t know, but I’ll call it “McDonaldsization” or “Budweiserization” of government services. This is just a hypothesis of mine from observation of my own federal government job.

      If you walk into any McDonald’s in America, and order a cheeseburger, you will get the exact same thing. You’ll get an identically-tasting sandwich in New York or Los Angeles. For Budweiser, I’m using a story I read once (but can’t pull up with DDG right now) where a trappist monk called Budweiser the most amazing beer he’d ever tasted–not good, mind, but amazing–because they made millions of cans of the stuff every year, and every one tasted exactly the same.

      McDonald’s and Budweiser are mediocre, but they are very, very consistent above all else. It’s much easier to get this consistency with mediocrity, especially at a low price point and very high production rates.

      My perception is that the push in government is to have repeatable, “knowable” decisionmaking processes that are well-defined by process. For example, I’ve been involved in choosing construction contractors, and if I had to describe the role of the engineer in this process in a single sentence, I would say, “Be a dumb little box-checker.” For example, we once excluded a contractor from being awarded a contract because they didn’t meet the required three similar contracts over $500,000 in the past 5 years as stated in the Request for Proposal. The three of us on the board concluded from the remainder of the proposal and from our own experience working with this contractor on other projects that they were perfectly capable of doing the work. The lawyer told us it didn’t matter, and because they didn’t have the right piece of paper the contract could not be awarded to them, and went to another bidder at substantial cost to the taxpayer.

      To a certain extent this is self-inflicted: the requirement for three similar jobs over $500,000 in the past 5 years was written by the engineering staff ourselves (well, the senior engineer on the job, before I was assigned to help in the evaluation). This seemed to be a good balance to help exclude the plainly incompetent, but it caught an obviously very qualified contractor. We were not allowed to use our judgement to say, yeah, here’s what the rubric we put out says, but we’re going to deviate from it because the totality of the proposal and our history with the offeror shows that we’ll get the best value for the Government by accepting this one, even if it doesn’t technically meet the objective standards set.

      Now, this procedure was put in place for a very good reason! Plenty of people in the past in my position would use that flexibility for thoroughly corrupt ends, to steer the job to a specific contractor for a kickback. But it’s stultifying and demoralizing to know the right answer and to be bureaucratically hemmed in. It’s easy for people to say, “Y’know what? I’d rather earn a bunch more money in the private sector.” Now, you’re obviously reading something written by somebody who’s been in this process and elected to stay with the job–despite this frustration, I like the stability, the regular hours, and the projects we work on are fascinating–but there’s going to be a filtering effect for people who are willing to do the box-checking and say “it hurts less if you don’t struggle.”

      This is very different from the big dam-building era of the ’30s through the ’60s when the engineers were allowed to bulldoze towns because we thought this was the best place to build a dam. If you’re an ambitious risk-taker where making something that you could see from space gives you a hard-on, working for the Bureau of Reclamation during that time frame was your jam. John Savage* could stand on a bluff overlooking Grand Coulee Dam and scream at the heavens, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and DESPAIR!” This…may not have been so great for the people who weren’t civil engineers.

      Similarly, the heyday of the Public Health Service had people who were driven and focused: you give them a task like “Make malaria disappear in the continental United States, and your only constraints are budgetary.” They’ll go out and do that, and do it successfully. If you need to spray oil on swamps, go spray oil on swamps. Sure, hose down neighborhoods with DDT. If you need to quarantine people, knock yourself out. This was very attractive to driven, competent people who could single-mindedly focus on that task.

      These same single-mindedly focused people also did the Tuskegee Experiment. Out of pure scientific curiosity, they wanted to know how syphilis affected guys, so they just left a bunch of (black) guys untreated and watched what happened. Shit like this is why there are now a bunch of bureaucratic rules that constrain them. Even if they weren’t paid as well as the private sector, there were significant psychic benefits to the job in being powerful and unconstrained. There were also very, very, significant downsides to everybody who wasn’t them.

      Like I said, we’re now shooting for lower variance–we have much more constrained, mediocre people, but we also don’t have the hard-chargers that bulldozed neighborhoods to build highways or conducted Naziesque human experiments. Maybe we swung too far in the other direction–I certainly think so, but I’m also not an objective observer–but there were very real tradeoffs to the high-variance “hard-charging and competent, but also charged hard for stuff that nobody else wanted.”

      * Edit: For some reason, I thought I had read somewhere that John Savage had used the nickname “Jack,” but I can’t seem to find that now. I must have misremembered.

      1. Edward Scizorhands

        Scott, consider this for one of your “comment of the week” highlights.

        1. albatross11


          I suspect CatCube has a lot right here. Maybe this is pendulum-swing stuff, but it feels like a broader change in society. Like the whole society has become more arthritic and got more fat in its arteries than it did 50 years ago, and somehow we just can’t respond dynamically without some kind of painful and hard changes.

          1. LesHapablap

            It is absolutely not a pendulum swing, more of a rachet, and it effects nearly every industry. It is much easier to implement new rules and procedures than to get rid of them.

          2. keaswaran

            My thought is that in general the value of human life has gone up. Doing things that could kill lots of people seem much more palatable if the average person has a greater chance of dying from an infected scratch and experiences a lot of suffering anyway, but once people have pretty good lives, it becomes a lot less worth it. A person with a shack is much less risk-averse than a person with a mansion, in terms of risks that might destroy their home, and similarly a society with early or mid 20th century living conditions is much less risk-averse than a society with 21st century living conditions.

            I think the fact that we are willing to try this one weird trick of having everyone work from home for a few months while paying unprecedented amounts of unemployment insurance to the people who can’t work from home, as an attempt to save a few million lives, indicates that we find lives much more valuable than people i the 20th century did. And if we’re right about the value of lives, then that’s a good thing!

          3. Aapje

            I notice that at the intersection of the Western and Third world, this difference in viewpoints regularly leads to misunderstandings. For example, a lot of Western people seem unable to fathom that poor people would risk their lives and that of their family for material gain, so they regard all these people as refugees from violence.

        2. HeelBearCub

          Making a public note that I think there is a key point here that I will comment on later.

      2. DavidFriedman

        John Savage* could stand on a bluff overlooking Grand Coulee Dam and scream at the heavens, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and DESPAIR!”

        Probably not if he knew the rest of the poem.

      3. Wrong Species

        Seeking lower variance is understandable but I think it’s doomed. The end result is not peaceful stability but stagnation and ultimately collapse. History if full of empires that desperately try to hold on to what they have but suffer decline and collapse.

      4. Clutzy

        I think having low variance in government is a good thing, and its not what we have at all. Its impossible to have low variance when the feds are consuming 20% of GDP and have dozens of agencies. If you don’t think there is massive variance then you simply aren’t interacting with them on a day to day basis. If you interact with a federal agency, you basically are playing bureaucrat roulette. There are incompetent, competent, neutral, malevolent, and beneficent variations. The only combos you want are competent-neutral and competent-beneficent. They are the rarest. There is a lot of competent-malevolent, which is the worst, and a whole host of incompetent. This, sadly, also applies to judges in the federal system. I, sadly, often have to explain to clients the cost of administrative appeals in cases they would clearly win against the agency if it ever got to the appellate court level. But that is 3 levels and a million+ dollars in litigation ahead of us.

        I think treating what happens at agencies as low variance is an insult to low variance. Its a much more malevolent thing than low variance. I would describe they system as “oppression by confusion.” People who have to interact with the federal agencies experience high variance, which is what oppresses them, precedent is seemingly meaningless, there is no way to know what the decision will be. There are probably entire Fortune 500 companies who would not even exist today if they ran into a different patent examiner and different FDA official at the beginning.

        I don’t disagree with all of the post, but I think this is a needed caveat.

        1. keaswaran

          What is the alternative that is lower variance? My impression is that if you’re governing with a bunch of bureaucrats filling out forms, there’s still a lot of variance, but it’s much less variance than if you’re governing with Robert Moses or John Savage just single-handedly making a decision about which neighborhood to blow up without even looking at the forms.

          1. Clutzy

            Sure, but that is still easier as a business to react to because its a uniform national policy, even if it changes every 4-8 years.

            The problem with the bureaucratic model is that it has “a bunch” of them. Its only effective at promoting the goal of low variance if there is a small enough group with a small and concise directive.

      5. salvorhardin

        This is essentially the Philip Howard “Death of Common Sense” thesis, no?

        How might we track quantitative metrics which would give us a sense of how big a factor this is?

      6. CatCube

        Thanks for the comments. I’ll respond in one omnimbus comment.

        I should note that I think I misstated what I think is the driver here: I don’t think there was an conscious intent to pursue higher rules and a more mediocre civil service. The higher rules came about in a patchwork fashion, often in response to real or perceived abuses, and the greater mediocrity evolved from that because the straitjacketing made it less attractive to driven people.

        I mean, I’m not saying that every civil servant is an incredibly mediocre dullard–I’m one, after all, and I’m not that self-hating! I think it’s maybe a “hostile work environment” to people who want to just get things done without spending three-quarters of their day dotting Is and crossing Ts on meaningless administriva? Like all hostile work environments, you’re not going to find no people to whom the environment is hostile, but you’re going to find fewer of them. I’m not saying I’m one of the “highly-competent” toughing it out, just merely average who can easily tolerate it, though it wears on me from time to time.

        Note also that I’m a design engineer working for the government in the area of dams and civil works, so I have a postage-stamp view of this. I’m reporting what it seems like from my very narrow view, and most of my examples one way or the other come from that arena.


        The broader change is because we give more people say in what we do, and make sure that we farm decisions around to interested parties, which means we take years beating decisions to death. My go-to example here is The Dalles Lock and Dam. Upstream of the damsite was Celilo Falls, a sacred fishing site for the Columbia River Indian Tribes. At the falls was Celilo Village, which had been inhabited for 10,000 years and had been an important meeting and trading site for the Tribes in the entire region for that whole time. The Tribal leaders tried to point this out and how this dam would crush their entire society.

        They got told that this was the best site to build the dam due to engineering considerations–it was where the run-of-the-river started at the Bonneville reservoir, so it was a prime power-producing site, and it would vastly increase the efficiency of river transport because it is right where the old and too-small Celilo Canal started so the new lock would provide passage to much larger tows over the falls.

        Therefore, they got told to take a lot of pictures of all the stuff they were complaining about, because it’s going to be underwater, and we’ll build them some houses to replace the village. Then we didn’t build the houses.

        Similarly, when designing highways, engineers often chose routes that were 1) direct routes for efficient systems and 2) cheap to construct. This combination meant finding poor neighborhoods where land was cheap and putting a highway right down the middle of them. This lead to the “highway revolts” where many of the stultifying rules like the EIS process and lawsuits alleging “disparate impact” started.

        If you try to strip away these rules, the people who rely on them to gum up the works to make sure their concerns are addressed will fight you like rabid weasels. Because to their eyes, the “arthritic and fat” process is what’s preventing them from being steamrollered by government engineers in cubicles.

        I know less of the history of something like the CDC and detailed examples, but I’d be surprised if somebody who did couldn’t pull up similar abuses that the current rules were passed to prevent–I used the Tuskeegee Experiment above, but I couldn’t point to the exact rules and their interactions the way I can for the EIS, Historical Preservation, and Archeological standards that make construction so painful.

        @Wrong Species, @LesHapablap

        It is absolutely not a pendulum swing, more of a ratchet…

        Seeking lower variance is understandable but I think it’s doomed.

        I think these are similar objections, and both come from the same thing, similar to how it’s hard to cut a government budget: it’s easy to say the total budget is too big, but each individual line item has a constituency that will fight ferociously for it. It’s easy to say that there are too many rules, but when you start wanting to cut things you have to look at individual rules, and many of them actually have some pretty easy-to-see rationales. You often can’t cut them back without essentially saying: yeah, some people are going to get hurt or killed, but the price of deregulation is worth it. Note that I agree the price of deregulation is worth it, but it’s very politically difficult to say.

        Note also that people writing regulations are often in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” bind. One example of this I found from the Twitter account “@CrimeADay”:

        21 USC §§331, 333, 352 & 21 CFR §344.50(d) make it a federal crime to sell earwax remover without a label that tells people it’s “FOR USE IN THE EAR ONLY.”

        I used to enjoy looking at this account periodically, but for whatever reason I actually dug in to this one, and realized that the account, and especially this tweet, is vapid, sneery, bullshit. When you actually look at the regulation, it states:

        (d) Directions. The labeling of the product contains the following statement under the heading “Directions”: FOR USE IN THE EAR ONLY. Adults and children over 12 years of age: tilt head sideways and place 5 to 10 drops into ear. Tip of applicator should not…

        The reason that it’s “a federal crime to sell earwax remover without a label that tells people it’s “FOR USE IN THE EAR ONLY.”? Because the regulation specifies the exact text that the directions use, and that happens to be the first sentence. Do you know what this regulation is? It is the easiest regulation in the world to comply with! Your label designer cuts and pastes it from the regulation! Bam, done. I’m a structural engineer and I can figure out how to comply.

        What exactly is this tweet trying to say? That we should reword the regulation to have a less-easily-mockable first sentence? That’s a pretty stupid thing to pick at, and if it’s the worst thing in the regulation we’ve won. That we shouldn’t have regulations on labelling at all and we just sort it out in court if somebody chugs your earwax remover? Because that’s a harder sell to me. Now, instead of the exact text for the directions being given to you, you have to pay a lawyer $300 an hour to write your directions, because the guidance for what to write is smeared across 20 judicial opinions in 8 different jurisdictions.

        As I understand it, the labeling for beers is much less strict: the ATF has wide latitude to tailor requirements to specific beers and company requirements. This then requires months of painful-for-breweries back-and-forth with the ATF before they can sell. That’s the tradeoff to just having a bright-line rule: somebody using their judgement can screw with you.


        I’ll defer to your expertise to dealing with this from the outside, as my major experience is from the inside. As I said, this is a hypothesis from my own experience, and I admit it can be incomplete or wrong more often than it’s right. I will note, though, that if you think the malevolent/competent axis is bad now, imagine if they weren’t straitjacketed and had more latitude to use their judgement.


        That looks like a book-length treatment of exactly what I’m talking about, which I’ve not heard of before (so their is a public policy name for it). I’ve picked up a Kindle version. Thanks.

    9. Conrad Honcho

      I’m someone who lost all faith in the elite institutions…at least a decade ago, and I don’t think they’ve done all that awfully here, largely because I don’t think there’s much of anything they can do in the face of a pandemic.

      Imagine the institutions were competent. What exactly happens differently? We get some tests out sooner? You still have a disease that appears to spread like wildfire and overwhelms the healthcare system and kills vulnerable people, just maybe it does it a little more slowly. Competent institutions still can’t predict the future, still can’t conjure information about the virus out of thin air, and don’t have the power to track or quarantine people at will. I don’t see the outcome being much different. I think the problem in this case isn’t so much that the institutions are unable to do a thing they should be able to do, but that this is not a problem institutions are able to solve at all, or solve well.

      I know various ways the response would be better, but what exactly does the eventual outcome of all this look like on Bizzaro Competenco World?

      1. albatross11

        There were pandemic plans in every state and in the whole country, as a result of the H1N1 flu. This isn’t something that nobody could have seen coming, it was a low-probability but forseeable risk. H1N1 turned out not to make people all that sick; SARS didn’t spread much to the US. A pandemic flu strain hit the whole world harder than this crap has just over a century ago. This is something we have government departments and laws actually written for. And mostly, those guys have dropped the ball.

        This isn’t like expecting the USG to be prepared to respond to an alien invasion. It’s more like expecting the Army to be prepared to fight a land war somewhere in Asia, and when the war starts, it turns out they didn’t keep enough guns or bullets for all the soldiers because of budget cuts, so can Americans please send their rifles and bullets to the Army so they can shoot back at the invaders? Oh, and the guns have to be exactly the ones specified in some regulation somewhere, even if that means half the soldiers go to war with wooden pretend rifles.

        1. matthewravery

          It’s more like expecting the Army to be prepared to fight a land war somewhere in Asia, and when the war starts, it turns out they didn’t keep enough guns or bullets for all the soldiers because of budget cuts, so can Americans please send their rifles and bullets to the Army so they can shoot back at the invaders?

          It’s not the Army, and it’s not a land war in Asia, but you’ve hit far closer to the mark than you probably intended.

    10. Deiseach

      Whatever anyone does now, it’s plain that all kinds of preparation that should have been done wasn’t, and that a lot of previous preparation (done after the H1N1 flu) was allowed to fall apart/lapse. Our regulatory agencies seem to be optimized for slowing down any effective response, doing exactly the opposite of what we need. Trusting the authorities and the system to do what’s right is visibly about the dumbest decision possible in a lot of cases.

      (1) Quick – what’s the Next Big Disaster that is going to hit, when is it going to hit, and what should be done about it?

      Because that’s the kind of crystal ball reading that nobody can do well, not the best expert in whatever field you care to name.

      There is a ton of things that could happen but we can’t prepare for them all. So there has to be decision-making about “do we stock up on masks and hand sanitiser for the entire nation, do we start on the asteroid-blasting rocket mission, do we start evacuating people from the areas that are going to be uninhabitable due to climate change?”. I don’t envy anyone who has to try and plan for that, and if you figure out – or know someone who can figure out – what the Next Big Bad will be, outside of Nostradamus, then please share your knowledge!

      (2) Re: the preparation after the flu – it’s because it wasn’t as bad as prognosticated (thanks to several measures) and because nothing big hit immediately afterwards that things lapsed. As the saying goes “eaten bread is soon forgotten”. When a possible pandemic didn’t hit after 2009, in time people get tired of “do we have to have all this unused equipment sitting around and spending money on it, money that could go elsewhere to be of some immediate use, money that comes out of our taxes?”

      Name your natural disaster and people will react the same. Vesuvius erupts, but people keep on living and working in the danger zone: “Today, it is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the population of 3,000,000 people living near enough to be affected, with 600,000 in the danger zone, making it the most densely populated volcanic region in the world, as well as its tendency towards violent, explosive eruptions of the Plinian type”.

      It’s like the anecdote that Hammett has Sam Spade tell in The Maltese Falcon about the guy who up and disappeared one day but then eventually drifts back to the kind of life he left behind: “He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

      (3) There should be and probably will be a change in how things are done after this, but the fundamental system is going to remain the same because a wholesale change is just too big an upheaval. And what do you replace it with – the Chinese system, the system in Singapore, the system in Sweden, what?

      We may vote out the current lot of chuckleheads but then we’ll vote in a new set of chuckleheads, and when they are all prepared for a pandemic but the Next Big Bad turns out to be (select at random) crop failure, volcanic ash grounding all flights, or multiple earthquakes happening at the same time, and they don’t respond effectively, we’ll criticise them the same way.

      1. Ant

        To support this, during the last flu, the French health department “overreact”, commanding flu vaccin in large quantity and 2 billions of masks. They were scorned by almost everyone, (What are we going to do with 2 billions masks ! They are in the pocket of BigPharma for buying all these useless vaccine).

        In January and February we had a lot of people blaming the government for overreacting. They are now blaming it for not doing enough. And I can assure you that if the government had done enough, the majority would have mocked it for overreacting. There is no winning move here and you must still play the game.

        1. Edward Scizorhands

          Given my line of work, I very much appreciate the ironies of “no one notices your work if you do your job well.”

          Still, if some non-China national government had shut down their country in February, while they would have been laughed at for a few weeks (maybe even by us) the fact that every other country got nuked would make them look like geniuses right now.

          1. The Nybbler

            Still, if some non-China national government had shut down their country in February, while they would have been laughed at for a few weeks (maybe even by us) the fact that every other country got nuked would make them look like geniuses right now.

            At least until people started to realize that now they’d have to stay locked down — at the very least, isolated from international travel — indefinitely.

          2. Edward Scizorhands

            If they had locked down back then, they would probably come out of it by now. They would need tests for track-and-trace as well as for border screenings.

          3. Matt M

            If they had locked down back then, they would probably come out of it by now.

            If “come out of it” includes “allow international travel” then all it takes is one infected person coming in and then bam, you’re at risk again and right where everyone else is…

          4. John Schilling

            all it takes is one infected person coming in and then bam, you’re at risk again and right where everyone else is…

            Which is right were you are guaranteed to be for the rest of this year, probably next year, maybe for the rest of this decade. This disease is not going the way of smallpox or even polio, any time soon. So any plan that requires your country to have literally zero SARS CoV-2 carriers, is a non-starter. The only plans that have a chance of working are those that are robust against the finite number of carriers who slipped through your “first we locally eradicate SARS CoV-2” step, which will incidentally be robust against some finite number of new arrivals as well.

            And these are easier to deal with, because you can do screening at ports of entry easier than you can internally. International travel bans are neither necessary nor sufficient, and not really appropriate except as a way to buy you a few extra weeks if you get caught by surprise at the outset.

          5. Edward Scizorhands

            I was going to say “obviously I meant to say they would protect the border” but I looked at my comment and there it is:

            They would need tests for track-and-trace as well as for border screenings.

            Somehow Germany has an incredible number of tests. I don’t know why they aren’t listed on https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing#tests-per-day but they are doing 50K tests a day, about 1/2 the rate of the US with 1/4 the population. The nytimes.com article listed elsewhere on this page gives some summary of how they got super-aggressive testing in place:

            In mid-January, long before most Germans had given the virus much thought, Charité hospital in Berlin had already developed a test and posted the formula online.

            By the time Germany recorded its first case of Covid-19 in February, laboratories across the country had built up a stock of test kits.

            It also describes their testing regimes:

            As soon as the test results were in, the school was shut, and all children and staff were ordered to stay at home with their families for two weeks. Some 235 people were tested.

            If you can test everyone coming into the country, citizen or not, you’ll do a great job of keeping your cases near zero. (And if foreign nationals are coming from very hot spots, maybe you test them once, sit them somewhere for 24 hours, and then test them again.) Not exactly zero, but having a shitload of tests means you can follow-up when there are breakouts.

    11. BBA

      I’m disappointed that so few people are recognizing how universal the failure is. Even now, most commentary just falls back on ORANGE MAN BAD or ORANGE MAN GOOD. I guess it’s to be expected in an election year, but *siiiiigh*.

      Speaking as the token Democrat, I don’t think Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would’ve handled this any better. The reasons for the failure would’ve been different (deference to “expertise”, performative anti-racism) but it ends up in exactly the same place, the hidebound CDC and FDA wasting time and obstructing testing and treatment until we have to lock the whole damn country down.

      So now I’m hearing the argument that randos on Twitter are a better source of information than the government and media. This is only true for carefully selected Twitter randos – you won’t find anti-vaxxer or Q*n*n “information” in mainstream sources either. And even for the sources that have led you well so far, as any ad on CNBC will tell you, past performance does not guarantee future results.

      What else have we got? I got nothing.

      1. albatross11


        I’m not sure what the right answer is, but a marginal course change between generic D [Hillary] and generic R [Jeb!], or even unsettling out-there unready D [Sanders] and R [Trump] is plainly not it.

        Also, as best I can see, culture war/tribalism is part of the problem at least as much as part of the solution, because it’s an effective way to get people to stop thinking about some inconvenient issue.

      2. Le Maistre Chat

        Speaking as the token Democrat, I don’t think Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would’ve handled this any better. The reasons for the failure would’ve been different (deference to “expertise”, performative anti-racism) but it ends up in exactly the same place, the hidebound CDC and FDA wasting time and obstructing testing and treatment until we have to lock the whole damn country down.

        Orange Man was elected to poke the elites in the eye. The result of choosing that over managerial competence has been… amazingly mediocre. It turned out no one in the West had a plan better than “wait, then shut down their entire economy so we all suffer from the pandemic at a rate the health care system can handle.”
        I don’t think people are going to accept universal house arrest except for supermarket runs and walking our dogs six feet apart for the rest of 2020, let alone however long “flatten the curve!” would actually take. And when governments let up, the same old people who’d have died if everyone wasn’t quarantined still die? What a plan. Much wow.

        1. salvorhardin

          The US is not the only place in the Western world whose institutions have been weakened by populist poke-the-elites-in-the-eye candidates and causes; I would certainly put both the UK and Italy in that category, for instance. Angela Merkel in Germany has already done quite a bit better than most of the rest of the Western world, and has strengthened what I think was already her leading bid to go down in history as one of the few truly great heroes of the political class of this generation.

          More generally, what this demonstrates is that the response to a global threat is only as strong as its weakest links. The US used to know that, and used to be willing to cooperate enthusiastically and in good faith even with geopolitical adversaries to do things like knock down pandemics. Then under Trump we stopped doing that:


          1. matthewravery

            @Edward Scizorhands-

            I guess I read that chart differently than you. Germany looks like it’s leveled off. The UK seems on a clear upwards trajectory. The derivative and second derivative are the most important things to look at, IMO.

            And the absolute number of confirmed cases is pretty pointless if you’re not even normalizing for population or testing.

          2. JayT

            I think it’s too early to say Germany has done quite a bit better. If you look at the deaths, they are doing slightly better than the other countries at this point, but I’m not certain it’s going to stay different enough to really make a big difference.

            I looked at where the countries with the highest death totals were after they got to 100 deaths, and to get to their 1444 it’s taken one day longer than the UK, two days longer than the US, and three days longer than France. That’s not nothing, but it’s also not a huge difference.

          3. Doctor Mist

            I’ve seen various charts with various choices about where they start — 30 daily cases, 60 daily cases, 100 daily cases. I understand the justification for doing that: the first case is almost guaranteed to be an outlier and the second might come in an hour or a fortnight. But the lack of consistency makes me wonder whether there is some curve-fitting going on, like with the statistics about terrorist acts that conveniently start in October 2001. Can anybody tell me how sensitive curves like these are to exactly where they start?

          4. gudamor

            @Doctor Mist
            Hopefully this doesn’t sound too dismissive, but if you doubt other’s analysis, why would you trust someone else to do this sensitivity analysis?

          5. HeelBearCub

            All the below my considered conclusions, without the advantage of being an epidemiologist.

            Early case and death numbers are inherently noisier. The specific of one person or cluster matter a lot. If your first case is recorded in an elder care facility, your early case numbers are going to look much worse than if your first case happens to be a pro-basketball player.

            The more people are infected, the less the specifics of any individual matter, the more everyone infected can be modeled as “average”.

            Death numbers are inherently less subject to similar kinds of issues, where your apparent case load depends on how much testing you are doing and who you are testing. Absent some sort of active suppression of information, people who are in critical care with Covid symptoms are highly likely to be identified as such.

            So once you start to see a steady doubling of deaths, then you can be pretty sure that all of that randomness inherent in the beginning of the outbreak is over, and the curve will depend much more on population level factors and actions.

            Basically I’m saying, you can’t put too much stock into the early, expected to be flat, parts of the curve, other than knowing that if you have already taken action weeks before you have a chance at it staying flat.

          6. JayT

            I went with 100 deaths just because I had to start somewhere, and there were a lot of countries that had just a couple for a long time before it really blew up. I’m guessing in those countries it was people that came from somewhere else that died, so it really hadn’t gotten into the general population yet.

            If you go from the first death, it’s been 27 days since Germany had their first and they’ve had 1,441 deaths overall. On day 27 the US had 1,209, and France had 48. Obviously, France has been hit much harder than Germany has at this point, so looking at first death doesn’t really tell us much, because France didn’t get to 10 deaths until day 22. If you look at 100 though, that really picks it up when the virus has a firm foothold in the country.

          7. matthewravery


            I agree, it’s too early to know anything, especially if we’re only getting as deep as raw counts. Case counts are noisy because of issues like test frequency, false positive/negative rates, test protocols, etc. Death rates are noisy because there’s fewer data and it’s very much a lagging indicator. My response was to the chart that Edward shared. If there’s any conclusion you can draw from that, it’s that Germany looks better than a lot of places.

            Having said all that, the key thing people should be keeping in mind is that we just don’t know much at this point. The ship has sailed on an early SK/Singapore-type of response, so that’s a fine spot to make criticisms and comparisons. Beyond that, most everything is speculative. If you want to do comparisons based on deaths/cases, you’ll probably have to wait until this thing has run its course in most places, which means another month or two minimum. And even then, the most useful thing to look at will be how the death rates changed year-over-year in different areas rather than just look at actual diagnosed cases/positive tests and such.

            This isn’t to say that criticisms of specific government decisions are invalid, just that using empirical rates of death or confirmed cases is not a very good basis for such criticisms at this point.

          8. Doctor Mist


            Well, to be honest, I actually do sort of feel like I trust this crowd rather more than I trust some other crowd, if only because this crowd might be a little more likely to show their work.


            Yeah, that’s what I was getting at when I said I understood the justification. No matter where you start, it’s going to be flat for a while and in that sense it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you are consistent. I can’t actually construct in my head a model for the disease that would let me jigger how locales compare by jiggering the start threshold, but I was curious if I was missing something.

            To all:

            And I wasn’t actually doubting so much as curious. Maybe 5% wondering if anybody was cherry-picking to make political hay (though the fact that I can’t quite put my finger on what the hay might be should probably make me reduce that) and 95% wondering about whether I should be wary for my own understanding about comparing one source’s “start-from-30” graph to another source’s “start-from-100” graph.

          9. Edward Scizorhands


            This tool lets you set whatever you want as “day 0” (1 case, 100 cases, 200 cases) and compare countries, including on a per-capita basis.

            Per-capita cases, Germany is doing pretty good, nearly always the best, so my prior comment about Germany being about average was off-base.

            France seems to be ahead of Germany unless you put the slider for “day 0” all the way to the right (250 cases).

            If I look at deaths (instead of cases), Germany is doing great. Their graph has barely started.

          10. HeelBearCub

            I think the “low” deaths in Germany are consistent with them simply being a large country with a large population that has done slightly better at managing growth.

            Look at these charts and if you start the counter not at absolute numbers, but per capita, and you can see that Germany is mildly successful, but still early. Switzerland was on a similar curve at the same point, looked as if they were doing well, but lo and behold they are climbing rapidly.

            Now, maybe Germany is doing great and the growth is about to nose over, but we literally can’t tell that right now. It will probably be another 4 to 7 days before you will really be able to say that they have done well at managing things (or we are about to see rapid growth in deaths per capita, just like Switzerland).

        2. Conrad Honcho

          Orange Man was elected to poke the elites in the eye. The result of choosing that over managerial competence has been… amazingly mediocre.

          I don’t think these things follow. I wasn’t voting for Trump because I thought he would be more competent at government. I thought he would do fewer things against my interests and more things in favor of them. So instead of “let lots of indifferent-to-hostile foreigners into my country” he would not do that. Instead of “move factories to China as fast as possible” he would not do that. This has largely worked out okay, despite the administrative state working against him nonstop.

          My ultimate goal would be, as Steve Bannon expertly articulated at CPAC 2017, “the dismantlement of the administrative state.” But that wasn’t really what Trump offered and wasn’t much on the table. “Drain the Swamp” was about the politicians less than the bureaucrats. But you seem to think Trump voters would consider him a success if he had…I don’t know, improved the competency of the administrative state? I didn’t want it made better. I wanted it dismantled. But that’s not something Trump ever said he would do.

          1. matthewravery

            I think LMC’s point was that the guy who (in LMC’s view) was put in place to poke the elites in the eye did about as well (in LMC’s view) as the other places that were still run by elites.

          2. Conrad Honcho

            If the point is that The Other Emperors Also Have No Clothes then yes, I agree with that. The professional government institutions advance the interests of the professional government class. Whatever they accomplish towards their stated missions is incidental.

      3. Conrad Honcho

        Even now, most commentary just falls back on ORANGE MAN BAD or ORANGE MAN GOOD

        Present company excluded? I usually think ORANGE MAN PRETTY GOOD but all I’ve been saying this whole time is “ORANGE MAN FINE.” I agree with:

        I don’t think Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden would’ve handled this any better.

        But I don’t think they would have handled it much worse. Mainly because I don’t think this is really a problem where what the federal government does matters all that much.

        1. albatross11

          I think what the feds do matters a lot, but that the part of the federal government whose response mattered and matters still is pretty far fro the president, and he probably barely knows what goes on in there most of the time. The FDA and CDC screw-ups that delayed widespread testing in the US for like a month and a half, and the FDA’s continued delaying actions on everything, those seem like major failures at the federal level. But they’d look the same under Jeb! or Hillary or Bernie or Rubio, absent some previous energetic attempt to change the rules and culture of the FDA on the part of the president.

          What you can blame Trump for here is:

          a. Maybe having something to do with some reorganization that got rid of the pandemic office (probably he just signed off on some very dense plan written by aides–there’s nothing in Trump’s statements or history to suggest that he took a deep interest in the workings of the FDA or CDC before).

          b. Trump’s lack of careful public messaging. He’s probably worse at that than Hillary would be, but I’m not sure how much that matters.

          c. Realizing this was serious early on and giving whatever push he could from the top. I think Trump failed here, but I am not sure Hillary, Jeb!, Cruz, or Bernie would have done better–most mainstream sources were downplaying the risks, and I don’t see a lot of reason to think any of those folks would have had better insight than the mainstream. (I think Cruz would have been our best bet, since he’s probably the smartest of that bunch and he’s pretty independent-minded.)

          1. Edward Scizorhands

            Trump’s appointed people in his own Cabinet were internally sounding the alarm back in early February, but couldn’t get his attention. I think a standard politician would have heard “very-bad-event-with-very-low-probability just got slightly more probable” and thrown resources and attention at it at this point.

            Non-Trump Presidents would probably have not put in place border protections, but given how very flimsy Trump’s border protections were, I’m not sure it bought us very much time. I used to say it bought us a month, but between (1) finding out how porous they were and (2) looking at other countries that seem to be right in line with us, I’ve become increasingly skeptical of that.

          2. Matt M

            I think a standard politician would have heard “very-bad-event-with-very-low-probability just got slightly more probable” and thrown resources and attention at it at this point.

            So why didn’t all the standard politicians throughout the rest of the world do just that?

            Basically nobody was throwing a lot of attention at this in February. Not Trump sure, but also not Justin Trudeau or Angela Merkel or whoever else we’re supposed to think is super-competent by their sole virtue of being Not Trump.

          3. EchoChaos

            @Matt M


            If Trump had been getting skunked in performance by the technocratic governments of the West, we could say “he obviously screwed up”, but other than perhaps Germany, all the technocrats are failing just as egregiously or worse.

            The US performance on this has been distinctly average, and while I wish Trump had listened to Senator Cotton, Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon more, I always wish that, so no change here.

          4. Conrad Honcho

            a. Maybe having something to do with some reorganization that got rid of the pandemic office

            This didn’t happen, though. The National Security Council positions of pandemic response and bioterror response were merged into one. So now instead of having one guy saying “no natural plagues going around” and another guy saying “no man-made plagues going around” at the NSC meetings you have one guy saying “no natural or man-made plagues going around.” This is a complete non-issue.

            b. Trump’s lack of careful public messaging. He’s probably worse at that than Hillary would be, but I’m not sure how much that matters.

            Absolutely agree. I don’t care when he speaks off the cuff about stuff that isn’t important. This kind of is.

            c. Realizing this was serious early on and giving whatever push he could from the top.

            Sure, but like you say, that’s just wishing for a president with a crystal ball.

            I am heavily biased against the technocracy. I should be dunking all over them. I’m not because I don’t think this is the sort of problem government can solve. If a supervolcano erupted and half the country were bathed in fire and ash, I would be sitting here saying “if only we’d had competent technocrats, they could have prevented this!” They couldn’t have. This is a natural disaster, and they’re doing…pretty well okay, but it sucks not because they suck but because natural disasters suck.

          5. Edward Scizorhands

            Most of the reason I want and expect the US to pay more attention to the very-rare-but-super-dire cases is American Exceptionalism. I know a lot of liberals hate AE, but too bad. And maybe people voted for Trump because they didn’t want America to have a special place in the world, but for so many things either the US does it or it doesn’t get done.

            If an asteroid is coming at Earth, who would deflect it? The US.

            If Osama Bin Laden is found and needs killing, who is going to do it? The US.

            If there’s a loose nuke somewhere in the world and we need some team to go grab it, who would do it? The US.

            If some disease is ravaging the world, who would invent the vaccine? The US.

            Canada doesn’t pay attention because America’s hat doesn’t have to pay attention.

            The more I think of this, the German response stands out because Germany seems themselves as the leaders of Europe (even if they don’t want to say it out loud). They certainly aren’t expecting Belgium to do it.

          6. Conrad Honcho

            If some disease is ravaging the world, who would invent the vaccine? The US.

            Great, yes, and that’s still possible. But not something the president (or even the technocracy) will have anything to do with. That would be researchers, which are distinct from the administrative technocracy. But for this plague so far, “who will lock up their citizens for weeks or months to slow the plague? The US!” is not really a thing.

    12. matthewravery

      There has always been incompetence and perfidy among government officials. The difference is we used to view it as a problem of individuals failing at their jobs. The solution was to hold those individuals responsible for their failures and demand that their replacements be better qualified and held to a higher standards.

      These days, it is fashionable to view these failures as inevitable and unremarkable. The solution is to shrug and move on, not to demand that our public servants be good at their job. Such attitudes make bad behavior more acceptable and harder to punish. This is true of both elected officials and the people they appoint. Couple this with across the board reductions of status for people in public service (with the armed services being mostly but not entirely excepted), and you’ve got a triple whammy of suck:

      1. Fewer people with elite talent interested/willing to take the jobs in Government
      2. Lower expectations of moral integrity placed on those people (which become internalized)
      3. Acceptance of poor performance as inevitable and not a problem to be fixed

      Elaborating on (3), if every time a government official screws up, it reinforces your pre-existing world-view, it becomes harder to root for or try to enforce competence.

      (There are tons of other issues with the way we in the US do government these days; these comments are meant to address the questions specifically about leadership that Albatross brings up.)

      1. DavidFriedman

        These days, it is fashionable to view these failures as inevitable and unremarkable. The solution is to shrug and move on

        The solution is to have government, which is where these failures are most likely and most damaging, control less.

      2. WoollyAI

        The solution was to hold those individuals responsible for their failures and demand that their replacements be better qualified and held to a higher standards.

        I think this ignores the complexity of the issue of bureaucratic incentives. Because you can’t retain talent if all you do is punish failure; you also have to reward success. But that has it’s own complications.

        Consider all the nurses, doctors, EMTs etc who work for the government right now, much less the executives at the CDC. Is there any discussion of them getting a bonus, or a payraise, or any other reward if they perform well in this critical time? The scuttlebutt I hear in CA is concern over the return of furloughs as tax revenue falls, which for people in essential positions means a 20% pay cut.

        Allow me to make this a little more concrete. The California Department of Public Health has an Emergency Preparedness Office, which seems pretty important right now. It’s headed by Tricia Blocher, who made $98,140 in 2019.

        If you want the ability to fire Mrs. Blocher if California’s Covid response is worse than the average of other comparable states/nations, fair enough, but you’re not going to attract the top talent for $98k/year unless you offer bonuses/incentives for exceptional performance and, more importantly, worryingly, give her the ability to reward those working for her for exceptional service.

        It might seem like I’m asking for more pay for civil servants, and I kind of am, but I’m well aware of all the potential issues of making the head of the Emergency Preparedness Office a $250k/yr position with $1 mil/yr in bonuses to award to top performers underneath her. It’s entirely possible that we could make those changes and end up even worse off thanks to corruption/nepotism/stupidity. To give her the money/power, you have to trust her to do the right thing, and at scale, that means you need a systemic way to make her incentives align with the public good. Which is really, really hard.

        I mean, most large companies have major bureaucratic problems and they have the dual advantages of being smaller than government and having one clear goal (profit). If even Google or Facebook accumulates bureaucratic cruft as they grow, what hope does the CA Dept of Public Health have?

        I concur that the current situation is really bad; civil servants are heavily insulated from any consequences for their actions, good or ill. But we’re stuck at a sub-optimal Schelling point for good reason: an effective government response would require greatly empowering bureaucrats that the public by and large doesn’t trust. You can’t just punish; no one with any talent will remain in a position where they only get punished, but offering rewards for performance is really, really difficult. I don’t see a good way out, especially not as the public ala Albatross keeps losing faith in the government.

        1. albatross11

          I don’t think there’s anything inevitable about having civil servants get paid poorly relative to similar people in the private sector–that’s a policy choice.

  10. Le Maistre Chat

    Depending on your age, how deadly does COVID-19 actually get if the health care system is slammed?
    What percentage of people who test positive even need a hospital bed? And don’t we have the labor and supplies (besides PPE, obviously) to treat such people in converted buildings and tent hospitals: indeed isn’t this what we always do during a bad flu season?
    When you see terrifying data like Italy’s, it includes numbers like “5% serious or critical”. Does that mean 5% of people who test positive need ICU care and 100% of that 5% would die without it, while the “mild” 95% are at no risk of death while the ICUs are slammed?

    1. The Nybbler

      At all levels, SARS-CoV-2 appears to be age dependent. You are less likely to be infected (Diamond Princess data), less likely to have severe symptoms given infection (NYC data, because they’re only testing severe cases), less likely to be hospitalized given severe symptoms (NYC again), and less likely to die given hospitalization (Italy, NYC, Wuhan, Diamond Princess). I don’t have ICU data however (I think it exists for Diamond Princess). The weird one is developing symptoms at all; the Diamond Princess data show those between 20-50 are most likely to be symptomatic. This could be an artifact of some sort; there’s little other data on low-symptom or asymptomatic infections.

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        At all levels, SARS-CoV-2 appears to be age dependent. You are less likely to be infected (Diamond Princess data),

        Let’s look at children and working-age adults in a worst-case scenario:
        Of the 347 passengers 20-29, 28 (8.07%) tested positive.
        Of the 428 passengers 30-39, 34 (7.94%) tested positive.
        Of the 334 passengers 40-49, 27 (8.08%) tested positive.
        Of the 398 passengers 50-59, 59 (14.82%) tested positive.

        Let’s be pessimistic and round to 8.08% at age 49 and under. That’s out of total population of ~71.7 million people 0-19 and 125 million age 20-49: 196.7 * 0.0808 = 15.89 million infections in a national petri dish.
        42.83 million Americans are 50-59, * 0.1482 = another 6.35 million infections.

        less likely to have severe symptoms (NYC data, because they’re only testing severe cases), less likely to be hospitalized (NYC again),

        OK so what are the rates here, if known?
        EDIT: I’ll just go by the 10-39 death rate of 0.2% of confirmed cases unless someone has better data:

        5.8 million infections 19 and under. Round to 1 in 1,000 children (through age 19) due to the minuscule number of deaths under age 10 = 5,800 deaths.
        125 million – 40.46 million = 84.54 adults 20-39. 6.83 million infections. 1 in 500 deaths = 13,662 deaths.
        3.269 million infections age 40-49 * 0.004 (twice as deadly) = 13,077 deaths.
        42.83 million * 0.1482 = 6.347 million infections, death rate rises to 1.3%, so 82,516 deaths.

        1. The Nybbler

          NYC data is here. I’m currently waiting for food delivery and too hungry to do the math, but you can see it visually by clicking on the Cases/Hospitalizations/Deaths sliders under “Cases by age”. Note that “cases” are heavily biased towards those with severe symptoms, because that’s what they’re testing.

  11. AlexanderTheGrand

    I’ve seen a lot about the incubation period of coronavirus being 2-14 days, from exposure to first symptoms.

    I would like to know, how long after symptoms does it hang around enough to be picked up by a pcr test from a throat/nose swab?

    I was sick with something in early march, recovered around 2 weeks ago. I’m trying to figure out, if I got tested today and was positive, how likely it’s residual. This is hypothetical by the way.

  12. Deiseach

    It’s Saturday of my third week working from home, how are you all holding up? It’s a little bit weird now I have to admit, I’m in that liminal state where it’s not exactly like a holiday (because I’m still getting and having to respond to work emails) but it’s not at all like work-working.

    Also, the weather has been extremely good for March/April so far, ordinarily it would be ‘rain rain rain’ but now that everyone has been confined to home or very limited routes, suddenly it’s blue skies and sunshine!

    Anyway, given that the real Grand National had to be called off, they’re running the Virtual Grand National instead, all betting proceeds to go to the NHS. I’m so lacking something better to do, I’ll be watching a fake horse race at 5:15 p.m. on ITV 🙂

    1. HeelBearCub

      I’m a programmer for a company that already had strong support for the ability to WFH. My work is basically unchanged, except that we are doing emergency projects to try and help customers adapt to their own issues with responding to the outbreak. (I’m currently procrastinating on a P1 fix I need to get done by the end of the weekend).

      Which I will count as extremely fortunate. Otherwise I’d probably be going slowly more insane.

    2. Nick

      Working from home? What’s working from home?

      Oh, right, that thing I could be doing if my damn employer had listened to me weeks ago when I said we need to prepare.

      Also, the weather has been extremely good for March/April so far, ordinarily it would be ‘rain rain rain’ but now that everyone has been confined to home or very limited routes, suddenly it’s blue skies and sunshine!

      Who knew climate change could be reversed so quickly. 😀

      1. Deiseach

        When we get good weather while the kids are all still stuck in school it’s called “exam weather” (because it usually hits during the start of the national exams in June, and no, you can’t automatically expect June in Ireland to be sunny and dry!)

        This time around looks like we’re getting “corona weather” 🙂

    3. Anteros

      Well, seeing as you ask… I’m doing splendidly, thanks. We live in the absolute middle of nowhere in rural France, so we’re pretty much unaffected by the bulk of the lockdown malarkey. It’s true we have to carry a signed form when we go to the shops saying ‘I’m going to the shops’ and another when we walk the dog, saying ‘ I’m walking the dog’, but it isn’t, honestly, that onerous. The kids think it’s hilarious and assume policemen must be idiots. Policemen being people I’ve not seen one single example of in the seven years I’ve lived here.

      My parents-in-law have decided it’s time to embark on numerous projects on their 7 acre plot and as they aren’t currently allowed to employ anyone to do the work, it’s all come our way. Not strictly legal, of course, but we see them every day and consider them part of our self-isolating family. It helps that my mother-in-law is just about the best cook in the world and so after pottering around in the morning on my quad bike or a tractor, or perhaps putting in some fence posts, I sit down to a two hour feast with my extended family. Sometimes there’s a bit more work in the afternoon, but often enough there’s a long sieste or the kids will persuade us oldies to spend some time on the trampoline or play parlour games.

      Speaking of kids, of course our children are home from school for a month or two, but miraculously they’ve discovered they actually like doing school work via the internet, have both learned to skype, and need precisely no chivvying along to keep up with their homework.

      Yes, I do feel somewhat guilty about it, and empathize with people stuck in small flats on the 23rd floor of a gruesome skyscraper, but really – what am I supposed to do to ameliorate their distress?

      How was the Grand National?

      1. Deiseach

        How was the Grand National?

        Interesting! Would be fascinating to see if the real race turned out anything like the virtual race (the hot favourite only came in fourth). There was a real heart-stopping moment where at the second-last fence the horse in the lead was a faller – good amount of drama involved!

        Luckily I hadn’t bet on anything because my two picks were fallers/pulled up 🙂

        Surprisingly good fun, actually, and I could well envision a world where animal rights activists get horse racing banned so it’s all done virtually. I don’t think it’s very likely, but it’s certainly doable. Also a great way to hash out the kind of “who would win between X and Y?” disputes because they had a Classics race beforehand where all the previous winners raced, and Red Rum (a much-loved former champion) won that one (I do wonder if the programmers put their thumbs on the scales for that result, but I have no idea if so).

          1. LesHapablap

            SIGMA DERBY! I used to play that at MGM back in the mid 2000s. We’d start playing and it would inevitably draw a crowd, such an incredibly fun game.

          2. JayT

            The MGM has a new version of the Sigma Derby that was impressive because the horses aren’t on a track, so they jockey for position. It’s pretty cool, but then they went and ruined it by putting a CG version of the race on a TV above the track, and the TV was a second or two ahead of the actual track, so everyone just watches the TV. I haven’t been in over a year, so maybe that was fixed, but it really ruined the excitement of the race.

    4. broblawsky

      I’m working from home 40% of the time and from the office 60% of the time; the blessing (and curse) of being in manufacturing. There are severe limits on the kind of work I can do from home, so I’m mostly just boning up on data science and neural network techniques.

    5. DavidFriedman

      We are doing fine. My work is self-assigned, converting a couple of my books into audiobooks plus yard work, so staying in the house and yard is no problem. Most of my realspace socializing is with my wife and kids and we are all self-quarantining together, so that isn’t affected either. Most of my online socializing is here. I am thinking about going back to WoW, which I returned to when they brought out Classic and then dropped out of a month or two back.

      Today is my daughter’s birthday. Not being able to shop for presents was a minor inconvenience, but I think we have adequately dealt with it — no details provided since she may read this.

      So over all, things are pretty easy for us, although I do worry about friends.

    6. The Nybbler

      Weather’s been crap (cold, rain, and sometimes cold and rain). Weather finally become OK today, but then I crashed one of my RC helicopters and another one malfunctioned and crashed. Then I got run off the field I was using. I’ve lost a huge chunk of my money and along with it any prospect to retire in the near future. Work goes on but it’s really hard to actually be motivated; it was hard already.

      But I’m not taking New Jersey Transit any more, so I got that going for me, which is nice.

    7. thehousecarpenter

      I have been furloughed with 80% pay from my software development job, and have no work to do. Frankly I’m really enjoying this so far, because I like freedom. Obviously, I am a bit worried about whether my job or even my company will still be there after all of this is over.

      1. AG

        I have been furloughed but get 0 pay unless I submit vacation time. I’ve sent an email to my supervisor making a case for why I’m a unique exception and should still get to WFH, but that’s unlikely, so I am planning to apply for unemployment.

    8. Silverlock

      Doing fine, thanks, but some of my co-workers not so much. I work in IT at a regional healthcare provider in the American South, and we recently had to furlough/lay off several hundred (non-clinical) people.

      I had already been working from home one day a week anyway, so the switch to every day has been pretty easy. The main difference is that my wife and daughter are also home with me now. I do miss my lunch group, though; I have been lunching with them for many years now.

        1. Silverlock

          We have thought of that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start Skyping or Facetiming during lunchtime. Two of the group have been continuing to go in to the office, but I doubt that will remain the case for much longer.

    9. John Schilling

      Now working from home roughly four and a half days a week, the remaining half-day being for things that can only be done in a classified environment. It’s going tolerably well, but there are definite losses in productivity. Collaboration isn’t as easy, which means there’s less of it. In particular, what was supposed to be a two-day workshop involving participants from several corporations, universities, and government agencies working together on a common problem, turned into a two-day teleconference that defaulted to one group presenting their work and future plans to only limited feedback. Also, it’s nearly impossible for the home office to be as distraction-free a proper workplace. And if that is partially compensated by the ability to slip back into work for e.g. an hour or two in the evening, that still goes against easy collaboration because it’s less likely that the collaborators will be working at the same time. Some major projects and operations are definitely being delayed by all of this, but not to the extent that e.g. you have to worry about GPS shutting down on you any time soon.

      No layoffs or pay cuts, and none expected, at least. The one part-time octogenarian in my section went to zero-time for the duration, but she was working more for social than economic purposes. Currently living with her adult son, doing well last time I talked to her. One possible coronavirus case in my team, more likely just flu but she and her husband went into full lockdown for two weeks and are now fine.

      Otherwise, my house is much cleaner and better organized than it was two months ago. I try to find an excuse to get out of the house once a day, if only for a walk, but that doesn’t always happen. Social interaction is basically limited to a few internet forums like this one, and a couple of people that I talk to on the phone every few days. There’s little danger of starvation or other physical harm if we have to keep this up until the FDA approves a vaccine, but I’d be a very grumpy misanthrope at the end of that process I should think.

    10. Trofim_Lysenko

      As a Marketing Coordinator at a Casino, there are some things I can do to work from home, but since we’ve been entirely shut down since March 13th, we pretty much ran through those tasks two weeks ago…

      …which is why I’m basically waiting to be unemployed. The company is trying hard to retain it’s employees, and as of the 10th will have paid hourly team members a full 3 weeks worth of full time pay for little to no actual work outside of our security and housekeeping staff. But in Ohio Gov. DeWine has extended the stay-at-home order through May 1st, and I am seriously concerned that something has to give.

      I can’t apply for unemployment until I’m actually unemployed, and I can’t commit to a new job when work still wants me on-call to WFH or to come in for physical work on-property Monday-To-Friday (This has only happened twice in three weeks, a few hours loading food bank trucks with basically whatever they wanted from our restaurants’ stores, and some basic planning on promotion rules and execution for May and June)…

    11. Edward Scizorhands

      I am holding up great, relatively. Exercise is a lot harder. I get out on a bike ride most days, something I had barely done for several months.

      My biggest hurdle is trying to hold other people up, both at my house and remotely. I’m an introvert but I’ve been making a point to reach out to old friends to do welfare checks. Emailing with my parents every day or two, and now Skyping with them every week.

    12. DinoNerd

      I was first encouraged to work from home on Friday March 6. I went in to the office once or possibly twice after that, to collect equipment I expected to need. So I’m at the start of my 5th week, unless you count from the last time I went in.

      For the first week or so, many things were still open, and then we had first a country-wide, then a state-wide shutdown, and finally an enhanced county-wide list of things not to do.

      I’m climbing the walls, in spite of considering myself to be an introvert. Lack of exercise is not helping – I walk the dog once a day, and it’s just not enough. I’ve ordered an exercise bike online, and hope it gets here. (Amazon, Fedex, UPS etc. are still operating today, but what about next week, when it’s due to arrive?) I also have no idea how I’m going to find space for it.

      My housemate is laid off. My brother in law works for a company that was supposed to be prepared for WFH, but was not. One sister came down with some kind of probably-not-covid-19 bug, but recovered without testing, while her husband and his employer was adapting to WFH. My other sister had a household medical emergency – fortunately not her – an elderly housemate with dementia fell and broke her hip – during the crisis.

      My sisters (who live 1000s of miles away from each other and from me) and I are calling each other on the phone a lot, and I’m trying to coax the one who has a Mac to try out Facetime. I’m also facetiming with more local friends. And there are lots of video conferences with coworkers as well; blessedly IT had already rolled out something a lot better than Zoom, because we work at multiple sites worldwide, when we’re in the office; all they had to cope with was capacity problems.

      My household has been doing jigsaw puzzles together to cope with stress, and to find something to do for people at loose ends. There’s one on the dining room table right now. I’m thinking of dusting off my childhood Meccano (= Erector set) and building the biggest, most complex project I can find space for.

      Compared to average, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve got a single family house, with a yard. I’ve got money coming in, and a job. No one I care about has caught it, and the only person I know who may have caught it has recovered. And if I do catch it, my local hospitals don’t appear to be overwhelmed (yet?). But it’s very hard to feel that way.

      I had planned to retire at the end of this May. That’s not going to happen, and I’ve no idea when the situation will be stable enough for me to re-estimate when I’ll really be able to afford to retire, post financial crash. A close friend had already announced his retirement date (early April), and made all the arrangements, when the financial crash began – so couldn’t easily delay it. Now he’s officially retired. We haven’t discussed his financial situation, but I worry about him.

      Every time someone stops being visible for a few days – coworkers, bloggers, etc – I worry that they’ve either caught it, or are choosing some self destructive way of coping with their stress. (E.g. the colleague that already showed the signs of being a potential alcoholic.)

      The weird things is, I wasn’t remotely this stressed by 9/11, whereas most of the folks around me were visibly running off the rails. But this has turned out to be an unexpectedly huge emotional weight.

      I hope you are all doing much better than me, particularly emotionally. Either that or I hope we can wake up and discover this is all a very bad dream.

      1. DavidFriedman

        Am I right in remembering that you are a programmer? If so, perhaps instead of building something with Meccano, you could think of an idea for a program and make it. One of the neat things about programming is that you have the necessary tools for doing quite sophisticated work, given the needed skills, right on your on your desktop.

        If you were very lucky, you might even produce something other people would pay you for.

        1. DinoNerd

          That’s correct, and if I’d been laid off, that’s probably what I’d be doing. But programming won’t get me out of this chair – and building big Meccano models would. (In my teens, I created an Eiffel Tower model that nearly reached the ceiling, and had to be built downstairs in a family room, because my bedroom was on the top floor where the ceilings were lower.) I don’t have the space for something that huge here, but could still manage something too big to be conveniently reached while sitting at a table.

          Probably what I should do is sort the heaps of junk that have accumulated in the decades we’ve been here. Except I doubt that goodwill is open to accept donations right now.

          1. DavidFriedman

            Probably what I should do is sort the heaps of junk that have accumulated in the decades we’ve been here. Except I doubt that goodwill is open to accept donations right now.

            Could you sort it into trash bags or big cardboard boxes or whatever of that sort you have, put it somewhere out of the way, possibly in your car, and plan to deliver it to Goodwill when that becomes possible?

          2. johan_larson

            Or just throw it out. If no one wants something, even for free, it’s worthless. And it’s OK to throw out worthless stuff.

            If you feel unbearably guilty about throwing out serviceable goods, hold a virtual garage sale on Craigslist, with everything listed at rock-bottom prices, for pick-up only. Anything you still have at the end of a couple of weeks, can be thrown away.

      2. Rebecca Friedman

        I know I don’t know you very well, but virtual hugs. This sounds really rough, and I’m sorry it’s hitting you this hard. Good luck finding space for the exercise bike!

        I assume you don’t garden? You mentioned having a yard, and – I usually only plant a few tomatoes, but this year I’ve spent a lot more time on gardening, and I’m finding it helps a lot. Pulling ivy (our principle weed) makes for a remarkable amount of exercise, and working outside in the fresh air seems to be good for my mood. I assume you’ve probably already thought of this/have no interest, but tossing it out just in case.

        (I have managed to make space in my room for dancing, so I’m fine. Bless whoever took all the Youtube videos, with their music at the right speed with the right number of repeats.)

        1. DinoNerd

          Thank you.

          Gardening is definitely the kind of thing I need – outdoors, physical, and producing something tangible. Yet it hadn’t occurred to me at all. Clearly I need to be nudged to think my way out of the box.

          Gardening itself is probably not the right answer for me. My family thinks my thumbs are black, and they are close to right. More importantly, our household gardener is the one who got laid off. So I should probably leave that to her. But maybe she’d appreciate someone wielding a shovel to put in new raised beds or some such. (That’s probably about my fighting weight, for gardening.)

          In any case, you and David have now got me thinking outside of the box. Perhaps I’ll start cleaning out my garage – physical activity in itself, and a possible place to set up the exercise bike – or a place to put the stuff that’s currently blocking better exercise bike locations.

          1. DavidFriedman

            If you happen to have a lot of scrap wood around, or if you are willing to risk Home Depot (I’m not), you could build a raised bed for vegetables. I built two for Becca before we started the quarantine and would be happy to provide instructions.

            Her system, which I am sure she would be happy to describe for you, requires a lot of random dead plant material for the bottom layer — which reduced the yard’s decades long accumulation of cut up tree branches and the like by a lot, but may not be an option for you. And you need dirt as well. But it seems to work very well for the friend from whom Becca got the idea.

            A lot of what you can do depends on what happens to be in your house. I solved the Becca birthday present problem by making her jewelry, a ring and two pendants, but then I have a lapidary and jewelry making setup in my basement and enough rough to keep me busy for a very long time. Meccano aside, what do you have in your home that could be used for interesting projects? Cloth and a sewing machine? Nails, screws, wood, and carpentry tools? Paper and drawing implements — but that might leave you still in your chair.

            Any interest in cooking experiments? The SCA sometimes has “siege cooking” contests, where you are given a specified set of ingredients and asked to make something from them. This looks like the opportunity for a natural experiment along those lines.

          2. Lambert

            My plan, before I unexpectedly needed to move to a house where the garden doesn’t get much light, was to put together a hydroponic system.

            Plan was some kind of flood/drain cultivation of vine/climbing plants controlled by and arduino in a waterproof junction box. The water level in the growing containers is usually low to let the roots absorb oxygen but it’s periodically flooded so they don’t dry out.

            Now I’m left with a bunch of coir I don’t know what to do with.

          3. DinoNerd

            I’m cooking more than usual, but unfortunately that’s only brought me from approximately never to about once a week. Experiment number one, and its sequel (making soup from some of the leftovers) went well. Experiments 3 and 4 not so much; number 4 was supposed to be a stew, but I put in too many beets; adding sour cream and pretending it was supposed to be borscht is helping me get through the leftovers.

            It turned out that every single herb or spice I had in the house, or at least all those I’ve tried so far, are essentially flavourless from age. (I can still taste and smell other things, so it’s the spices, not me.) We did a grocery run today – might be the last one for a while – and I at least bought some black pepper, and a fresh ginger root, but no herbs etc. (We already had fresh garlic.)

            Experiment 5 looks like being fried liver and onions – something I’ve made successfully in the past. I’m ready for another success, after the last two meh results. So when I saw the liver today, I grabbed it.

            It would be good for me to do more of this, and my retirement plans included cooking more often. But it’ll take a bit of practice to get reliable results, unless I’m following a recipe exactly. (I used to be more competent, but that was well before I took my current job, and basically stopped cooking.)

          4. Rebecca Friedman

            Do you have herbs in the garden? That can help. We are largely relying on ours for herbs, at the moment; we have some dried, but the sooner we can transition away from relying on those, the better. I’m mostly worried about chervil; we use it in spinach tarts, and while we have some in the ground, if it does well this will be the first time. I suppose if we need to, we can leave it out.

            Honestly, though, cooking without a recipe (or without one you know well) is a trick I still haven’t mastered myself; I tend to be about 50% on “will anyone but me eat this.” I’m compensating by buying lots of dry ingredients so as to be able to follow my recipes, and adjusting from known recipes if I can’t; don’t know if you have the ingredients (or recipes!) to make that work for you, but… nothing wrong with working from recipes.

          5. Rebecca Friedman

            @ Lambert

            If you’re doing hydroponics, does it have to be in the dirt? I assume you don’t have a balcony/sunny bit of space inside by windows you don’t urgently need for anything else?

    13. JayT

      Work wise, not much has changed. I normally did one of two days from home already, and my current job is fairly solitary. There have been a few times that it would have been a whole lot easier to go talk face to face with someone rather than trying to talk over Slack or Zoom. Overall though, it’s been fine.

      Socially, I’m actually hearing from friends more often than I did before the lockdown. All of my closest friends live in different cities from me, so it’s easy to go weeks at a tie without hearing from them since everyone has busy lives and families. Now though, everyone has their evenings pretty much free, so I’m chatting/Zooming/gaming with a bunch of my friends. That part of it has actually been a lot of fun.

    14. Faza (TCM)

      Oddly, my life hasn’t really changed. I still go to the office every day (and will continue to do so, until forced to stop). I’d been sitting around at home when not at work for the past eight years and like it, so no change there. I’ve not really been socialising before lockdown, so I feel no urge to start now. On the bright side, the streets and public transport are nigh empty so the commute has become roughly ten times as enjoyable.

      Of course, things may soon change for the worse. I’m probably not first in line for redundancy, but if enough of our clients go bust, I’ll be out of a job. I do have sufficient savings to see us through for a couple of years, maybe (assuming no hyperinflation or other economic collapse, which may be optimistic), but I’d rather not dip into them too much, if I can help it.

    15. albatross11

      I’m working full time remotely. My wife had just returned to work after many years as a stay at home mom, and she got furloughed from her part-time job, with no guarantee of actually being called back. I think I could be more productive from home than in the office, except that home is full of distractions, and also I’ve had a hard time focusing on work when the world is on fire. The kids are mostly staying on-task w.r.t. online lessons, we’re all holding up OK, but we’re already sick of this and there’s probably a long time to go until it ends.

      1. acymetric

        I am definitely more productive working from home, but I don’t really know how to present that to my employer because “I’m more productive working from home, can I work from home sometimes after this is over” sounds a lot like “I’m not as productive as I should be in the office.” I do really hope they start allowing at least some limited work from home opportunities after this is over.

        1. Purplehermann

          Maybe frame it as “commute is tiring and wastes time, and my work from home is just as good” or similar?

      2. JayT

        Work from home is interesting for me. I’m a software engineer, and I’m far more productive when doing individual contributor tasks at home, but when I’m doing management/architecture type work, being in the office is 100% better. So, I wish that my company was more flexible on this kind of thing. Their policy is one day per week at home, and my boss will usually let me get away with two if I ask him. But with the way work normally falls out, I would be better off doing five days at home some weeks and none others, and sometimes in between.

    16. VoiceOfTheVoid

      Falling behind in my classes cause a virtual lecture just feels so much less…urgent than a lecture in physical meatspace.

      My dad taught me how to change a tire today–yay for learning basic life skills! And then made me do it 11 more times to swap out the snow tires with regular tires on our family’s cars.

    17. A Definite Beta Guy

      Was WFH 60% of the time. Then the guy in the office next to me was isolated at home, so my wife said I need to be 100% WFH or stay at a hotel. So…I’m now 100% WFH.

      WFH is way better for my productivity, at least right now. We did a MASSIVE system change this year, which requires me to spend a lot of time monkeying around spreadsheets and crunching numbers. Basically ideal for WFH.

      Plus, no commute, which means a LOT more time to cook, and I can swap laundry and do a few dishes during downtime. So, overall, way better!

      Also, it looks like the Bulls are firing GarPax and the Bear got a new QB (along with a big improvement to our Defensive Front 7), so sports next year might not be totally terrible!

    18. Randy M

      how are you all holding up?

      It’s not too bad, but it’s frustrating.
      My wife and daughters were visiting out of state friends when this started getting serious a few weeks ago. At first they were looking for a way back when the flight was cancelled… but then my wife got spooked, since, after chemo 8 years ago, she’s immunocompromised and the oncologist basically told her to make quite sure she doesn’t get this. Additionally, staying with the friends, my daughters have an acre of land and other people, so all in all we feel it’s better that they stay there while there is the quarantine and threat of illness more serious here (so. California) than there (Idaho).
      When my work shut down, I drove up there to shelter in place with them… only to have it reopen three days later having been classified as essential. We do make actual physical things, though not exactly everyday items–construction materials, basically. On the one hand, yay, paycheck and hint of normalacy… on the other hand, after a week vacation I flew back home, alone. I get to do bed time stories over the phone again.
      I can usually be content solitary, but the indeterminate nature and questionable value of the measures make the loneliness acute. You can be pretty sure your choices are rational, and yet be extremely frustrated at the large chance it’s all for naught, you know?

    19. SamChevre

      Working from home is better than I expected. Admittedly, I made like Taffy and brought home everything* including my desk chair and dual monitors. I’m working as many hours as ever, but seeing my children more since I can take a 5 minute break and do something with them.

      We already homeschooled, so other than working at home not much has changed for us.

      *I got my manager’s permission

      1. DinoNerd

        I wish I’d thought of bringing the desk chair. The one I have here is decent, but the office one is better. I did bring home a backpack full of misc. electronic paraphenalia, most of which I haven’t yet needed, just in case.

        1. Matt M

          I went with my fiance to her office this weekend just to get her desk chair and bring it home. Not sure if your employer would allow you to do that or not, but hers had no objection to it.

          1. DinoNerd

            At this point I need approval from a corporate VP just to go into the building. It seems like overkill, but apparantly we had people ignoring mere recommendations, and working at their usual desks every day.

          2. albatross11

            The problem here is that there’s an actual goal (drop R_0 through the floor) and then there’s a set of rules/laws/directives imposed from on high to try to accomplish that goal. But since the people issuing the directives don’t know your local conditions (and often they don’t really know what they’re doing themselves), the directives are often kind-of silly. I fervently hope that some smart people are working out sensible directives for when we end the hard shutdowns in favor of less stringent attempts to slow the spread of the virus.

            As it stands now, in principle at least, going to five different stores and wandering the aisles of each for half an hour is OK, but visiting a friend and standing 10 feet apart outside is not. The first one exposes you to many other people and the second exposes you to nobody, but it was easier to write the rules this way, so those are the rules we’ve been told to follow.

        2. Aapje

          I got a 10-year-at-work gift, which I used to buy an Aeron for home. It was a very good decision.

        3. CatCube

          The annoying thing for me is textbooks. Luckily we can go get stuff, we just need to let our Branch Chief know (only two levels up from me), and he’s really reasonable about it. Of course, we’ve not had the issue where people ignored the WFH guidelines. One guy bitterly complained, pointing out that if he was the only one here there was little risk, but dutifully packed up his desktop and all his monitors into his truck and took it home.

  13. Brassfjord

    How come people can’t separate “than” from “that” anymore? I’ve seen it several times in this thread alone.

      1. Brassfjord

        Why would autocorrect even try to correct either of these words, when it can’t understand the meaning of a sentence? That’s just sloppy programming.

        1. HeelBearCub

          It’s correcting some misspelling. The original is neither “than” nor “that”.

          Likely typed on a small phone screen, so the misspelling is just down the vagaries of typing on a screen.

        2. Tarpitz

          I used “autocorrect” in a loose and sloppy sense – what I really mean is predictive text. Someone typed “tha” and misclicked (mistapped?) or the words swapped round in the prediction bar as they added a letter, or something of that sort. It’s likely to be a smartphone-driven typo plus lack of proofreading, not a grammatical or linguistic misunderstanding.

    1. Machine Interface

      If not autocorrect, both are particles that can introduce a subclause. “Than” is rather specialized and there would be not be much confusion in getting rid of it in favor of “that” — French actually uses the same word for “that”, “than” and “as”! So maybe it’s the beginning of a grammatical change that will swipe the English language — or maybe it’s a temporary trend that will die in the egg.

      1. Brassfjord

        I react immediately when I see “that” instead of “than” (which is the most common mistake) because to me the meanings of the words aren’t even close.

    2. Deiseach

      Could be some fumbling when typing, I’ve often hit “teh” instead of “the”. And I’m constantly seeing people spelling “rogue” as “rouge”.

  14. johan_larson

    The Canadian province of Ontario yesterday held a press conference where they presented the results of the models they are using to make policy decisions about how to fight COVID-19.

    The estimated death toll, in April:
    if nothing had been done: 6,000
    under current measures: 1,600
    under stricter measures: 200

    Their estimated death toll from the disease, in Ontario, over the next year or more: 3,000 to 15,000. Ontario has 14.7 million people.

    The government also announced further shutdowns:

    As of Saturday at 11:59 p.m. in Ontario, all industrial construction except critical infrastructure projects, such as hospitals and transit, must be halted, and no new residential construction will be allowed to begin, (the Premier) Mr. Ford said.

    But he said critical projects, including sewers, water infrastructure, hospitals and public transit, must continue, adding the province has hired 60 new inspectors to survey construction sites. He said 45,000 families have houses under construction, and can’t be left without a place to live.

    Other changes include: closing cannabis stores and moving sales to online-only; making hardware stores, pet and animal supply stores, office supply stores and safety supply stores curbside pick-up and delivery only; further limiting veterinary services and research services.

    So here in Ontario, you can still pick up booze in person, but you have to get your weed online.

    1. Christophe Biocca

      PDF of slides

      Here’s something I see that’s suspicious, and maybe people who understand epidemiology can explain:

      I divided confirmed cases by population in that age range, and 0.0382% of people over 80 have tested positive for the virus, but only 0.0027% of people under 20 have (an order of magnitude + difference).
      Does that mean there’s something like ~1000 undiagnosed cases among the under-20 crowd? Or is my assumption that age doesn’t change your odds of catching the virus incorrect?

      1. HeelBearCub

        Is Canada doing lots of testing of asymptomatic people? If not, we could easily see a magnitude difference of apparent incident rates based on what we know about who is most likely to be symptomatic (the 80 year olds).

      2. The Nybbler

        Diamond Princess data argues for odds of catching the virus being age dependent.

        Of the 16 passengers under 10, 1 (6.25%) tested positive.
        Of the 23 passengers 10-19, 5 (21.74%) tested positive.
        Of the 347 passengers 20-29, 28 (8.07%) tested positive.
        Of the 428 passengers 30-39, 34 (7.94%) tested positive.
        Of the 334 passengers 40-49, 27 (8.08%) tested positive.
        Of the 398 passengers 50-59, 59 (14.82%) tested positive.
        Of the 923 passengers 60-69, 177 (19.18%) tested positive.
        Of the 1015 passengers 70-70, 234 (23.05%) tested positive.
        Of the 216 passengers 80-89, 54 (25%) tested positive.

        1. Le Maistre Chat

          Of the 16 passengers under 10, 1 (6.25%) tested positive.
          Of the 23 passengers 10-19, 5 (21.74%) tested positive.
          Of the 347 passengers 20-29, 28 (8.07%) tested positive.

          Heh, then the numbers don’t come close to 21.74% again until age 60-69. Sample size artifacts!
          I also find it hilarious that there were 39 children aboard to 1938 people 60-79.

        2. Matt M

          It’s a little crazy to me that these numbers are so low.

          People often joke about cruise ships being the worst possible scenario for disease spread. Phrases like “floating petri dish” have been in common usage well before COVID was even a thing.

          So how is it that >80% of the people onboard a floating petri dish with COVID on it managed to avoid catching it? If that can happen in the worst case scenario in terms of a lack of social distancing, why are we arresting people for surfing by themselves in the ocean because it’s “putting us all at risk?”

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            So how is it that >80% of the people onboard a floating petri dish with COVID on it managed to avoid catching it? If that can happen in the worst case scenario in terms of a lack of social distancing, why are we arresting people for surfing by themselves in the ocean because it’s “putting us all at risk?”

            We should really run numbers on how many people will die from letting everyone go back to work based on the petri dish data.

          2. mfm32

            Were the passengers tested only with a PCR test? I would assume so, given the timing. In that case, it’s possible there were others who where infected or exposed to the virus but mounted immune responses and did not have active infections when they were tested.

          3. Matt M

            Were the passengers tested only with a PCR test? I would assume so, given the timing. In that case, it’s possible there were others who where infected or exposed to the virus but mounted immune responses and did not have active infections when they were tested.

            In practical terms, “they had the virus but never noticed it” doesn’t really seem that different/worse than “they never had the virus at all.”

          4. Edward Scizorhands

            I think the reason for limited outbreak is that the ship went into a quarantine. It’s quite suboptimal to do it on a boat — especially if the crew is still moving about freely — but passengers were mostly confined to rooms and IIRC fed in their rooms.

          5. mfm32

            @Matt If the infection rate on the ship was higher than recorded, that’s actually really good news. “Had the virus but didn’t notice” is basically the best possible outcome, because it means you’re (very likely) immune. On the other hand, if the infection rate was as reported, we might still take caution because people might have avoided infection because of luck or unusually vigorous lockdown of the ship.

            That said, I remain a bit confused by some of the public advice and commentary that seems to imply simultaneously that R_0 is high, CFR is high, and the vast majority of people have not been infected and therefore are not immune. It seems hard to square all of those claims. I think this is related to the Nostalgebraist critique of the flattening curve post.

          6. Matt M

            I remain a bit confused by some of the public advice and commentary that seems to imply simultaneously that R_0 is high, CFR is high, and the vast majority of people have not been infected and therefore are not immune. It seems hard to square all of those claims.

            Me as well.

            Something about this whole narrative doesn’t add up. I’m not saying the entire thing is a conspiracy, but as you say, among the threeor so assumptions needed to really freak out about this (R0 is high, fatality is high, most people not infected yet), it seems like at least one of them almost has to be false for the numbers we’re actually seeing in real life to make any sense at all.

        3. Nick

          Do you think there’s anything going on with different behavior here? Like, it spread faster among the elderly because the elderly were mingling at scheduled events all day while the kids just went off to their cabins to play on their smartphones?

          1. Edward Scizorhands

            There are often group social events for the 12-17 year olds, that even appeal to sullen teenagers.

            In fact, last time I was on a cruise with my oldest, he was in that age group and loved those social events, right until he came down with some sickness.

      3. albatross11

        If they’re testing based on symptoms/known contact, then I’d guess this is a biased sample. Lots more 80 year olds than 20 year olds show up at the hospital in a normal year with pneumonia, and nursing homes are a common place to get a visible case and then you might test everyone else in the nursing home.

  15. Clutzy

    Just saw a clip of a podcast where the Weinstein brothers were discussing how lab rats are a compromised sample for things like cancer and drug toxicity because lab conditions for breeding are nothing like the real world. I’ve always suspected rat studies ever since a Jr. Year Honors Neuroscience class I took where we exclusively read rat studies about various chemicals. And the cancer rat studies have always seemed a bit absurd.

    I am hoping someone with more than 3 years working in labs and hospitals as an undergrad can set me straight why this is not a disaster.

    1. Byrel Mitchell

      This basically boils down to ‘all models are wrong, some models are useful.’ A mouse model for cancer particularly is a bit suspicious. Mice don’t develop the same types of cancers that humans do naturally, so it’s necessary to artificially trigger them. It wouldn’t be surprising if that affected the cancer behavior in some meaningful way.

      At the same time though, mouse models for cancer are much better than in vitro or proxy chemistry models (though more expensive) and worse than dog models (who are prone to the same sorts of cancers as humans and often have the same genes as risk factors, but are more expensive than mice.)

      Edit: I missed your request for minimum experience; I’m a research consultant for dog breeders, and I’ve done a literature review on canine genetics. A lot of the papers in that area are on the genetics of canine cancer, with an aim to select breeds with really high incidence rates of specific cancers that are nearly identical in dogs and humans so those breeds can be used as animal models for treatment. But I have no experience in labs as you requested.

  16. Wrong Species

    Everyone believes that rebelling against authority makes you cool but I don’t think that’s right. People like those who rebel against the “wrong” authority. Rebelling against the “right” authority makes you a monster. We’re just so used to this idea that people adopt the rebel aesthetic regardless of whether they are actually rebelling against the system or working with it.

    1. Iago the Yerfdog

      Similarly, everybody tells you to stand up for what you believe in until it’s something they are strongly against. Then you’re just a trouble-maker. It’s a double-bind.

        1. Deiseach

          Flip side of that is “It’s censorship when you try to ban things I like/think are rebelling against authority; when I do it, it’s preventing hate speech”

    2. Forward Synthesis

      I want a grand political awakening where people stop using these universal slogans and actually admit they are for the things they find to be good and against the things they find to be bad. That would be nice.

      1. noyann

        Defining your stance by the existence of an authority is merely catching up what in the terrible twos (and to some extent puberty) was insufficiently developed.
        Terrible twos: sense of self-efficacy.
        Puberty: realistic assessment of role/position in society.

        A remark about authority in general: I judge authority threefold:
        – Authority by competence — that’s evident (for examples cf. SSC). If they are curt or appear arrogant that’s often because they have more important things to do than enlighten me.
        – Authority by personality — someone you can trust to be rational/follow insights and act morally, in situations of stress or against their own profit. This authority often goes with charisma.
        – Authority by position — “the boss”. If not backed up by another type of authority it’s just someone you have to work around.

        1. bullseye

          – Authority by personality — someone you can trust to be rational/follow insights and act morally, in situations of stress or against their own profit. This authority often goes with charisma.

          We should not trust charismatic people to act morally. Charisma is a great way to get away with immoral behavior.

          1. noyann

            “This authority often goes with charisma” certainly doesn’t work automatically the other way round.

      2. HowardHolmes

        people…admit they are for the things they find to be good and against the things they find to be bad. That would be nice.

        Or: people admit that they define as good what they are for and define as bad what they are against.

      3. Conrad Honcho

        “I’m for things that are good, and against things that are bad” was my slogan on my campaign posters for senior class Treasurer. I won, too!

      4. Baeraad

        I think that would be nice, actually, yes. I would very much like to see an end to people excluding others in the name of tolerance. This is not because I want everyone to be included. There are plenty of people who I don’t want within a thousand miles of me, and tolerance be damned. It’s just that the logical contradiction of it gives me a headache.

        Also, I think that if we all admitted that we are not trying to further “tolerance” but to push for our preferred values, then that would give us at least one thing in common with the people we disagreed with, since they were also trying to push for their preferred values. Which would make it a little more possible to empathise with them and see where they were coming from. Which might actually lead to just a little bit of… y’know… tolerance.

    3. The Nybbler

      Related to Conquest’s First Law: Everyone’s conservative about what they know best.

    4. eric23

      As they say, you can go to a classroom and ask “Who here views themselves as a nonconformist?” and every single student raises their hand.

      1. AG

        Can’t that be true, though? In a “normal is a social construction” sense, or in a “the distribution is wide” sense. Just because you’re within six sigma doesn’t mean that you aren’t away from the mean. Even in the heyday of melting pot America, you still have your Chinatowns and Little Italys and Jewish Quarters and such.

      2. The Nybbler

        If you’re ever in a classroom where someone tries this, don’t raise your hand until everyone else does, then raise it. The questioner will likely quiz you on this, and you can explain that you’re actually a conformist but didn’t want to go against the group.

          1. John Schilling

            That’s the easy right answer. The best right answer is to pre-rehearse the bit from Life of Brian, drawing straws for the quasi-iconoclast role.

  17. Le Maistre Chat

    I’m feeling scared about the Fed/Treasury’s bailouts and, secondarily, the $1200 AchooBI. How bad do y’all think inflation will get from increasing the money supply while GDP contracts 30% (apparently that’s annualized, so actually 10% if stay-at-home orders end forever after one quarter and like 50% if they last 18 months?)?

    1. HeelBearCub

      Your question as phrased implies that you think GDP contracting is inflationary. That’s not what I would think is the standard take.

      The real issue as far as inflation isn’t GDP contracting, but rather the question of supply chains, which are under threat. But I wouldn’t think that would manifest as general inflationary pressure. The volatiles (like oil) are waaaaay down in price. Specific items with inelastic demand (like PPE in a pandemic) and supply chain problems will be more expensive, but I don’t believe that would look like general inflation. The demand for most non-essential goods will be way down, and that should reflect in low prices.

      1. Le Maistre Chat

        The real issue as far as inflation isn’t GDP contracting, but rather the question of supply chains, which are under threat. But I wouldn’t think that would manifest as general inflationary pressure. The volatiles (like oil) are waaaaay down in price. Specific items with inelastic demand (like PPE in a pandemic) and supply chain problems will be more expensive, but I don’t believe that would look like general inflation. The demand for most non-essential goods will be way down, and that should reflect in low prices.

        This is all true. My concern was inflation in rent, health care, and consumer staples. However, the first two of those could be changed by government action, requiring sophisticated modeling of those market distortion effects rather than Econ 101 “more money chasing fewer goods reduces the purchasing power of each money unit.”

        1. HeelBearCub

          Why would increasing the money supply would increase the price any of those things? An increase in monetary supply isn’t going to make more dollars directly available to people who pay for rent, healthcare or consumer staples (unless you think big banks are going to be speculating on those things, which, in the absence of some exogenous means of increasing demand by consumers, would seem to counter productive).

          Increasing monetary supply essentially just keeps credit flowing, preventing a credit shock in addition to everything else. In this instance, it is “inflationary” in the sense that it’s designed to prevent the deflation that comes from the sudden lack of money available to all of the consumers.

          New rent demand will be down (people who would enter the market will stay at home with their folks, or stay in their existing mortgage, because how are you going to sell your house right now) . Discretionary healthcare spending will be down (healthcare employment is, ironically, one of the hardest hit sectors of employment right now because of that sudden contraction in discretionary visits). Supply chain issues could potentially push staple prices up, but that’s relatively small potatoes compared to everything else).

          I mean, if we go into a full on crisis of staple supply chain, sure I could see huge price increases in those goods, but then I would think that monetary policy will be the least of our concerns. On the margin, increased money supply makes more credit available to support increased/changed production.

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            I mean, if we go into a full on crisis of staple supply chain, sure I could see huge price increases in those goods, but then I would think that monetary policy will be the least of our concerns. On the margin, increased money supply makes more credit available to support increased/changed production.

            Yeah, I’m updating toward “hoard food and hygiene supplies, do not hedge against inflation in portfolio, because it won’t be bad for other CPI elements.”

    2. nkurz

      It might be relevant how you are defining “inflation”. I was recently trying to learn how “Treasury Inflation Protected Securities” (TIPS) work, and whether they might be a good inflation hedge. They are a US Treasury bond that is indexed to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (CPI-U). CPI-U splits urban residents’ expenses into a lot weighted categories, and then calculates how much the items in each category cost over time. Approximately, here are the big ones:

      Shelter: 33%
      Medical Care: 9%
      Food at home: 8%
      Food away from home: 6%
      Recreation: 6%
      Housing Fuels and Utilities: 5%
      Housing Furnishings: 4%
      Transportation Insurance and Maintenance: 4%
      Transportation New Vehicles: 4%
      Communication: 4%
      Education: 3%
      Apparel: 3%
      Personal care: 3%
      Transportation Motor Fuel: 3%
      Transportation Used Vehicles: 2%
      Transportation Other (Air, Public): 1%
      Alcohol: 1%
      Tobacco: 1%

      (Taken from from https://www.bls.gov/cpi/tables/relative-importance/2016.pdf, quite possibly with errors, although I think it adds up to 100%)

      Looking at these, I don’t think a majority are going to go up enough to offset the ones that are going to go down. The dominating one is Shelter. Are urban rents going to go up in this crisis? Maybe, if the somehow the cities are able to reopen with jobs before rural areas, but it seems more likely that housing costs come down. What do you see going up enough to offset this?

      On the other hand, it does seem that many individual items are going to be in short supply. And you’d think that having a lot of newly printed dollars chasing a smaller number of goods would cause the price of these goods to go up a lot. But at least as officially calculated, apparently the cost of consumer items (not) on the shelves doesn’t seem to be a major driver of increasing inflation.

      (And I’d be interested to hear thoughts on whether TIPS are a useful diversification at this point.)

      1. baconbits9

        as nkurz mentions the dominant part of CPI is shelter, and the dominant part of shelter is owner equivalent rent (OER). OER is weird, but I am neither going to attack it or defend it here, but it seems unlikely that in the short term that OER will be increasing.

        The most likely cases that I can think of for OER increasing is in 1-2 years with a massive recession followed by defaults and many abandoned homes/buildings as evictions and bankruptcies cripple the housing stock along with very limited new construction. This could start pushing rents up as uncertainty prevents large scale investments into rehabbing and new construction. Or you could have massive government programs to put floors under rents (ie rental vouchers as part of a bailout) which hold rents stable in depressed areas while the limited places that do have jobs available see upward pressure in prices.

        One concept that I think is likely to be true is that higher interest rates (or rising interest rates) push up rents relative to nominal prices, and I don’t think we are getting higher interest rates any time soon.

      2. Le Maistre Chat

        Urban rents: we’re in a crisis where unemployment is expected to exceed its Great Depression peak, due to non-essential employers being shut down as part of stay-at-home laws. US Governors are declaring that renters don’t have to pay their rent on time and the money supply is being increased in the form of $1200 dollar checks per adult citizen and $600 per qualifying child. What happens if the mean person spends practically all of this new money on consumer staples, knowing that there’s no penalty for not paying May and June’s rent as well as April’s (this varies by state, but CA is already at 3-month deferral)?
        Though the US has more homeowners with mortgages than renters, and banks will demand clients’ AchooBI as mortgage payment, unless the government freezes that. And people with mortgages can no more be evicted than renters, and the gov’t now has a history of bailing out the banks…

        1. The Nybbler

          You know who isn’t relaxing requirements for payments? Muncipalities with property tax payments. I suspect landlords and working-class homeowners are going to get squeezed.

          1. Le Maistre Chat

            You know who isn’t relaxing requirements for payments? Muncipalities with property tax payments. I suspect landlords and working-class homeowners are going to get squeezed.

            Landlords are not politically sympathetic. That’s going to get interesting for middle-class people who chose to invest in a rental property instead of stocks and bonds.
            Working-class people who own rather than rent are sympathetic, especially in the new political climate. Watching us get squeezed will be even more interesting.

          2. Matt M

            Roughly half of my property tax payment is supposedly specifically dedicated to schools.

            Which are closed.

            I’m sure they’ll be refunding that to me any day now, right?

    1. eyeballfrog

      At a large university where 4% of the students are black and, as Sutton points out, an even smaller percentage are black men

      This is such a weird way to say that UT has black women students.

      1. Aapje

        Perhaps they want to avoid saying that black men are a minority compared to black women, to prevent making a claim that goes against the oppression hierarchy?

    2. Tarpitz

      Could you give a brief synopsis for those of us who can’t read the article due to being in Europe?

      1. gph

        A college organization based on supporting black male students moved their meetings to videoconferencing with zoom due to the pandemic, but they posted the link to the meeting in public places and didn’t password protect or otherwise screen who could join so inevitably racist trolls started joining the meeting and doing what they do. They quickly ended the meeting, promised they’d protect future meetings, and apologized profusely while condemning the trolls.

    3. Deiseach

      Since I am a European citizen, the UT is protecting my delicate sensibilities by not letting me access the link (presumably they’re not in compliance with GDPR requirements).

      Looks like I’ll just have to look up what “racist zoombombing” is all by myself!

      EDIT: Have done so and it looks to be “idiots on the Internet taking the chance to be idiots on the Internet on new platforms”. I doubt that it’s a co-ordinated racist strike against the Black Male Students of the University of Texas and just the ordinary kind of “yelling insults and swearing online so funny hur hur”.

  18. Matt C

    Frozen food and preserved coronavirus: concerning or not?

    I assume that coronavirus can stay infectious a long time if it’s kept cold/frozen. I’m not worried about frozen foods that we bring home and cook, but what about things like frozen berries (probably picked by a person) that you wouldn’t normally cook? I’m reluctant to eat these now: have I gotten on the train to Crazy Town?

    Special case: what about ice cream? I’d expect that ice cream (from a grocery store carton) isn’t touched by people at all after it’s been sterilized/pasteurized and would be as safe as any other food, despite being frozen and not cooked. Since we eat it regularly I’d like to be sure I’m thinking correctly here.

    1. Matt C

      Appreciate the responses. Decided to cook the berries into syrup, decided that packaged ice cream is probably minimal risk (not zero, but probably very low, from what we can guess).

  19. Papillon

    As an economics masters student, the debate about the field’s merit is a constant source of anxiety and confusion for me. Just take a look at the goodreads quotes page for ‘economists’; it seems like there’s a real contingent of smart people who believe economics has no value whatsoever (or even that it’s actively harmful). It’s come to the point where I have to make my mind up one way or the other on whether I’m wasting my time. If anyone would like to recommend works on this topic, or post their own thoughts, I would appreciate it greatly.

    1. DavidFriedman

      Part of what is going on is that economics leads to conclusions that many people don’t want to believe. People on the left don’t want to believe that increasing the minimum wage will result in more unskilled workers being unemployed, people on the right don’t want to believe that protective tariffs make the country that imposes them poorer. If you are very clever and understand economics, it’s sometimes possible to make a coherent argument against such a conclusion, as Card and Kruger did for the minimum wage case, but even then the conclusion is generally much more limited that what people want to believe.

      It’s much less work to claim that economics is bunk. Especially if you don’t understand it very well.

      1. Loriot

        The other problem is that it’s really hard to actually get hard data or do controlled experiments at any meaningful scale. Which means for example that both the positions you mentioned are fiercely contested without conclusive evidence on either side. To some extent, economics is even anti-inductive.

        My dad is an economist and hence likes to tell economist jokes. One of his favorites goes as follows

        Student: We know how to lie with statistics, but how do you lie with economics?
        Teacher: Well, what is the difference between statistics and economics?
        Student: What?
        Teacher: For statistics, you need data.

        1. DavidFriedman

          My economics jokes are not about economics, they are jokes that teach economics.

          For example:

          One of the elephants in the Moscow zoo was coughing. The zoo keepers decided on the universal cure — a bucket of vodka.

          The next day that elephant was fine, but the other elephants were coughing.

          I don’t think my father had any jokes about economics.

      2. Aapje


        People on the left don’t want to believe that increasing the minimum wage will result in more unskilled workers being unemployed,

        They may not believe in your model with fixed level of skill, believing instead that those people can and should be upskilled.

        people on the right don’t want to believe that protective tariffs make the country that imposes them poorer.

        Again, those people may not believe in your model that just accounts for stable situation and they may care more about having domestic ability to make things when shit hits the fan and your trade partners suddenly stop wanting to trade, for whatever reason.

      3. Conrad Honcho

        Or it could be that other people have different values than the economist they’re arguing with, and the economist treats their own values, like “make cheapest products” as if they’re universals, when they are not.

        1. DavidFriedman

          Except that what you describe is not the economist’s value.

          Insofar as there is a value implicit in the analysis of the effect of tariffs, it’s “people should get what they want,” made more precise in the definition of economic efficiency.

          1. Aapje

            Economics has shown that people don’t have consistent and/or clear preferences, though.

            Economists often pick values that certain people see as important and/or which they can calculate, ignoring values of other people.

          2. Conrad Honcho

            But what if people want jobs, like in manufacturing plants? Should they get those?

          3. DavidFriedman

            Economists often pick values that certain people see as important and/or which they can calculate, ignoring values of other people.

            I have no idea what you are describing or what sort of economists you have in mind. An economic argument such as the argument for the inefficiency of tariffs doesn’t involve plugging in any particular values, merely assuming that values are reflected in choices.

          4. DavidFriedman

            But what if people want jobs, like in manufacturing plants? Should they get those?

            How much people want such jobs will be reflected in the wages they require to do them. If, at the wage at which the potential worker is indifferent between having the job and not having it, the value to consumers of what is being produced is less than the cost of producing it, then giving those workers what they want costs other people getting what they want. If cost and benefit are measured by what people are willing to pay or accept, the cost is greater than the benefit.

            I don’t know if you are familiar with the concept of economic efficiency, which has shown up off and on in these discussions. The simplest description is that it’s maximizing the total amount by which people get what they want where the problem of interpersonal comparison is solved by defining how much you want something by how much you are willing to pay for it.

            For a more detailed explanation I can point you at books.

      4. eric23

        People on the left don’t want to believe that increasing the minimum wage will result in more unskilled workers being unemployed, people on the right don’t want to believe that protective tariffs make the country that imposes them poorer.

        …and libertarians don’t want to believe that market failures are pervasive!

    2. Atlas

      (I’m an undergrad and I’ve completed the coursework for my econ major FWIW)

      If you want criticism of the field, try Nassim Nicholas Taleb, specifically his books Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan and Skin in the Game. (Relevant excerpt from the latter.) He writes in The Black Swan:

      Experts who tend to be experts: livestock judges, astronomers, test pilots, soil judges, chess masters, physicists, mathematicians (when they deal with mathematical problems, not empirical ones), accountants, grain inspectors, photo interpreters, insurance analysts (dealing with bell curve–style statistics).

      Experts who tend to be … not experts: stockbrokers, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, college admissions officers, court judges, councilors, personnel selectors, intelligence analysts (the CIA’s record, in spite of its costs, is pitiful), unless one takes into account some great dose of invisible prevention. I would add these results from my own examination of the literature: economists, financial forecasters, finance professors, political scientists, “risk experts,” Bank for International Settlements staff, august members of the International Association of Financial Engineers, and personal financial advisers.

      Simply, things that move, and therefore require knowledge, do not usually have experts, while things that don’t move seem to have some experts. In other words, professions that deal with the future and base their studies on the nonrepeatable past have an expert problem (with the exception of the weather and businesses involving short-term physical processes, not socioeconomic ones). I am not saying that no one who deals with the future provides any valuable information (as I pointed out earlier, newspapers can predict theater opening hours rather well), but rather that those who provide no tangible added value are generally dealing with the future.

      Another way to see it is that things that move are often Black Swan–prone. Experts are narrowly focused persons who need to “tunnel.” In situations where tunneling is safe, because Black Swans are not consequential, the expert will do well.


      3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organizations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system in 2008. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in their ability to get us out of this mess. It is also irresponsible to listen to advice from the “risk experts” and business school academia still promoting their measurements, which failed us (such as Value-at-Risk). Find the smart people whose hands are clean.

      I don’t know. I’m torn between thinking that there are good insights and research in basically every branch of academia (and that economics is a relatively good one as far as social science goes) and that it’s foolish to neglect them and thinking that the lack of emphasis on prediction/betting/skin in the game makes it all so much hebel.

      Also, they’re not just about economists, but Phil Tetlock’s research and books are very interesting and offer some more grounds for skepticism about the value of social science academic expertise.

      1. Atlas

        For a more optimistic take, here’s John Mueller in Capitalism, Democracy and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery:

        The remarkable economic expansion of the past has taken place substantially by accident or default: it was not notably guided by government policy—indeed, it frequently took place despite government policy. This is because it occurred when economists often didn’t know what they were talking about or fundamentally disagreed, or, when they could agree, were often ignored by decision makers who were pursuing divergent agendas, were mesmerized by faulty economic folk wisdom or ideology, or were paralyzed by political cowardice.

        In this chapter I propose that there has been an important change in this condition by the end of the twentieth century. Economists, I suggest, now basically have reached a substantial and probably correct consensus about how economies work, and they are able to prescribe policies that have a good chance of enhancing an economy’s ability to grow. And there is another change. In the past, the advice of economists was very often politically unattractive—politically incorrect—because policymakers gave noneconomic values higher priority, or because other advisers seemed to have more intuitively plausible palliatives, or because acceptance of the advice would cause short-term political pain. Now, however, the economists’ advice is increasingly being accepted by decision makers.

        This chapter explores the rise of economic science, its increasing acceptance, and the consequent prospects for vastly expanded economic growth worldwide. In the process, economists and likeminded idea entrepreneurs seem substantially to have managed to get across four highly consequential and enormously controversial ideas: the growth of economic well-being should be a dominant goal; wealth is best achieved through exchange rather than through conquest; international trade should be free; and economies do best when the government leaves them substantially free.

        Lawrence Henderson of Harvard University once suggested that by 1912, for the first time in human history, “a random patient with a random disease consulting a doctor chosen at random stood better than a fifty-fifty chance of benefiting from the encounter.” This vivid observation suggests how recent the rise of medical science has been and, further, it points to the fact that not so long ago, physicians, while perhaps generally dedicated and well meaning, often did more harm than good. After all, a doctor who doesn’t understand germ theory may innocently carry a disease from one CHAPTER 5 100 patient to the next, making matters far worse than if the patients had instead consulted a priest, a shaman, or a snake oil salesman, or if they had simply stayed quietly at home in bed. In a similar vein, Sir William Osler of Johns Hopkins observed in 1894 that “we may safely say (reversing the proportion of fifty years ago) that for one damaged by dosing, one hundred are saved.”2 Chanting a thousand “Hail Marys” many not do much good physically (though it might have a beneficial placebo effect), but misguided, if well-intentioned, bleeding or leeching or uninformed dosing could easily make the malady worse—and, by Osler’s reckoning, did so almost all the time as late as the mid-nineteenth century.3

        Economics, it seems to me, is now about where medicine was a century ago. Essentially, economics has probably reached the point where the random government official or business executive consulting the random economist is likely to benefit from the encounter. Fifty years ago, Harry Truman, frustrated with economic advisers who kept telling him on the one hand that a certain consequence could be expected from a particular action, while on the other hand the opposite consequence might come about, frequently expressed a yearning for what he called “a one-handed economist.” Increasingly over the twentieth century, economists, through trial and error, experiment and experience, abstraction and empirical test, seem to have developed a substantial consensus about broad economic principles, if not always about nuance and detail. And thus we seem to be approaching the age Truman yearned for—the age of the one-handed economist

        I need to stress that I am applying a standard here that is significant, but not terribly exalted. By present standards, after all, medicine was woefully inadequate at the turn of the century, and physicians were still misguidedly killing a fair number of their patients. But, as figure 5.1 demonstrates, over the course of this century medicine has advanced from a base that has turned out to be essentially sound, and the result has been a spectacular and historically unprecedented increase in life expectancy, first in developed countries, and then more recently in the less-developed world.4 In like manner, although economics is hardly an exact science, if economists have, at last, essentially gotten the basics correct, this THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT ECONOMIST 101 accomplishment is potentially of enormous importance to the advancement of economic well-being.

        But I propose that, in general, economists now are substantially on top of their topic, that they are amassing knowledge in a manner that is generally progressive and cumulative, and that the advice they render is likely—or more likely than not—to be sound. A impressive indication of this came in the early 1990s when economists were confronted with a new and quite astounding problem. For various reasons, some two dozen countries with highly controlled (and underproductive) economies, including some of the biggest in the world, were suddenly freed of economystifling ideological controls and wished to become rich. As Lawrence Summers observes, the death of communism caught the economics profession unprepared: although there had been quite a few studies at that point about the transition of market economies to controlled or command economies, “there was not a single book or article on the problem of transforming an economy from the communist to a market system.” Indeed, the word “privatization” had only been recently developed in connection with Margaret Thatcher’s relatively modest efforts to denationalize comparatively small portions of the British economy.7 Economists were called in to sort out this novel problem. Even though their ideas about how to encourage economic well-being and growth had been principally developed through the analysis of economies that were relatively free, it is impressive testimony to the fundamental soundness of these ideas that the advice so generated proved to be substantially (though not invariably) sound even when applied under these unprecedented and unstudied circumstances. In case after case, countries that generally followed THE POLITICALLY INCORRECT ECONOMIST 103 the advice have been able to achieve considerable (though certainly not painless) success in transforming their economies and in achieving meaningful growth, often in an astoundingly short period of time. Similar success, following similar advice, seems to have recently been achieved in many places in southern, eastern, and southeastern Asia and in much of Latin America.8

        Thus, it appears that George Stigler had it essentially right in his 1964 presidential address to the American Economic Association when he assessed the state of the art and decided to gloat for a minute: “For 200 years our analytical system has been growing in precision, clarity, and generality, although not always in lucidity,” he argued, and during the preceding half-century there had been an “immense increase in the power, the care, and the courage of our quantitative researches.”9 Moveover, it seems to me that economics, like medicine, has importantly improved in those respects in the decades since he delivered that address.

        As Steve Sailer has wisely observed, rather than looking at a glass as half empty or half full, you can look at it as being both part empty and part full.

    3. matthewravery

      Not sure if this is reassuring or not, but I studied econ in undergrad, found job prospects not to my liking and went to graduate school for statistics instead.

      If you’re asking whether there’s useful stuff to learn in econ for future employment, I think the answer is “yes”. The skills that’ll be most transferable to different jobs will be whatever you learn about econometrics and programming. There’s a lot of useful stuff to understand from econ (game theory, optimization, dynamic equilibria, etc.) that transfers well to generic “analyst”-type jobs as well.

      Whether the field of study has value as a science? Sure it does! Just not half so much as economists like to think! Keep the hubris down and adopt a stance of epistemic modesty and your studies will be as useful as anyone else’s.

    4. Thomas Jorgensen

      my personal read on it is that people saw just how insanely large the influence of Keynes (and also Marx. and Marx was blatantly wrong!) was on policy as actually implemented, and decided it was way more economically efficient to subvert the entire discipline of economics than to buy politicians, in terms of “desired policies implemented per dollar spent”, and then that happened. Which means pretty much no economic thought since Keynes can be even remotely trusted. Huge parts of it was manufactured to order by think tanks with extremely overt agendas or written by professors sitting in chairs with explicitly political strings to their endowments.

      This is not a conspiracy theory, because none of this is hidden. The orgs doing this have web pages and proudly announce their goals.

      But it does explain why so very much ink has been spent trying to make up reasons to repeal things like inheritance taxes that have nearly zero dead weight costs. The people writing the justifications for this shit are simply not operating in good faith.

      1. Paul Zrimsek

        The implied claim that people don’t change their behavior in response to inheritance taxes will raise a few eyebrows in the estate-planning business. Where are you getting that from?

        1. Thomas Jorgensen

          oh, they will, when they are old, gray, and staring down the reaper. Hence the enormous spend on lobbying.
          The 24 year old who embarks on the empire building that creates the fortune their older self spends so much energy trying to turn into the foundation of an wealth oligarchy? Not so much.

          This is quite easily demonstrated by the fact that time periods and places with draconian inheritance taxes still had and have brisk business formation. Hell, the present legal regime in the US is in fact pretty darn bad, as far as that goes, both in a historical and an international comparison.

          1. Paul Zrimsek

            None of which changes the fact that the resources expended on evading inheritance taxes are real resources that could be better used elsewhere. Since they have historically been levied at a high rate on a narrow base, inheritance taxes produce more deadweight loss than just about any other form of tax, in proportion to the meager amount of money they raise for the government.

          2. Thomas Jorgensen

            Inheritance taxes are, primarily, a political tool intended to limit the formation of an inherited aristocracy of wealth. That was explicit when they were introduced. Do you really, seriously, think this is a lesser concern in the present moment?

            The arguments against them dont occupy such a prominent place in economic debate because they are a major economic keystone, but because many, many present day economist are simply the lackeys of the rich, and are actively trying to facilitate inherited plutocracy. Perhaps not consciously (… I would not discount it, given the paleoconservatives and their reactionary thought) but simply because those who advance arguments which are convenient to the plutocracy get steady employment, while someone who formally proved that an inheritance tax of a 100 % was the economically optimal policy would thereafter find themselves obligated to monetize their python skills in some other field.

          3. baconbits9

            The 24 year old who embarks on the empire building that creates the fortune their older self spends so much energy trying to turn into the foundation of an wealth oligarchy? Not so much.

            This incorrectly assumes that all wealth in this manner is produced from scratch by a single entrepreneur within their lifetime.

          4. John Schilling

            Inheritance taxes are, primarily, a political tool intended to limit the formation of an inherited aristocracy of wealth. That was explicit when they were introduced. Do you really, seriously, think this is a lesser concern in the present moment?

            Social, technological, and economic change would seem to be occurring at a greater rate than in the past, making it less likely that inherited wealth would translate into a powerful aristocracy. And a cursory examination of the currently wealthy, particularly those most commonly accused of being dangerously powerful plutocrats, suggests that inherited wealth is neither necessary nor sufficient for great economic power and may be a relatively minor part of the process.

            So, yes, seriously.

          5. Thomas Jorgensen

            … really? Uhm. Okaay. More limited question, then. Do you disagree this is such a focused topic essentially because it makes the patrons of economic think tanks happy?

          6. ana53294

            Inheritance taxes are, primarily, a political tool intended to limit the formation of an inherited aristocracy of wealth.

            Is this an explicit political goal? Is that the real, ultimate goal of inheritance taxes?

            Because if that is the goal, then there are other ways to do it, too. Like, enforce wills and let children get disowned. Apparently, it is not allowed to disinherit kids in the UK, Spain, and I’ve heard they have similar laws in France and Germany. Note that none of those countries have low inheritance taxes.

            If not allowing the creation of an aristocracy through the inheritance of fortunes, shouldn’t we be promoting parents’ ability to leave nothing to their kids? But every time this gets mentioned, it’s always taxes and never other ways to reduce rich people inheriting money.

            I find it interesting that out of all the things that could be done to reduce intergenerational money transfers, the ones that give the least liberty to the individual over what happens with their money after they die are used. It’s almost like the reduction of liberty were the goal.

          7. Thomas Jorgensen

            Forced heirship has the same goal, only with the built in assumption that the typical rich person has quite a few living children at the time of their death – because that was almost invariably the case when those laws were implemented. They disallow disinheriting, because they view disinheritance as a tool of passing a fortune on undivided to a preferred heir.

          8. ana53294

            If you want to avoid undivided inheritance, you could specify the maximum % of your fortune you could leave to your children.

            So, rather than force a parent to give 50% of their fortune to each of their two children, say that you can give a maximum of 1/number of children % to each child. In that case, a parent would be able to give 50% to each child, 50% to one child and the other 50% to charity, 40% to each child and the rest to charity, or 100% to charity, or whatever other combination they want.

            Those laws, as you say yourself, were made in a different era. Since then, many things have changed, the inheritance tax law was reformed multiple times, but interestingly, forced inheritance hasn’t. Even though nowadays, forced inheritance doesn’t lead to much dilution of a fortune, because people, even rich people, don’t tend to go beyond 1-2 kids.

            So, those who want to change inheritance tax right now – why focus on tax and not forced heirship? You could then have more Bill Gates like cases, which sounds like a great way to reduce inherited wealth aristocracies.

          9. Thomas Jorgensen

            Eh, if I were designing inheritance taxes, the implementation would be that you cant gift anyone more than 5 million (in anno 2000 euro) total, whether before or after your death. That would encourage the rich to toss that sum at their spawn early on where it might do some good if they inherited any real talent for entreprise, instead of having a billion land on a 67 year old who is certainly not going to do anything remotely interesting with it. If you dont want the state to take whatever is left over after that, find more people to throw 5 million gifts at.
            No eternity trusts, no entails. Money belongs in the hands of the living, not the dead.

          10. Paul Zrimsek

            I jumped in to counter a particular claim: that inheritance taxes “have nearly zero dead weight costs”. If economists are correct in concluding that they don’t, I’m not particularly interested in Bulverist speculation about their motives for saying so.

          11. Nornagest

            Eh, if I were designing inheritance taxes, the implementation would be that you cant gift anyone more than 5 million (in anno 2000 euro) total, whether before or after your death.

            That’s pretty much how gift and inheritance taxes already work in the US. The penalty after you hit the limit is about 50%, not 100%, but gifts do count towards inheritance limits. (You can choose to have them taxed immediately, but there aren’t many good reasons to.)

      2. Guy in TN

        The deadweight costs argument is particularly amusing to me, because a simple application of the of the concept to government expenditures would imply that reducing taxes would also incurs a deadweight loss. But for some reason the Objective Rational Economist crowd never brings this up.

    5. theredsheep

      Well, speaking for myself, I find the field fairly incomprehensible–full of jargon and marked by a tendency to speak of complex human group behaviors as though they were vectors in physics–and have no claim to expertise whatever. But it seems to me that:

      1. Economics is concerned with questions of money, which means questions of class and power, which means it’s intrinsically political.
      2. There are so many confounding factors involved in analysis of any given example that you could argue plausibly over what caused what until the heat death of the universe.
      3. While economic decision-making is a major part of public policy, few people feel competent to discuss it, or pay close attention to the nitty-gritty of it.
      4. It is very difficult to become a respected expert in economics without becoming in some way beholden to or shaped by wealthy people, either by working for a “think tank” or university or by spending many years being taught by those who are.

      When you add all these together, it’s hard to resist the temptation to assume that some unknowable but significant percentage of it is bullshit. Epistemic learned helplessness defaulting to cynicism. No, this is not healthy or productive, but it’s how I feel.

      1. DavidFriedman

        4. It is very difficult to become a respected expert in economics without becoming in some way beholden to or shaped by wealthy people, either by working for a “think tank” or university or by spending many years being taught by those who are.

        Insofar as that’s true of economics, it is equally true of other academic subjects. How then do you explain the observed fact that university professors are, on average, much farther left than the population?

        1. Le Maistre Chat

          @DavidFriedman: They’re beholden to left-wing wealthy people?
          Even publicly-funded universities also have endowments from woke capital. I got my Bachelor’s at U of Oregon, which gets a lot of money from the Knights of Nike fame.

        2. theredsheep

          1 through 3 are doing most of the heavy lifting there. 4 is less relevant for other subjects because wealthy people’s interests in medicine, engineering, comp sci, literature, etc. are not all that different from middle-class or poor people’s interests in same. I don’t know about poli-sci, but I would expect that poli-sci professors are a lot less influential in actual politics (only so much you can do with a constitution and elections) than econ professors are in economics.

        3. edmundgennings

          Variation on number 4 which I would be interested in feedback on
          The federal reserve and other central banks are important career wise and as sources of funding etc for professional economists. They are not the equivalent of darpa but important. However, central banks are important objects of study for economists and given the previous, economists will be loth to decree the existence of the fed. Hence we ought to be moderately more skeptical of central banks that the near unanimity of credible economists backing them would normally justify.

          1. DavidFriedman

            Hence we ought to be moderately more skeptical of central banks that the near unanimity of credible economists backing them would normally justify.

            I’m not sure that near unanimity exists. Most economists pay more attention to thinking within the framework of existing institutions than to recommending radical changes, but I don’t think it would be hard to find economics Nobelists who were in favor of abolishing the Fed.

    6. MisterA

      Economists in the US made a bunch of predictions about what would happen if we embraced global free trade, policy makers followed those predictions, and it turned out they got it so wrong that it pushed whole sections of the nation into deep, decades long descents into poverty so severe it’s reducing the average American lifespan.

      I think updating priors in favor of greater skepticism about the claims of economists is warranted.

    7. Guy in TN

      Consider this hypothetical analogy: Oceanography is the scientific study of the ocean. In theory, no one should be against “oceanography”, assuming they value truth-seeking as a useful endeavor.

      But what if, for some reason, the vast majority of people who claimed to be “oceanographers” were operating on the assumption that you should catch as much fish as possible from the ocean? (This is a controversial position, because many members of the general public do not support removing all the fish from the ocean. These people do not usually go into the increasingly hostile field of Oceanography in this hypothetical) And what if every talking-head on television who claimed to be an “oceanographer” causally equated oceanography with fish-catching? And every Oceanography university class, textbook, and od-ed was oriented around the basis of maximizing fish-catch?

      (And they even create a website called OceanoLib, which is a collection of writings dedicated to maximizing fish-catch. The synonymy has become so rampant, that you can simply append the word “Ocean-” to your organization and we all intuitively understand what that stands for!)

      Of course, when cornered by someone rhetorically tenacious enough, they will admit that Oceanography does not technically require you to be in support of maximizing fish-catch, and of course its just an objective science. That doesn’t stop the 99/100 cases where people say “you just don’t understand Oceanography” in a debate to mean “you just don’t agree with my normative claims about fish-catching”.

      It should be no surprise that in this society, whatever percentage of people who are opposed to maximizing fish-catch, will quickly become roughly the same percentage of people who are opposed to “Oceanography” (despite oceanography supposedly being a value-neutral scientific tool that is useful for everyone)
      The thing about economics is, there’s what it’s supposed to be (a science-based tool for analyzing how humans produce and use things) and what is quite often is (the advancement of normative political theories). In particular, “economics” has been nearly engulfed in synonymy with “people who think we should (note the normative here) maximize economic value/achieve economic efficiency”.

      I mean, how could anyone be against knowledge and understanding of the world, right? How could anyone be against science?

      Don’t operate with that level of naivete. You should know better than to study say, feminism, and think that the content of the coursework is going to be value-neutral on the subject. Or environmental science, if you aren’t interested in green politics.

      So don’t study economics in the United States unless you are interesting in advancing economic liberalism. And also, don’t be surprised or confused when you hear people who are against economic liberalism say they are against “economics”.

      1. DavidFriedman

        So don’t study economics in the United States unless you are interesting in advancing economic liberalism.

        One possible consequence of studying economics is that you conclude that economic liberalism — I assume you are using “liberal” in its 19th century (and current European) sense — is a good thing that should be advanced.

        If you are determined not to reach that conclusion, avoiding economics might be prudent.

      2. Controls Freak


        Why don’t you just go the whole way and directly refer to climate change damage science?

      3. raw

        Oceanographers study the physics of the ocean and are not interested in fish ;-).
        Marine biologist on the other hand…

    8. DinoNerd

      I’ve attempted to learn a bit of economics, and found it’s rather like learning theology. If I accept the writers’ premises, I can draw conclusions they’d agree with, so they are logical in that sense. But they generally make no attempt to demonstrate that their premisses accurately describe the real world.

      My other problem with economics is specific to macroeconomics. The premises of microeconomics are comparatively basic, and comparatively well accepted – kind of like religion 101 as taught to children. But Macroeconomics seems to have many sects, each with their own set of premises, that somehow fail to agree with each other, never mind agreeing with either my intuitions or my observations of the real world.

      But IMO the biggest problem with economics is that it’s actually about human behaviour, and nonetheless usually makes the assumption that humans are “rational” in ways that humans demonstrably are not, and that which farthermore often would not be to individuals’ advantage in the real world. I much happier with those within the discipline who actually study real people, with our biases, foibles, ignorance, and instincts. But I figure they have a long way to go before their predictions/recommendations have more value/accuracy than those of the local preacher or shaman.

      1. DavidFriedman

        But Macroeconomics seems to have many sects, each with their own set of premises, that somehow fail to agree with each other, never mind agreeing with either my intuitions or my observations of the real world.

        I like to describe a course in macro as a tour of either a cemetery or a construction site.

      2. DavidFriedman

        But IMO the biggest problem with economics is that it’s actually about human behaviour, and nonetheless usually makes the assumption that humans are “rational” in ways that humans demonstrably are not, and that which farthermore often would not be to individuals’ advantage in the real world.

        I don’t know what your definition of “rational” is, but mine, which I think corresponds to how other economists use the term, is that it means having objectives and tending to take the actions that best achieve them.

        I find it hard to see how that can not be to individuals’ advantage in the real world. Can you explain?

        1. HeelBearCub

          See, here is that ambiguity.

          Earlier you strongly agreed that economics models people “as if” they take the actions most likely to lead to their desired objective because that produces the best models, even though people aren’t actually rational in that way.

          Now you are saying that this how people actually are. The “as if” has disappeared.

          1. DavidFriedman

            I didn’t say that is how people are. I said that is what “rational” means. You appeared to be saying that if people acted rationally, they would be worse off than if they did not act rationally, and I do not see how that can be true with my definition of “rational.”

            It isn’t that people are or are not rational in that way. People are sufficiently rational in that way sufficiently often so that it gives us a better way of predicting behavior than any alternative — where “I don’t know what they will do” does not count as an alternative.

            If we had a good way of predicting what irrational things people would do, a way that did not depend on the sort of detailed knowledge I have about myself, that would be even better. But, pace Kahneman, I don’t think we do.

            And “rational in that way” does not mean “get that result by rational thinking,” since that is only one of the possible mechanisms.

          2. Aapje


            He didn’t say that people are better off without some level of rationality nor that rationality is more often harmful than not. HBC used the word ‘often,’ which is substantially weaker than mostly.

            Let me give an example. There is suggestive evidence that apps like Tinder may be a very poor way of finding a long term relationship, but have many features that make people feel like they are making progress to that goal, while simultaneously allowing a pleasurable level of safety, low investment, etc.

            So people may be better off in the long term if they are dissuaded from using it.

            Similarly, people may like to ‘hang out with’ outrageous vloggers more than the real life people they might befriend/hang out with, but they may be better off with real friends than faux friends.

            Similarly, people may prefer music therapy over chemotherapy, but if the science tells us that the latter works a lot better against cancer, they may be better off with the poison.

            So what is then a rational society? Is it one that allows individuals to make the choices they prefer? Is it one where experts choose it? A mix? What mix? It is one where we have a mythology/ideology/religion/whatever that shifts decision making in a way that many deem preferably in the long term? Etc.

            Economists often treat their preference as obvious, especially if they are libertarian, yet it isn’t obvious at all, given that people decided against libertarian society for much of history.

  20. Atlas

    This, from a moderately popular conspiracy news website, is the first instance I’ve seen of someone unironically arguing “It’s just the flu, bro!:”

    The Coronavirus mass psychotic hysteria is going to go down as one of the most significant events in all of human history. Certainly, it is the most significant event in world history since World War Two. The outcome of this is going to collapse the entire order of the world.

    It falls upon us to further examine this concept of mass hysteria, which is the actual illness that has infected the whole world. Let us first go over some of the extraordinary facts surrounding this case. These facts are documented in full and for the most part are completely undisputed, and yet they are either being ignored or misunderstood by the raving masses of people.

    What is being called Coronavirus or COVID-19 is a “novel coronavirus.” Every year during flu season, 7-15% of flu infections are from a novel coronavirus. Even if this were to turn out with a high death toll, it would still just be a bad flu season. However, at time of writing there are 25,000 people in America dead of non-corona flu viruses, and just over 5,000 deaths from corona flu. So we are on track for this to be a normal flu season.

    In 2018, 80,000 people died of the flu. The hospitals were much more pressured than they are today, going so far as to put up tents to treat people in parking lots.

    The mortality rate statistics they are reporting in the media are being calculated completely differently than the flu is calculated and then compared with the flu mortality rate. Whereas the normal way to report the flu is to estimate the total number of infected and then calculate an estimated mortality rate based on the estimate of the number of those infected, with Coronavirus, they are reporting a mortality rate that is the percentage of deaths from those who test positive. As we know that the symptoms can be light or even nonexistent, the number of infected is likely 20 times more than the number tested, which would mean that the mortality rate they are reporting is 20 times the actual mortality rate, which would put it exactly where any other flu tends to be. The media and government have stated this frankly, and yet they continue to compare the death count to that of the flu.

    In Italy, doctors reported that over 99% of those who have died have had preexisting conditions. They were also counting anyone who tested positive for the virus after death as having died of Coronavirus, even though it is certain that some of these people, particularly the old people (the average age of the deaths was 79.5-years-old), went to the hospital for some other reason and got infected with the virus at the hospital. Italy admits that this is the way they were keeping statistics – everyone who died and tested positive was a Coronavirus death. Given the way that viruses spread in hospitals, it is likely that everyone who died in the hospital was infected.

    Even if you are unaware of the way they are abusing statistics, it is still totally remarkable to get worked up about this. Even by these ultra-inflated numbers the media is presenting, if you are under the age of fifty, you have less than a half of one percent chance of dying. If you do not have a preexisting condition, your chances of dying are effectively zero.

    Flu season is almost over. There is no way that the infections will continue at any significant rate after the weather breaks later this month. According to the CDC, it is rare for much of anything to linger into May. Somehow however, we are talking about an incoming wave of infections and deaths.

    This is all very easy and available information, and it is being spread now by some people across the internet. Yet, many people choose to ignore these facts and continue on in a state of hysteria. I have personally talked to people, in real life, and stated these facts to them, and watched their faces go blank for a few seconds before they return to spewing hysteria. These were all smart people, with one of them being remarkably smart and well informed on all of the various issues we discuss on this website. But he was incapable of grasping this very simple statistical data which demonstrates that Coronavirus is nothing more than the flu.

    How should you respond to such talking points?

    1. John Schilling

      With the most graphic descriptions I can find of treatment and triage at Italian hospitals.

      1. danridge

        There are times when I wonder, I see some statistic or argument that makes it look like everything might just be a huge overreaction, and then I remember that there are places where you can see exactly what it looks like when things go wrong. You could say that that’s just in the hospitals, and it needn’t affect others so much, but there is at least a concrete example of what all of these measures are in place to try and avoid which we can look to.

        1. John Schilling

          Yeah, people being left to die in hospital corridors ought to be very obviously Not Just The Flu – any remotely first-world country is going to build enough hospital capability to cover a worst-case seasonal flu.

    2. matkoniecz

      Ignore? Spending time on explaining why this specific arguments are unbelievably weak is unlikely to be effective. Especially as it seems to be constructed to be deliberately misleading.

      Or maybe reply with some of standard flu vs COVID effects.

    3. J Mann

      I think a chart of recent weekly or daily death rates by age group and country vs same time last year could be informative, unless it’s swamped by noise.

      1. Evan Þ

        Last time I looked, European death statistics were reported on a long enough delay that we couldn’t (and wouldn’t expect to) see any difference in most places. I’m not sure if they would’ve become visible by now.

        1. matkoniecz

          googled, unverified, not attempted to find raw data


          Separate data from national statistics office ISTAT showed deaths in the north of Italy doubled in the first three weeks of March compared with the average during the same period between 2015 and 2019, reflecting the onset of coronavirus.

          In Bergamo, fatalities more than quadrupled, while they increased between two- and three-fold in several other Lombardy cities. In some small towns at the heart of the outbreak they were up 10-fold this year compared with 2019.

          found page, not looked at data: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/weekly-all-cause-mortality-surveillance-2019-to-2020

          1. JayT

            That UK site is interesting. Looking at the first 12 weeks of this year in comparison to last, we aren’t really seeing any impact from COVID19, even though the UK has had over 4,000 deaths attributed to it.
            2019 / 2020
            10,955 / 12,254
            12,609 / 14,058
            11,860 / 12,990
            11,740 / 11,856
            11,297 / 11,612
            11,660 / 10,986
            11,824 / 10,944
            11,295 / 10,841
            11,044 / 10,816
            10,898 / 10,895
            10,567 / 11,019
            10,402 / 10,645

            This data is only for Britain and Wales, but that’s almost 90% of the UK’s population, so I don’t think that would make a huge difference.
            Did the UK have a particularly bad flu season last year? Are the COVID deaths being offset by a lower rate of accidental deaths (eg, fewer drivers means fewer car crashes)? Anyone have any thoughts on this?

          2. HeelBearCub

            Two (of many) possibilities:
            – What would we expect those numbers to be based on known mortality rates. Note, the UK has a different population this year than last. I don’t know how much this difference should make, but it’s definitely in the realm of the possible.
            – How far forward in time do we expect to see revisions for a given weeks number? If revisions keep coming in for two months, you may look back at this data in May and see something quite different.

    4. broblawsky

      Once someone postulates a sufficiently large and powerful conspiracy, their hypothesis becomes unfalsifiable. That’s about the time when I disengage.

      1. EchoChaos


        For the most part, the answer to “how do I engage with a crazy conspiracy person?” is “don’t”

        1. Brassfjord

          Good advice. But how do you decide who is a “crazy conspiracy person” and who has got valid points?

          1. matkoniecz

            Note, I had limited exposure to this type of people. But I would list crazy conspiracy person indicators as including

            – ignoring evidence, ignoring and dismissal of valid crriticism
            – lower quality sources
            – self-contradictory and overly complex theory
            – overly certain that it is right
            – extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence
            – blatant lack of knowledge in some topic while claiming to be expert on it
            – lack of knowledge in relevant topic
            – history of being crazy conspiracy person

            Also, typically there are multiple things going at once. If someone believes in chemtrails I am not going to treat him/her seriously. Similarly forum where chemtrails are treated seriously would cause me to skip entire site.

            Note that “crazy conspiracy person” and “has got a valid points” is not fully disjoint.

        2. eric23

          You don’t reply with the hope of changing their mind.

          You reply with the hope of making them look stupid so that the other 100 people reading the debate later on won’t take their side.

          Sad but true.

      2. Conrad Honcho

        While I agree with the consensus that COVID-19 is exceptionally bad and warrants most or perhaps all of the exceptional responses we’ve seen, I don’t think Atlas’ author thinks this is a conspiracy, but a mass hysteria, which are different things. I don’t think he’s alleging a shadowy cabal is tricking everyone into thinking COVID-19 is bad. A mass hysteria is more of a weird artifact of human psychology. Like satanic daycare panics, or “the summer of the shark.” No one alleges a shadowy cabal of shark haters were out to fool everyone into thinking shark attacks were way up. It was a slow news cycle, one media outlet started reporting on shark attacks (which are usually ignored) and then another one did, and another one did, and pretty soon everyone thought the sharks were going crazy, even though there were fewer shark attacks and deaths that year than the year before when nobody had cared about shark attacks. The same thing could be going on here, but I don’t think it is.

        1. HeelBearCub

          I haven’t read the the article linked by the OP, but Honcho makes a good general point here. “Jaws” is a fictional movie and some novel shark attacks in an area don’t warrant going “inverse Larry Vaughn”.

          On the other hand, that doesn’t mean a smart seagoing predator couldn’t prey on all the unsuspecting residents of some area. Even when that kind of behavior is unprecedented. (In this case, Orcas eating 1/3 of the seal population in a single canal, staying for weeks).

          Just make sure to apply this idea to the early coverage of Covid-19 that warned against the population treating it as a pandemic when it was wasn’t apparent that it was poised to become one.

    5. Clutzy

      Depends on what you want to do. Everything they said is “not wrong.” And indeed, some of the things are true, and the hysteria is probably much too much. If you actually want to engage say something like, “diseases don’t scale linearly”, if a virus is just 5% more deadly and 5% more likely to spread, it doesn’t mean its on 5-10% worse, it could be 100% worse. ”

      IMO the post makes a good point on diagnoses vs. actual infected, but its ease of spreading is actually why C-19 is so dangerous. Its kill rate if it had a normal flu spreading rate would be pretty acceptable.

      1. EchoChaos

        Its kill rate if it had a normal flu spreading rate would be pretty acceptable.

        No, it’s orders of magnitude more deadly than the average flu.

        H1N1 infected a third of Americans and killed 18,000 and was a pretty bad flu.

        That’s a ~0.01% fatality rate. COVID-19 is over a hundred times more lethal at the absolute minimum.

        1. Clutzy

          H1N1 spread much more than your normal flu didn’t it? I don’t think the average flu infects 1/3 the US. Last year the estimate was 36-41 million infected. 360k deaths is a high estimate for C19’s lethality, but that is bad number, but pretty managable, particularly if it kept C-19’s kill spread.

          The fact that lots of people estimated 60%+ people would get it is the most concerning thing.

          1. MisterA

            360k deaths is a high estimate for C19’s lethality

            No, that is a high estimate for C19’s lethality if you shut down the whole planet to stop its spread.

            The estimates if you treat it like the flu are in the millions.

            This thing is somewhere in the neighborhood of Spanish flu, not regular flavor.

          2. Clutzy

            The thing is, no one would treat it like regular flu if a flue mutated to have a 1% kill probability. Everyone would be really good about handwashing etc. A 1% kill flu that spread as easily (not very) as most seasonal flus would be pretty easy to contain.

            And the reason corona is so bad is because normal procedures don’t work. People can be asymptomatic spreaders for over a week. Oftentimes tests will still come back negative even during that time. A particularly high kill flu would typically show a fever in 2-3 days.

          3. The Nybbler

            A 1% kill flu that spread as easily (not very) as most seasonal flus would be pretty easy to contain.

            Flu is never contained, so I don’t see how you can say that. The last time we even tried to contain the flu was 2009; it failed.

        2. gph

          >COVID-19 is over a hundred times more lethal at the absolute minimum.

          Eh, I wouldn’t be super shocked if a post-pandemic study found that a lot more cases went unnoticed as well as a lot more deaths being attributed to Covid-19 when another underlying issue was the main cause and Covid-19 was basically incidental and/or was only noticed because everyone is paying super close attention. I don’t know how a study could properly quantify all this, but I’d say my range on the true fatality rate is somewhere between .1% – 2%, only going higher because it spreads so fast and overwhelms the medical system. While I think you’re generally right, I’m not very confident in the data at this point given the general heterogeneity were seeing from different countries/regions to put 1% as the absolute minimum.

        3. MereComments

          I think when this is all over the actual death rate for people who were infected is going to be significantly less that 1%, probably by an order of magnitude.

        4. LesHapablap

          Most of the estimates I’ve seen have 1% as a maximum. The latest estimates from Italy are about .4% and that is with overwhelmed hospitals counting every infected patient who dies as a COVID death. (see notes on April 3rd here)

          Now, it may well be a useful ‘noble lie’ to keep claiming that there’s a 4% fatality rate to get people to stick with their lockdowns. But the problem there is if people actually believe it, then they demand their politicians overreact.

        5. Anteros

          That’s a ~0.01% fatality rate. COVID-19 is over a hundred times more lethal at the absolute minimum.

          I think this is much too high.

          I’d like to hear people’s estimates, and perhaps we can revisit in a years time for bragging rights/to see who made a lucky guess. I’d suggest a range of a factor of two, and my WAG would be a lethality of between 0.2 and 0.4.

          I’d also guess that this correlates pretty well with whether people think the ‘cure is worse than the disease i.e those that think the death rate will end up being more than 1% will think all the lockdowns are worth it, and vice versa.

          However, my strong suspicion is that the feeling about the lockdown comes first for most people and the estimate for the death rate follows.

          1. The Nybbler

            I’d guess just under 1%, maybe 0.8% to 1%.

            And yes, I think the lockdowns are not worth it.

            But I can’t base this on anything but intuition, VERY incomplete data (e.g. the Diamond Princess) and some qualitative reasoning. The models being promoted are known to be wrong (vastly overestimating spread for influenza), and the data’s crap anyway, so it’s worse that GIGO — it’s GIGGO, garbage into garbage, garbage out.

        6. Matt M

          But the problem there is if people actually believe it, then they demand their politicians overreact.


          Bro, that ship has long since sailed…

    6. Le Maistre Chat

      How should you respond to such talking points?

      “If it’s just a Spanish flu, bro, we’re in deep trouble.”

    7. Machine Interface

      The seasonal flu in Italy usually kills about 8,000 people a year, over a period of several months. Covid19 has already killed 184% of that, over a month and half, and is nowhere near done (still above +5% new deaths each day), and that’s with the extreme confinement measures. If that doesn’t convince someone, nothing will.

      1. Subotai

        8,000 seems rather low to me. What is your source? This paper estimates an average of about 17,000 excess deaths per year attributable to influenza in Italy from 2013-17.

        I agree that COVID-19 is significantly more dangerous than the flu and I also expect many more people to die in the next few months. But based only on the number of deaths so far in Italy, it’s not yet worse than a bad flu season.

        1. Machine Interface

          I googled “quante gente muore di influenza ogni anno” and got this page: https://www.epicentro.iss.it/influenza/sorveglianza-mortalita-influenza

          In short and in English, it explains the two ways the Italian healthcare system calculates flu victims. One is a statistical system where all deaths are comtabilized for a given period of time, then influenza deaths are “deduced” by removing all other causes of deaths based on know statistics. The other method consists of actual analysis of cases that reach hospitals and end up in deaths.

          It aknowledges that both methods probably miss a number of flu deaths, but concludes: “È grazie a queste metodologie che si arriva ad attribuire mediamente 8000 decessi per influenza e le sue complicanze ogni anno in Italia.”

          (“It’s through those methodologies that we can attribute an average of 8,000 deaths due to the flu and its complications each year in Italy.”)

          I’ve seen the repeated number that flu kills 10,000 each year in France, so 8,000 in Italy seem plausible to me based on population size differences, but maybe Italy has aggravating factors.

      2. eigenmoon

        This article argues that official COVID-related figures are way too low. The province of Bergamo usually has 900 deaths in March but had 5600 deaths this March, of which only 2000 are officially counted as COVID deaths. If you agree with the article, it’s not 184% of that, it’s 522%.

    8. Purplehermann

      Ask them why governments would willingly crash their economies. Ie point out the scale of conspiracy + lack of incentive

      That or troll them hard. Mockery is useful

      1. Conrad Honcho

        They would have a pretty easy answer for that. There’s fortunes to made during a crisis, especially if you know the crisis is coming.

    1. John Schilling

      The Saturn/Apollo system at least had full manual reversion on all flight controls, allowing the entire mission to be flown with no computers at all if need be. The same cannot be said for the USB charger, I expect.

      1. HeelBearCub

        I’m pretty sure enough manual force can make your USB charger fly fall with style.

          1. HeelBearCub

            Honestly, I’m glad to have been of some comfort.

            Be at peace, the best you can.

        1. quanta413

          I tried throwing it really hard but I was unable to get my USB charger to reach escape velocity.

          Would not try again.

  21. Viliam

    I found this article comparing the corona virus situation in Slovakia and Indiana. According to author, there are many similarities — similar population size, similar distance to local corona virus hubs, the same day the virus appeared — but different reactions to the virus, possibly responsible for most of the differences in the outcome.

    For example: (btw, Google Translate seems quite competent these days)

    March 9 (Monday) [three days after corona virus first appeared locally]

    Slovakia — It is forbidden to organize any cultural and sporting events (including holy masses) in Slovakia. Almost all universities have already stopped teaching. Several regions closed secondary schools, Bratislava also elementary and nursery schools.

    Indiana — Nothing special is happening in Indiana. Just the Holy Masses stopped shaking hands and stopped drinking from the chalice (which has been done at almost every Holy Mass so far). All my roommates are on holiday.

    Not sure how much the situation is really comparable, but… I admit that from my perspective, the situation in USA seems quite insane. (Well, the local situation is also quite crazy: one day the government is telling you that face masks are useless, two weeks later wearing the face masks is mandatory for everyone.)

    1. eric23

      Right now Indiana has 4411 confirmed cases, 127 deaths. Slovakia has 485 cases, 1 death.

      Seems clear which approach is working…

    2. JayT

      I know very little about Slovakia, but Indianapolis (the capital and largest city of Indiana) is about twice the size of Bratislava, and Indianapolis’ metro is more than three times as large. Most of Indiana’s cases are in the Indianapolis area, so how much of this difference is due to policies and how much is due to the size of the population centers?

  22. Matt M

    I think we have a lot of people here who follow goings-on in the DoD relatively closely.

    Anyone care to give a quick high-level summary of what exactly is going on with the USS Theodore Roosevelt?

    1. sp1

      (Note: I’m fairly well informed on this, including having a friend who is on the TR, but may get some of the details wrong. Mea culpa if so.)

      High level: CO wrote a message to his superiors about the situation / ship’s readiness with a recommendation to offload the crew in Guam, included other recipients on the message, and one of those recipients allegedly leaked the message to the San Francisco Chronicle. The CO is from the San Francisco area. CO was fired for revealing operational information in an unclassified setting and either intentionally directing it to leak or not caring that one of the many recipients might do so.
      (Another quick edit: The DoD said after the letter was published that they’d already been working to quarantine the crew in Guam. So the strong implication is that the CO had been communicating with higher authorities, the problem was already being worked on, and then he decided to write and allegedly help leak a formal letter dealing with the same thing they were already dealing with. He most likely did so because things were moving slower than he would like or he was getting some sort of pushback. Please note the speculative nature of the previous sentence, I have no insider information about his motivations.)

      The big question is was it unjust?
      Argument for yes: He was a patriot putting the lives of his sailors ahead of his own career prospects and boldly standing up to Trump / higher Navy / the DoD. This letter can’t be considered outside the backdrop of the McCain and Fitzgerald incidents a few years ago. A big contributing factor in both cases was a culture in the Pacific Fleet where COs didn’t feel that they could speak up when their ships weren’t ready to deploy for either manning or equipment reasons. If they did they were ignored or punished. Now the CO of an aircraft carrier raises a similar alarm about a literal pandemic and gets canned? Shame all around, Trump doesn’t care about enlisted people, DoD out of touch, etc.

      Argument for no: Are you joking? The CO of an aircraft carrier publicly revealed that his ship isn’t in shape to fight (never mind that his letter stated they would deploy and fight if necessary, we all know what he was saying) and recommends most of the crew be offloaded because he’s panicking over basically a flu outbreak? This isn’t a cruise ship filled with old people who want to get out of their Ohio nursing home to see a sunset over the ocean before they die in six months, these are largely young and healthy people who could have fought it off. Diseases run rampant on ships all the time. That’s not a good reason to flagrantly violate the chain of command, operational secrecy, etc. so that he could get great PR or use a newspaper to pressure the Navy. (EDIT: I forgot another component of this argument. Lots of commands across all the branches have people testing positive for the virus. If DoD didn’t firmly shut down leakers immediately then more COs might think it’s alright to take their concerns to the press. Bad for the chain of command, bad for possibly causing a panic, bad for revealing our weaknesses and emboldening Cuba to invade or something.) Unfit for command, disgrace to the uniform, etc.

      1. albatross11

        If you punish people for giving you bad news, you won’t get any bad news. That’s great for avoiding the stress of receiving bad news, but there’s occasionally a tiny little downside….

        1. EchoChaos

          Note that the problem is not that he gave bad news, but that he let it out into the press.

          This is a funky one because the lines cut pretty unusually in the Red tribe circles, and I’ve seen both people praising him and people furious at him. This isn’t one where we have a consensus.

          I tend to fall on the “argument for no” side, but this isn’t obvious.

          1. Matt M

            FWIW, I’m ex-Navy and still have a handful of veterans (and some still on active duty) on Facebook, and the reaction I’ve seen so far is 100% in support of the CO.

          2. EchoChaos

            @Matt M

            Indeed, all my ex-Navy friends have been in support of the CO, although the general consensus is “he had to be fired for this, but he sacrificed his career for his men, what a hero”.

            The non-Navy vets (especially Army, but even some AF) are a lot harsher and believe that this should’ve been handled better given the intel it gave our adversaries.

            Good example of the latter on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KurtSchlichter

            Kurt is a retired Army O-6, so he was a rough equivalent and understands command.

          3. sp1

            Yes, from what I’ve heard the crew is generally behind the CO. Especially on the enlisted side, if only because of the surprise that someone above 0-3 was willing to take a chance with their career for the sailors’ well being. As I noted and John Schilling expanded on in his excellent post, the Seventh Fleet has had a real problem with operational tempo for a long time.
            I also lean toward the firing being the correct thing to do but he’s going to be very well liked because of it. My very cynical take is that he’ll use this as a plank when he runs for office somewhere in the next ~3 years.

      2. Matt M

        Do you have any sense of how bad the situation on the ship actually was? Was this a full on outbreak, a few isolated cases, entirely panic driven?

        Do Navy ships have the capability to test for COVID? Any ventilators at all?

        How was morale? Was the crew actually fearful of the disease or not really?

        1. sp1

          Not exactly. There were more than a few cases but it’s not like people were dying in the passageways.
          I doubt most of the junior crew was taking it that seriously because young sailors don’t tend to take a lot seriously.
          There was a medical team onboard that could provide testing but I don’t know the full capability of their sickbay. They would have also had the option to offload anyone sick enough to need ventilation.

        2. John Schilling

          I’m pretty certain anyone who needs a ventilator, or even “just” an ICU bed, is going to get one, on the ship or off. The problem is the 90% who are only mildly symptomatic and are being told “suck it up; you still need to work 100 hours a week to maintain mission readiness”. In very close quarters with four thousand other potential victims. And the most Crozier could have informally done for them was to send them to their nearly-as-crowded messes and berths – while asking five other people to step up and work 120-hour weeks to cover for them.

          I suppose when the ship is divided between the uninfected working 168-hour weeks, and the infected who are the only occupants of the berthing areas, the problem solves itself. But that just sets us up for a weird inversion of the traditional zombie movie, where the infected few are defending themselves from the ravenous uninfected hordes driven to homicidal insanity by sleep deprivation.

          1. Garrett

            How much of that 100 hours/week as actually necessary and how much is it work to keep the men too busy to get into trouble?

      3. GreatColdDistance

        No substantive response here, just want to say that I really like this comment both in content and format, does a really good job of summarising both arguments and I’m still left slightly uncertain how you really feel about it.

        1. sp1

          Thanks. I wanted to try to be fair to both sides, which was easier than normal because I’m also uncertain. I lean towards the firing being necessary but if more information came to light I could easily switch sides.

      4. matthewravery

        The Bayesian argument is that, unless this guy is a total moron, he strongly believed that if he didn’t leak the letter (he clearly wanted it public), the Navy wouldn’t act quickly enough to save lives of his sailors.

        As to whether he was correct that the Navy wouldn’t act quickly enough and sailors would die, IDK, but he obviously thought that was the case.

        Whether it’s generally good for Navy captains to be in the habit of making calls like this, well, it’s a double-edged sword. All of our armed forces pride themselves on the ability of their leaders to think autonomously and generally put trust in them to do so, but orders also need to be followed.

        The observed result (Captain makes the correct decision for his ship and Sailors and is relieved of command) is unsatisfying but probably optimal. He might still get to retire as a flag (though I really doubt he’ll command as one) and regardless he’ll get plenty of opportunities to be a well-paid consultant. This is important, since it’s in the Navy’s interest to keep producing officers willing to sacrifice their careers for the benefit of their ship and crew.

    2. John Schilling

      Probably the most important thing is that the USS Theodore Roosevelt (now presumably renicknamed the “Big Sick”) is an aircraft carrier assigned to the US Seventh Fleet. The Seventh Fleet has achieved notoriety the past few years for being so very, very focused on its very, very important missions that it somehow forgot that expecting every man to give 110% to the cause is not meant to be taken literally. Sailors are regularly working 100+ hour weeks and going days without sleep, ships are going to sea with critical systems inoperative because maintenance has been deferred for years, and this has resulted in several highprofile incidents. And while the Navy has tried to implement reforms, these may have done more harm than good – “look, here’s more work for us to do, but we can’t slack off on the very, very important missions we already have!”

      So, as of March 20, the Seventh Fleet was doing pretty good on the coronavirus front, but as a precaution put enhanced medical teams on several of its ships including the Roosevelt to conduct testing and other preventative activities.

      The first confirmed cases were reported four days later. By the end of the month, the total was over 100 out of the 4000+ men and women aboard. The ship was at this point docked at Guam, but the crew remained aboard to maintain mission readiness. At that point the Roosevelt’s Captain, Brett Crozier, sent an open letter to the Department of the Navy indicating that it was impossible for him to adhere to the prescribed isolation requirements, that maintaining the ship in a mission-capable status would inevitably result in crew fatalities, and asking for the ship to be evacuated and decontaminated. This was apparently done two days later.

      The open letter had by then leaked outside of Navy circles and into the media, which was predictable and probably intentional on Crozier’s part. He was, predictably, relieved of command for having unprofessionally circumvented the chain of command and making the navy look bad. Seriously, Navy leadership barely tried to conceal the “he made us look bad” part, because they’ve apparently never heard of the Streisand effect.

      If the open letter really was Crozier’s first communication to the Navy that there was a problem that would impair mission readiness, then he was indeed unprofessional, and extremely stupid. If instead he had made prior requests through channels and received the usual 7th fleet “Shut up and maintain 110% mission readiness, but here’s some extra stuff for you to do now” response, this may have been a deliberate decision to sacrifice his own career to save the lives of some of his men. His men do seem to appreciate the decision.

      Over the weekend, the Venezuelan Navy had one of their warships literally sunk in a battle with an unarmed cruise ship. But the men of the Armada Bolivariana de Venezuela can still hold their heads high and say “At least we’re not the 7th fleet”.

      1. EchoChaos

        Over the weekend, the Venezuelan Navy had one of their warships literally sunk in a battle with an unarmed cruise ship. But the men of the Armada Bolivariana de Venezuela can still hold their heads high and say “At least we’re not the 7th fleet”.

        Speaking of which, is this not the weirdest story to ever somehow not be front-page news?

        When I saw it yesterday I had to doublecheck that it wasn’t a weird April Fools joke.

        1. matkoniecz

          I was waiting until today before mentioning it to anyone because I was sure that it was an elaborate joke.

          1. John Schilling

            No joke, but the cruise ship was the RCGS Resolute, so maybe some nominative determinism at work.

          2. Matt M

            I also think I read that the cruise ship in question typically visited Antarctica, and as such, was equipped with a reinforced hull (necessary for icebreaking), which is why it was able to withstand this (the implication being that your average cruise ship may have been not as fortunate).

          3. John Schilling

            From post-impact photos and descriptions of the sinking, it looks like Resolute put her bow into Naiguata’s side at least once. That would have turned her reinforced, bulbous bow into something like a proper ram. And I have to wonder whether that may have been a deliberate action by Resolute’s master, steering into the collision to decisively end the confrontation rather than have his ship sunk or his crew imprisoned in a Venezuelan stockade.

            Would be most impolitic for him to ever admit that, of course.

          4. Le Maistre Chat

            I also think I read that the cruise ship in question typically visited Antarctica, and as such, was equipped with a reinforced hull (necessary for icebreaking), which is why it was able to withstand this (the implication being that your average cruise ship may have been not as fortunate).

            One of the few pleasure vessels in the world capable of sending either a Venezuelan warship or Cthulhu to the bottom by ramming.

          5. matkoniecz

            And I have to wonder whether that may have been a deliberate action by Resolute’s master, steering into the collision to decisively end the confrontation rather than have his ship sunk or his crew imprisoned in a Venezuelan stockade.

            Would be most impolitic for him to ever admit that, of course.

            I was thinking that this specific warship was just unreasonably unlucky, what was combined with incompetence and not using full firepower.

            This would make it even more interesting.

            I wonder what are other cases of civilian machinery/tools used to overcome attacking war machinery. With exception of civilian explosives, that would be too easy.

          6. Le Maistre Chat

            @Lambert: Was the Resolute actually in the Antarctic when it sank a warship? If so, yeah, it’s for sinking shoggoths instead.

          7. bullseye

            I looked up some news articles on this, and the cruise ship did not ram the naval vessel. The cruise ship just sat there and did nothing while the naval vessel rammed it. “The navy vessel continued to ram the starboard bow in an apparent attempt to turn the ship’s head towards Venezuelan territorial waters.”

          8. John Schilling

            @Lambert: Was the Resolute actually in the Antarctic when it sank a warship?

            I told you, we’re doing nominative determinism here. And as it turns out, the Venezuelans have accused Resolute’s captain and crew of Piracy.

            You may therefore correctly surmise that she was in fact in the Caribbean at the time, and more precisely fifteen miles off Tortuga. Well, a Tortuga, if not the most famous one.

          9. John Schilling

            So, if they need to rename Resolute to avoid further entanglements with the Venezuelan government, what’s Portugese for “Black Pearl”? Seems like there might be a marketing opportunity here.

          10. AlphaGamma


            I wonder what are other cases of civilian machinery/tools used to overcome attacking war machinery.

            During WW1 it was a fairly standard tactic for Allied merchant ships to attempt to ram and sink German U-boats if they saw one surfaced. WW1 U-boats normally operated on the surface, and didn’t always bother to dive to attack merchant ships- sometimes they would stay surfaced and use their deck gun to save torpedoes.

            I can find 4 incidents of WW1 U-boats rammed and sunk by British merchant ships (though one of these was the RMS Olympic, a liner operating as a Naval troopship), one rammed and sunk by a French merchant ship, and one rammed by an armed British merchant ship then sunk by gunfire.

      2. Matt M

        Thanks John. I suspected you’d be someone able to deliver something like this.

        I saw the videos on FB, posted by a lot of my Navy veteran former colleagues. I’m definitely sympathetic to the CO.

        In theory I understand the argument that he has publicly exposed the (un)readiness of a major military asset to our potential adversaries… but give me a freaking break, do we really think China is about to invade Guam during all this?

        If COVID is serious enough to shut down 75% of the US economy, it’s serious enough to park one of our 12 (?) aircraft carriers for a month, is it not?

        1. The Nybbler

          but give me a freaking break, do we really think China is about to invade Guam during all this?

          If China thought they could take advantage of this to take some territory, they would. It wouldn’t be Guam; more likely somewhere to the west-northwest.

        2. salvorhardin

          For me, as a less military-adjacent observer, the extraordinary and telling thing is that Trump went to great lengths to protect Eddie Gallagher from punishment but bestowed no clemency whatever on Crozier. There may be a code of ethics according to which both of those decisions are correct, but it is difficult to imagine how that code of ethics could be called decent or civilized.

          1. Matt M

            This is a really poor comparison.

            The only punishment so far that Crozier has faced is being removed from command. Now that’s not nothing, his career is probably over, etc. But he hasn’t been formally disciplined (isn’t being forced out or reduced in rank or threatened with prison), as far as I can tell the Navy isn’t planning on doing any of that, his retirement is still safe, etc.

            Gallagher was facing all of that. And after months (years?) of lobbying by various people, Trump basically got his punishment reduced to… losing his job and his career being over. So, same as what Crozier is facing now.

            The Navy is getting rid of Crozier, but they aren’t throwing the book at him or trying to “make an example of him” the way they did Gallagher.

        3. LesHapablap

          In theory I understand the argument that he has publicly exposed the (un)readiness of a major military asset to our potential adversaries… but give me a freaking break, do we really think China is about to invade Guam during all this?

          It would be terribly unsporting, wouldn’t it!

          I heard they were taking over more islands, but that could have just been facebook trash

      3. bean

        Roosevelt isn’t quite Seventh Fleet. She’s homeported at NAS North Island, and normally part of Third Fleet, but was chopped to Seventh Fleet as part of her deployment to WestPac. So the culture isn’t quite as toxic, although it’s still pretty bad.

        Overall, I’m with sp1 on this. Can’t quite make up my mind on what’s the right thing here.

        1. John Schilling

          I think the important part, organizationally, is that the people deciding whether Roosevelt is allowed to put her crew ashore for isolation on Guam were 7th Fleet brass. That’s where the cultural toxicity matters.

      4. Garrett

        Given the typical young age and good health of those in the military, what are the odds of permanent injury or death for the sailors onboard the ship?

      5. Deiseach

        Over the weekend, the Venezuelan Navy had one of their warships literally sunk in a battle with an unarmed cruise ship.

        I had to look that story up, and it just gets better and better.

        I thought ramming as a naval tactic had gone out with the Romans?

        It looks like there may be deeper roots to the whole thing, given that Colombia and Venezuela are at each others’ throats and with rebels on both sides of the border running rampant, so the accusation of “transporting mercenaries to attack military bases in Venezuela” might not in fact be completely pulled out of the air, if ostensibly civilian ships have indeed been engaged in gun-running or the likes.

        But it’s still a very bad result for the Venezuelan navy!

        1. albatross11

          I hope the captain of the Resolute got the chance to give the order “Ramming speed!” Probably waited his whole life for *that* opportunity.

          1. bullseye

            The Resolute did not do any ramming. The naval vessel rammed the Resolute, thereby sinking itself.

  23. fion

    Does anybody know why the UK has so few COVID-19 recoveries?

    From this link (at the time of posting), the UK has had 3605 deaths and 135 recoveries. In other words, 96% of closed cases ended in death. My best guess is that the UK takes much longer than other countries to declare a case “closed” when it ends in recovery, but I’d be grateful if anybody either knows this for a fact or knows of an alternative explanation. For context, other countries have:
    Italy: 43%
    Spain: 26%
    Germany: 5%
    France: 30%
    Iran: 16%
    Turkey: 47%
    (All stats from the same site as the UK ones.)
    So what’s going on?

    1. noyann

      Selection bias. The more folks are tested, (e.g. Germany), the more quick/easy cases are caught and enter the statistics, and the lower the death rate appears.

      ETA: that does not rule out other factors, of course.

      1. fion

        Does this imply that the UK is doing far fewer tests than other countries were when they were at a similar point in their outbreaks? Like an order of magnitude less? I would be surprised if this was even the main factor.

        1. noyann

          Less testing tends to go with more severe illness in tested population, because the tests are given to the ones with (more (severe)) symptoms, as was reported from Italy.

          1. fion

            Yes, I understand that. My hypothesis is that the main factor is the UK refusing to declare that people are recovered as early as other countries are.

            Only 135 official cases have recovered. For that to be due to lack of testing, then there’d have to be pretty much no tests done on non-critical cases. Hell, even critical cases should have had more recoveries than that!

          2. Tarpitz

            IIRC, we’re doing less testing per capita than many other countries due mainly to not having much of a pre-existing domestic industry for it (we largely outsourced it to Germany). Tests in the UK to date have been largely restricted to hospitalised patients and medical staff. However, it can’t be the main explanation for these figures, because we are doing more testing per capita than France. In other words, your explanation seems likely to me.

    2. HeelBearCub

      Ignore Iran and Turkey as autocracies. They aren’t of the same type, for a variety of reasons.

      Germany is at 5%, and are at a similar stage in the process of infection. Italy, Spain and France all began seeing deaths well before the UK.

      Given the roughly somewhere between 2 to 6 week timeframe on this thing, we should expect to see recovery numbers lag behind all the other indicators the most. Most especially when we aren’t testing very many asymptomatic or slightly symptomatic people (the ones who can recover quickly).

      1. fion

        Yeah, I’ve also been looking at the trend over time. The UK’s death rate* doesn’t look like Spain or Italy looked two weeks ago. Both were between 30% and 50%. France is weird. Between the 16th of March and the 17th of March they jumped from 93% to 23%, when their number of recoveries went up from 4 to 594.

        I suppose the point is yes, there should be a lag in recoveries, but why is it more in the UK than it has ever been in any other country? The UK is kind of like Italy was two weeks ago in both deaths and confirmed cases. But two weeks ago Italy was getting 500-1000 recoveries every day. The UK has 135 to date.

        *I know this number isn’t really the death rate, but we need to call it something

        1. HeelBearCub

          I’ve linked several previous versions of Kevin Drum’s charts plotting the deaths from Covid-19 in the various western democracies.

          Here is today’s

          As you can see, if you look from the same point when deaths in the target population reached the same per capita number, 1 total death per 10 million in population, everyone seems to be roughly on the same curve as Italy. Spain is higher, Switzerland a little lower.

          Canada looks like a real outlier right now, but it’s still very early for them. Also see the caveat for the US.

          The US is currently under the various EU curves, but I don’t think that’s really valid for the same reason that comparing the EU as whole to Italy by itself doesn’t make sense. The growth of the disease is always going to be primarily local. Looking at different states or regions separately would likely look very different. Looking at the New York area, or the Northeast as whole, would be more comparable to an individual EU country.

          1. fion

            I’ve seen plots like those. To me that indicates that there’s nothing weird going on in the UK that’s making the disease more deadly, which was never a very likely hypothesis.

            But it doesn’t tell us anything about recoveries as far as I can tell.

          2. JayT

            I’m assuming that the difference in recoveries is entirely baked in by how the different countries report or determine their statistics.

          3. HeelBearCub

            Again, recoveries lag even further behind infections than deaths do.

            You can’t compare today’s recovery rate in Italy to the UK’s recovery rate. You would need to compare the reported recovery rate from two weeks ago. I don’t know what those reported rates were, but I doubt very much that it was 43%.

            Remember, case loads are doubling every few days in the initial stages of the outbreak. That means that until you start to get over the hump, that even if we assume only about two weeks between diagnosis and recovery, that’s something like 4 to 7 doublings of cases diagnosed before the first recovery. That’s going to hold your recovery rate at 5% just by case growth alone.

            You won’t see a substantial recovery number compared to total cases until growth stops.

          4. fion


            Italy’s “death rate” two weeks ago was 44%.

            Scroll down to look at the bottom graph.

            Remember, case loads are doubling every few days in the initial stages of the outbreak. That means that until you start to get over the hump, that even if we assume only about two weeks between diagnosis and recovery, that’s something like 4 to 7 doublings of cases diagnosed before the first recovery. That’s going to hold your recovery rate at 5% just by case growth alone.

            I don’t think your maths quite works here, because what we’re calling “recovery rate” isn’t recoveries divided by total cases, it’s recoveries divided by closed cases. Assuming deaths take some time between diagnosis and death (say a week) then we’re down to the “head start” of deaths being only a week. Which is only two doublings, a factor of 4, so expected recovery rate of 80%.

            Hmm. Ok, that’s still pretty high. So maybe the question is why didn’t this happen in Italy (or any other country other than the UK and arguably France)?

          5. HeelBearCub

            I don’t think your maths quite works here, because what we’re calling “recovery rate” isn’t recoveries divided by total cases, it’s recoveries divided by closed cases.

            How do you figure the maths work that way? Closed cases either result in death, recovery, or what? You don’t close cases for people who still have the disease, Germany or the UK doesn’t have a death rate of 95%, so, I think your assumption about recovery rate has to be incorrect.

            Depending on what you are reading, you may be seeing different measures and estimates, but there is no way any national cohort that doesn’t solely consist of 20 ninety year olds in a nursing home has a final recovery rate of only 5%.

          6. HeelBearCub

            As for that Italian graph, what’s missing are all of those cases that were mild, didn’t require hospitalization, but can’t be officially closed, because the system is stressed. Note that 95% of the active cases are mild. If 95% of cases are mild, how do you get ~42% fatality?

            Note how flat the curve is on “recovered” per day as compared to deaths per day.

    3. Eigengrau

      Related: authorities are puzzled as to why the recovery rate in British Columbia is so high, over 50%. That’s over 50% of total cases, not resolved cases. This is much higher than anywhere else in Canada despite other provinces using basically the same definition of recovery (10 days symptom-free iirc). The testing rate is pretty high but again not substantially greater than their neighbors. Whatever the explanation, I hope this effect is real and that we can export the cause everywhere else if possible.

    4. raw

      At least in Germany there is no obligatiion to report recoveries. So any numbers for Germany are more guesses.

  24. Randy M

    So now that we’ve had a few weekends with Corona and the attendant restrictions, I’m curious how people are adapting to it romantically. I see a few possibilities:
    1. Breaking lockdown for this, but only with long standing relationships.
    2. Breaking lockdown, even for new acquaintences.
    3. As above, but wearing protection has a new meaning.
    4. A surge in tele-dating with a promise of proximity at some future point.
    5. Being too distracted/worried to think about this at the moment.

    Anyone know how the non-married/co-quarantining are or will approach this as the problem drags on through the season?

    1. fion

      I’ve been meeting people through dating apps for the past four years leading to several short to medium term relationships. At the moment I say on my profile that I’m not going to meet anybody but I’m still swiping and having conversations with people. In those conversations we’re not saying “maybe we should meet up when all this blows over”; we’re just having normal chats. I find it very annoying that I can’t be meeting people right now. Finding somebody to be with long term is something I feel ready for now, and I’m so picky that I fear it could take years!

      I get the impression that some people on the apps are looking to meet up IRL, which I consider incredibly irresponsible. I’m sure it’s possible to do it safely, but I don’t trust them to do so.

      A close friend told me that he’s planning to keep seeing his girlfriend. But neither of them are coming into contact with anybody else, so they see it as being quarantined together as if they were a household, even though they live in different houses.

      1. Randy M

        Finding somebody to be with long term is something I feel ready for now, and I’m so picky that I fear it could take years!

        FWIW, I think this is a legitimate cost to mourn if the Covid restrictions last for much of a year.

        1. Nick

          I wonder if, decades from now, folks will commonly think the US’s declining interest in sex, relationships, and kids began with the 2020 pandemic, only to learn that it started years before.

      2. Matt M

        A situation like this might actually serve as something of an additional filter away from “people looking for short term” in favor of “people looking for long-term”

        FWIW, I met my current fiance on an online dating app, and we first started talking when our area was basically shut down due to a major hurricane, which destroyed my car such that it was well over a month before we could actually meet in person.

    2. Elementaldex

      There is another related and interesting point for the married. If one spouse is a known vector how does the couple handle it?

      My wife is in healthcare and works as part of a group of ~10, they apparently talk about radically more personal things than my workplace does because she reports that of the long term relationship members of her group she is the only one still sleeping with her spouse/SO. They are at a facility with a Coronavirus quarantine ward which they all have to go into.

      My only data-point on your initial question is that my best friend is seriously but fairly newly dating someone (~2 months?) and they just decided this week to stop seeing each other in person for an indeterminate length of time.

      1. snifit

        Many healthcare workers are isolating from their families as best they can. The best way to protect their families is to live in an entirely different house, but many are using a spare bedroom and bathroom and maintaining distance within the same house.
        My wife is a physician and we are not distancing. Our family, however, has been isolating as a group for almost 3 weeks now since we expect to become a vector at some point despite her best efforts.

        1. Edward Scizorhands

          Do you have a plan if all the adults in the house get hit hard enough that they cannot do childcare?

          1. snifit

            I don’t. My wife may have thought of it already–she’s been in “plan a month ahead” mode for about 6 weeks now but we haven’t talked about that scenario. For my part I’m counting on the likelihood that we get mild cases.

    3. tossrock

      A friend of mine in SF is going the “keep meeting up with a single other person, but feel bad about it” route. The easy joke here is that they’re providing an essential service.

    4. metacelsus

      I’m now staying with my girlfriend and her parents, after Harvard kicked me out of their grad student housing. I hadn’t planned on moving in with her until June, but it’s going well.

      Her parents are hardcore Trump supporters though, so I can’t openly complain about how his leadership is failing in this crisis.

    5. Hamish Todd

      After more than a year of soul-suckingly large amounts of time spent on okcupid and dates that went nowhere, I meet a lady I really like, go on a second date, I really really like her, and I am getting nice signals from her too!

      Then fucking Coronavirus. She has to return to her native country. Cue a week of maddening uncertainty because she has to uproot her life, I don’t want to come on too strong, and even if she liked me it would be the most understandable thing in the world to say that the situation is too complicated to continue.

      But turns out she really likes me too 🙂 We video chat. I am happier with my life now than before Coronavirus!

      1. Edward Scizorhands

        I got into my first real relationship after being laid off following 9/11.

    6. Andrew Hunter

      I’m sitting in my apartment not dating anyone or trying to. There’s not much to be done; afaict nobody will meet up (and as stated i kinda doubt I’d want to meet up with someone who would. There’s a bro-y saying I’ve heard once or twice: “any girl who would make you wear a condom, you probably don’t need one; any girl who wouldn’t, you really do…” I always use protection with non-exclusive relationships, but the point stands.)

      There’s video chatting, I suppose, but I look even more hideous than normal over video chat, and humans aren’t really rigged to develop emotional attachments except in person, so it’s pointless anyway. A number of people out there don’t seem to internalize the thing that the goal in dating is to actually build a connection–this is the biggest problem with a lot of things like The Rules. They optimize for choosing dates you won’t like or attach yourself to.

      (My pickings on Hinge et al were pretty iffy before this, but timing sucks. My ex and I broke up in October; we maintained a pretty close, good relationship for quite some time after, she spent lots of time with me, etc…it rapidly fell apart to the point we can’t interact well in the three weeks before lockdown. Woof. Even as an ex she would have been good to quarantine with.)

      Oh well, guess I’ll date in September, maybe. If we don’t get more competent rapidly in the next month or two it’s all moot, anyway.

      1. AG

        humans aren’t really rigged to develop emotional attachments except in person

        Perhaps that’s a majority subset, but a subset nonetheless. A few of my strongest relationships are primarily based in text chat, meeting through fandom interests. See also how many women prefer to read their porn instead of watch it.

    7. Tenacious D

      I bought a ring a week before non-essential stores in my area were told to close…

      (this didn’t significantly alter my timing, but anticipating it gave me just a bit of extra motivation not to delay).

    8. Atlas

      Vox article from ~3 weeks ago on this.

      I’ve seen it suggested a few times that this will invite a return to epistolary courtship. (Did such a thing ever exist?)

    9. Radu Floricica

      All of the above. Many people are moving together, and there’s definitely less hookups.

      I tried finding something stable for the duration, but as luck would have it the first three I moderately hit it off are or left to different towns. In the (now boringly usual) twist, tried to keep in touch but it turns out at least one wanted remote sex much more that connection. *sigh* men, the new romantic sex.

      I’m occasionally hooking up with one person – not the safest possible thing, but reasonable considering current situation here and my general health.

    10. WashedOut

      In my country (Australia) people who are in the same household count as one person for physical-distancing purposes, and gatherings are limited to 2 people maximum.

      This means that me and my fiancee are not effected romantically, and neither are other couples in our social network. The single people I know are being very cautious and mostly have put dating on indefinite hiatus.

  25. rocoulm

    About a month ago, I started experiencing an intermittent issue with my cell phone. It shows the correct time of day, but sometimes date displayed would be in mid-2000. After some careful observation, I decided it’s most likely occurring whenever I’m connected to a particular cell tower near my house. Does this sound plausible to any of you in the know about how these work? Is it possible for a cell tower to be desynchronized like this? If so, whom do you contact to get the problem looked at?

    I should mention that I haven’t yet asked anyone else in the area if they’re having the same issue. Maybe it’s just me…

    1. Edward Scizorhands

      Cell phones absolutely can be set to sync time with towers. You can disable syncing with the cell network to test.

      You can find cell tower maps online built by hobbyists online. I don’t know how accurate they are for identifying the tower owner.

      1. Randy M

        I don’t know how accurate they are for identifying the tower owner.

        Regardless, it should be pursued. I’m hoping for a Scooby-Doo style unmasking at the end of this.

        1. Buttle

          I’m hoping it turns out to be a poorly configured Stingray. Shaggy could have a field day with that.

          1. rocoulm

            This has also occurred to me. For what it’s worth, I also started getting buttloads of security certificate errors when browsing the web around the same time…

          2. rumham


            If those two issues are related then it’s probably not a stingray. It’s probably malware or a poorly coded app causing glitches.

          3. rocoulm


            Would this still be the case if I get no certificate errors using any other cell towers?

      2. rocoulm

        Sorry if I wasn’t clear; I’m aware phones are normally synced to the nearest tower. This has only really been a minor nuisance, since I changed my phone settings to fix it once I discovered what the problem was.

        What I was getting at was whether or not an individual tower could be desynchronized from the ones around it. I assumed this sort of stuff was computer-controlled with little room for error, but maybe not.

        As far as contacting the owner/operator of the tower, I had assumed they were all managed by some faceless megacorporation with a suitably enigmatic customer relations department. If that is the case, I’m really not sure where to start, but I’ll check out some of those maps you mentioned.

    2. fion

      I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I laughed out loud at how bizarre and incomprehensible this bug is to me. Like… what?!

      1. rocoulm

        None taken.

        It took me a surprisingly long time to notice. The main symptom was that my phone would notify me of texts, but then wouldn’t display them when I open my texting app. Eventually I noticed that they were there, but they were appearing at the very top of my (chronological) text history, and I just had to scroll up for 10 seconds or so to see them.

  26. salvorhardin

    How on earth is it defensible to give Jared Kushner, of all people, any sort of serious responsibility or authority to coordinate the federal government’s response to COVID-19? Any thoughts on what the real strategy or intent is here?

    To anyone Trump-sympathetic or supporting, I’ll just say: this is exactly the sort of personnel choice that makes it seems to the rest of us that he is both extraordinarily incompetent and extraordinarily corrupt, even compared to regular politicians. Listening to Fauci and letting Fauci tell the truth in public, while they are indeed good things, don’t outweigh the impact of this sort of obviously ludicrous nepotism.

    1. Matt M

      Trump believes that Kushner is an effective manager, and (perhaps more importantly), an effective manager who can be trusted to properly execute Trump’s preferred policy goals. “Coordinating the government response” seems to be a primarily managerial task that requires balancing risk/reward scenarios from a variety of perspectives, and does not require specific scientific expertise, as such.

      We may disagree that Kushner is an effective manager (I don’t think he is!). But if instead of Kusher, he appointed Elon Musk or Oprah or Jeff Bezos or any number of people who are generally thought of as effective managers (but who lack specific domain-level expertise on COVID), I suspect the outrage would be significantly less…

      1. salvorhardin

        Oprah would, and should, inspire the same level of outrage. Musk too, actually, given how scattershot he is when working outside his domain. Bezos would be a better choice, and as such require less outrage.

        The point is that there is actually a fact of the matter about which people are good administrators of efforts like this. And Trump is a systematically and extremely bad judge of that, because he consistently prizes loyalty above competence, so he again and again replaces actual competent people with worthless sycophants. His beliefs about who makes an effective manager are not just wrong, they are culpably stupid and corrupt.

        1. DavidFriedman

          Bezos would be a better choice

          Bezos would be a terrible choice, given that he is currently doing a job he is very competent and and one that plays a major role in ameliorating the problems of lockdown.

          1. Anteros

            Fair point, and I agree with you, but If I’d made the suggestion as Matt M did, I would have subconsciously added the caveat ‘assuming he wasn’t doing anything else for a while’ or just made the point that he was the kind of person who had appropriate skills for the job.

            I don’t think suggesting that Jeff Bezos could be a sensible appointment is negated by the fact that he’s doing a good and ‘important’ job elsewhere.

    2. Alexander Turok

      Did Michelle Obama have any qualifications to do the whole anti-obesity thing? You could say that was merely “symbolic,” etc., but I really doubt you would have said that at the time.

      1. HeelBearCub

        If we had a pandemic that attacked only fat kids, I wouldn’t want M.O. in a leadership position on the task force to stop it.

        Completely different kinds of issues, completely different time frames of needed action, etc.

          1. HeelBearCub

            Words get used ambiguously. Welcome to language.

            “We have an epidemic of overweight children” doesn’t mean “2 million children will die this year if we don’t successfully address their weight problem this month”.


          2. Elementaldex

            I accidentally reported HeelBearCub’s comment. Mea Culpa!

            I meant to be replying to say: I’m legitimately curious how we would respond as a nation to a situation where the lives of two million obese children depended on getting them to a normal weight in a month.

          3. Alexander Turok


            The stated reason they called it an epidemic was to inspire the sense of urgency you are talking about. Now you want to say “well, we didn’t really mean it.” A lot of people said that at the time.

            “Words get used ambiguously” – how about “words get used deceptively?”

          4. HeelBearCub

            That would be well nigh impossible. How it was handled would depend a great on the particulars.

            @Alexander Turok:
            Like I said, welcome to language. I don’t suppose you think the War on Drugs involved the Army shooting mortars at bags of cocaine trying to overrun their position. I don’t think you believe that an epidemic of crime is literally caused by an infectious disease.

            Then again, given that we don’t know what the causes of widespread obesity are, it could be infectious. Epidemics are just widespread infectious disease within a community at a point in time.

            Point being that the word “epidemic” is frequently used to mean “widespread and harmful”, even though the literal meaning also includes “caused by an infectious disease”.

            And epidemic doesn’t specify degree of harm. We could easily talk about an epidemic of Chlamydia in a community.

            So, like I said before, welcome to language.

          5. Alexander Turok


            I simply do not believe you would have had a problem with “M.O. in a leadership position on the task force to stop” a pandemic that attacked only fat kids.

        1. J Mann

          Seconding HBC. Giving the First Spouse leadership of some public leadership posts is traditional and IMHO not harmful and maybe a little helpful if she brings some attention to an issue.

          Putting Michelle in charge of the Ebola response or Iran nuclear negotiations would be closer.

          IMHO, Jared is closer to Hillary at State – people who like him think he’s smart and hardworking, and the general theory is that to run an operation you want a smart hardworking generalist who gets advised by the experts. Unlike Hillary, he’s a relative of Trump’s, though. (To be fair, people who like Michelle also report that she’s smart and hard-working, but she wasn’t put in charge of anything mission critical.)

          1. JayT

            So, how would you compare it to Hillary chairing the healthcare task force back in the 90s?

          2. J Mann

            Good point. Yeah, about the same. As I said, Hillary, like Jared, is generally viewed as smart and hard-working by people who aren’t politically disposed to hate her, and like Jared, she was someone the President was impressed by and trusted. (I’d argue that healthcare reform still isn’t as vital as a response to an out of control pandemic, but at the time, HCR advocates felt it was pretty important.)

            I’d note that I think conventional wisdom is that appointing Hillary to healthcare reform was worse than a crime, it was a mistake. If your goal was to pass healthcare reform, she didn’t have any particular experience managing or selling that kind of project, and having her in front of it further politicized it. Comparisions to JK are welcome.

      2. salvorhardin

        This is pure whataboutery, and very weak whataboutery at that. Yes, the childhood obesity thing was symbolic, and yes, I would have and in fact did say that at the time. First Lady vanity projects are a perfectly normal part of American presidential rituals, they are never on the critical path for any urgent national priority, and everyone knew perfectly well that that was one of them.

        Even if it were not symbolic, it was clearly not an urgent response to a catastrophic, acute nationwide crisis that is crashing the economy to Great Depression levels. Nobody actually thought that it was any such thing, and there was no serious case to be made that the consequences of Michelle Obama’s lack of domain expertise would be anywhere within four orders of magnitude as grievous as the consequences of Kushner’s lack of domain expertise here. This is not a remotely reasonable comparison. If Obama had made his wife undersecretary of defense for antiterrorism, say, that would be a reasonable comparison– and would have been so obviously inappropriate that it would never have been considered.

        1. Paul Zrimsek

          When you posted this:

          To anyone Trump-sympathetic or supporting, I’ll just say: this is exactly the sort of personnel choice that makes it seems to the rest of us that he is both extraordinarily incompetent and extraordinarily corrupt, even compared to regular politicians.

          you were sort of inviting comparison to regular politicians.

          A lot of people regarded Bill Clinton’s health-care reform attempt as an urgent national priority at the time he made the disastrous choice of Hillary to run it.

        2. Alexander Turok

          Plenty of people said obesity was an “urgent national priority” at the time, thus the whole “obesity epidemic” framing.

          You explicitly said this is “extraordinarily incompetent and extraordinarily corrupt, even compared to regular politicians,” I mention another politician, and that’s “whataboutery?” Whataboutery: what Leftists say when called out on their hypocrisy.

          What “domain” are you talking about? Do you even know? His job is to “coordinate on supply chain issues,” he has some experience in business. Is he an “expert?” Maybe not. But I really doubt you’d care if he was part of your tribe.

          1. Edward Scizorhands

            Right. They called it an “urgent national priority.” But it wasn’t “urgent” like stopped a pandemic or a loose nuke. It was “urgent” like “get kids to say no to drugs” or “get kids to read.”

            JFK was criticized for putting his brother as Attorney General and rules were put in about that. Hillary Clinton trying to run the health care reform is a closer complaint … and it got shot to hell before it changed anything, partly because people didn’t like an unelected wife doing that.

        3. EchoChaos

          What are you looking for, besides a fight and anger?

          People have given you examples of other politicians who use members of their family to push or execute policies, including major keystone policies like Bill Clinton’s healthcare overhaul.

          1. salvorhardin

            Hillary’s involvement in the healthcare taskforce is a somewhat closer analogy, yes, and was inappropriate, but the distinguishing factors are:

            — it was not an acute emergency response, it was a policy task force, that’s an entirely different level of inappropriateness

            — Hillary, as corrupt and tone-deaf as she is, is 100x more competent an administrator than any of the jokers in Trump’s inner circle.

          2. Loriot

            Wasn’t the healthcare reform thing basically just coming up with a proposal for the legislature to vote on and then knocking heads together anyway?

          3. Conrad Honcho


            I see no evidence of this. She caused all kinds of screw-ups and scandals in her husband’s White House (healthcare, travel office), got slotted into a guaranteed Senate seat win whereat she accomplished nothing, and then she set the world on fire (in the bad way) as Secretary of State, and then lost an election to Donald Trump. I see no evidence Hillary is competent at anything besides marrying well (for some definitions of “well”).

            I’m no fan of Kushner, but what makes you think he can’t, “coordinate supply chains” or whatever it is he’s doing? That doesn’t sound hard. I bet I could coordinate supply chains and I have no supply chain coordinating experience.

          4. HeelBearCub

            I bet I could coordinate supply chains and I have no supply chain coordinating experience.


            This isn’t a mistake I expect you to make generally Honcho, but that is some prime Dunning-Krueger right there. I would think your general love (IIIRC) of military history would make you respect logistics more.

          5. Lambert

            > I bet I could coordinate supply chains and I have no supply chain coordinating experience.

            That kind of thinking is why invasions of Russia usually end so badly.

          6. Conrad Honcho

            But this isn’t a war. Honestly, I don’t understand what it is Kushner is being asked to do here. Why does the government need to be coordinating supply chains right now? Can’t the people trying to make ventilators say “hey, we need to buy X, Y, Z parts” and then buy the parts from people who make X, Y, Z parts? If Kushner’s job is then to say “yeah, you should totally do that,” or, in the case the part suppliers are shut down because of a governor’s orders, call up the governor and say “hey, the vent maker says they need this company open, tell them they can open back up,” then I’m pretty sure I can do that job.

            What specifically is Kushner being asked to do here that’s hard?

            And as for me, I’m only moderately interested in military history. You might have me confused with EchoChaos, who seems to read more books on the subject that I do.

          7. acymetric

            I’m no fan of Kushner, but what makes you think he can’t, “coordinate supply chains” or whatever it is he’s doing? That doesn’t sound hard. I bet I could coordinate supply chains and I have no supply chain coordinating experience.

            Having put some time into a career in logistics (I’ve since switched to something different), you’re probably correct in the long term (given time to learn the systems, processes, and how everything interacts most intelligent people are capable of it if they’re willing to do that kind of work), but you’re probably completely incorrect in the short term.

            I would expect someone with no logistics experience to take minimum 6 months, probably closer to a year, to become truly effective at coordinating logistics at anything larger than a single small business.

          8. matkoniecz

            I bet I could coordinate supply chains and I have no supply chain coordinating experience.

            I bet against. There is plenty of evidence that coordinating supply chains is not something easy that you can just start doing.

          9. HeelBearCub

            @Conrad Honcho:
            What kind of stuff needs to be prevented or done?

            Preventing things like FEMA outbidding a state for the same PPE or ventilators. Deciding who gets how many of what from the federal stockpile (which contrary to what Kushner misunderstands, is explicitly there to supplement state needs, rather than for exclusive federal use). Figuring out which state gets their requests met first. Figuring out when to count on incoming supplies, so that later needs can be met by incoming supplies rather than stockpiles. Determining whose manufacturing capacity to commandeer so that the DPA power is utilized most effectively.

            Plus, all of the myriad complexities that I (and you) don’t know about. The things that make supply chains break under stress.

          10. Lambert

            Also a bunch of important people who know their part of the supply chain inside-out will be in hospital on ventilators.

          11. Conrad Honcho

            HBC: Those things sound important, yes. But none of those things sound particularly difficult for anyone with modest experience in business and government, which Kushner has. I’m confident with the help of a staff I could do those things. Why do you think those things are hard? Why do you think Kushner can’t do them?

          12. HeelBearCub

            Well for one, because FEMA is pulling PPE contracts away from states, and Jared did just declare on national TV that the national stockpile wasn’t intended for state use.

          13. Conrad Honcho


            I didn’t know what you were talking about, so I went and looked this up. Here’s what Kushner said:

            “The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use. So we’re encouraging the states to make sure that they’re assessing the needs, they’re getting the data from their local situations and then trying to fill it with the supplies that we’ve given them”

            And then I found this on twitter, where people are upset that the HHS website description has changed. First it said “supplies severe enough to cause local supplies to run out” and now it says “supplement state and local supplies.”

            These are the same thing. Yes, states are supposed to have their own supplies and not rely on the federal government stockpile, but the stockpile exists to cover over for states that either screw up or are hit so badly their local supplies run out. But from that first website photo it says “this repository contains enough supplies to respond to multiple large-scale emergencies simultaneously.” It does not say “states don’t need to worry about having their own supplies because this repository contains enough supplies for all 50 states plus the territories.” Like Kushner said, “it’s not the states’ stockpile.” It’s to supplement the states, not do their jobs for them.

            You have to start actually reading the articles, and not just looking at headlines and getting mad.

          14. Loriot


            I’m a democrat, but I still remember being puzzled when I saw that story pop up on Reddit with the two screenshots side by side, and wondered which one was supposed to be the bad one.

        4. albatross11

          The childhood obesity thing is exactly the sort of generic good works that first ladies traditionally do. I don’t think you learn anything at all by trying to compare the previous first lady’s attempts to get kids to eat healthier and get more exercise to coordinating the federal response to a once-in-a-lifetime massive epidemic that’s lined up to kill several hundred thousand Americans.

          I think a major problem for Trump is that he doesn’t have a lot of people he really trusts and can count on to run anything for him. Some of that is his being an outsider, but I think it’s mostly that he’s not an easy guy to work for–lots of his initial allies got pushed out after awhile because they couldn’t get along with Trump, or he got annoyed and started undermining/badmouthing them on Twitter. You can see this in the very high turnover in his administration so far, too.

          The consequence of that is that it’s hard for him to find top-tier people to work for him to run some important thing. Most such people figure working for Trump will be a nightmare, and they’re probably right, given how that worked out for guys like Mattis, Tillerson, Kelley, and Sessions.

          Hence, he needs to assign someone like Kushner to this sort of job.

          1. Matt M

            +1 to all of this.

            I definitely agree with the general argument that putting Kusher in charge of emergency COVID response is a much higher level of nepotism than the traditional first lady busywork (regardless of the specific words used to describe said busywork).

            I also agree that Trump is in a tough spot in the sense that there are so few people he can trust not to betray him, that his pool of potential candidates who meet the basic criteria of “competent” AND “can be trusted” is incredibly low, and it’s unsurprising that he continues to defer to his family in situations like this.

            If there’s a steelman argument for nepotism, it probably involves something like “you can at least count on your own family not to be scheming behind your back to royally fuck you over.”

          2. salvorhardin

            Well, indeed, Trump can’t trust competent people not to betray him because any competent person knows that betraying him is basically always the correct thing to do for the country and for human civilization generally.

          3. Matt M

            Well, indeed, Trump can’t trust competent people not to betray him because any competent person knows that betraying him is basically always the correct thing to do for the country and for human civilization generally.

            I mean, fine. But if your prior is “decent people won’t work for Trump” then it seems a little ridiculous to criticize Trump for not selecting decent people, right?

            I’m not trying to be a jerk here, but you don’t seem to be arguing in good faith. You’re coming across as a hyper-partisan whose only purpose is to remind us that Orange Man Bad.

          4. Loriot

            Trump’s seeming inability to hire competent people is largely his own fault, so it seems entirely fair to me to criticize him for it.

          5. Matt M

            Not if you take it as a prior that anyone willing to work for Trump and not actively sabotage his efforts must, by definition, be incompetent.

          6. Loriot

            Suppose we had an anti-vaxer politician who decided that it was imperative to end all vaccinations, even optional vaccinations. He has trouble finding anyone with serious health credentials willing to work for him, half the experts already in place quit in protest, and he fires everyone else anyway on the assumption that anyone willing to stay must be secretly be intending to undermine him.

            Who’s fault is that?

          7. Matt M

            I feel like this is such an obvious subterfuge.

            Your problem with Trump, as with your hypothetical “no vaccines allowed” President (is it even worth it for me to point out that Trump has no positions that are this obviously uncontroversially terrible?), is that you disagree with his political goals.

            So just come out and say so.

            Stop trying to hide your political bias behind “The problem is that he picks incompetent people” when you define “competent” as “someone he wouldn’t pick because they disagree with him.” It’s a largely pointless dance.

            We get it. You disagree with Trump. That’s cool. Huge swaths of the American population disagrees with whoever it is you like. It’s fine. We’ll have another election and maybe your guy will win. But don’t pretend the problem is some totally different (and definitely objective!) thing.

          8. Clutzy

            Well, indeed, Trump can’t trust competent people not to betray him because any competent person knows that betraying him is basically always the correct thing to do for the country and for human civilization generally.

            Seems like an odd statement to make. Trump has picked some people who have been competent and loyal. Sessions and Barr at DOJ have been tireless in this. Casting out Sessions over his Russia refusal would probably have been one of Trump’s biggest mistakes ever if Barr hadn’t existed. People are loving Fauci who is in his administration (these people don’t include me).

            I mean, generally I’d agree Trump has a staffing problem because his views and personality are very niche within the group of people who can pass through the Senate if the media targets that appointee. For instance, can you name a person who could have been confirmed as head of CDC that publicly called C-19 a pandemic and emergency in mid January? Called for travel restrictions and stockpiling of PPE + guidelines for social distancing? Called for ramming through new tests in January? Enacting the DPA to force mask and ventilator production in early February? Even the now revered Fauci was still skeptical of its pandemicness in late Jan.

            The problem isn’t that Trump picked bad people for responding to C-19, its that the only good people to pick exist far outside the political sphere’s realm of acceptability. There are people I know of who would have made all the choices that would have looked extreme then, but amazing now. Maybe 1 could have ever gotten a cabinet position, maybe. And that would be Tom Cotton if we are very charitable about his timeline. And no one would have been thinking about him for CDC chair, and its dubious if anyone would have thought that was a good pick at anytime before March 1st 2020 (and it still probably isn’t even if he was ontop of Corona warnings).

          9. Edward Scizorhands

            Alex Azar, Trump’s HHS Secretary, seems to have been competent and was trying to get funding for PPE back on February 5th. Even if he didn’t think a pandemic was likely, he was recommending prudent risk.

      3. Loriot

        I don’t see why first ladies shouldn’t be allowed to have hobbies like anyone else. My aunt spends her time donating books to poor local schools. That’s different that putting your wife in charge of the education system, let alone say, emergency management.

    3. Deiseach

      How on earth is it defensible to give Jared Kushner, of all people, any sort of serious responsibility or authority to coordinate the federal government’s response to COVID-19?

      I don’t know anything about this, so my first question is: is this a real responsible position or is it one of the PR type ‘Czar for Bottletops’ positions? My intuition is that the real work is going to be done by the civil servants, as usual, while the figurehead gets to announce big splashy announcements in the media and do a lot of “I’m very glad you asked me that question, Stuart” type interviews.

  27. GearRatio

    Besides codecademy, how should I be learning SQL if I don’t have access to a company database or similar hands-on training? I’m guessing I’m going to top out what abstract lessons on functions can do for me pretty quickly.

    1. Nick

      If you want to play around with querying data yourself, Microsoft has the Northwind database, which is one of their go-to examples. And there are similar databases on the web, I’m sure.

    2. Edward Scizorhands

      You can run PostgreSQL or MySQL on any Mac, Windows, or Linux machine you’ve got.

      1. Rob K

        And once you get it up I’d suggest giving yourself a research question that can be answered with the US census and downloading data from their ftp site.

        The process of loading and manipulating the data for that purpose should give you a good chance for hands-on practice with a lot of the key skills.

          1. brad

            > chloropleth

            I do this every single time! They should just go ahead and put the second el in there officially.

    3. Statismagician

      There are large public (mostly health care-focused, obviously) datasets available through CDC, NIH, and various medical schools, e.g. BRFSS, CDC Wonder, Federal data warehouse.

      SAS University Edition is free if you have a .edu email, and has a SQL implementation through PROC SQL – not the most efficient, but free, relatively user-friendly, and cloud-based. You would have to learn enough SAS code to import data (which is trivial).

      That’s just what I know about, I’m sure other people have less biostats-focused suggestions.

      EDIT: They do, and are faster at sharing them than I was.

      1. HeelBearCub

        FWIW, I’m guessing this isn’t really a good starting problem for someone trying to learn relational DBs. This is not a question relational DBs are going to be very good at answering (because the relationship between the “same joke” is abstract and not defined in the DB). You’ll spend all your time trying to get a relational DB to do something it’s not really designed for, rather than learning what RDBs are good at.

        If someone already did the work to identify and correlate reposts, I’ll proactively retract this comment.

        1. matkoniecz

          Maybe define repost as “exactly the same comment, longer than N characters”? Without trying to catch ones that are almost the same.

          1. HeelBearCub

            Now you are doing non indexed string compares in a cross join of millions and millions, even billions, of posts.

            That’s not the kind of thing an RDBMS does well.

          2. johan_larson

            If the comparison predicate is equality, joining a few million rows to a few million rows won’t be a problem. Sort-merge-join or hash join should make short work of it.

          3. Edward Scizorhands

            Just finding dupes should be a matter of sorting by that column, and then walking through the list, comparing each element to the one before.

            I’ve never used cursors, but this may be a good case for cursors. It might not count as being done “inside” an RDBMS, though.

            How much would “SELECT COUNT(*) GROUP BY COMMENT HAVING COUNT > 1” suck? It’s keeping track of a bunch of information we don’t need and will throw away instantly.

    4. matkoniecz

      For basic SQL there is plenty of in-browser emulators.

      See https://www.w3schools.com/sql/trysql.asp?filename=trysql_select_all

      http://www.sqltutorial.org/ https://selectstarsql.com/ is also bookmarked as “useful for initial SQL learning”


      If for some reason you are interested in geographic databases then OpenStreetMap may be interesting (sort-of equivalent of Google Maps dataset, but available on an open license) – see https://switch2osm.org/ https://www.openstreetmap.org/ https://planet.osm.org/ https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Downloading_data

      (note that full database is 132 GB – after compression)

    5. Erusian

      A lot of people are giving you decent advice if you’re interested in very large datasets. I’d suggest something simpler. Install SQL locally. Go download a basic app or project or sample or whatever and poke around in its database. Perhaps something with a model system. Unless you want to do pure data processing, in which case upload the data to SQL and try getting results from it.

      Happy to help you with basic setup.

      1. GearRatio

        I think I’m going to do both – download a huge dataset and mess with it as well as download some smaller projects like you suggest, to try to get a feel for both. Thank you!

        1. HeelBearCub

          I’m not sure what code academy teaches you, but if you don’t know what an entity-relationship diagram (ERD) is, and you don’t know what 3rd normal form is, I’d also try to understand those two concepts at the very least. They provide a really solid grounding for understanding what an RD is. Perhaps in parallel with other things.

          Microsoft Access used to be a great, practical way to understand ER diagramming, as the default way of actually creating the DB was through an ERD. It looks like it’s still available, and free evaluation copies can be had. But it’s been a very, very long time since I did anything with it.

          Oh, and FWIW, don’t get too entranced with Access. It’s fine for what it is, but it wasn’t really designed to be scalable, and it was more pointed at people who were power users (sort of in the same vein as Excel macros).

      2. Aapje

        Big data sets are bad for learning, because there will be a lot of waiting. He is better off with a small data set and lots of different queries.

        1. Chalid

          I mostly agree with this, especially as OP wants to be some sort of data analyst and not an engineer.

          However, he should play with big things long enough to understand indices.

    6. Radu Floricica

      There are three levels in learning SQL (bar of course hands on experience, which helps at each level):

      – basic stuff – select, update, create table etc. Pretty much go through the tutorial
      – “advanced” stuff, which you read about in the tutorial but now use to solve more complex problems. Lots of group by, subqueries, temporary tables etc. Again – not just read the tutorial and do some examples, but actually solve problems with them.
      – performance – and this is why people are recommending big data sets. Once you get here you find out quite a lot of what you’re doing above can’t always be used. How do you alter a table of 100+mil records in production? Why is index order critical? And so on.

      Unfortunately, there are some things you can only truly learn on a biggish production system. For example I’m in the process of fighting deadlocks, and a lot of previous common knowledge gets thrown out the window. i.e.: now subqueries are bad and updates need perfect match to indexes and order by. Who knew.

      1. HeelBearCub

        now subqueries are bad

        Just as info, this depends on the RDBMS, it’s plan optimizer, and the type of subquery.

        MS SQL Server will frequently have the same plan for a subquery and a join. It depends on what the subquery is doing.

        Solving SQL performance issues has been a good chunk of my career. Knowing when you can throw ACIDity out the window is one of the big tricks that maybe clashes the most with classic good RDBMS practices.

          1. HeelBearCub

            Damn, I missed a chance to pun. I think if I get one more point, my Dad card will be suspended.

        1. Garrett

          I’d note that you can also get a lot of interesting performance improvements if you are willing to drop normalization as well.

          1. Nick

            I went to a conference last year with a workshop on nonrelational databases, and I got it, I guess, but it kind of required turning my brain inside out. And my recollection is that there were lots of cases where a relational db is better, anyway.

          2. HeelBearCub

            Denormalizing key pieces of data is always one tool available to increase performance. There isn’t actually a requirement that a DB be fully 3rd (or, heaven forbid, 4th or 5th, which I can’t actually remember the requirements for) normal form. That’s something I’m perfectly happy to do.

            For example, carrying around a “master id” on all of the various child tables is perfectly valid for performance, and even ease of use purposes, echoing that ID on the “grandchildren” of the parent table, which is not strictly 3rd normal form.

            And there are DBs, the various NoSql approaches, like Hadoop, that basically drop the whole idea of normalization. I don’t have practical experience with those, however. Not sure if that’s what you are talking about Nick.

          3. Nick

            Not sure if that’s what you are talking about Nick.

            It is! I don’t have practical experience with it, either. Just a long workshop that, afaict, nobody was fully paying attention to. =/

          4. Conrad Honcho

            I do a lot of data warehousing stuff, and one of the key concepts is the “star schema” in which the tables you’re accessing are denormalized. When I first started learning this stuff…I’d say I felt “anger” and “confusion.” But after working with it, yeah, it completely makes sense to optimize for speed and throw referential integrity right out the window when you’re dealing with tens or hundreds of millions of rows you only want to access in certain ways. It felt dirty the first time I did it, but it got easier and easier each time…

          5. Radu Floricica

            @Conrad Honcho

            Well, it’s Sunday anyways, why not learn something new. I take it from your description that alcohol is recommended to help things along?

          6. Radu Floricica

            Well, apparently I’m a dirty guy, because I was kinda doing that already. If anything, it makes me think of normalizing more.

            I have a database with lots of addresses, and I keep all of them raw, even though many are duplicates. I also scan for duplicates for things like reusing coords. I don’t want to normalize, too much of a headache, but I wonder if I could go mixed – when I find a duplicate also put it in a separate table and link with an id. That table should offer faster lookup, and future duplicates could be searched there first. Also low risk, worst case I just dump it and it works as usual.

          7. Conrad Honcho

            Sure, knock yourself out. If you want to learn data warehouse concepts, the meat and potatoes is The Data Warehouse Toolkit.

            For the concepts anyway. For the software, I’m not sure how to go about playing around with your own data warehouse like you can with an SQL server. I’ve used OBIEE with Informatica, cognos and Business Objects. But it was all learning on the job stuff.

            Definitely a good skillset to have. Very in demand, very easy to get work, high salaries.

  28. souleater

    How much time, effort, and expense would it take to get an ADHD diagnosis? I don’t have a regular doctor (no health issues, so no reason to go) and I think ill have to go for a
    Physical with a generalist
    A consultation with a generalist to get them to reccomend a psychiatrist
    A consultation with a psychiatrist

    Which works out to around $200 out of pocket just for a perscription that I might not even find helpful.

    Is there an easier way to (legally) get an adderall perscription?

    1. Garrett

      Are you looking for easier or cheaper?

      If you want easier, look up something like “concierge medicine” or “executive medicine” which is basically medicine for people who’d rather trade money for time. Tell them what you suspect, what you are looking to try, and possibly offer to take a drug test to demonstrate that you aren’t a meth/cocaine/whatever abuser who’s just looking for a legal fix. This might work.

      Cheaper. Err. A lot of primary care physicians will handle prescriptions like that. But in those cases it helps to have a long established relationship with your doctor where they understand that you are a reasonable, thoughtful person. If that was the case you might be able to ask them. Even in this case you might be able to avoid the consultation with the psychiatrist, but any medical provider is going to be nervous about new patients asking for controlled substances.

    2. HeelBearCub

      There are centers that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of ADD. That may be your easiest route, although of course you run to the hammer/nail problem. An ADD treatment center hammer is incentivized to think lots of things look like an ADD shaped nail.

      That may not be an issue of you are reasonably confident you do, in fact, have ADD. And of course some places will be better about this than others.

  29. Two McMillion

    I’ve never smoked before, but after reading Scott’s warning in the last coronalinks post, I’ve decided to start.

      1. Two McMillion

        I am not.

        The past few weeks have really driven home for me how much I loathe doctors and healthcare workers. They’re mostly smug busybodies who think their credentials give them the right to lecture you on how you should live your life. Each of us gets only a limited amount of time on this earth- seventy, maybe eighty years. Who the heck are you to go around telling me I shouldn’t do things that I enjoy?

        The people I pay for advice are one thing, but doctors don’t confine their health lectures to when you ask for them. They feel empowered to offer their stupid opinions at any time it happens to come up in conversation. Screw that. I’m all for good health, but I despise anyone who thinks they can come from on high and lecture me, and those lectures are frickin’ everywhere in the middle of this virus. Who gave them the right? Who told you you were allowed to tell me what to do?

        Scott’s comment in the post about taking this opportunity to push his opinion about not smoking on people was the last straw. He’s admitted to taking advantage of people’s fears to push his opinions on them. I don’t care if his opinions are well formed and scientifically accurate; I’m sure they are, but that’s not the point. Screw anyone who thinks they can do that, and as far as I can tell most doctors do.

        1. Paul Zrimsek

          The fact that it’s his blog and not yours might have a little something to do with it.

          1. Two McMillion

            Sure. Let him express his opinion. I find many of them insightful and interesting. I have decided to take a specific action because of this specific opinion.