Week in Pictures is up

Gotta be a spoof

Can't be serious.

John Keats, 1795-1821

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.

I fall to pieces

Wake up, Jonah, and pray

The fog of medical war

WIRED so often runs annoying agitpop articles that it's a pleasure to find another piece there without an axe to grind, this time examining the continuing confusion over whether chloroquine is effective in COVID-19.  The author manages to point out that the opponents of the drug aren't yet in any more position to be sure that it's a failure than its advocates are in a position to know that it's a success.  All this without taking more than a few tiny potshots at President Trump.

I admit, however, to some disappointment.  I hoped by now we'd have clear evidence, and obviously it would have been nice to get confirmation that the drug works.

Georgia Leads the Way

Governor Kemp, scoundrel though he is, has been making some strong moves lately. Georgia has scrapped driver's license tests for teenagers, leaving it to parents to determine when skills are strong enough to justify the state issuing a license. They're pursuing the most aggressive re-opening plan in America. And they've ordered state agencies to plan for $3.5 Billion in cuts to balance out extra spending from the emergency.

Maybe being the most aggressive isn't the right road; maybe a middle path is wiser. The state is definitely showing commitment to individual liberty in a time of crisis, though, which is praiseworthy. I hope it works out well, and that the harm is as minimal as possible along the path they've chosen. One harm or another is unavoidable, whichever path is chosen.

May Day

God send us a merry month of May.

Here also are some of Tex's favorites, nominated in years past.

Armed Protesters Swarm Michigan Statehouse

The armed protest in Virginia a few months ago was friendly, peaceful, and completely failed to prevent the governor and legislature from enacting unconstitutional laws. In Michigan, today, a much smaller but much angrier protest is likely to encourage a governor with proven disdain for the Constitution and its norms to call out the National Guard. Of course, sentiment in the National Guard probably runs against her; and the President can always call the guard into Federal service and overrule her orders if he decides to do so.

Interesting times.


She's calling the thunder.


You're probably aware of the development of a new stereotype called "Karen," a middle-aged white woman who acts from a position of tremendous cultural privilege. She's rude to workers, demands to see the manager and then chews them out because she isn't satisfied with the service, demands freebies and discounts and generally to be satisfied by someone else doing more for her.

I noticed today that both sides of the American virus discussion think that Karen is on the other side.

If you're on the keep-it-closed side, Karen is a woman who is ridiculously pushing for business to re-open even though it will endanger workers, because she wants those businesses to provide her with hairstyles and manicures and other luxuries, and to use shopping as an escape from her horribly-behaved children.

If you're on the open-it-up side, Karen is privileged enough to work from home or have a husband who supports her, and she is unconcerned with suffering and ruin being brought on business owners or workers put out of a job. Instead, she's calling the cops on you for letting your kids play at the neighbor's house, and leaving aggressive notes on your door if she noticed someone delivering groceries 'because quarantine means no visitors!'

Of course there are probably many tokens of both types in the real world, but it's amusing to me to see the disconnect. Both sides are sure Karen is a bad person, but they both think she's the other kind of person.


A military AI outperforms humans in correctly lowering its confidence when judgments are made on limited information:
They couldn’t explain why they were overconfident; they just were. Overconfidence is human and a particular trait among highly functioning expert humans, one that machines don’t necessarily share.
It's worth remembering that, especially if you happen to be a high-functioning expert human. At least some of you are.

Go North From Jupiter

A fascinating article explores some new findings in the world of physics.
“And it seems to be supporting this idea that there could be a directionality in the universe, which is very weird indeed,” Professor Webb says.

“So the universe may not be isotropic in its laws of physics – one that is the same, statistically, in all directions. But in fact, there could be some direction or preferred direction in the universe where the laws of physics change, but not in the perpendicular direction. In other words, the universe in some sense, has a dipole structure to it.

“In one particular direction, we can look back 12 billion light years and measure electromagnetism when the universe was very young. Putting all the data together, electromagnetism seems to gradually increase the further we look, while towards the opposite direction, it gradually decreases. In other directions in the cosmos, the fine structure constant remains just that – constant. These new very distant measurements have pushed our observations further than has ever been reached before.”

In other words, in what was thought to be an arbitrarily random spread of galaxies, quasars, black holes, stars, gas clouds and planets – with life flourishing in at least one tiny niche of it – the universe suddenly appears to have the equivalent of a north and a south.
He goes on to say that these findings are so new and so weird that he's skeptical of them for now, even though it's his own work. That sounds like a real scientist to me.

Ethics and Re-Opening

Here is a proposal by an author you know well for approaching the problem of re-opening given that all options entail highly undesirable consequences.  It may be right or wrong, but it does at least lay out clear principles.

There is no option that does not entail extra deaths. Medical professionals seem to think that we will experience thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of extra deaths if we re-open quickly. The UN has produced two reports lately on the effects of the shut down, one of which says that hundreds of thousands of extra children will die of starvation; the other of which says that over a hundred million people will be pushed to the edge of starvation by the economic lockdowns.

So we have to choose between dark roads. That's the problem the model tries to address.

Intellectual relativism

This is a very peculiar article at Politico, arguing that in a pandemic, everyone is a "moral relativist," because if you're honest with yourself, you're willing to let someone die in order to open the economy back up.

If you've ever wondered why it's so hard to talk to a moral relativist about moral relativism, the article sheds a little light.  The author, at least, thinks that moral relativism means being willing to accept the idea that a policy might not be effective in producing 100% safety.  It doesn't occur to him to wonder, on the other hand, whether the policy he would prefer--keeping the economy shut down--would produce 100% safety.  Has he asked himself whether he's willing to let someone die in order to prevent the economy from opening back up?  I suspect he operates entirely on emotion, which makes these questions meaningless.

A standard definition would be that moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. What would be the moral judgment here? That saving a life is, on the whole, a worthy objective? That's the one area where there's no particular disagreement in the current pandemic policy debate. We're not even arguing about whether one probable saved life is more worthy than another, or how to weigh non-fatal damage against fatal damage. It's not moral relativism to consider whether a cure is more damaging than a disease. A truly morally relativist approach to the COVID-19 policy dilemma would be to question the assumption that saving lives is a moral imperative at all, and to criticize a would-be life-saver as privileging his pro-life fetish over some other value, such as community sacrifice, or extreme personal liberty, or strengthening the genome by Darwinian ruthlessness, or making more room in over-crowded nursing homes, or fattening the profit margins of Big Pharma. Alternatively, a moral relativist might argue that there was no infallible basis for preferring sacrifice, liberty, profits, etc., over longevity.

But if someone merely argues that he can tolerate the possibility that someone will die after a policy is implemented, you don't learn much about his view of moral relativism. He might think the body county is inevitable, or no greater than is likely in the context of some competing policy, or frankly unknowable at this point. He might come to all these conclusions despite entirely agreeing with his critic on the relevant moral judgments. He might equally well disagree on all the relevant moral judgments, without that's having any effect on his policy preference. The big difference would be that he openly acknowledges a belief that his moral judgments are based on a standard independent of his historical or cultural standpoint or personal preferences, and are "privileged" over moral judgments he considers wrong. His critic, on the other hand, is just as strident and inflexible in his moral judgments, but thinks he escapes the error of believing they are "privileged" simply because he can't articulate a reason for adopting them, clinging to them, or imposing them on skeptics--though he will certainly go on doing so.

The Flynn prosecution looks worse and worse

The notes the prosecution finally had to cough up, and even unseal, are deadly.

No Opening in North Carolina

Governor Cooper is taking a more cautious approach than Georgia, Tennessee, or South Carolina. I had a moment of hope when he scheduled a call today specifically for the rural parts of the state. It would make a lot of sense to do as Texas is doing, and begin with areas of low population density and where new cases are not emerging.

But no, what he wanted to talk about was government programs. Reopening will have to wait until we have “sufficient” testing capacity, whatever that means, and he wasn’t clear about exactly what the standard for sufficiency is. It also has to wait until they’ve fully staffed a 500-person task force whose job is to track down all the people who’ve come into contact with any new positives and quarantine them.

Until then, hey, we’ve got all kinds of welfare options, and eviction protections, and we hope you’ll apply for loans to keep your business paying people. And we swear that improving internet access and quality out there is a real priority for us so you can work from home. That’ll happen any year now.

A welcome shot of info

This WIRED article contains useful coronavirus information, with practically no slant or agenda.

The salacious, unverified Mr. Steele

Christopher ("The Dossier") Steele has been giving testimony under oath in the UK, implicating both Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice in the lucrative oppo research that became the dossier that became the Russia Collusion Special Counsel debacle.  At one point he identifies a DNC Perkins Coie lawyer as the source for one of his tidbits; other tidbits he simply paid for.

This striking at the head of the snake is intolerable and clearly has to be denied and denounced.  I'm curious whether they'll come up with a defense more convincing than "only a partisan idiot would rely on anything that man has to say."

Radio Silence

Democratic Senators mostly are keeping silent about the sexual assault charge against Biden. So-called “women’s groups” are refusing comment as well.
One prominent women’s political group cited a scheduling conflict and asked to be kept “in mind for other opportunities!” When pressed if the following day would work better, an associate said it would not, citing another scheduling conflict.
A few potential VP candidates have summoned up the courage to say they don’t believe Biden’s accuser, Tara Reade.  That answer is problematic for the party too, but it’s what they have to say if they say anything. So...

Where are the Hearings?

Were Joe Biden up for a SCOTUS position instead of the Presidency, at this point he would surely be facing a Kavanaugh-style hearing into these charges. The charges come with much more corroboration than any of the ones pointed at Kavanaugh (which is to say, more than none whatsoever plus exculpatory evidence suggesting that the charges were probably to certainly false).

So who runs the hearing on potential Presidents? The mainstream media, right? When do we get started with that? Or is it just going to be The Intercept and some right-wing publications?

Some Action

Barr sent formal instructions to Federal prosecutors to look for unconstitutional restrictions in emergency orders.

The Flynn gambit

There's no getting around the problem of Michael Flynn's guilty plea.  I'd say his case should have been thrown out a long time ago if it weren't for that horrible strategic error.  It's very tough to win a motion to withdraw a guilty plea no matter how seedy the prosecution's actions were; it almost requires the defense to argue that the defendant himself was misled into believing he broke the law.

Early reports, however, suggested that Flynn might have pled guilty in a desperate attempt to shield his son from a bad-faith retaliatory prosecution.  That's not quite like believing one's son is really guilty; it's more recognizing that these people can and will stop at nothing to ruin the life even of an innocent man.  By this standard, Flynn leapt on a grenade, which tells us absolutely nothing about whether he had a guilty conscience or a well-founded fear that the government could prove its case against him--which, to be honest, always looked terribly thin, even by Kafkaesque standards.

Last Friday's document dump included some material that's still secret, which requires the interested public to draw conclusions from how people are reacting to it, like intuiting the existence of a new planet by its perturbation of the orbits of others.  Certainly Flynn's new (and much better) counsel Sydney Powell was galvanized into doubling down on her motion to withdraw the guilty plea.  Andrew McCarthy believes the documents show that the prosecution withheld from the court the information that Flynn's guilty plea was predicated on a secret agreement not to terrorize Flynn's son.  I hope this will be the straw that broke the camel's back, even for a trial judge who's not demonstrating much concern so far.

There should be some jail time here, but not for anyone named Flynn.


When it comes to lockdown orders, the media standard has been hard to justify.  The only reliable rule I see is blue states good, red states bad.  From time to time, good/bad has meant early/late, or stringent/lax, but the goalposts move so fast and so inexplicably that I'm left concluding the only robust metric is blue/red.

New York has been a horrorshow, but the smart take continues to be that Cuomo is doing a bang-up job whenever he's not being personally sabotaged by the Bad Man.  Florida has done very well, but it's better not to talk about it, because Florida is demographically similar to New York, while experiencing virtually none of its severe problems, and we really don't like the cut of that de Santis fellow's jib.

In an imaginary world where the point of all this ink was not to influence the November elections, it's hard to imagine we wouldn't be concluding that lockdowns work best when they're targeted, flexibly responsive to hard-data results, and as un-intrusive as possible.  I do continue to wonder, though, whether the biggest difference isn't mass transit and single-family homes.  Remember, mass transit kills, while sprawl will save us all.

Keeping us safe from bad information

I didn't find the widely-shared interview with two moderately anti-lockdown California ER doctors all that persuasive, but I'm getting pretty tired of being protected from information that people think is too dangerous for me to hear.  So although I didn't link to the interview to begin with, I'm happy to link to it now, while it's still possible.

And the fact-checkers and community-standards police can bite me.  I'll decide what's misinformation and what's not, thank you.  I'd have a lot more patience with this approach if half of the garbage I see on "respectable" news sites didn't clearly fit my own definition of misinformation.


Dark muttering, bright lines.

UPDATE: There is debate about the photo. See the comments here and at AVI’s.

Texas re-opens a bit

The governor announced a re-opening plan to begin this Friday, under which most businesses, including restaurants, may re-open at 25% of capacity.  There is an exception for hair salons and gyms, which remain closed.  Businesses in counties with fewer than 5 confirmed cases, which is almost half of Texas counties and includes my own, can operate at 50% capacity.

Counties have some leeway, but our County Judge and the two local mayors are going along.  Although my neighbors are disappointed that we apparently are not opening the public beaches and boat ramps, the aim of the order is not to give people more leisure options.  It's to restore jobs.

If case counts are not disappointing, all counties will shift to the 50% rule in a couple of weeks.

This is strictly a permissive order.  Businesses that don't feel ready to open aren't required to do so.  After the 2017 hurricane, most of the restaurants with good business-interruption insurance opted to stay closed as long as possible, knowing that it would be hard to turn a profit before most residents and tourists returned.  As I understand it, though, nearly all business insurance contains a pandemic exception, so owners will have to make difficult decisions about whether they can afford to stay closed, or for that matter can afford to re-open with reduced traffic.  Some will be able to thread the needle by operating with reduced staff, which will help with overhead.

Arms and White Samite

My novel is now published on Amazon, both in Kindle and paperback form. The Kindle version is as cheap as Amazon would allow me to set it, in order to make it as accessible as possible at a difficult time. If readers of the Hall are out of work, though, email me at grimbeornr (note final 'r') AT yahoo in order to obtain a PDF copy. I don't want any of you who might like to read it not to be able to do so.

I suppose the strangest thing about this is acknowledging my real name. Of course many of you knew it already, and any of you who cared would doubtless have figured it out without difficulty. The point of incognito is not that we do not know who each other are, but that we pretend not to know in order to enable more honest discussions than we can have otherwise. We will continue to operate in the same manner as always.

Puzzling numbers

The differing regional approaches to testing make it hard to figure out what the "positive" rates mean. In some areas, there's almost random sampling going on, while in others, most people are unlikely to have access to a test unless they have clear symptoms plus a troubling contact or travel history. A few samples included nearly all of a more-or-less captive population, like the souls aboard the Diamond Princess or the U.S.S. Roosevelt. Until today, all the results I'd seen suggested that well under half of the ordinary closed population will test positive, while something close to half of detectable cases were asymptomatic. (Note that "asymptomatic" doesn't tell you anything about whether a case is contagious. Pre-symptomatic or permanently asymptomatic patients may be very contagious, barely contagious, or variably contagious depending on the patient, the severity of the case, or the days since exposure, or all three.  Not every asymptomatic patient is a Typhoid Mary.)

HotAir has a piece today that reports anomalous results: the infection rates in prisons are sky-high, nearly 90%, and the percentage of asymptomatic positive testers is even higher. The only similar result I'd heard rumors of so far is the puzzling lack of severe cases among the U.S. homeless, and in the entire population of Bali. In the former case, speculation included the possibility that life outdoors was protective, while in the latter case people bandied about the notion that the Balinese lifestyle confers special advantages for immune systems. Neither explanation leaps out as likely for the prison population.  I suppose it's possible that both the homeless and the prison population have led such rough-and-tumble lives that they've been exposed to everything under the sun and have robust immune systems.  Maybe they're poised to take over the world.

Strategy vs. Consistency

Some deployments are worth more than others. This can be reflected in US policy. Right?
[Officials] said the president's military advisers have made the case to him that if the U.S. pulls troops out of Afghanistan because of the coronavirus, by that standard the Pentagon would also have to withdraw from places like Italy, which has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, officials said.
That's not how this works. We don't set blanket standards for where we will deploy troops; we deploy them where we think it is in our interests. If the additional risks of a major outbreak in Afghanistan outweigh the value of keeping a smaller number of troops there, you don't have to do it. If the advantages of maintaining air bases in Italy that can strike terrorist camps in Africa as well as providing air cover in Europe are bigger, you can maintain them even if the risk of an outbreak is worse. This is one of those places where consistency can be foolish.

Viral austerity

Texas is a pretty red state, but that doesn't mean it doesn't blow big bucks on all kinds of state-government fantasies when it's got the cash.  The talk now, however, is about "austerity," which I hope will mean serious thought about inducing the government to get back to tending to its knitting:
Just a few months ago, the Texas economy was growing at rates that outpaced those nationally. Lawmakers last session approved a quarter-trillion-dollar budget, and state income was projected to grow faster than previously expected. The comptroller’s office even estimated that lawmakers would have about $2.9 billion in hand upon their return to session. And that would be an important head start for lawmakers who would need to find new sources of state revenue to support the state’s increased commitment to funding public schools, among other things.
The virus, however, effectively wiped out that $2.9 billion surplus and then some. The choice now is pretty basic: Find new revenue or make significant cuts in basic state services. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen recently suggested that all state agencies cut their budgets by 5% now, rather than wait closer to the start of the next session when budget cuts could be draconian, less strategic and made under greater duress. This echoes Hegar, who has advised agencies to cut spending before lawmakers start deciding what will stay and what will go.
I find myself wondering about ERs, too. For a couple of months, we've gotten some data on what happens when people can't use ERs as the local free clinic for minor ailments. I'm looking forward to some analysis of the effects.


The "dangerous" Michael Moore film "Planet of the Humans" has been retracted by its distributor.  The powers-that-be have declared that it contains misinformation, some of which contradicts the peer-reviewed consensus.

Maybe Moore can get to work now on a movie about censorship and herd mentality.

Taking a Piece of the Holy Land Home With You

If I ever make it to the Holy Land, I may have to get a tattoo.

It would be a fascinating memento of the journey, and, as of right now, would be a first for me.  It's apparently an old tradition, with deep and interesting roots going back centuries.  The only question would be which design?