Killed by Bureaucracy

They were taught all through their educations and careers that the most important thing was not to discriminate. So when the moment came when the most important thing of all was to discriminate....

Epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski: Open Up & Forget the Whole Thing

A contrarian view from the 20-year head of the Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science.  One might even say a curmudgeonly view.

"You're no friend of this court!"

I'm so old, I can remember when federal courts didn't think it was a good idea to troll for issue advocacy in the form of amicus briefs.

Some of you may recognize my title from a Heinlein novel.  He had a good grasp of the law, and liked to set up vignettes in which an honest judge lost patience with conspiracies and courtroom shenanigans, especially when officious intermeddlers were shown the door.  In the scene I'm remembering, an oily legal hanger-on type is asked to explain his presence at a trial, and answers, "Who, me?  Amicus curiae, Your Honor."

The Costly Failure to Update Sky-Is-Falling Predictions

Sean Trende over at RCP has a very good article looking at coronavirus predictions that didn't pan out and the social cost of the failure of experts and media sources to acknowledge and update their reporting.

As part of this, he covers predictions on the re-opening of several states, including Florida, Georgia, and Wisconsin, and how they were wrong.

It's a good one-stop page for showing people the facts of the case as well as how predictions were wrong, and would be useful for arguing for opening up. I'll be sending the link to people I know, so thought I'd share.

David Reaboi on America

As part of an interview he's given, some thoughts on America:
America’s weakest national security link is our disunity. We’re no longer in agreement about the most fundamental questions underpinning the regime—including who we see as allies and who we consider adversaries on the world stage. While there was always an insistent and vocal part of the American Left that agitated for our enemies during the Cold War, the mainstream debate consisted of how best to deal with the Soviet Union as an evil rival.... [But now] I don’t think another nation in history has been so thoroughly despised by its own elite class. Now, because these are our society’s elites, they have the power to change the character of the country, to finally wrest it from both the traditions of its founding and the citizens who still believe in those traditions. And they’ve largely done that; they’re just now trying to neutralize the last holdouts. That struggle is the disunity we’re seeing....

There’s an essential question many friends and I ask, when discussing a potential ally: “Does he know what time it is?” That is, does one have the ability to be unsentimental and realistic in assessing our current situation. Does he understand the predicament we’re in, with a left that’s already marched through the institutions? Does he accept the impossibility or the extreme unlikelihood of “returning” to anything resembling even the America of the 1990s? I think that grappling with these questions is a prerequisite for more than leadership, going forward; it really should be the minimum of what makes someone a political voice worth hearing at this point.
I know Dave, who is something of a pessimist (as he would admit himself). That predisposition is worth keeping in mind when you ponder his thoughts. But he's also both a 'wise guy' and a smart guy, who definitely does 'know what time it is.' Watching the Flynn story, and the larger Trump/Russia story unfold, it is clear that the institutions of this nation have been turned against it. Perhaps that started during the Obama administration; perhaps that was the point of acceleration. I wonder how right he is that it just won't be possible to fix.

UNICEF: Expect 1.3 Million Child Deaths From Economic Shock

There’s no real reason to think that this model is any better than the climate models; it’s possibly no better than the coronavirus models, although the virus was novel and this problem is old. For what it’s worth, though, it is another consideration.

Why are you conservatives so obsessed with Russia-Russia-Russia-Russia-Russia?

Brian Stelter wonders.

A Debt Repaid

The Irish answer their history.

Oh Dear

“Open Memorandum to Barack Obama.”

Curiouser and Curiouser

Judge Sullivan has decided to appoint a retired judge to act as de facto prosecutor in the Flynn case, since the Department of Justice refuses to prosecute it. That is not just highly irregular, I think it's unheard of. I've certainly never heard of it being done, although sitting Federal judges have tremendous power.

It certainly will make the appeal interesting if Sullivan decides to sentence Flynn instead of accepting the recommendation to drop the charges.

UPDATE: Apparently he's also appointed a prosecutor to see if Flynn can be charged with perjury for entering a false guilty verdict. That, actually, might be the one crime of which Flynn is really guilty; although a lot of other people are guilty of coercing him and concealing it from the court, which doesn't seem to have sparked the judge's interest.

I'm beginning to think that it will be hard for Flynn to receive a fair trial, even at this late stage.

Arms and White Samite Update

I finally received copies of the paperback today. I am extremely disappointed in their quality. The formatting I spent a week trying to get right came out wrong nine ways from Sunday, and for some reason the cover has a pink rather than a white dress. It definitely isn't pink in the painting, not even a little, and was color-adjusted to match the white text (which did come out correctly).

So if any of you purchased a copy of the paperback, I apologize for the quality. I am pulling it off of Amazon as a physical book. I have no idea what happened, but the quality is too poor to ask anyone to spend money on it. Feel free to return it and ask for a refund, because these books are too badly made to be worth anything. You can read the same story on your Kindle.

Fake News Today

BB: California Police Attempt To Arrest Elon Musk's Holographic Decoy As Real Musk Escapes On Rocket To Mars

DB: Generals who failed to defeat Taliban explain how to kill a virus

TO: Damning Report Finds White House Ignored Skeletal Horsemen Galloping Through Sky As Early As January

Manhood and the Virus

We have all read that men are more likely to die than women from this virus (women hardest hit), but it turns out that low-testosterone men are more likely to die than men with high T levels. Exercise may be protective, although that's more along the lines of 'it usually is' than 'we know for sure that it is in this specific case.' Sunshine destroys the virus and your body uses it to protect you by producing Vitamin D, which is generally effective as an anti-viral.

Things are looking pretty good for weight-lifting motorcycle-riding men.

Nursing home carnage

At least, a nationwide tally of the nursing homes' share of COVID-19 deaths.  Powerline has been reporting for weeks that over 80% of the virus's deadly toll in Minnesota occurs in nursing homes, and that the median age of decedents has been steady for some time at about 82 years.  That percentage turns out to be high; most states are hovering more around the 50% mark.  I've read that the nationwide median age is in the high 70s, though information on that score is scarce.

The column for daily deaths is heartening, at least for some states, such as Texas, which seem to have cracked the code for opening the economy while concentrating protection on the most vulnerable elderly.  Nursing homes in the cluster of states near New York are still suffering badly.

Scrolling down the page at that same site will bring you to an economic report card for the 50 states, which demands a balance between the challenge of the local death rate and the speed of re-opening.  New York gets a "C," which might seem generous considering how locked down it remains, but it gets credit for having such a severe outbreak to contend with.  Texas gets a "B," despite its fairly benign lockdown and rapid re-opening, because its outbreak has not been severe enough to warrant more stringent measures.


H/t Joe Bob.


More Than 2,000 Former DOJ Personnel Sign Letter Opposing Dropping Flynn Charges

It calls for Barr's resignation and for the court to reject the DOJ motion to dismiss.

There is no recognition that anything in the prosecution may have been amiss.

I have only tangentially followed the Flynn case, but where I have it has been through right-wing-ish blogs, so at first glance it seemed bizarre not to acknowledge at least some impropriety in the prosecution. But maybe not; I guess what the left and right consider as the truth in this case are two very different stories.

Here's the gist of it:

Now, Attorney General Barr has once again assaulted the rule of law, this time in the case of President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Subsequent events strongly suggest political interference in Flynn’s prosecution. Despite previously acknowledging that he “had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” President Trump has repeatedly and publicly complained that Flynn has been mistreated and subjected to a “witch hunt.” The President has also said that Flynn was “essentially exonerated” and that he was “strongly considering a [f]ull [p]ardon.” The Department has now moved to dismiss the charges against Flynn, in a filing signed by a single political appointee and no career prosecutors. The Department’s purported justification for doing so does not hold up to scrutiny, given the ample evidence that the investigation was well-founded and — more importantly — the fact that Flynn admitted under oath and in open court that he told material lies to the FBI in violation of longstanding federal law.

Make no mistake: The Department’s action is extraordinarily rare, if not unprecedented. If any of us, or anyone reading this statement who is not a friend of the President, were to lie to federal investigators in the course of a properly predicated counterintelligence investigation, and admit we did so under oath, we would be prosecuted for it.

Interestingly, all of the names of the signers are published on the same site, so you can browse through them if you care.

Faking Courage & Uneven Trainability

AVI posted what I take to be a response to the post about teaching virtue, laying out some principles for his view of things. I'll let his words stand on their own, but I do want to circle back on two of the points that he raises.

The first one is that courage (and other virtues) can be faked by applying pressures that end up compelling people to behave as they would if they had been brave. Aristotle describes this as an aspect of justice, which uses laws to compel people to behave as if they were virtuous even if they are not.
Now, the laws prescribe about all manner of things, aiming at the common interest of all, or of the best men, or of those who are supreme in the state (position in the state being determined by reference to personal excellence, or to some other such standard); and so in one sense we apply the term just to whatever tends to produce and preserve the happiness of the community, and the several elements of that. The law bids us display courage (as not to leave our ranks, or run, or throw away our arms), and temperance (as not to commit adultery or outrage), and gentleness (as not to strike or revile our neighbours), and so on with all the other virtues and vices, enjoining acts and forbidding them, rightly when it is a good law, not so rightly when it is a hastily improvised one.
Aristotle goes on to say something about this that I think is easy to misunderstand.
Justice, then, in this sense of the word, is complete virtue, with the addition that it is displayed towards others. On this account it is often spoken of as the chief of the virtues, and such that “neither evening nor morning star is so lovely;” and the saying has become proverbial, “Justice sums up all virtues in itself.”

It is complete virtue, first of all, because it is the exhibition of complete virtue: it is also complete because he that has it is able to exhibit virtue in dealing with his neighbours, and not merely in his private affairs; for there are many who can be virtuous enough at home, but fail in dealing with their neighbours.... While then the worst man is he who displays vice both in his own affairs and in his dealings with his friends, the best man is not he who displays virtue in his own affairs merely, but he who displays virtue towards others; for this is the hard thing to do.

Justice, then, in this sense of the word, is not a part of virtue, but the whole of it; and the injustice which is opposed to it is not a part of vice, but the whole of it.
That could easily be read to say that fake virtue is just as good as real virtue; and that a state that manages to compel everyone to do the right thing is just as good as a state in which people chose to do the right thing without compulsion. A thorough reading of the Nicomachean Ethics shows that Aristotle cannot possibly mean that. The whole of the work is built around developing one's character so that one is a fit judge of what is right and wrong, and the kind of person who will do the right thing.

The need to compel people to act in the right way is made necessary, rather than desirable, because of the acknowledgement of the second point from AVI's essay that I want to bring around: not all people respond to the training well. Every Marine goes through training designed in part to help them habituate courage; many respond well to it, partly because they are self-selected for wanting to become brave warriors. But not everyone does, not even in the Marine Corps. There remains additional selection processes for particularly dangerous duty (not just in the USMC; Airborne school in the Army is more about habituating courage than about actually conducting offensive operations). Some wash out; others find that the experience of being forced to do brave things eventually does make them brave. Others were brave when they got there, and only refine the quality through training.

AVI puts it this way (the 30,000 foot language is perhaps why I thought of Airborne school):
The people discussing Aristotle and virtues this late in the day wondering whether such things can be taught and reflecting over their own experience, are simply not a representative sample. Aristotle and Aquinas and others writing about virtue, discipline, and courage may have had every intention of writing for and about humankind in general. However hard they try to stand aloof and view the human condition from 30,000', they can't.
Both Aristotle (and therefore Aquinas) and Plato are aware of this problem, however. In fact, it is part of Protagoras' response to Socrates' challenge about the children of great men not always being very good themselves, in spite of having good parents and careful training:
Suppose that there could be no state unless we were all flute-players, in such sort as each was able, and suppose that everyone were giving his neighbor both private and public lessons in the art, and rebuked him too, if he failed to do it well, without grudging him the trouble—even as no one now thinks of grudging or reserving his skill in what is just and lawful as he does in other expert knowledge; for our neighbors' justice and virtue, I take it, is to our advantage, and consequently we all tell and teach one another what is just and lawful—well, if we made the same zealous and ungrudging efforts to instruct each other in flute-playing, do you think, Socrates, that the good flute-players would be more likely than the bad to have sons who were good flute-players? I do not think they would: no, wherever the son had happened to be born with a nature most apt for flute-playing, he would be found to have advanced to distinction, and where unapt, to obscurity. Often the son of a good player would turn out a bad one, and often of a bad, a good. But, at any rate, all would be capable players as compared with ordinary persons who had no inkling of the art. Likewise in the present case you must regard any man who appears to you the most unjust person ever reared among human laws and society as a just man and a craftsman of justice, if he had to stand comparison with people who lacked education and law courts and laws and any constant compulsion to the pursuit of virtue, but were a kind of wild folk such as Pherecrates the poet brought on the scene at last year's Lenaeum....

So now, Socrates, I have shown you by both fable and argument that virtue is teachable and is so deemed by the Athenians, and that it is no wonder that bad sons are born of good fathers and good of bad, since even the sons of Polycleitus, companions of Paralus and Xanthippus here, are not to be compared with their father, and the same is the case in other craftsmen's families.
Protagoras makes some good points here. He acknowledges that some are naturally more fitted than others for the art he wants to teach, and that thus it is only to be expected that results are uneven even with the sons of good men. He is not on very solid ground in assuming that flute playing is a good analogy. Flute playing is a techne, the kind of knowledge that most obviously can be taught. The question actually is whether virtue represents a kind of knowledge that can be taught, or something else. Protagoras attempts to strengthen his position with the talk of untrained 'wild folk,' who stand in the analogy like people who have never handled a flute. Won't ordinary Athenians be more just than wild people, since they have all been trained in the art of justice (i.e., forced to live by laws that make them act as if they were virtuous)?

The answer may well be "No." Protagoras isn't referring to any actual 'wild folk,' but only to a poet's representation of such. In fact it is certain that any folk will have standards of justice that they train their youth to respect, even barbarians (a word the Greeks gave us because the Semites they encountered spoken a way that sounded to them like 'bar bar bar'; thus 'barbar-ians'). Herodotus made much of the training of the Persian youth, which was apparently excellent, as were other of their customs.
Next to prowess in arms, it is regarded as the greatest proof of manly excellence to be the father of many sons. Every year the king sends rich gifts to the man who can show the largest number: for they hold that number is strength. Their sons are carefully instructed from their fifth to their twentieth year, in three things alone---to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth....

They hold it unlawful to talk of anything which it is unlawful to do. The most disgraceful thing in the world, they think, is to tell a lie; the next worst, to owe a debt: because, among other reasons, the debtor is obliged to tell lies. If a Persian has the leprosy he is not allowed to enter into a city, or to have any dealings with the other Persians; he must, they say, have sinned against the sun. Foreigners attacked by this disorder, are forced to leave the country: even white pigeons are often driven away, as guilty of the same offence. They never defile a river with the secretions of their bodies, nor even wash their hands in one; nor will they allow others to do so, as they have a great reverence for rivers.
In spite of this, the Persians were notoriously tyrannical, cruel, and wicked by our own moral standards.

I shall stop again, as this is once more a good spot to allow those of you interested in the discussion to pause and consider, and express your own thoughts.

Unashamedly stolen from Ace

In response to a comment about the murder of a jogger/burglar in Georgia, I said:
I don't care whether he was burgling every house on the block. Chasing him down in a vehicle and then shooting him was not their job.
I was promptly accused of virtue signaling and casting aspersions on Southerners as racists.
Yes...I claim the mantle of virtue here, and wear it proudly. We are a nation of laws, and vigilantism does not belong in America. As for the imagined suggestion of racism? I am not a mind reader...I have no idea whether racial animus had anything to do with this killing, and nobody else does either. But, a reflexive defense of murderers because they are White and the victim is Black is just as bad as screaming racism every time a Black man is killed.

The safe road

Benjamin Franklin penned an all-purpose letter of recommendation while in France in 1776:
The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name. This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings another, equally unknown, to recommend him; and sometimes they recommend one another. As to this gentleman, I must refer you to himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him, however, to those civilities which every stranger of whom one knows no harm has a right to; and I request you will do him all the good offices, and show him all the favour, that on further acquaintance you shall find him to deserve.
I took this from a "juvenile" biography of Franklin published in the early 20th century.  They had a different idea back then what children might profit from reading.  If the seedier stories about Franklin's private habits are true, those were left out, but there was no bowdlerizing of the politics.

The Tale of a Cherokee Highlander

John Ross.
Jason Ubych of Tain and District Museum and Clan Ross Centre, said: “John led the struggle by the Cherokee people against forced and brutal relocation from their homeland in 1838, a story that has many similarities to the clearances in the Highlands being perpetrated at the same time.”
UPDATE: As I reflect on it, this really should be read together with Tex's post below. Ross is a clear example of a man acting on family (and, by extension, tribal) ties to rein in the worst impulses of the state. He suffered with his people, but he helped them lessen the harms to which they were exposed, and was right there with them to help them survive the ones he couldn't avoid.

Recalcitrant families, benevolent states

As Glen Reynolds says, who knew a conservative backlash could cancel a progressive event demonizing homeschooling?  Somebody had better get to work on a law about that kind of dangerous speech.

Chesterton wrote about the importance of the family as a bulwark against state coercion in "The Superstition of Divorce," in which he also ridicules the principle of unlimited personal liberty as "all windows and no wall":
The ideal for which [the family] stands in the state is liberty. It stands for liberty for the very simple reason with which this rough analysis started. It is the only one of these institutions that is at once necessary and voluntary. It is the only check on the state that is bound to renew itself as eternally as the state, and more naturally than the state. Every sane man recognises that unlimited liberty is, anarchy, or rather is nonentity. The civic idea of liberty is to give the citizen a province of liberty; a limitation within which a citizen is a king. This is the only way in which truth can ever find refuge from public persecution, and the good man survive the bad government. But the good man by himself is no match for the city. There must be balanced against it another ideal institution, and in that sense an immortal institution. So long as the state is the only ideal institution the state will call on the citizen to sacrifice himself, and therefore will not have the smallest scruple in sacrificing the citizen.


One size doesn't fit all.
[T]here is one large group of the elderly for whom the issue is simpler: retirees who live on their own in rural, small-town, and small-city America. It is easy for most of them to take care of themselves, and they needn’t be rich to do it. We (for I fall into that category) don’t need to go to a workplace every day. We don’t need to use public transportation. Nothing requires us to eat in restaurants or, for that matter, requiresus to have close interaction with anyone. Does quarantining the entire population give us some additional measure of protection? Perhaps at the margin, though I would like to see some hard data proving that point. But I submit that we elderly who live on our own can make ourselves “safe enough” unilaterally, through the precautions within our control. What proportion of the elderly am I talking about? Calculating that number would take some digging, but wouldn’t it be nice to know what it is if we want to make sensible policy? And that brings me to my main point:
The relationship of population density to the spread of the coronavirus creates sets of policy options that are radically different in high-density and low-density areas. ... The sensible thing for government to do about the pandemic in a small town or small city is different from the sensible thing for government to do in a big, crowded city. ... [T]oo many people in high places, in government and the media, have been acting as if there is a right and moral policy toward the pandemic that applies throughout America. That’s wrong. Disaggregating policy choices to reflect local conditions is essential.


It's getting harder to argue that we lack the manpower and other resources to pursue burglars, if we can spare a couple of squad cars to go after hardened criminals violating the six-foot rule. Which is more speculative, the idea that a repeat offender might escalate if you fail to lock him up after several failures, or the domino effect from some scofflaws sitting on the beach?
“You can’t sit outside and watch the sunset because you might breathe on a butterfly that will carry your germs to a tree with lemons that might be picked by a child to make lemonade for his grandma, and she’ll die!”

"Only God Can Save Us"

That sentiment is typically expressed by priests and preachers, but there's a philosophical case for it that goes back to Socrates (who was speaking of another god, or at least thought that he was). This time the speaker is Elijah del Medigo, who may or may not be a priest since the name is a pen name, but begins with a poem excerpt by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. — Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”

...Our decades of overconfident liberalization and globalization have come back to bite us, Wilks argues, and we have now hollowed out American society to the point that the smallest tasks are too much for us: “We now find ourselves unable to stick ear straps onto face-sized pieces of non-woven medical fabric at industrial scale.

Decades of stagnation, offshoring, and complacency have caught up with us, and all of our institutions have failed to prevent the coronavirus from crippling the nation. Our physical decay can no longer be ignored.” He is right: decades of complacent management have not so much left a chink in our armor as fully stripped it off. Decline is a choice, as Charles Krauthammer said, and American bureaucracy has been choosing it for decades.
This is exactly the same thing that 9/11 revealed, which caused me to write the following motif into my own poem, which was written on the very day:
At last even Enid
Whose eyes are as dusk
Looked on her Lord
And weighed him wanting.
Her gaze gored him:
He dressed in red-rust mail.
In the poem, the red-rust mail was well-forged though ill-tended, and proves adequate to the task. Our institutions responded to 9/11 well in the first charge, rapidly deposing the Taliban and sending al Qaeda into hiding. Special Forces learned to ride horses in Afghanistan; Rangers took the peaks at Tora Bora; Marines deployed by helicopter into a land very far from any sea. The world learned that we were capable of a great deal of force, rapidly and unexpectedly.

Yet the institutions failed as soon as they shifted from finding new ways to respond to an emergency back to the more comfortable operation of the bureaucracies. The Afghan mission adopted a bureaucratic Big Army approach to a mission that had no possibility of success, and which has been pursued without success for nigh-on twenty years. The Iraq War was won by the invasion force, lost by the poorly-handed occupation, won again by the Surge force adopting a new model of counterinsurgency that forgave and adopted the Sunni Awakening, and then lost by the State Department that failed to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement and forced a rapid and too-early withdrawal.

Innovation is possible when the emergency grows dire enough that the bureaucrats loosen their grip, but doom returns as they reassert it. The American state has succeeded, where it has, by voiding its rules: truckers can drive further and faster, the FDA can let people make tests who know how without months of regulatory grind, and our food supply can be secured in a similar manner. If we simply void the rules and let people find solutions, solutions can be found. The enemy is the state; the ossified institutions themselves are causing the harm.

Georgia Re-Opening Going Well

So far, at least, so good.

How a Feudal Lord Handled the Nazis

I didn't know this, but there were actually a few genuine feudal lords during the 1930s. The last of these, the Isle of Sark in the English Channel, was a fief ruled by a hereditary lord until 2008, when it was democratized. There is still a lord, but now it's a more ceremonial role.

This article is about how Dame Sybil Hathaway, the Isle's feudal lord, handled the Nazis taking over her fief. It's a good story. Too bad her autobiography is out of print.

China's On the Ballot

China won’t give up its formerly dominant supply chain position without a fight. Beijing has been quick to reopen even as Western politicians debate over whether it is safe to emerge from lockdown. “Analysts at Morgan Stanley suggest businesses are unlikely to take the opportunity to tilt parts of their manufacturing operations away from China, at least for now. They said cash-starved companies currently lack the funds to invest in new operations and tinker with existing supply chains. At the same time, Chinese assembly lines have been swift to bounce back, even as other economies remain in lockdown.”...

The adage “take the high ground” applies to politics and it’s puzzling why the Democrats didn’t take ‘Reshore Hill’ and become the champion of returning jobs to America before Trump did. Instead reflex pushed them into instinctive opposition, tending to disculpate China and demand even longer lockdowns, even to their potential detriment.
Vote no on China.