Evidence-based decision-making

This fellow seems to have his head screwed on straight.  He advocates concentrating on isolating on those at the highest risk of COVID complications, while letting everyone else go back to school and work.  He gets there by looking carefully at what measures have been tried in different countries, and what effect they had on both general spread and, more important, contributing to a crushing load on hospitals.  There's also some welcome attention to scary theories about air-borne transmission and likelihood of infection from casual contact, which bears on how effective careful hand-washing and surface-sanitizing can be even if we end the lockdown before we destroy the economy.  He also argues that the biggest danger to the economy is fear, not of the virus, but of what the government may do next.


My neighborhood Facebook feed is not much nuttier than usual.  People are jumpy about groceries, but not too much.  There's some of the argument we're seeing nationwide over whether we're over- or under-reacting.  Less D-vs.-R quarreling than usual, I'd say.

It's a different story at the sole Project Gutenberg forum devoted to politics, which are ruthlessly repressed elsewhere on the site.  It turns out that PG devotees are about 95% hair-on-fire socialists with a terminal case of TDS.  For a few weeks I've been conducting an experiment to see whether civil discourse is possible, which wasn't going well even before the virus panic started.  In the last few days I've been posting the occasional semi-good-news story about potentially encouraging approaches to treatment regimens or re-tooling production to focus on medical shortages.  The response is a nearly unanimous blast of close-minded hostility.

An interesting aspect is the level of proof demanded, depending on the story.  The initial reaction to reports that chloroquine studies were surprisingly hopeful was to attack the "right wing" sources.  A moderately sane member was kind enough to find palatable French-media sources confirming the essential story, but the dominant message then became that Fake News was a horrifying scourge to be avoided at all costs, and we won't know a single thing about treatments until every bureaucrat on the planet has had time to commission lengthy studies.  To say otherwise is to be a science-denier who jumps to ignorant conclusions, like you-know-who.

When news hit about the senators who dumped their stocks before the DOW collapsed, however, a different standard of truth came out.  Suddenly suspicion was as good as proof.  Even odder, when I posted a link to a Reuter's report about Novartis donating 130MM doses of chloroquine, the responses ranged from an assumption (definitely no proof needed) that Trump had bought stock in the company, which was cynically trying to buy good PR by giving the drug away, to a worried concern about all those poor people who already depended on chloroquine to treat their rheumatoid arthritis, and were immunocompromised so were at greater risk of contracting the virus.

I could point out that all those poor RA patients may find that they've inadvertently been taking an effective virus prophylactic, but why bother?  It's clear to me now that this PG crowd are among the people I've recently come to understand as being more wedded to their problems than to their solutions.  It's what Eric Fromme used to call the "yes, but" conversation.  I decided a couple of years ago that you can only help so many people, and the first ones that need to be triaged to a quiet, dark corner of the ER are the ones who don't really want an improvement, only a subjective validation of their own rage and disappointment.

The Crannogs

H/t Instapundit for this article on Scotland's ancient crannogs.
Artificial islands commonly known as crannogs dot hundreds of Scottish and Irish lakes and waterways. Until now, researchers thought most were built when people in the Iron Age (800-43 B.C.) created stone causeways and dwellings in the middle of bodies of water. But a new paper published today in the journal Antiquity suggests that at least some of Scotland’s nearly 600 crannogs are much, much older—nearly three thousand years older—putting them firmly in the Neolithic era. What’s more, the artifacts that help push back the date of the crannogs into the far deeper past may also point to a kind of behavior not previously suspected in this prehistoric period....

But why were Neolithic people tossing their “good china” off of artificial islets? Without direct accounts from the time period, archaeologists can only speculate as to why the crannogs were built, how they were used, and why they became places for pottery disposal. Garrow and his colleagues surmise they were used for feasting, another unknown set of religious or social rituals, or both.

The Gambler

Rest in peace, Kenny Rogers.

He was one of the fixtures of my youth, which coincided with the height of his career in the place where he was most popular.

UPDATE: I did not realize that he had a career in psychedelic rock, but this famous song was apparently an early hit of his. Some of you 'old rockers' may like it.

The Media Has Gone Mad

It turns out that medicines can kill you if you overdose, which I think everyone in the world knew. Tylenol can destroy your liver, but it's for sale over the counter in every drug store, gas station, and grocery store in America.

Gender justice

Manhattan Project-style

A few days ago, the President "invoked" the Defense Production Act, leaving some question in the press whether he has actually "used" it yet.  The New York Post is reporting, however, that President Trump took a call from Senator Schumer formally requesting DPA action to spur the manufacture of ventilators and personal protective equipment, and was heard to agree and to instruct a subordinate to make it so.

More good news:  Novartis plans to donate up to 130 million doses of chloroquine worldwide by the end of May.  A little slow, but a scale that's starting to approximate what we'll need.

PS, I'd hope we could "embrace the power of and" concerning this constant rhetorical battle over whether we should be optimistic about the reports of useful treatments, or focus on obtaining solid data from double-blind tests.  I'd like proof as much as the next guy, but we can do more than one thing at a time.  It would be unbearably stupid to put off large-scale use of chloroquine while we conduct leisurely double-blind studies and write them up for the journals.  We can already be reasonably sure we're not doing violence to the balance of benefit and harm by giving hospitalized SARS sufferers chloroquine, because the risk of suffocation is already known to be extremely high, while the risk of the drug is already known to be extremely low.  Neither is 100%, but that's not the point.

Good stat source

"Watts Up With That" now posts this daily worldwide virus summary.  Two things to note:  the scales are logarithmic, so a hopeful sign is a curve under 45%, but of course any convex curve beats a concave one.  Also, this is deaths per million of population, not the case fatality rate.  I prefer the former, because we still have no real grasp of the total number of cases, but we can get a pretty good handle (except in countries we suspect of straight-up lying to us) about both the total deaths and the total population.  That rate will of course confound two variables:  the cases per population (spread), and the death rate for cases (severity/efficacy of medical system/health of population), but that's the breaks.

From the same source, here is a far more informative than usual recap of the prospects for treatment with chloroquine and remdesivir.  I believe there are interesting things happening with convalescent serum, too, though those are hard to scale.  Most of these treatments have problems with either evolved resistance, cost, or scalability that mean they will be most helpful in buying time while we work on an effective vaccine.  Still, my biggest concern at the moment is finding an approach that relieves our fear of crashing the medical system enough to let most of us go back to work supporting the prosperity that enables us to have a first-class medical system in the first place.  If we have to give up on the medical system, we might as well let the virus rip, accept the losses, and remember what it was like to live a century ago, because you can't stop producing essential goods for fear of every contagion out there.

Old Norse Handwashing

Dr. Crawford offers a couple of stanzas from the Havamal that will take about twenty seconds to recite, if you care to learn a bit of the language.


Turnabout's fair play.

The dog that hasn't barked

This is puzzling.  An L.A. writers makes the reasonable case that the city's homeless population is a coronavirus explosion waiting to happen.  The question is, why hasn't it exploded already?  Is it really taking that long for the disease to spread to L.A.?

If it weren't for Italy's experience, I'd be more skeptical than I am that this thing is spreading as fast as we feared.  Washington looked like a special case.  New York is disquieting, though.

Knock It Off, Lady

Headline: "The Coronovirus is a Disaster for Feminism."

Thesis: Yes, men die at much higher rates from this disease, but the real tragedy is that more women will have to care for their own children instead of pursuing paid employment or great works.
When people try to be cheerful about social distancing and working from home, noting that William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton did some of their best work while England was ravaged by the plague, there is an obvious response: Neither of them had child-care responsibilities.
My sister's husband -- a great guy, this guy, who appears to have majored in college in 'being cool' and then built a life around it -- is the one watching their child all day every day.  They won't even let my mother do it, though she's just down the street, out of a desire to keep her quarantined.

That may not be universal, but it's certainly on the menu. If you've actually got a great work in you, and not that many people do, you can work it out. If you don't, you know, you'll probably appreciate the time you spent with your kids more than the time you spent at work. When you finally get to a place where you can reflect on what really mattered about your life, you'll be glad of that time.

"Survival Necessities"

An email from Cold Steel.

I suppose I might need a 1917 Naval cutlass.  If things get bad enough, piracy is always an option.

A Glorious Romp

Andy McCarthy on the Mueller debacle.

Goodbye, Senator

One of my new Senators -- new to me since I moved here, I mean, he's been in office entirely too long -- is Richard Burr.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., dumped stock holdings worth millions ahead of the market plunge that began in February after they received briefings on the coronavirus, according to published reports Thursday.

Burr, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sold the stocks on Feb. 13, ProPublica reported, citing disclosure filings.

Loeffler began dumping shares Jan. 24, after a private briefing for senators from administration officials, including the CDC director and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Health, the Daily Beast reported.

Shares of the companies whose stocks she sold are down an average of 33%, since then, according to the report. Loeffler's sales totaled between $1,275,000 and $3,100,000, according to the report.

On Feb. 7, Burr wrote in an op-ed co-authored with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus, in large part due to the work of the Senate Health Committee, Congress, and the Trump Administration.”

Earlier Thursday, NPR reported that Burr offered a far more dire forecast in comments in late February to a private luncheon organized by the Tar Heel Circle.

He warned that travel restrictions, school closures and military involvement could all come to pass, as indeed they have.
If you're worried about the state of the Senate should he resign, you need not be.  Under NC law, if there is a vacancy in the Senate unexpectedly the governor does appoint his replacement, but...

(a) The replacement must be of the same party, and,
(b) Must be chosen from a list of three people selected by that party's leadership.

So there's really nothing to lose in pushing him out. It's all upside.

By the way, the other Senator who chose personal profit over warning the public about the dangers was the one that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed instead of Doug Collins. Kemp's a skunk too, as we were just discussing, and here's evidence that skunks run in packs. Fortunately there is an actual election in Georgia, and the Republican primary is right around the corner. If you're a Republican voter and citizen of Georgia, you should definitely pick Collins to run in the general in November. [Correction: the Senate Special Election will not have a primary, but will feature all candidates from all parties on 3 November. --Grim]

Also, get rid of Kemp when you can. That's my advice.

UPDATE: In researching the Senate Special Election, I discovered that one of the candidates is a man I know personally, Richard Dien Winfield. Don't vote for him. He's a nice guy, but the kind of political philosopher who thinks that the Wise should rule over all of you, and assign guaranteed employement jobs that befit your talents as assessed by them, etc. He should continue teaching Hegel, which he is as good at as anyone in the world, and not move to D.C.

UPDATE: Ah. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, the Senator appointed by Kemp, is married to -- wait for it -- the Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. That explains why it seemed plausible to Kemp to appoint a non-native Georgian to a Senate seat. Everybody explained that in terms of 'trying to appeal to the white suburban female demographic' or 'trying to appeal to the large transplant population in Atlanta,' but it still seemed amazing that a recent transplant with no longstanding ties to the state who had never held any other political office would be appointed to the Senate. Now it makes perfect sense.

Even more like this

Not only does the old malaria drug chloroquine work surprisingly well against novel coronavirus, but it's generic, cheap, and widely available.  The FDA still isn't willing to go out on a limb saying it's a treatment whose benefits clearly outweigh its risks, but President Trump is leaning hard on them not to get in the way.  Sure, we need some traditional, slow double-blind studies.  In the meantime, doctors are free to prescribe existing approved drugs for off-label uses in their own discretion.  This one's results in Asia were so promising that people in influential positions, including NY Gov. Cuomo, are clamoring for it, and manufacturers already have taken the hint.

We should be able to see a pattern where identifiable populations are taking prophylactic malaria treatments.


Surprisingly, the spring equinox is earlier this year than it's been in a long time.  Today does in fact feel like the first day of spring, too:  whereas it's been hinting at spring for a while, today is genuinely warm.

We are burning gathered brush and deadwood today to create a kind of natural charcoal fertilizer for a garden patch.  In the next few days we will turn over the earth, and begin planting as the weather indicates.

A Place Called Papa Joe's

If you didn't happen to know Billy Joe Shaver, well, you probably should. He is one of the great songwriters of the Outlaw Country era. He almost single-handedly wrote Waylon Jenning's best album, "Honky Tonk Heroes." Now this fellow once got into a little trouble in a place called Papa Joe's. This place:

You should probably think twice about messing with anybody when you're in a place like that, but not everybody does. Billy Joe was an old man by then -- heading to his third divorce with the same woman -- and a younger man decided he could bull the old guy. Well, sometimes that works.

Not every time.

Dale Watson wrote a song about it.

Whitey Morgan's version has easier to understand lyrics, although I don't like the instrumentation as well:

Here's Billy Joe explaining what happened, except that nobody but him thinks the other guy had a gun -- all the evidence presented in court had the other guy with a knife. A knife is of course quite as dangerous as a gun in the right hands; at the right range, more dangerous.

Then, once he won the court case, Billy Joe wrote a song about it too.  Willie Nelson pitched in.

If you're really seated in the tradition you'll know that Willie's "don't cross him/ don't boss him" language comes from his own best album, 1975's "Red Headed Stranger" about a preacher who killed his wife and her lover in the year of 1901. It's quite a compliment, in its way. In another way, perhaps less so.

Per Hypothesis

Scientists claim they have proven Darwin's theory of natural selection. They are still wrestling with a problem that bothered Darwin himself.
A species is a group of animals that can interbreed freely amongst themselves.

Some species contain subspecies – populations within a species that differ from each other with different physical traits and their own breeding ranges.

Northern giraffes have three subspecies that usually live in different locations to each other, while red foxes have the most subspecies – 45 known varieties – spread all over the world.

Humans have no subspecies.
Darwin got as far as declaring that the different races were not different species; but he definitely engaged the idea that there were such things as races, and that they must have some sort of biological origin. Just because he was eliminating distinctions between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom, it only makes sense within his theory to apply the same rules.

If we really applied the same rules, we would cash out our non-scientific notions of 'different races' in terms of subspecies. Then you would have one human species that can interbreed freely amongst itself; but different subspecies whose different traits arose in different ranges (and often just because of Darwinian natural selection, which favored darker skin or eyes in this environment and lighter skin or eyes in that one).

But of course that cannot be done now for the reverse reason that it could not be done then. Now we have a social imperative to pretend that there are no differences at all instead of the social imperative to pretend that the differences were essential and insurmountable. This is called "progress," but in terms of intellectually accepting the consequences of Darwinian theory it leaves us in exactly the same place.

This is what I like to see

More like this, as Instapundit says:  factories shift production to emergency items in short supply.

Anatomy of a Love Song

This is Homer & Jethro, if you don't know them. They were a big influence on Billy Joe Shaver, whom you ought to know.

Xi Hu, Hangzhou

I have climbed the pagoda in this photograph, many years ago when we lived in China. The photo is from Xi Hu, literally "West Lake," near the town of Hangzhou, once capital of the Southern Song Dynasty.

Another Book Recommendation

Mike got me thinking about stretching out and exploring even more chili recipes, so I dug out an old cookbook somebody bought me as a gift some years ago.  It's a very good one.  I have only minor quibbles with it, and I think I might have gotten my "Deviled Beef" chili from it originally (although the version in the book is quite different from mine as it has evolved, and as I wrote it up here a few days ago).

The book is The Chili Cookbook by Robb Walsh.  It contains the oldest surviving chili recipe (a lobster chili encountered by Spanish explorers on the coast of what would come to be known as Latin America). It contains Native American recipes, New Mexican recipes, Texan recipes, and then a whole lot of regional American variations.

I made one last night that I'm just trying today, now that the flavors have melded overnight.  It's a classic Texas "Bowl of Red" style recipe, with no peppers in it stronger than ancho, and otherwise just paprika.  It was still spicy enough to cause the wife to load it down with sour cream though, because it uses a whole two ounces of ancho in the pot.  Of course you can always add more of whatever you want, as I always say when talking about recipes. 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

In honor of the day, and since many of us are looking for new reading material, how about an introduction to an Irish hero of Robert E. Howard’s?  For those of you who prefer Vikings, he sails with a crew of Danish pirates. For those who prefer Arthurian stories, the timeframe is supposed to be during the reign of Arthur.

It’s not Howard’s greatest work all the same; it’s more like the drive-in movie Sword & Sorcery films than like the great ones. It will definitely bother you insofar as you are a stickler for historical accuracy. But they’re fun tales if you have read all the Conan stories and want something Irish for the day.

UPDATE:  The Dropkick Murphys are doing a free online concert tonight in place of their annual St. Patrick's Day show.  If you're interested, it starts at 1900 Romeo, i.e., 7 PM Boston time.

The End of the Russian Part of the Russian Saga

Prosecutors abandon trying to prove that the Mueller-indicted Russians were guilty of the alleged crimes. The Russians were eager to contest the charges and demanded their day in court rapidly. The US government delayed and delayed, and now has decided to drop the prosecution.

The US has already abandoned the claim in open court that the Russian government had anything to do with the indicted Russians.

Universal Basic Income

In the end, it wasn't Andrew Yang or Bernie Sanders, but Mitt Romney who seems most likely to bring UBI to America.

That's the Spirit

An Ohio town dissolved its government over a one-percent tax.

Trial by Jury

Another traditional liberty that is under immediate threat is the right to a speedy trial by jury. A friend in New Orleans sent this order from the courts suspending all jury trials, effective immediately:

Presumably if you're not interested in a jury trial you can ask for a bench trial; otherwise, you're just to sit in jail indefinitely, at increased risk of infection since you can't get away from anyone who might be sick.

In Athens, Georgia, the local sheriff's office is getting calls that follow this script:
"Hi, My name is _____ may I speak to either the Sheriff or Deputy Sheriff? Thank you, I am calling to express my concerns about the jail as a local liability putting us all at increased risk if we do not take necessary precautions in the wake of COVID-19. Please begin the immediate release of all bondable pre-trial inmates and all inmates with less than 60 days remaining in their sentence. Additionally, cease new bookings in order to eliminate the risk of someone carrying the virus from exposing the jail population and your staff to the virus. Lastly, please publicize the jail's COVID-19 Response Plan When can the community plan to see this critical information? Thank you in advance for your swift response during these dangerous times."
Indefinite suspension of trial by jury does seem like a clear violation of the 6th Amendment. If I were a lawyer with clients in that jail, I would be protesting that the courts ought to dismiss charges against my clients rather than engage in a systemic violation of basic rights. But again, the courts are likely to try to find a way to read this as constitutional.

Libertarians in foxholes

We're amassing enough data to fuel a decade's worth of research on what kinds of government intervention helps and what kind hurts.  It's almost as if we needed to figure out the proper role of government before we decide how big it needs to be in each context.

The incomparable Richard Fernandez

Did you know there was a debate last night? Jonah Goldberg wishes they'd let the two B's carry on while feeding pigeons from park benches.
Even in fabled Atlantis, the night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still cried out for their gender quotas.
The last commenter on the thread notes that capitalism in a crisis functions about as well as socialism on a random Tuesday.

Outlaw Country

Uh-oh. Headline: "Nashville Business Owners Defy Mayor and Remain Open! – Say Order to Close Bars and Restaurants on Broadway Is UNCONSTITUTIONAL."

It probably would have been better to avoid this stress test. The courts are likely to try to find some way to declare it constitutional, given that public health is so neatly concerned with it. But it's done now. Is it constitutional for the US government to deny what are usually ordinary basic liberties, given the presence of a pandemic that is also epidemic? How far do emergency powers go in voiding constitutional liberties?

That's going to be an interesting set of questions. It'll be an interesting set of answers, too.

Crisis Can Cut Through the Propaganda, Sometimes

So we all know people have been stocking up on, of all things, toilet paper in many areas.  Of course also many other things, first among them dry goods, OTC meds, and of course soap and cleaning products (including Everclear).  Some people, seeing the lack of preparedness among their neighbors, and how easily they are spooked into panic, have suddenly come to see the wisdom of perhaps owning a firearm- just in case.
Guns were also a popular item among panic-driven shoppers on Saturday.
At Martin B. Retting Gun Shop in Culver City, a line of prospective customers stretched outside the door. Inside, they were shoulder to shoulder, waiting up to five hours for service. A fast-food truck was taking orders at the curb.
The managers of the store declined to comment. It was a rare windfall of business for the store, but some people got tired of waiting and left empty handed.
Among them was a medical doctor who would give only his first name, Ray. He said he’d come to buy his first gun.
“I want to buy a handgun, I think they call it a Glock, but I’m not sure,” he said. “I have a house and a family, and they’ll need protection if things get worse.”
“The fear,” he added, “is that civil services will break down.”

He's going to be a bit disappointed to discover that there is a 10-day waiting period in California.  I suspect gun rights support is going to grow as a result of all this, even here in deep blue Los Angeles.  At least, one hopes.

A Propos Odes and Totalitarianism

Ian Miles Cheong tweeted this tidbit a few hours ago:

Chinese authorities are finally opening the sealed apartments. There are countless dead.


The video is a bit...serious.

Cheong got his stuff from Jennifer Zeng, a New York blogger who seems to be an emigre from the Republic of China.

If this is even remotely typical of those sealed apartments, Zeng's characterization of the CPC as Evil is a gross understatement.

Eric Hines

Reasonable Points

Just don't get hit. The last place you want to be right now is the hospital.

Pandemics and the Vikings

Why not tie two of our current interests together? Here is a brief historic survey of Viking encounters (and near misses) with grand-scale historic disease.