Krugman Misses Wider Lesson on China

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

We live in strange times indeed: I found myself momentarily nodding in agreement with something Paul Krugman -- of all people -- said this morning after reading his editorial regarding the unrest in China, which began as a rebuke of Xi's "zero Covid" policies:

Image by the Government of Japan, via Wikimedia Commons, license.
[W]hat can the rest of us learn from China?

First, autocracy is not, in fact, superior to democracy. Autocrats can act quickly and decisively, but they can also make huge mistakes because nobody can tell them when they're wrong. At a fundamental level there's a clear resemblance between Xi's refusal to back off zero Covid and Vladimir Putin's disaster in Ukraine.

Second, we're seeing why it's important for leaders [Why only them? --ed] to be open to evidence and be willing to change course when they've been proved wrong.


In short, what we can learn from China is broader than the failure of specific policies; it is that we should beware of would-be autocrats who insist, regardless of the evidence, that they're always right. [bold added]
I'd beware of any would-be autocrat, but let's indulge Krugman: If we presume for a moment that an autocrat really does know (and actually wants) what is best for his country, one who is open to evidence and will change course when he is wrong would be better than one who does not.

The problem is, it is impossible for an "autocrat" -- or anyone else -- to know what is "best" for any nation beyond the requirements of proper government as applied to the peculiar circumstances of that nation.

Anything else a government does beyond protecting the individual rights of its citizens violates those rights:
The concept of a "right" pertains only to action -- specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive -- of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights. [bold added]
It is interesting to consider briefly some of the ramifications of such violations as they pertain to the pandemic, even in our relatively free "democracy" (i.e., mixed economy).

I will leave thorough discussion of the proper role of government in a pandemic to the good people of the Ayn Rand Institute: I will only note here that "lockdowns" (i.e., indefinite mass detentions) of sick and healthy alike are gross violations of individual rights and had no place in any pandemic response we saw -- whether as harsh and long-lived as China's or as relatively mild and short as Florida's. To the best of my knowledge, only South Dakota's governor recognized that she did not have the authority to employ such a measure.

Be that as it may, let's consider -- as does Krugman below -- the official reason our "democracy" committed these detentions:
At first, the goal in the U.S. and many other countries was to "flatten the curve," avoiding a peak in cases that would overwhelm the health care system. Then, once it became clear that effective vaccines would become available, the goal was or should have been to delay infections until widespread vaccination could provide protection. [link omitted, bold added]
It is interesting to note how widely this old, Bush-era idea was implemented, top-down in our "democracy" despite the fact that this strategy was contrary to the advice of such prominent epidemiologists as D.A. Henderson. Worse still, there are a few "would-be autocrats" I can think of on our own shores who'd love to continue and worsen such detentions. Randi Weingarten comes to mind.

Furthermore, it is also worth asking why our hospital capacity was so inflexible vis-a-vis market demand in the first place. Regulations -- many of which were suspended during the pandemic in an implicit admission that they were problematic -- were largely to blame. Barrier to entry laws, for example, prevented physicians from practicing telehealth across state lines. "Certificate of Need" laws, for another example, prevented some hospitals from being built at all.

On top of that, getting the vaccines out was slowed down, again by government regulations. People were prevented from volunteering for challenge testing, to take vaccines ahead of federal approval, or (since their distribution was controlled by the government from Day One) bid on doses. Rapid tests were held up even longer.

The last two paragraphs are hardly exhaustive, but they should at least raise the possibility that ongoing government interference with the rights of doctors, patients, and everyone else involved in the medical sector -- in the form of regulatory central planning -- can be just as injurious to the public, and, although not because of the faults of a single individual, slow to change in the face of evidence of failure.

Government is the one social institution that can legally wield physical force against individuals. When it does so for any reason other than protecting their right to act on their own conclusions, it prevents people from exercising their own judgement. An entrepreneur who sees opportunity in building a new hospital can't do so. A business willing to open to people not worried about a disease can't (per California) -- or one wishing to have vaccination as a condition of employment can't (per Florida).

Autocracy is only the most dramatic form of central planning, and all central planning thwarts individuals from acting on their best judgement of reality, including weighing evidence and making up their minds.

It is not just autocracy -- inflexible or not -- Krugman should warn us about, but central planning as such.

-- CAV

'Dump Trump' Just Got (Even) Easier

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Via the Yaron Brook Show, I learned that Donald Trump dined with noted Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes, alongside the more famous nutcase formerly known as Kanye West.

Piers Morgan discusses the meeting at the New York Post, whose headline manages to sound like British tabloid sensationalism while actually being understatment: "The GOP must ditch anti-Semite embracer Trump -- or lose in 2024."

I have argued -- and now have three consecutive losing elections to back me up -- that the GOP was already going to be in trouble if Trump is its presidential nominee in '24.

But don't take my word for it. Democrats smell blood in the water.

After this, it should be easy for any prominent Republican who has sense, a modicum of a desire for political self-preservation, or an ounce of moral fiber -- all in short supply there these days, I know -- to denounce him and help that party move on.

Almost any halfway plausible candidate is better at this point.

Naturally, Trump tried to play dumb, as Morgan notes:

Image by "Modern-Day Debate," via Wikimedia Commons, license.
"Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago," he said in one of various statements he's put out desperately trying to protect himself from the mounting outrage over the meal. "Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about."

Oh, please.

Trump is guarded by a large Secret Service detail at Mar-a-Lago.

And I know how thorough they are about anyone who visits him, because in April this year, I interviewed Trump there and my whole crew was subjected to detailed checks before they arrived.

The agents will have quickly worked out exactly who Fuentes is, and his background, and briefed Trump. [bold added]
When I first heard of this meeting and Trump's explanation, I was flabbergasted: How careless or contemptuous of our intelligence can someone be? Does Trump not have someone to vet people he associates with?

I had forgotten that, as a former President, he has a Secret Service detail.

Set aside whether Trump is anti-Semitic and let's also, for the sake of argument, ignore the above and take Trump at his word: He should know based on the last election that he needs every ounce of support he can muster to win.

It follows that he should be very concerned about the kind of people he associates with, lest he inadvertently raise suspicions among the very people whose support he wants. Hell, if he were anti-Semitic, he'd want to hide the fact at least until he was elected.

So, is he (a) not possessed of enough sense to guard his own reputation, (b) truly this oblivious to easily-obtained information, or (c) as contemptuous of ordinary Americans (and so eager to curry the favor of the lunatic fringe) as this makes him look?

I think any of the above possibilities makes someone unfit for office, and it would take a very good explanation indeed to convince me that Trump really didn't know who this is or regard him as worthy of his time in some way.

One can only conclude that Trump is stupid, careless, bigoted, or kooky: Select any or all that apply, but know that any one of these renders him unfit to be President.

-- CAV

Have the Chinese Had Enough?

Monday, November 28, 2022

Amid a record number of Covid cases -- that China is willing to admit, anyway -- its dictator has been continuing his immoral and impractical "lockdowns" -- i.e., indefinite mass detention.

Earlier this month, I noted:

Nobody who has considered the vast weight and variety of evidence about Covid from this three-year pandemic can rationally conclude that we are going to be able to eradicate this disease without also eradicating ourselves and its various host animal species.
This was along the way to considering what the folly of lockdowns actually accomplished, rather than the official excuse for carrying them out was, and ending on this note:
Let us hope the Chinese are a proud [people], and will soon stop tolerating being treated like dogs.
Image by "Date20221127," via Wikimedia Commons, license.
There are now hopeful signs of this, in the form of protests across the country, that apparently began after an apartment fire turned deadly in part due to the lockdown in place where it occurred. (One outlet called them the biggest protests since Tiananmen.)

It is early days and news is hard to come by, what with "authorities" there manhandling journalists en route to detaining them. And with some calling for freedom and others singing the Internationale, it is anyone's guess what might happen in the long run.

Still, one can only hope a people have awakened enough and in time to pull back from a potentially very dark era in its history.

-- CAV

P.S. I highly recommend this episode of the Yaron Brook Show, particularly for the coverage of the Chinese protests on two points. First, Covid poses a much larger problem for Xi's regime than I realized, or at least reasonably appears to. Second, it is worth emphasizing that the protests aren't just about the zero Covid strategy, are nationwide, and go so far as asking Xi and the CCP to step down.


: Added PS.

Veronique de Rugy: GOP Stands for Nothing

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

I am on break from blogging for the holiday and will return next Monday. Happy Thanksgiving!


Veronique de Rugy, like many other non-left commentators, notes the recent electoral futility of the Republican Party under Donald Trumps' sway. (Leadership is not the right term for his dominance.) She then offers her thoughts on why. In the process, she does both major parties a favor by noting a major unmet need in American politics:
[T]he GOP has a problem that runs deeper than Trump (though it may have gotten much worse under Trump). It's this: Republicans today stand for nothing, and on the rare occasions that they do stand for something, that something is woeful. From protectionism to vile anti-immigration rhetoric, from government-engineered paid leave to the extended child tax credit, and from threatening to punish big tech and to impose industrial policy, with a contingent shouting "free-markets are actually bad", the party is in disarray intellectually -- a fact that plausibly contributes to its current disarray politically. [links omitted, bold added]
I think the problem is even worse than she thinks it is, but am glad someone of her stature is putting this out there.

Notably, de Rugy both identifies herself as a classical liberal (i.e., an advocate of free markets) and, reminiscent of American abolitiionists, not havi[ing] a stake in either party. I, too, would welcome either party or both supporting pro-freedom positions I could vote for over the current race to the statist bottom.

She also devotes lots of time on the related issue of immigration -- which, like freedom is part of what made America great, to reclaim a phrase being used by an orange-faced charlatan to sell snake oil lately:
Ellis Island. (Image by Carol M. Highsmith, via Wikimedia Commons, no known restrictions on use.)
[P]art of the classical-liberal package is also a rejection of hostility to immigration. There are many reasons why we should welcome immigrants to this country, no matter their skills and education levels. Bryan Caplan and many others have made the economic case better than I could.

There are many moral and economic arguments worth having about how much immigration we need and how to go about reforming the system. But recently, arguments coming from the right haven't been about immigration but about immigrants themselves. Immigrants, especially lower skilled immigrants, are often talked about, as a class, in obnoxious and demeaning ways revealing a fundamental ignorant way about what it means to uproot oneself from a country and move to another. [links omitted, bold added]
That rings a bell sounded by another immigrant, Ayn Rand, who argued that xenophobia was a manifestation of a type of psycho-epistemological functioning.

De Rugy takes a different tangent, which should gently scold anyone who hasn't been paying attention to this issue and win the sympathy of any thoughtful reader. She discusses her own experience as an immigrant. In part:
Enduring this hardship alone and having the courage and gumption to uproot oneself, I believe, deserves respect rather than the demeaning and baseless charges that so many Americans have, over the past seven years, flung at immigrants. We immigrants aren't angels, and some truly awful. But so are native borns. However, what sets us apart and should please Americans is that we've come here and decided to leave our homeland because we see something remarkable about the United States -- ironically, something remarkable that is no longer seen by so many native-born Americans. All of us -- native born and immigrants -- will next week celebrating Thanksgiving with a turkey (which for me is a special commitment since I don't really ... like turkey!).
Agreed on both counts. (I also dislike turkey.)

De Rugy passes over the question of immigrants burdening the welfare state, but that is a question I have taken up in the past, and I stand by that answer today.

-- CAV

Will 'Lockdowns' Haunt Trump?

Monday, November 21, 2022

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Justin Hart reminds Americans of something many of them might have already forgotten: Donald Trump was for the Covid "lockdowns" before he was against them -- and he criticized governors from his own party for ending them "too soon."

Mass indefinite home detention was hardly the only part of Trump's pandemic response that he should be held accountable for. (Image by The White House, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
The White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, put the Constitution into an induced coma. Mr. Trump's decision to adopt Chinese Communist Party tactics and close down the country gave license to states to amplify and extend these terrible policies, to governors to wield unprecedented executive powers, and to school districts to shut students out for months or even years.

Mr. Trump did very little to constrain this overreach. His dramatic Covid order shut down your business, barred your kids from school, denied you access to your church, your gym and your coffee shop. It suppressed screenings and treatments for cancer and other illnesses and kept people from visiting loved ones in the hospital or attending their funerals.

Studies appear weekly confirming what almost everyone now acknowledges -- the lockdowns were futile as well as onerous. One set of researchers wrote: "Overall, we conclude that lockdowns are not an effective way of reducing mortality rates during a pandemic."

Mr. Trump paid lip service to the need to reopen the country but never rallied lawmakers or other officials to do anything about it. It was left to governors like Brian Kemp of Georgia and Ron DeSantis of Florida to do that on their own. [links omitted and bold added]
For the sake of completeness, and to avoid the understandable (but wrong) objection that Hart is writing from hindsight, the article should have also mentioned South Dakota's Kristi Noem, who correctly never adopted that policy, on the grounds that she did not have the authority to do so.

As in many other respects, Trump (who said nothing about the lockdowns during his campaign announcement) will hope to win as the "Not Democrat" in 2024. And he may well not pay for his authoritarian sins -- at least until the general election -- if someone from his own party never challenges him on that issue in the form af a strong primary challenge.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, November 18, 2022

Blog Roundup

1. At Roots of Progress, Jason Crawford considers the question "When should we be surprised that an invention took 'so long'?" The short, high-level version of his interesting answer can be had by way of imperfect analogies:

Image by Jacek Dylag, via Unsplash, license.
You can think about this by analogy to stochastic processes in thermodynamics: the exact path of any given molecule is random, but in aggregate there are predictable patterns, and they are determined in part by macro-level factors such as temperature and pressure. You could think of total amount of R&D effort as like the temperature of a system, and the market size as a kind of pressure in a particular direction. Or in an electronic analogy, speed of communication is like conductivity in a material, a large market is like a high voltage differential, and social strictures are a kind of resistance. (These are rough analogies, not mathematical isomorphisms.)
Fans of an earlier, viral essay of his will understand why he's "no longer surprised by the bicycle, either."

2. At Value for Value, Harry Binswanger offers some updates regarding his proposed book on free will, including the following:
... I found a way to make the writing more pleasant. In fact downright enjoyable. I'm casting it, mainly or wholly, as a dialogue. (Which means I'm leaning to the polemical book.)

I have two characters, a man and a woman. They are identified only as "He" and "She." The woman is the one with all the right answers. The man is well intentioned but has absorbed all the bromides of the culture. But he is refreshingly honest.
Of the titles under consideration, I liked the third item of the bulleted list of possible titles for the polemical version of the book.

3. At the blog of the Texas Institute for Property Rights, Brian Phillips gives what I regard as a good "reasonable person litmus test" regarding freedom in today's increasingly collectivist political climate:
We will not always like or agree with the choices that others make. The test of our commitment to freedom of choice is found during such occasions. If we truly support freedom of choice, then we must defend the freedom of every individual. To do otherwise is to claim that our gang should be free to choose, but others should not enjoy the same freedom.
I think it can be a useful and productive tactic -- or a time-saving one, depending on the answer -- to guide political discussions in the direction of finding out whether someone is on that page.

I have often said here that freedom is of a piece -- that there is no such thing as economic freedom without freedom of speech and vice versa.

Freedom also applies to everyone or to no one, whether would-be "little dictators" imagine that to be the case or not...

4. At How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn discusses dangerous groupthink about climate change. Along the way, she gives a great short description of how most people who buy climate catastrophism are operating, epistemologically:
... This is groupthink: individuals giving up first-handed adherence to reality and independent thinking, accepting the majority's view as the truth, and trusting it to be based on facts.
No matter how much or how little credence one gives to the idea that environmentalism is a religion, climate catastrophism particularly looks like one in the above respect.

In addition, Woiceshyn gives the encouraging news that important drivers of cultural influence are beginning to question the dominant narrative and, more important, helping those persuaded to think for themselves about this issue do so. Within the post are links to books and articles worth keeping in mind for yourself or for anyone you know who might want to become better informed.

Among them are pieces I hadn't heard of in such places as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and New York Times Magazine.

It is good news indeed that these arguments are showing up in establishment media and I look forward to reading them.

-- CAV

Central Planning vs. Remote Work

Thursday, November 17, 2022

In her Ask a Boss column, Alison Green replies to a question from an established remote worker whose proposed change of state residence was suddenly and mysteriously shot down by previously-supportive management.

Regulars here might guess that the proposed state was California, and that its ban on contracting were to blame. They would be correct by coincidence on the first matter and seeing only the tip of the iceberg on the latter.

Government meddling with the workplace is both more pervasive and worse than you might think:

If only the business environment matched its natural beauty... (Image by Iris Papillon, via Unsplash, license.)
Here's the reason, which a lot of people aren't aware of: If an employer lets employees work from a different state, it creates what's called nexus in the new state, and it may be required to pay taxes, set up workers'-comp insurance (which isn't cheap), and even charge customers sales tax in that state. Those can be really significant expenses.

On top of that, the company will be required to follow the employment laws of that state. It can be a not-insignificant burden to monitor and comply with an additional state's employment laws, particularly if they're very different from the laws where the business is headquartered. California's laws in particular happen to be a lot more complex and employee-friendly [sic] than many other states'. For example, if your job is classified as nonexempt (the government classifies every job in the U.S. as exempt or nonexempt), you're required by law to be paid overtime when you work more than 40 hours in a week. In most states, that's the end of the requirement. But in California, you also need to be paid overtime for any hours over eight that you work in a day -- so there's a whole different tracking requirement and a whole additional pay requirement. Moreover, if you're exempt from overtime currently, you might not qualify to keep that exemption in California, which has more restrictive standards for that than federal law does. So your company could end up needing to track and pay your overtime when it doesn't currently. California also treats vacation accrual and payout differently than many other states and requires that different information be provided on your pay stub (with monetary penalties for not complying) and a whole host of other differences. [bold added]
California's laws are particularly onerous, but Green elaborates that any new state presents a can of worms to an employer not already present there. (Perhaps the example of California is fortuitous for helping show just how many worms there can be...) Furthermore, as if each state presenting its own unique problems weren't enough, the federal government contributes to the problem.

Green also discusses how difficult government regulations on contracting make that possibility -- which many would regard as an obvious solution.

-- CAV

The CREEP Holds First Meeting in Mar-a-Lago

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Yes, I am borrowing a Watergate-era acronym to describe Donald Trump's election effort, which he announced yesterday: I have stated numerous times that I believe Trump to be one of the few politicians capable of getting our deeply unpopular President reelected. But don't take my word for it...

We got a taste of that the first time Trump put Biden into office -- by angering so many voters that he lost despite having history's second-highest numerical vote tally. The recent midterms should serve as a reminder, too, with Trump directly or indirectly costing the GOP several seats on top of lulling it into campaigning without a platform.

In my opinion, then, Trump may imagine he has kicked off a campaign to return himself to the Presidency, but he will in effect end up working overtime to keep the Democrats in power -- be it by winning the nomination and then losing the general, or running on a loony third-party ticket in the general, splitting the vote of the Democrats' opponents.

Egotistical, envious, short-sighted, and stupid, Trump is poised to do what no (other?) Democrat operative has ever come close to doing: Turn the South's Electoral College map blue.

Stacy Abrams, eat your heart out.

That second possibility comes to my mind after reading what should be good news for the GOP (and anyone wanting an actual alternative to the Democrats):

Biden's de facto reelection campaign headquarters. (Image by The White House, via Wikimedia Commons, public Domain.
Mr. Trump is banking on his supporters sharing his priority for defeating non-Trump Republicans in primaries even when it means his candidates will ultimately lose to a Democrat. In other words, the bet is that their loyalty is all to him. But that too isn't as clear as it once might have been.

In its last poll before the election, NBC reported that 62% of GOP voters consider themselves more supporters of the party, against 30% who said they consider themselves more supporters of Mr. Trump. This is a huge reversal from before the 2020 election, when it was 58% to 34% in Mr. Trump's favor. [bold added]
My reading of this is that, while there is a core of people who will always slavishly follow Trump, that core is no longer bolstered by a range of persuadable or relatively uninformed people who, not aware of how nuts Trump is, were willing to give him a chance in 2016.

The article mentions a couple for better alternatives by name -- Virginia's Glenn Youngkin and Florida's Ron DeSantis -- and notes that they will not be easy for Trump to drag into the mud. (Along those lines, Hot Air cites a slick response by DeSantis to a direct question about Trump's unprovoked and desperate recent attempt to nickname him.)

If Trump faces real opposition, in the form of a low number of solid candidates in the primaries, I think he will lose. Nevertheless, I don't see Trump not running in the general, where he seems to believe he'll be a shoo-in:
... Trump said he agreed that the GOP should have done better in the midterms but blamed the outcome on people not yet perceiving the full brunt of current policies. "They don't quite feel it yet but they will very soon," he said.
Oh, "they" "feel it" already. And the reason "they" didn't "kick the bastards out" is that too often, the "alternative" was a lunatic.

There is a real threat that Trumpy-er areas, like the South, will end up going Democratic in a three-way race, but perhaps we can draw inspiration from Trump's loss. Voter turnout was very high -- to dump Trump. Perhaps a decent, non-crazy Republican, who can articulate a plan that appeals to normal Americans, can do well enough among independents, the non-Trump majority of his party, and disenchanted Democrats to win such a race.

Trump and perhaps economic misery will inspire high turnout: Biden isn't "the" alternative for many of these voters -- I am one of "them" -- any more than Trump is.

-- CAV

P.S. A post at Hot Air reports that megadonors are defecting from Trump, which might hamstring him in the primaries and reduce the chances that Trump would run a third-party campaign.


: Added P.S.

Myopic Fact Checking on 15,000 Iranians

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

tl;dr: No, Iran's "parliament" didn't just vote to execute anyone: That's because they didn't have to as all the protesters face death sentences anyway.

Any "fact check" failing to mention this amounts to covering for Iran's illegitimate rulers.


Yesterday evening, a story to the effect that the Iranian parliament had voted overwhelmingly to execute 15,000 Iranian protesters caught fire. I myself retweeted it.

Whereas until this happened, it was difficult to find much in legacy media outlets about the protests, now it is easy, with "fact checkers" offering a full-throated debunking of the story. Take MSNBC:
Celebrities such as Peter Frampton took to Twitter and shared images which read - Iran sentences 15,000 protestors to death as a 'hard lesson' for all rebels. "Why isn’t this the lead story worldwide??? It would be a crime against humanity!!!Please add any superlative you can!!!" said Frampton.

A quick fact check showed that the claims are based on 'unsubstantiated' images and media reports, some of which said that Iran has issued mass execution for over 15,000 Protestors. Iranian state news agency IRNA reported that only one protestor has been sentenced to death so far by Tehran.

"A Revolutionary Court in Tehran found that the defendant, who was not named, had set fire to a government facility and was guilty of "enmity against God"
, state agency reported. According to the BBC, which cited a Norway-based Iran human rights group, 20 people are facing charges 'punishable by death' in Iran. [bold added]
Another report elaborates on why the one was sentenced to death: "'waging war against God' and 'corruption on Earth.'" It also notes that all the imprisoned protesters do in fact face death, and obiter dictum explains the alleged vote tally in favor of execution:
"All the detainees who were arrested during the protests are in danger of being sentenced to death by Iranian judicial system," the [Hengaw Organisation for Human Rights] said.

They referenced an apparent letter put out by 227 Iranian parliamentarians last week that called on the judiciary to carry out death sentences against those arrested during the protests.
So, no: The 227 -- some of whom disavowed the letter -- did not, in fact just vote to execute anyone. But they are hardly innocent: They don't have to, because Iran, being a theocracy, punishes crimes against its imaginary ruler with death.

I stand corrected of a factual error, but I will have been glad of my error if it helps draw attention to the fact that thousands of Iranians do in fact face death in their quest for freedom.

I salute their courage and I wish them well.

-- CAV

Election Kooks Cooked

Monday, November 14, 2022

If the Republicans have any sense -- a huge if, if rumors about them seriously considering Donald Trump for Speaker of the House are true -- they will quit running in elections on the premise that the elections are "rigged."

In an election many mainstream commentators on both sides are having difficulty interpreting, one consistently good result has emerged:

Image by Tom Radetzki, via Unsplash, license.
Voters in the six major battlegrounds where Donald Trump tried to reverse his defeat in 2020 rejected election-denying candidates seeking to control their states’ election systems this year, a resounding signal that Americans have grown weary of the former president’s unfounded claims of widespread fraud.

Candidates for secretary of state in Michigan, Arizona and Nevada who had echoed Trump’s false accusations lost their contests on Tuesday, with the latter race called Saturday night. A fourth candidate never made it out of his May primary in Georgia. In Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s most prominent election deniers lost his bid for governor, a job that would have given him the power to appoint the secretary of state. And in Wisconsin, an election-denying contender’s loss in the governor’s race effectively blocked a move to put election administration under partisan control.

Trump-allied Republicans mounted a concerted push this year to win a range of state and federal offices, including the once obscure office of secretary of state, which in many instances is a state’s top election official. [links omitted, bold added]
Excellent, if a bit misinterpreted: People who buy conspiracy theories practically never tire of them: The actual, news is that, as much as Trump panders to the type, (a) there aren't enough of them to win a general election, (b) normal people who don't want such people in office will show up to keep them out, or (c) some combination of both.

Most of us can breathe a big sigh of relief in the short term. In the long term, perhaps we can harbor hope that Republicans will quit screwing themselves by following Trump's lead on this manufactured issue -- and quit screwing those of us who want a serious alternative to the Democrats.

Memo to All Partisan Pundits: Just because "your guy" won doesn't mean we like him or that he necessarily deserved to win.

-- CAV

Trump Lost Two Mid-Terms in a Row

Thursday, November 10, 2022

An Early Weekend/Post-Election Roundup

There will be no post tomorrow as I am taking Veteran's Day off.


1. Tuesday was a good day for reproductive freedom and should serve as a warning to "pro life" Republicans who might actually want to win public office in a competitive race. Three measures favoring abortion rights passed, one anti-abortion measure lost, and another anti-abortion measure appeared to be headed for defeat.

Tellingly, abortion was likely a drag on the GOP:
Abortion ranked as the second-most important issue to midterm voters at 27%, according to an Edison Research exit poll. The only issue deemed more pressing, by 31% of respondents, was inflation.
Polling data indicate that among the groups for whom abortion or inflation was the biggest issue, the former broke more strongly for Democrats than the latter for Republicans.

2. And speaking of drags on the GOP, Axios looked at the electoral fortunes of Trump's hand-picked election deniers, meaning we have a ceiling figure for how many seats that part of his meddling will have cost the GOP in "key races."

That said, the number of Republicans who have at least paid lip-service to that aspect of Trump's kookiness is disappointing:
At least 80 Republicans who questioned the 2020 election results won seats in the House last night -- cementing a sizable MAGA caucus, Axios Andrew Solender reports.
I suppose we can hope many of these were simply pandering...

So far, in key congressional and gubernatorial races, fourteen such candidates have lost and twenty-six are undecided. This means that by this measure alone, Trump has potentially caused the GOP to lose as many as eight governorships, 25 House seats, and four Senate seats. He has also already cost the GOP one secretary of state, and may cause them to lose four more.

One conservative pundit has correctly likened Trump to an electoral can of Raid, and Ira Stoll has a good piece on midterm takeaways that states -- bluntly and with data to back himself up -- that "Donald Trump is a drag in a general election in purple states."

3. But the above figures don't do Trump's damage justice. The following, from a Steve Malanga piece at City Journal captures some of what Bastiat might call the unseen costs:
Two contrasting facts help sum up the election. Charlie Baker, a Republican recently ranked as the country's most popular governor, decided not to seek re-election after Trump's promise to recruit a candidate to challenge him in the GOP primary. Meantime, Democrat Tony Evers in Wisconsin, with the lowest favorability rating among incumbents running for reelection yesterday, won against yet another GOP candidate strongly backed by the ex-president. [bold added]
In addition to Trump's hand-picked losers, how many likely winners did he cause to sit out?

4. Finally, speaking of winners, the big winner Tuesday was Ron DeSantis, who now beats Trump in betting markets for next U.S. President. David Frum argues at The Atlantic that DeSantis has a short time window to move if he wants to run for President:
As someone who, like Trump, can give a nickname that sticks, I have to say his "DeSanctimonious" reeks of desperation: It is too long, it's inaccurate, and it makes fun of what passes for being principled these days. Americans miss the last. (Image by The Office of the Governor of Florida, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
If DeSantis is in the game now, he has to play now.

That doesn't have to mean fighting Trump the way Liz Cheney or Evan McMullin have fought him. Many might wish that rank-and-file Republicans felt more shame and regret for January 6 than they do. But they don't. They do want to win -- and they can be convinced that Trump is out of date, out of touch, and out of shape. Somebody who seeks to replace Trump atop the Republican Party cannot pretend Trump is not there. Trump is a huge personality who makes every contest a battle of personalities. Refusing to engage is not an option, because he will engage whether his target likes it or not. There's no choice except to engage in turn.

So: man or mouse? DeSantis's answer will shape the future not only of the Republican Party but of America. [bold added]
I have asked a similar question of DeSantis regarding that other drag on the GOP, abortion.

And I do agree that DeSantis has a short time window: He is popular largely for having kept Florida relatively open during the pandemic, defying Trump and left-wing ninnies alike. Sadly for him, much of the public has the memory of gnats, and that might not help him run after 2024.

-- CAV

Some Wave... Donald.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

A Pathetic Night for Trump's Party

I haven't wasted my evening or lost sleep watching election results in at least a decade, I have been that disenchanted with both parties for that long.

Which kind of idiot will try to screw things up and how? is not the kind of question that gets me to stay up to see what happens next.

Image by Daniel Vogel, via Unsplash, license.
That said, my personal best-case scenario for this election would have been the Democrats losing the House by a small amount and Trump's hand-picked, anti-republican candidates losing across the board: We certainly don't need continued Democrat strangulation of the economy, nor do we need Donald Trump to have an excuse to claim to be the savior of his party -- which he would happily take credit for if the much-anticipated red wave had happened. (Of course, he still might do that...)

As of this morning? Control of Congress remains up in the air, and in what I regard as the worst immediate-term news of the night, even the House (!) hasn't conclusively moved to Republican control.

This, to use the word of the man I hold responsible, is YUGE: Midterm elections historically break against the President, especially after he trashes the economy, as Biden's insane energy policies have done.

This is, long-term, potentially very good news. The Republicans -- apparently forgetting that voters might want to know why they should support them -- offered no positive counteragenda of their own. (Whatever Donald Trump tells me to do doesn't count.)

Perhaps next time, they might argue for -- oh, I don't know -- more economic freedom in the form of reduced government spending and regulation. In one sense, this should be easy: Compare what Democrats are doing to the government's relative hands-off policies during the early industrial revolution and promise to be more like that.

Yes, it will take more than that, but the GOP didn't even do that much: Most of them just basically hovered around -- like mini-Trumps -- hoping we would vote for them no matter what as "the" alternative. (News flash: not every politician is as repulsive to as many voters as the woman Trump defeated, and we all now have the benefit of hindsight regarding how that turned out.) Whether the Republicans improve, though, is largely up to them.

As I argued recently, the Trumpist wing of the GOP, which is harming it so much, must be defeated. How did it do? Let's look at Trump's hand-picked senatorial candidates, telequack Mehmet Oz, anti-abortion philanderer Herschel Walker, election denier Blake Masters, and traitor to the Electoral College Ron Johnson.

Sadly, as of now, any or all of them could still win, which will be enough for Donald Trump to claim victory and will all but guarantee that he runs, probably sidelining better alternatives like Ron DeSantis, and ultimately returning Joe Biden to office, perhaps again with a Democrat Congress.

So Joe Biden did not get the horse-whipping he richly deserves and we may not even get the brief respite that a GOP-controlled House might get us, via the power of the purse, from his worst policies.

Whatever Donald Trump blathers, this election should have been a blowout win for the Republicans. It is anything but that, and it might still be overall a win for the Democrats in both houses of Congress. That is truly pathetic.

So: Muddled and potentially even worse than before is how I would characterize this overall. I still hold out hope for a GOP House and carnage for Tump's cronies, but the full extent of the good news so far would appear to be that I am well-rested.

-- CAV

GOP Abortion 'Compromise' Shows Chutzpah

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Dick Morris explains why he thinks abortion will not have a major impact on the midterm elections. Here's the nut of his argument:

Since the public had long since embraced a nuanced, compromise view on the issue, it was plain that whoever moved to the center first could win.

But, sensing a political chance to make a big score, the Democrats held to their position of demanding abortion with no restrictions. Republicans, however, saw the writing on the wall and congealed around the compromise put forward by Senator Lindsey Graham(R-SC) of allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother and for any reason in the first trimester.

Remarkably, the right to life movement acquiesced in this change opening the door for a massive conservative victory.

Armed with the Graham compromise, Republicans hit the airwaves in September and blunted the Democratic attack ads by saying that they opposed a federal mandate and that they would support the Lindsey Graham compromise.

This argument totally disarmed the Democratic left since it relieved women of the worry that their own right to an abortion, in their home state, would be curbed. [bold added]
The above reminds me of two things.

First, how many times have you heard Republicans gloating that "all the Democrats had to do was sound sane" following some electoral loss? The Republicans apparently remembered their own advice concerning abortion.

(I think abortion should be legal until birth, but absent a well-reasoned and well-articulated case that voters are familiar with, I acknowledge that my position will sound nuts to many of them. Conversely, the abortion should be illegal, no exceptions position is so inhuman that even those who hold it know that they will lose an open fight. In today's political context, neither side would win an election.)

Second, and more important, this reminds me of Ayn Rand's argument that compromise on basic principles only benefits the evil:
Muddy premises are as bad for the mind as muddy water is for the body. (Image by Chandler Cruttenden, via Unsplash, license.)
The three rules listed below are by no means exhaustive; they are merely the first leads to the understanding of a vast subject.
  1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.
  2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.
  3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.
We see this working twice in Graham's compromise...

First, as I have indicated elsewhere, the Democrats' support of abortion is compromised in part by its package-dealing it with paying for it (i.e., the welfare state). The case for abortion as a right is also damaged by widespread ignorance of what rights are across the political spectrum.

Democrats who (rightly) want a woman to be free of the lifelong obligation of an unchosen child shoot themselves in the foot by (wrongly) being fine with forcing uninvolved third parties to accept an unchosen obligation to pay for the procedure. This is inconsistent and further muddies the concept rights in the minds of a public that needs to accept it in order to see why abortion should be legal.

Second -- and for Graham, the big payoff -- that compromised stand and widespread confusion have given cover for conservatives (of all people!) to lay out the following Big Lie:

The GOP has basically staked out the pre-Dobbs status quo that it just upended as its own 'reasonable' position!

I do not find it "remarkable" at all that the "pro-life" anti-abortionists who have been waging guerrilla war against abortion for decades would accept this camouflage: I can almost hear them shriek with joy: Put those harlots back to sleep so we can continue the Lord's work undisturbed!

The public's thinking is muddled, and absent a serious, intense, and likely prolonged campaign of "moral suasion" in favor of abortion, it will continue to be seduced by the idea that there is no need to decide the issue on a federal level one way or the other ... while the anti-abortionists continue to work for the day they wield enough power to outlaw it completely.

Until enough people wake up and start fighting for reproductive freedom from the moral high ground (i.e., from correct, clear, and uncompromised principles), theocrats will continue to pretend to be open to "compromise" while working towards the day that it will be Too Late for the vast majority of Americans who are inclined to legalize abortion to do so.

-- CAV

Trumps and Cronies: Anti-(Small-R)Republicans

Monday, November 07, 2022

Secular conservative commentator Robert Tracinski finds himself urging his readers to vote straight-ticket Democrat in tomorrow's elections. I learned of this recommendation too recently to offer a definitive opinion on it one way or the other, but I will say it is an argument worth consideration.

In particular, Tracinski does a good job of cataloging what many would loosely call the "anti-democratic" tendencies of Donald Trump and his loyalists within the Republican Party. These tendencies are, in fact, anti-republican and Tracinski is correct to note that they endanger the American system of constitutionally-limited representative government.

Here is a sample, picking up after an excerpt about Donald Trump personally urging Arizona senatorial candidate Blake Masters to push the assertion that the 2020 election was "rigged" and "stolen:"

A lady asked Franklin: "Well, Doctor, what have we got -- a Republic or a Monarchy?". Franklin replied: "A Republic, if you can keep it." (Image by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
Notice that Trump is personally pressing candidate to embrace his stolen election theories, hand-picking politicians who will be willing to deliver the 2024 election to him.

Even more worrying is Arizona's Republican candidate for secretary of state, Mark Finchem, who has built his campaign entirely around election conspiracy theories which he cannot even defend when challenged.

Remember the special role that Arizona played in the 2020 election. Trump's plan to declare himself the winner early on election night, before mail-in votes could be counted, was foiled when Fox News Channel called Arizona for Biden. How do you think that's going to go next time if the secretary of state is determined to declare Trump the winner no matter what the votes say?

In Wisconsin, it was recently revealed that the chief of staff for Republican Senator Ron Johnson "tried to deliver to Vice President Mike Pence a slate of fake electors backing Trump." Meanwhile, the state's Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels outlined plans to change voting rules and vowed, "Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I'm elected governor." I guess that lays all the cards out on the table.

This is just a sampling of what has been going on across the country and at every level. One analysis indicates that a majority of Republican primary winners in statewide and congressional races backed or gave some credence to stolen election conspiracy theories, which have become the "price of admission" to Republican politics. Meanwhile, the last of the sane Republicans, the ones who won't sign up for the conspiracy theories, are being knocked out of politics one by one.

This is what I warned about in December of 2021. Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election "failed because the ground was not prepared for it."
But the current attempt is preparing the ground, getting the rank and file of Republican to sign on to election conspiracy theories and be ready to demand a different result four years from now. It's not about this presidential election. It's about the next one.
The ground is now thoroughly prepared, and if Republicans win, they will attempt to accomplish precisely what Wisconsin's Michels promises: Republicans will never lose another election, because they will never allow any other result.

This pattern is too big and too pervasive to be dismissed or ignored. This is basic American, Norman Rockwell kind of stuff that the Republicans are coming out against. They are now the Anti-Republican Party. [links omitted, bold added]
I had a low-enough opinion of Donald Trump when I thought he was throwing a tantrum about his electoral loss and pandering to his most gullible followers. That was bad enough, but this seals the case that he is unfit for office as far as I am concerned.

America's political parties have seemingly been in a spirited competition for years to confuse the voters over which is the greater evil, but a party that plans to all but end voting would indeed be the winner.

Regardless of whether you agree with Tracinski's recommendation, his data and analysis are worth careful consideration.

My best guess is that the Republicans will win big tomorrow and the win will be taken by most as the indictment of Democrat policies and proposals that it is and should be.

But Trump's treachery will remain, behind the scenes for most, denied by many who are apolitical or who will find it too incredible, and supported by a few power-lusters.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Tracinski is correct and that his course of action is the right one, it is probably too late for it to make a difference in this election.

It is not too late, however, to help fellow Americans get up to speed on what is going on in the Republican party. It is disastrous that at the time we most need to be liberated from improper government, the GOP is apparently preparing to place us under its yoke instead. But at least we now know this is going on.

There is no such thing as "the right guys" to wield unlimited government power. That's the whole damned point of America.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, November 04, 2022

Odds and Ends

1. I sometimes start the day by finding an incisive, humorous, or inspirational quotation. A favorite way of doing so is to think of someone who has created something I like or done something I admire and do a bit of searching.

Today's quest led me to the thought-provoking graduation speech given by Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame to his alma mater.

Here's a favorite passage:

If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood. I've found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories. To do that, I've had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.

We're not really taught how to recreate constructively. We need to do more than find diversions; we need to restore and expand ourselves. Our idea of relaxing is all too often to plop down in front of the television set and let its pandering idiocy liquefy our brains. Shutting off the thought process is not rejuvenating; the mind is like a car battery-it recharges by running. [bold added]
His explanation for why he didn't pursue merchandising more aggressively is good, too, despite the standard veneer of misplaced anti-capitalist sentiment.

2. My daughter had taken a picture for an art project and needed it printed out in greyscale. I opened an image editor and couldn't immediately see a way to do this. A search quickly found a way, but involved several clunky steps I'd either need to write down or context-shift to see again while trying to accomplish them.

Then I remembered that lots of conceptually simple things like this can be done with the command line tool ImageMagick. I immediately found the following:
convert ds/image.jpg -type Grayscale image_bw.jpg
This executed more quickly that just opening the GUI tool I was about to use. So I saved that snippet of code and can just use it again (or write a script) if I need to do this again in the future.

Yes, point-and-click makes doing many things easier, but this is one of many counterexamples I can think of. The written word and being decently organized are two tools that seem badly underutilized these days.

Image by Janusz Maniak, via Unsplash, license.
Well, then Gus, why didn't you think of ImageMagick first?

That's a fair question. The answer is that on those occasions I used to do image editing, the GUI tools were simpler and better laid out. There was both less having to look simple things up and more ease in doing them. Now, it seems that the tools are ultra-capable, but badly laid out. At a certain point, the GUI just gets in the way.

I would say that past a point, all tools should have CLI or scripting alternatives.

3. A food writer reports on what space smells and tastes like:
...Even the scent of space comes back to food: some astronauts report it smells like seared steak.

My favorite bit of space-food obsession, though, is what I call "space taste." As in, what does space taste like? In 2009, astronomers were able to identify a chemical called ethyl formate in a big dust cloud at the center of the Milky Way. Ethyl formate happens to be responsible for the flavor of raspberries (it also smells like rum). Space tastes like raspberries!
I'd heard about the steak smell before, but the "taste" was news to me. The writer notes further that the flavor was used as the basis for a product, for sale only in Japan, called "Space Tea."

4. File under Titled too Well Not to Read: "The Prank Cursor That Resulted in an Employee Being Fired Before They Even Started." What a story!

It's also fileable under Too Short to Block Quote Without Spoilers, but I think I can get away with the punchline as a teaser: "[T]here was some discussion as to how the issue should be classified. Was it an 'off-by-one' error? Or maybe it was a 'bad pointer.'"

-- CAV

Why Greens Hate Nuclear

Thursday, November 03, 2022

It's from 2019, but I found a Forbes piece by Michael Shellenberger that deserves wide circulation: Within, Shellenberger nicely explains why so many thought leaders from the fossil fuel elimination movement are hostile to nuclear power -- the one technology that is even close to ready to fill the big shoes of the fossil fuels we need to survive and prosper.

Although he is not as deeply philosophical as Ayn Rand, his piece reminds me of her work in two very important ways: (1) it takes abstract ideas seriously as motivators of human action, and (2) it differentiates between the leaders of a movement and its rank-and-file.

The latter is most important here because a reader who might already favor nuclear power can see that this movement isn't a monolith: There are persuadable individuals who can be reached there. In addition, as a moral and practical matter, Shellenberger is being just: People who oppose nuclear out of, say, mere ignorance, for the most part simply don't deserve the opprobrium the high priests do -- and will be less persuadable if they are on the receiving end of undeserved insults.

The piece takes a brief tour of the intellectual history of the anti-nuclear strand of the anti-fossil fuel movement, pointing along the way to such highlights as (a) the curious failure to praise nuclear France and Sweden which are otherwise held out to us as models, (b) the ignorance (cultivated and exploited by the leaders) of many people of the safety and effectiveness of nuclear power, and (c) the role of the appeal-to-nature fallacy.

This sets the rank-and-file apart and lays the groundwork for the explanation of the motivation of the leadership, who he correctly notes are "motivated by deep beliefs."

While I think Shellenberger could have gone even deeper, I think he is correct in the following assessment:

"Few people know that nuclear is the safest source of electricity." -- Michael Shellenberger (Image by Nicolas Hippert, via Unsplash, license.)
The problem with nuclear is that it doesn't demand the radical re-making of society, like renewables do, and it doesn't require grand fantasies of humankind harmonizing with nature.

Nor does nuclear provide cover for funnelling billions to progressive interest groups in the name of "community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture, or transit systems."

All nuclear does is grow societal wealth, increase wages, and decouple the economy from pollution and environmental destruction.

No wonder they hate it so much. [link omitted]
I recommend reading the whole thing, and not just because it further backs Ayn Rand's contention that, "the collectivists have found -- in ecology -- a new excuse for the creation of more controls, more corruption, more favor-peddling, more harassment of industry by more irresponsible pressure groups." The piece is a source of arguments for -- and an example of the right approach to -- fighting back.

-- CAV

Xi Hopes 'Zero Covid' Means Total Control

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

The BBC reports that China's dictator has decided to imprison everyone in Shanghai Disney (among other places) until they test negative for Covid.

In addition, anyone who has visited the park since Thursday must "provide three negative test results over three consecutive days" or... The story doesn't say, but I presume those people will be under house arrest wherever they happened to have been when this ludicrous order went out.

As if treating human beings like cattle weren't enough, the government also spit in their faces and told them it was raining when it claimed that the above outrages were in the name of the "people's war to stop the spread of the virus."

That "war" was lost long ago, as anyone with half a brain knows.

Here's what life in China is like and, apparently has been for some time:

As well as the theme park, surrounding areas such as the shopping street were also abruptly closed shortly after 11:30 local time (3:30 GMT).

Videos posted on Chinese social media site Weibo showed people rushing to the park's gates following the announcement but finding them already locked.
How the hell can anyone live a halfway normal life if they are subject to arbitrary arrest anywhere or any time? (The pretext that someone in the same general area might have a disease that is harmless to almost anyone is arbitrary for all practical purposes.) This is a practical question, yes, but it is also a psychological one, and I think considering it in this way is the only path to understanding what is an otherwise incomprehensible policy.

Nobody who has considered the vast weight and variety of evidence about Covid from this three-year pandemic can rationally conclude that we are going to be able to eradicate this disease without also eradicating ourselves and its various host animal species.

With modern preventative and treatment options, the disease is as manageable as the flus and colds for which no government presumes to shut down amusement parks and shopping centers at the drop of a hat.

I'm no Sinologist, but I am sure that even China's "face culture" has limits and Xi, were he at all decent, could at some point admit his policy was wrong and move on without -- oh, I don't know -- killing himself.

One cannot understand a policy so grotesque, intrusive and destructive without asking what it accomplishes for its regime that said regime will choose it over things like prosperity, order, or the even the mental health of the people under its control.

For that, we turn to Ayn Rand, whose remarks about a capricious part of American (!) "law" and jurisprudence fit this situation to a tee. In "Antitrust: The Rule of Unreason," Ayn Rand first disposes of a common myth about dictatorships:
It is a grave error to suppose that a dictatorship rules a nation by means of strict, rigid laws which are obeyed and enforced with rigorous, military precision. Such a rule would be evil, but almost bearable; men could endure the harshest edicts, provided these edicts were known, specific and stable; it is not the known that breaks men's spirits, but the unpredictable. A dictatorship has to be capricious; it has to rule by means of the unexpected, the incomprehensible, the wantonly irrational; it has to deal not in death, but in sudden death; a state of chronic uncertainty is what men are psychologically unable to bear. [bold added]
A bit later, Rand hits the nail on the head even harder:
The threat of sudden destruction, of unpredictable retaliation for unnamed offenses, is a much more potent means of enslavement than explicit dictatorial laws. It demands more than mere obedience; it leaves men no policy save one: to please the authorities; to please -- blindly, uncritically, without standards or principles; to please -- in any issue, matter or circumstance, for fear of an unknowable, unprovable vengeance. [bold added]
This goal is about what I would expect of someone so thin-skinned as to ban Winnie the Pooh after an internet meme.

As if this kind of treatment weren't enough, the Chinese people recently were put on notice when Xi came out as the new Mao. He wants to rule over a broken people.

Let us hope the Chinese are a proud one, and will soon stop tolerating being treated like dogs.

-- CAV

RE Covid: Amnesty Maybe. Amnesia Never.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Writing at The Atlantic, Emily Oster of Brown University suggests that we "declare a pandemic amnesty" regarding positions many held that were eventually proved wrong.

She seems overall reasonable, if more cautious then than I, and has a point:

Image by DDP, via Unsplash, license.
Some of these choices turned out better than others. To take an example close to my own work, there is an emerging (if not universal) consensus that schools in the U.S. were closed for too long: The health risks of in-school spread were relatively low, whereas the costs to students' well-being and educational progress were high. The latest figures on learning loss are alarming. But in spring and summer 2020, we had only glimmers of information. Reasonable people -- people who cared about children and teachers -- advocated on both sides of the reopening debate. [bold added]
And, much later:
The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn't accord with the facts. All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet. These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive. In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn't a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.

We have to put these fights aside and declare a pandemic amnesty. We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation while forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge. Los Angeles County closed its beaches in summer 2020. Ex post facto, this makes no more sense than my family's masked hiking trips. But we need to learn from our mistakes and then let them go. We need to forgive the attacks, too. Because I thought schools should reopen and argued that kids as a group were not at high risk, I was called a "teacher killer" and a "génocidaire." It wasn't pleasant, but feelings were high. And I certainly don't need to dissect and rehash that time for the rest of my days. [bold added]
This mostly sounds good, although with the perspective of my late middle age, I think that anyone who feels a need to gloat -- or who becomes defensive when proven wrong -- should take that as a sign that they have soul-searching and thinking to do.

Learning about the pandemic should have been about getting oneself and one's loved ones through alive and well -- not about comparing oneself to others.Worse still were those whose focus during the pandemic was on forcing other people to follow orders.

Oster speaks of officials having to make hard calls. While it is true that our mixed economy improperly places officials in such positions and many were trying to act in good faith, it was also clear that many government officials were quite happy to trample on their constituents. It is these last (and their many civilian cheerleaders) I can't and won't forgive.

I have argued or referred readers elsewhere for a more pro-freedom approach to infectious disease. I will not belabor it here other than to say that Gavin Newsom was wrong to impose indefinite universal home detentions and Ron DeSantis was wrong to force companies to ignore the vaccination status of their employees and customers. What happened to the idea that individuals should take care not to infect others, while weighing their own risks from the disease?

Sure, we should resist the temptation to rub people's noses in their past mistakes. But if one lesson from the pandemic is that it's damned hard to make decisions on limited information, there is another we risk missing through a hasty or indiscriminate "amnesty:" Governments need to make clearer, rights-respecting plans about pandemics ahead of time to limit the damage that free-wheeling, error-prone, and sometimes abusive officials can do by forcing everyone to abide by their bad decisions.

I personally know both anti-vaxxers and healthy people who still wear masks in public. I have no ax to grind with either and do my best to be polite to them when Covid comes up.

But I will never forgive the army of politicians who presumed to do my thinking for me and tried to order me around during that already-difficult time.

Forgetting history vs. dwelling on it is a false dichotomy: One must evaluate history and decide which hatchets to bury and which to sharpen. Ignorance about Covid can be forgiven; indifference to individual rights cannot.

-- CAV