Update War of the Worlds for coronapanic

I subjected 7- and 9-year-old boys to H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds as an audio book recently. It wasn’t as big a hit as I expected. I enjoyed it, though! I didn’t realize how topical the 1895 book was.

*** spoiler alert ***

I wonder if it is time to update this book for a modern audience. Wells’s prediction of industrial robots needs no tweaking, but he has the Martians being killed by an unknown bacterial enemy. In an updated version, the Martians will reject a bivalent vaccine offered by Pfizer and the director of the CDC. Due to this rejection, which happened because Martians had tuned into Fox News from afar, SARS-CoV-2 kills them all.

The book has a powerful description of humans panicking in the face of a threat and a prescient description of how Californians and New Yorkers might react to Martians wanting to cage and breed them so that they could harvest human blood.

All these—the sort of people that lived in these houses, and all those damn little clerks that used to live down that way—they’d be no good. They haven’t any spirit in them—no proud dreams and no proud lusts; and a man who hasn’t one or the other—Lord! What is he but funk and precautions? They just used to skedaddle off to work—I’ve seen hundreds of ’em, bit of breakfast in hand, running wild and shining to catch their little season-ticket train, for fear they’d get dismissed if they didn’t; working at businesses they were afraid to take the trouble to understand; skedaddling back for fear they wouldn’t be in time for dinner; keeping indoors after dinner for fear of the back streets, and sleeping with the wives they married, not because they wanted them, but because they had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little miserable skedaddle through the world. Lives insured and a bit invested for fear of accidents. And on Sundays—fear of the hereafter. As if hell was built for rabbits! Well, the Martians will just be a godsend to these. Nice roomy cages, fattening food, careful breeding, no worry. After a week or so chasing about the fields and lands on empty stomachs, they’ll come and be caught cheerful. They’ll be quite glad after a bit. They’ll wonder what people did before there were Martians to take care of them.

In the updated version, this will be developed further. Wells’s character envisioned a human resistance living on in the sewers. In the update, the resistance will be in Sweden and Florida because Martians can’t tolerate Surströmming and are afraid of alligators. SARS-CoV-2 will take a year to kill the aliens, which will give governors in California, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, etc. time to work with federal officials and the Martians to set up the human farms for their respective meek and compliant populations.

Dr. Fauci will leave his portrait-filled study and return to work organizing the development of ventilators powerful enough to treat Martians suffering from COVID-19. The Fauci Protocol will be to put a Martian on vent after 10 “ullas”.

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Add some Martin Amis to your summer reading list?

One of our greatest modern writers, Martin Amis, died recently (New York Times). Cancer got him at age 73. I didn’t know this until I saw his obituary, but he was our neighbor here in Palm Beach County, Florida.

I wrote about one of his books here: Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis. Excerpt:

“DILFs, Des. All divorcees. The lot of them! You know how they do it? First they— first they get theyselves hitched to some old banker for ten minutes. Then they independent for life! And oh, they in gorgeous nick, Des. Superb. And I said to her, I said to this DILF, How old are you anyway? And guess what she said.” “What.”“Thirty-seven! Which means she’s probably forty-three! Think. She’s almost Gran’s age— and there’s not a mark on her. Pampered all they lives, they are. Beauty treatments . Massage. Yoga.”

My notes on one of Amis’s most famous books, The Information:

MIT kids graduate with a profound sense that the world is and should be a meritocracy. There is always then that horrible moment when they are forced to confront the fact that the best things in life go to the ass-kissers and incompetents with big PR budgets. This book is for them. It is about Richard Tull, a brilliant writer of modern fiction. His books are so great that that they are not only unreadable but actually make readers too ill to finish. He starves while watching his friend Gwyn Barry make millions writing tripe with a sentimental appeal.

(I wrote the above 20 years ago and I don’t think the first sentence is true anymore. Young Americans are constantly reminded that there is nothing meritocratic about U.S. society, in which success is primarily based on privilege. Martin Amis, the famous writer son of famous writer Kingsley Amis, actually reinforces this point (unless we think that writing ability is heritable.))

Wikipedia on Martin Amis:

In June 2008, Amis endorsed the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, stating that “The reason I hope for Obama is that he alone has the chance to reposition America’s image in the world”. … Blaming a “deep irrationality of the American people” for the apparent narrow gap between the candidates, Amis claimed that the Republicans had swung so far to the right that former President Reagan would be considered a “pariah” by the present party

Amis was interviewed by The Times Magazine in 2006, the day after the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot came to light, about community relations in Britain and the “threat” from Muslims, where he was quoted as saying: “What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan… Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children…It’s a huge dereliction on their part”.

It is unclear when, exactly, Martin Amis moved to Lake Worth, Florida (as we are in the middle of Pride Month, it is important to note that this is the site for Palm Beach Pride, “a two-day festival that celebrates the LGBTQ community, equality and respect in a family friendly environment”).


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Remembering William Lewis Herndon, captain of the gold-laden SS Central America

On this Memorial Day I’d like to celebrate the memory of William Lewis Herndon, author of Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon and captain of the SS Central America, a commercial ship with a U.S. Navy captain that sank off the Carolinas during a hurricane in 1857, resulting in a loss of 425 lives, mostly people returning from the California Gold Rush. Herndon could have escaped with his life, but chose to go down with the ship after ensuring that all women and children had been evacuated (including Lucy Dawson, the only black woman on board; we are informed today that Americans in 1857 were irredeemably racist, yet white men gave up their lives so that Ms. Dawson could keep hers).

Herndon is described in Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea: The History and Discovery of the World’s Richest Shipwreck (Gary Kinder, 1998):

Married and the father of one daughter, Herndon was slight, and at forty-three balding; a red beard ran the fringe of his jaw from temple to temple. Though he looked like a professor or a banker more than a sea captain, he had been twenty-nine years at sea, in the Mexican War and the Second Seminole War, in the Atlantic and the Pacific, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean Sea. He knew sailing ships and steamers and had handled both in all weather. He was also an explorer, internationally known and greatly admired, who had seen things no other American and few white men had ever seen.

Herndon ordered Ashby and his first officer not to let a single man into the boats until all of the women and children were off. “While they were getting into the boats,” observed one man from the bailing lines, “there was the utmost coolness and self-control among the passengers; not a man attempted to get into the boats. Captain Herndon gave orders that none but the ladies and children should get into the boats, and he was obeyed to the letter.”

The ship took 30,000 lbs. of gold 8,000′ underwater, which is what led to the main story of the above book. This cargo was worth $8 million at the time and roughly 1 billion Bidies today (inflation of 125X or 12,500 percent).

If you can tolerate an old-style book in which race, gender ID, and sexual orientation are seldom mentioned, the story of engineering challenges being addressed one after another is fascinating. The hero of the book is Tommy Thompson, a self-motivated engineer who attends Ohio State, works for Key West treasure hunter Mel Fisher, and comes back to work for Batelle. While at Batelle, he comes up with the idea of salvaging wrecks in the deep ocean.

“A galleon drafted about fifteen feet,” Tommy told Bob, “so they generally hit reefs in about fifteen feet of water. It is not like men to leave gold lying in fifteen feet of water.” Most of the artifacts Fisher had found were at twelve feet, and the only reason Spanish salvage divers had not completely stripped the Atocha in 1622 is because a second, far bigger storm had hit the wreck site three weeks later.

During the three centuries following Columbus’s voyages to the New World, much of the gold and silver on earth had been transferred from the New World to the Old World, and 25 percent of it had been lost. But don’t search for it among the thousands of shallow-water shipwrecks in the Caribbean, said Tommy; the odds were too slim. Search for treasure where storms couldn’t buffet the remains, where ships were not piled on top of each other, where the bottom was hard and the currents slow, and where no government could stake a claim. Tommy told Bob he wanted to recover historic shipwrecks in the deep ocean.

A key enabler of the quest for the Central America‘s gold is Martin Klein, the inventor of practical side scan sonar, but this MIT graduate is not credited by the author. Once found, however, there is a question of how to conduct mining operations on the ocean floor with mid-1980s technology.

If you got your submersible safely into the water, your ship at the surface was rising and falling while your submersible was descending; each fall caused the cable to go slack, and each rise snapped the cable taut, like pulling a car with a chain. That load suddenly became ten times heavier than the submersible itself, and the cable often broke and you lost your submersible. That armored cable was filled with electromechanical wires that carried signals down to the sub and back again. If the snap loading didn’t break it, every time that cable passed over a pulley, the wires bent and straightened with the weight of the vehicle, and often ten times the weight of the vehicle, and the wires fatigued and parted. A replacement cable took three months to manufacture, and carrying a spare cable on board meant needing more space on a bigger ship, tended by a larger crew, for much more money. Attempting to land on the seafloor was risky and difficult for two reasons: First, the rocking of the ship would jerk the vehicle—one minute you’d be looking at the bottom, the next minute you’d see nothing, the next minute the camera would be in the mud. Second, hanging something heavy on the end of a cable twisted the cable; if you set that heavy weight on the seafloor and slackened the cable at the same time, the twisted cable tied itself in knots, like the cord on a telephone. When an armored cable with several thousand pounds on the end kinked up, and the bouncing of the ship topside jerked on those kinks, the cable again often broke, which meant you left your vehicle on the bottom and headed back to the beach for the rest of the season.

Everyone who had previously worked in this area was funded by militaries, which had essentially unlimited budgets to look for sunken submarines and similar valuable items. Tommy Thompson needed to do the job for $millions when others had failed with $1 billion budgets. There’s also an interesting legal challenge:

The Central America lay at the far reaches of the Economic Zone, almost two hundred miles offshore. No one had ever tried to recover an historic shipwreck so deep it lay beyond the three-mile boundary. Tommy could bring a piece of the Central America into the courtroom, but no one knew what would happen next.

One of the more unusual challenges was how to bring up gold coins without scratching them, which would reduce their value to collectors. The team of salvors came up with the idea of a silicone injection process that would embed gold objects in a block of the soft substance before it was all brought to the surface.

If you love engineering, I recommend Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. Even if you don’t love engineering, I hope that you’ll join me in remember Captain Herndon and his decades of service in what was a hazardous job back then (wooden ships combined with no GPS and no weather forecasts).

(Since 1998, Mr. Thompson’s career has developed some warts. I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but let’s just say that, as in family court, a big pot of gold can lead to accusations of unfairness.)


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Telescreen puck for behind friends’ wall-mounted TVs?

How about this idea for an Arduino project… a puck that can be quietly stuck to the back of a friend’s TV when you’re visiting. After a 72-hour delay, the puck begins emitting the dialog that Winston Smith heard from the telecreens in 1984. An example:

’Attention! Your attention, please! A newsflash has this moment arrived from the Malabar front. Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory. I am authorized to say that the action we are now reporting may well bring the war within measurable distance of its end.

(maybe update the above with reference to Ukraine instead)

Thirty to forty group! Take your places, please. Thirties to forties!

Smith! 6079 Smith W.! Yes, YOU! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please! THAT’S better, comrade.

THERE, comrades! THAT’S how I want to see you doing it. Watch me again. I’m thirty-nine and I’ve had four children. Now look.

You see MY knees aren’t bent. You can all do it if you want to. Anyone under forty-five is perfectly capable of touching his toes. We don’t all have the privilege of fighting in the front line, but at least we can all keep fit. Remember our boys on the Malabar front! And the sailors in the Floating Fortresses! Just think what THEY have to put up with. Now try again. That’s better, comrade, that’s MUCH better.

(update the last one to refer to Ukraine and replace “his toes” with “his/her/zir/their toes”?)

Now we can see you. Stand out in the middle of the room. Stand back to back. Clasp your hands behind your heads. Do not touch one another.

Smith! 6079 Smith W! Uncover your face. No faces covered in the cells.

Any other updates to Orwell’s 1949 text?

Separately, a few excerpts from the Wikipedia page regarding Orwell...

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell’s wife Eileen started working in the Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information in central London … Eileen went into hospital for a hysterectomy and died under anaesthetic on 29 March 1945 … [1984] was published in June 1949, less than a year before his death. … Sonia was a beauty, and her act of marrying a sick wealthy man, when his death was almost certain, has left many to doubt her intentions.

Orwell was also openly against homosexuality, at a time when such prejudice was common. Speaking at the 2003 George Orwell Centenary Conference, Daphne Patai said: “Of course he was homophobic. That has nothing to do with his relations with his homosexual friends. Certainly, he had a negative attitude and a certain kind of anxiety, a denigrating attitude towards homosexuality. That is definitely the case. I think his writing reflects that quite fully.”

Orwell used the homophobic epithets “nancy” and “pansy”, for example, in expressions of contempt for what he called the “pansy Left”, and “nancy poets”, i.e. left-wing homosexual or bisexual writers and intellectuals such as Stephen Spender and W. H. Auden.

Here’s a possibly useful building block:

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Write an alternative history of the U.S. if proper COVID policies had been followed?

How about this idea for a novel: Describe what the U.S. would look like in 2024 if proper COVID policies had been followed in 2020-2021.

Suppose that the U.S. had been run by Science-following Democrats without interference from Republicans or Republican-appointed federal judges. “COVID-19: Democratic Voters Support Harsh Measures Against Unvaccinated” (January 2021) describes a Rasmussen poll:

Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democratic voters would favor a government policy requiring that citizens remain confined to their homes at all times, except for emergencies, if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Nearly half (48%) of Democratic voters think federal and state governments should be able to fine or imprison individuals who publicly question the efficacy of the existing COVID-19 vaccines on social media, television, radio, or in online or digital publications.

Forty-five percent (45%) of Democrats would favor governments requiring citizens to temporarily live in designated facilities or locations if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Democratic voters would support temporarily removing parents’ custody of their children if parents refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

The survey also found that more black voters (63%) than whites (45%), Hispanics (55%) or other minorities (32%) support Biden’s vaccine mandate for government workers and employees of large companies.

President Biden’s strongest supporters are most likely to endorse the harshest punishments against those who won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine. Among voters who have a Very Favorable impression of Biden, 51% are in favor of government putting the unvaccinated in “designated facilities,” and 54% favor imposing fines or prison sentences on vaccine critics.

(Note that I previously proposed Protection Camps for the Deplorables and euthanizing the unvaccinated to ensure sufficient hospital capacity for the Righteous.)

Perhaps the novel could follow two families, since statistics are never as interesting as personal stories. Alyssa and Emily Good have two non-binary children together: Dakota and Zen. All get vaccinated and, whenever recommended by the CDC, boosted. Alyssa works at a reproductive health care clinic providing abortion care to pregnant people. Emily works at a non-profit organization fighting anti-2SLGBTQQIA+ hate. They enjoy a rich life in a COVID-free United States and get together with neighbors in their means-tested affordable housing complex to hang BLM and Rainbow banners.

Gunner and Katelynn Bad breed like rabbits because they reject the Sacrament of Abortion Care and have four kids: Cooper, Mallory, Rhett, and Josie (only 3 months old when the Great Removal begins). Gunner sells pickup trucks and goes hunting on weekends while Katelynn stays at home. The Bad parents, having refused the Sacrament of Fauci, are confined to their exurban house while their kids are taken away by a platoon of National Guard troops who arrive in Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The 3-month-old is allowed 2 Zoom sessions per week with the parents, on account of her young age, while the old kids get 1 Zoom session.

I fed all of the above to ChatGPT. Out came a mushy plot titled “The Great Divide” in which “A common threat or challenge unites the Good and Bad families” and “The families reevaluate their beliefs and values”. My further instruction:

Rewrite this so that the Good and Bad families never come back together and the Bad family is sent to a higher security prison after asserting, contrary to Science, that the COVID-19 vaccines of 2021 did not prevent infection or transmission.

The novel this time was called “Worlds Apart”. Here’s an excerpt:

Then I asked ChatGPT to write the first chapter. Here it is, not in quote style for readability:

Chapter 1: Parallel Lives

The morning sun stretched its golden rays across the suburban landscape, illuminating rows of houses that differed only in minor details. In the means-tested affordable housing complex, the Good family began their day like any other.

Alyssa and Emily Good rose early, setting their alarms to make the most of the limited hours they had to themselves. They were the kind of couple that fit together seamlessly, like puzzle pieces that had found their match. Alyssa, a caring and dedicated nurse, worked at a reproductive health care clinic providing abortion care to pregnant individuals. Emily spent her days at a non-profit organization fighting against anti-2SLGBTQQIA+ hate. Together, they created a home full of love and acceptance for their two non-binary children, Dakota and Zen.

The Goods had eagerly embraced the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, seeing it as their civic duty to protect themselves and others from the pandemic. They kept up with every recommendation by the CDC, receiving boosters as needed, and found solace in the knowledge that they were doing their part to keep their family and community safe.

A few miles away, the Bad family occupied a larger, more secluded home. Gunner and Katelynn Bad, fervent believers in traditional values, had built a life together based on self-reliance and independence. With four children – Cooper, Mallory, Rhett, and baby Josie – the Bads were an ever-growing family. Gunner worked at a local dealership, selling pickup trucks, while Katelynn, a proud stay-at-home mom, nurtured their children.

Unlike the Goods, the Bads rejected the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. They saw it as an infringement on their personal liberties, a belief reinforced by the misinformation they consumed on social media. In their world, the vaccines were an untested, unnecessary risk. And so, as the deadline for vaccination loomed, the Bads chose defiance over compliance.

The tension in the air grew thick as the consequences of this choice settled in. When the government announced the Protection Camps for the unvaccinated, the Bad family scoffed, believing the threat to be little more than a scare tactic. But as more families were forcibly removed from their homes, the reality of their situation became impossible to ignore.

The day the National Guard arrived at the Bad family’s doorstep, it was raining, the sky filled with menacing clouds. Gunner and Katelynn watched in terror as their children were taken from them, the younger ones crying for their parents. Baby Josie, just three months old, was whisked away in a military vehicle, her cries barely audible over the sound of the rain.

The Good family, meanwhile, continued to live in relative peace. They regularly gathered with their neighbors in the housing complex, hanging BLM and Rainbow banners as a show of solidarity. As they shared stories and laughter, the fate of the Bad family seemed like a distant nightmare – something that could never touch their happy, vaccinated existence.

But the fates of the Good and Bad families were more intertwined than they knew. As the Bads were confined to their home, they began a desperate search for any means of reuniting with their children. At the same time, the Goods began to question the harshness of the policies that had forced a family apart.

The world had changed, irrevocably, and the two families found themselves on opposite sides of a deep and unbridgeable divide. Unbeknownst to them, their paths would soon cross, and their beliefs would be challenged in ways they could never have imagined.

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More about The Swamp (book)

Second post regarding The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, by Michael Grunwald. We’ll pick up the story at the dawn of the 20th century… (photos from Grassy Waters Preserve the other day)

NAPOLEON BROWARD declared war on the swamp during his 1904 campaign for governor, unfurling giant multicolored maps of the Everglades at campaign rallies, promising to bust a few holes in the coastal ridge and create an instant Empire of the Everglades. “It would indeed be a sad commentary on the intelligence and energy of the people of Florida to confess that so simple an engineering feat as the drainage of a body 21 feet above the level of the sea was beyond their power,” he taunted his audiences.

Broward has been vilified by modern environmentalists for his intense assault on the Everglades, but he was considered a staunch conservationist in his day. He supported strict laws to protect fish, game, birds, and oysters, and his top priority was the reclamation of a swamp for agriculture and development. Broward never stopped to think what draining the Everglades might do to the fish, game, birds, and oysters that lived there, but hardly anyone did. The conservationist John Gifford dedicated his book of Everglades essays to Broward, explaining that “the man who makes two blades of grass grow where only one grew before is the proverbial public benefactor, but the man who inaugurates a movement to render 3,000,000 acres of waste land highly productive deserves endless commendation.”

When a canal-based drainage project did succeed, the projects could be substantial.

Swampland the state had sold to settlers for 25 cents an acre now produced harvests of $600 an acre for tomatoes, $1,000 for lettuce, $1,500 for celery. At a time when farmers were struggling to survive on 160-acre homesteads out west, the farmer Walter Waldin netted $3,400 on six acres in six months in the Everglades—after building a home and feeding a family of five.

One problem, however, was that the canals were temporary:

[James Wright, a former high school math teacher hired by the Feds to study the challenge] also ignored the high cost of maintaining canals, a problem exacerbated by the gentle gradient of the Everglades, which produced currents too slow for the canals to scour themselves out, and by the explosive proliferation of the water hyacinth, an attractive but invasive weed that had clogged almost all the state’s waterways since a well-intentioned gardener named Mrs. Fuller imported it to Florida in 1884.

The setting aside of swamp for parks began in 1916 with a 4,000-acre Royal Palm State Park that became the core of Everglades National Park. Meanwhile, humans were trashing the rest. Regarding the Miami area:

Meanwhile, 34,000 acres of the Everglades had been converted into farms, and much of the rest was parched by ditches, drought, and the Tamiami Trail. “The drying up of the Glades, due to the various canals, is playing havoc with the birds here,” one surveyor wrote. “The finer ones are fast disappearing. They lack feeding grounds.” The water table was dropping fast, drying out springs that once bubbled to the surface on Cape Sable and within Biscayne Bay, reducing the downward hydraulic pressure caused by the weight of fresh water—the “head”—that kept salt water from the region’s estuaries from intruding into its aquifers. By 1920, Miami’s overpumped well fields at the edge of the Everglades were turning salty. The declining water table was also fueling the fires that raged in overdrained Everglades wetlands. Broward had ridiculed the idea that a swamp could catch fire, and Randolph had predicted soil shrinkage of no more than eight inches, but some of the Everglades had already lost three to five feet of the black muck that had inspired so many pioneer dreams. This was not only the result of subterranean fires; it was also caused by “oxidation,” the exposure of historically flooded organic soils to the open air. The aeration of the muck breathed life into long-dormant microbes in the soil, which consumed organic material that had accumulated underwater over thousands of years. The soils then dried into powder and blew away on windy days, kicking up dust storms so violent that pioneers “could hardly get out of the house without wearing goggles.”

Charles Torrey Simpson, an early preservationist, very nearly wondered heretically whether at least some humans should be illegal:

“We shall proudly point someday to the Everglade country and say: Only a few years ago this was a worthless swamp; today it is an empire. But I wonder quite seriously if the world is any better off because we have destroyed the wilds and filled the land with countless human beings.”

Agriculture in the Florida swamp got a huge boost when the state’s research lab figured out that the Everglades soil was deficient in copper, manganese, and some other necessary trace elements.

The idea that the federal government should be in charge of all of the water in Florida got a huge boost from President Herbert Hoover, whose confidence was not shaken in the repeated failures of the Army Corps of Engineers to control the Mississippi. The dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee is named after Hoover. The effects of the dike were not all positive…

The Depression years were drought years, and the combination of the new dike, which prevented water from the lake from reaching the Everglades, and the old ditches, which carried water from the sky away from the Everglades, left its wetlands desert dry. Its fresh water table dropped like a boulder, allowing salt water to intrude further into its aquifers every year, contaminating wells and ruining tomato farms along the Gold Coast. Meanwhile, soils that had been accumulating underwater for thousands of years were vanishing with exposure to the air; in Belle Glade—town motto: Her Soil Is Her Fortune—the ground was sinking so quickly that settlers had to add an extra doorstep every few years.

Failure and unintended consequences always motivated the experts to go bigger. The late 1940s:

The Army Corps plan for the Central and Southern Florida project called for the most elaborate water control system ever built, the largest earthmoving effort since the Panama Canal. It envisioned 2,000 miles of levees and canals, along with hundreds of spillways, floodgates, and pumps so powerful they would be cannibalized from nuclear submarines. The C&SF project was designed to control just about every drop of rain that landed on the region, in order to end the cycle of not-enough-water and too-much-water that had destabilized the frontier and stifled its growth…

The plan’s first big innovation was its strict separation of the usable Everglades from the unusable Everglades, a concept that first appeared in Captain Rose’s drainage proposal for Henry Flagler. The plan also adopted Rose’s call for piece-by-piece as opposed to all-at-once drainage. The work began with a 100-mile-long “perimeter levee” running more or less parallel to the coastal ridge, walling off the Gold Coast and a wide slice of the eastern Glades from the rest of the marsh. Next, the Corps encircled and reclaimed the rich soils of the upper Glades with more levees and drainage canals, creating an Everglades Agricultural Area the size of Rhode Island. The Corps then built more levees to divide a swath of the central Glades even larger than Rhode Island into three gargantuan “water conservation areas,” a more recent plan devised by the Belle Glade research station. The station’s scientists had suggested that “rewatering” the central Glades could restore the region’s hydraulic head and mimic the natural storage capacity of the Everglades, preventing salt intrusion, soil subsidence, muck fires, and water shortages all at once. The conservation areas would still look like the Everglades, but they would hold onto needed water for farms and cities during droughts, absorb excess water from farms and cities during storms, and recharge the region’s aquifers to keep salt out of its groundwater.

In the mid-1950s, the Army Corps made a movie about their plans and achievements, Waters of Destiny:

One the Corps was on the job, people felt confident that dry land was around the corner and, therefore, real estate could be purchased without much thought regarding whether it was buildable.

The Corps’s work did enrich some real estate speculators, but it impoverished the Everglades and the animals:

THE C&SF PROJECT did not extend the glories of flood control to southwest Florida, but that did not stop two Baltimore brothers named Leonard and Julius Rosen from selling nearly half a million acres of swampland there during the boom. The Rosens had gotten rich selling an anti-baldness tonic called Formula Number Nine, featuring the miracle ingredient of lanolin—and the immortal tagline, “Have you ever seen a bald sheep?” The brothers could see that shivering northerners yearned for a piece of Florida the way bald men yearned for hair. Their Gulf American Corporation offered “a rich man’s paradise, within the financial reach of everyone,” the ultimate miracle elixir. Gulf American’s most ambitious venture was Golden Gate Estates, where the Rosens platted the world’s largest subdivision in the middle of Big Cypress Swamp. … The Rosens sold tens of thousands of lots in Golden Gate, parlaying their $125,000 investment in Florida swampland into a $115 million payout, but only a few dozen homes were built there.

The Corps’s work did enrich some real estate speculators, but it impoverished the Everglades and the animals:

Marjory Stoneman Douglas had expected the C&SF project to save the Everglades, but it turned out to be an ecological menace. It did a terrific job of draining wetlands and promoting growth, but its expanded canals carried more water out of the Everglades at a time when south Florida’s expanding cities and farms were increasingly dependent on water in the Everglades. Its flood protection prompted additional development in the Everglades floodplain, which prompted demands for additional flood protection. And the Corps and its like-minded partners in the flood control district—often run by former Corps engineers—refused to release water to the park, except when it was already inundated. They manipulated water levels to accommodate irrigation schedules and development schemes, discombobulating the natural water regime to which flora and fauna had adapted over the millennia. “What a liar I turned out to be!” Douglas cried.

Nobody benefitted more from this than the sugar industry:

Big Sugar received no direct subsidies, as its army of spokesmen constantly pointed out, but it depended on federal import quotas, tariffs, and price supports that cost American consumers as much as $2 billion a year. Florida’s growers also relied on a federal program to import their labor pool of 10,000 impoverished West Indian cane-cutters; the industry was notorious for mistreating them, withholding their wages, and deporting any who dared complain. The growers also reaped the benefits of the C&SF project, which irrigated their fields in the dry season and drained their fields in the rainy season. They received more than half the project’s water releases, while paying less than one percent of the district’s taxes.

But that runoff [from sugar cane fields] wasn’t harmless to the Everglades, because the things that extra phosphorus made grow generally didn’t belong in the marsh. The Everglades was “phosphorus-limited,” with flora and fauna peculiarly adapted to a nutrient-starved environment, and ill-suited to compete when even minute amounts of phosphorus became available. And those thimbles added up; the agricultural area pumped 100 tons of phosphorus a year into the Loxahatchee refuge, fertilizing the march of the cattails.

President Nixon began to reverse some of the damage that the 1950s hubris had caused, with the help of Florida’s first Republican governor (voters in the former slave state had previously been loyal Democrats):

The other tectonic shift in Florida politics in 1967 was the ascension of Claude Roy Kirk Jr., a little-known insurance salesman who looked like a mob boss, partied like a frat boy, and stunned the state’s political establishment by becoming its first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Kirk only received the GOP

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Florida: Hydrology is Destiny (book review)

Some excerpts from The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise, a book that covers the literally foundational element of transforming South Florida into a place where a substantial number of people could live. The initial assessment was unpromising:

The Spaniards had abandoned southern Florida after deeming it “liable to be overflowed, and of no use.”

The Seminole Indians, themselves recent migrants from the north, were an early obstacle to white settlement in Florida and the three decades of war in the swamp were America’s first military quagmire.

But the ink had barely dried [on an 1823 treaty] before white frontiersmen began seizing slaves from Seminoles, and famished Seminoles began plundering cattle from whites. The settlers began clamoring for the return of all blacks living with the Indians, even though the tribe had purchased many of them legally from the settlers. Florida’s legislative council also passed An Act to Prevent the Indians from Roaming at Large, sentencing any Seminole caught off the reservation to thirty-nine lashes. “We were promised justice, and we want to see it!” protested a tribal spokesman named Jumper. “We have submitted to one demand after another, in the hope that they would cease, but it seems that there will be no end to them, as long as we have anything left that the white people may want!” He was right. There were only 4,000 Seminoles in Florida, but that was 4,000 too many for Florida’s settlers. And the new president, one Andrew Jackson, intended to remove them.

The odds were not even:

[the whites] had superior manpower as well as firepower; 40,000 federal regulars and state militiamen would cycle through Florida, while the Seminoles had no way of reinforcing their original 1,000 warriors.

As in Vietnam, military officers were sometimes confused about the rationale for fighting:

Taylor’s exploits in Florida earned him the nickname “Old Rough and Ready,” and helped launch his path to the presidency, but he spoke for many military men when he mused that if the Seminoles wanted the Everglades, they should be allowed to keep it. “I would not trade one foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida swamp,” he wrote.

The author draws some direct parallels:

The Second Seminole War was America’s first Vietnam—a guerrilla war of attrition, fought on unfamiliar, unforgiving terrain, against an underestimated, highly motivated enemy who often retreated but never quit. Soldiers and generals hated it, and public opinion soured on it, but Washington politicians, worried that ending it would make America look weak and create a domino effect among other tribes, prolonged it for years before it sputtered to a stalemate. Of the eight commanding generals who cycled through Florida, Taylor was the only one whose reputation was enhanced, when he declared victory after a clash near Lake Okeechobee—a battle that achieved nothing except to confirm the lake’s existence.

Nature is a more fearsome enemy than the Seminoles:

Motte and his fellow medical men did not realize it, because they blamed tropical disease on “swamp miasmas” and the summer “sickly season,” but those mosquitoes spread malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. The U.S. troops also suffered from dysentery, tuberculosis, and a kind of collapse one officer described as a “general sinking of the system a regular cave-in of the constitution.” At one point, five battalions could not muster 100 men; after a two-month trek through Big Cypress, 600 out of 800 troops in one unit reported unfit for duty.

By the time the Seminole Wars ended (1858), South Florida was inhabited by just a handful of Seminoles and perhaps 50 whites. The first big drainage ideas, starting from northern Florida where farming had been successful, were put together in the 1880s and the land was being promoted even before it had been created:

Disston [the dredger] promoted his domain as America’s new winter playground and breadbasket, a frost-free, illness-free, bug-free paradise where 20 acres were worth 100 up north: “You secure a home in a garden spot of the country, in an equable and lovely climate, where merely to live is a pleasure, a luxury heretofore accessible only to millionaires.”

How would it work?

Disston’s drainage strategy was straightforward: Move the excess water in the Kissimmee valley down to Lake Okeechobee, then move the excess water in Lake Okeechobee out to sea. In the upper basin, his engineers proposed to link the Chain of Lakes with a series of canals and straighten the serpentine Kissimmee River. In the lower basin, they adopted Buckingham Smith’s plan to lower Lake Okeechobee: one canal east to the St. Lucie River and out to the Atlantic, one canal west to the Caloosahatchee River and out to the Gulf, and at least one canal south through the Everglades. “Okeechobee is the point to attack,” one Disston associate explained. The key to the plan was to make the outflow from the lake through the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Canals “equal to or greater than the inflow from the Kissimmee valley, which is the source of all the evil.” By “evil,” of course, he meant “water.”

Of course, with the feeble equipment of the day the grand plan couldn’t be executed and what portions were executed quickly filled up with silt. What was working was Henry Flagler’s railroad down the coast.

At first, he had limited his interests to St. Augustine and Jacksonville. Then he had intended to stop at Daytona Beach. He had already spent ten times more than he had planned, and south Florida was still a blank space on the map. Flagler figured he would concentrate on north Florida. But after several chilly winters, Flagler realized that north Florida’s supposedly frost-free climate was not much warmer than the rest of the temperate South. When he took a trip to the real subtropics 200 miles south of Daytona, he became enthralled by a white-sand barrier island called Palm Beach: “I have found a veritable Paradise!” Flagler also noticed a tangle of scrublands on the mainland, directly across Lake Worth from his new enchanted isle, and West Palm Beach began taking shape in his mind’s eye: “In a few years, there will be a town over there as big as Jacksonville.”

The Royal Poinciana soon became the Gay Nineties winter hub for the Social Register’s exclusive “Four Hundred,” attracting Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Morgans, Astors, Fricks, and the rest of America’s industrial royalty. The guests enjoyed golf, fishing, yachting, and sunbathing—Flagler employed beach censors to make sure women covered their legs—along with haute cuisine, orchestras, and vaudeville. The guests were served by 1,400 staffers so attentive the resort was known as the Royal Pounce-on-them. Black employees whisked them around in bicycle-powered carriages known as Afromobiles, and entertained them with “cakewalks,” minstrel-style dance competitions whose winners got to “take the cake.” Suites cost $100 a night, about three months’ wages for a typical laborer.

Let’s try to adjust that suite cost to Bidies. $100 in 1895 (the hotel opened in 1894) is supposedly about $3,500 today (the BLS inflation calculator goes back only to 1913, but some other sources are available showing just a touch of inflation over the preceding two decades). The Royal Poinciana was demolished during the Great Depression, but the Breakers (rebuilt) is still with us. Suites are only about $3,000 per night right now (the shoulder season), but they no longer include three meals per day. So the price of a Palm Beach hotel room has remained almost constant in inflation-adjusted dollars for more than 125 years. If we adjust for attentiveness for the staff, though, the $100 fee in the 1890s was a much better deal.

Regarding Flagler’s cherished hope of draining the developing the slightly-inland swamp, the New York Times predicted that it would never be accomplished.

Were you thinking that we live in unprecedented times?

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the progressive movement emerged to try to rein in corporate America. The United States was now the richest country on earth, producing half the world’s oil and one-third of its iron and steel. Its citizens were consuming Campbell soup, Borden cheese, Post Grape-Nuts, and Hershey chocolate, while enjoying lightbulbs, telephones, automobiles, and airplanes. It was the dawn of the American century, a time of puffed-up national pride and confidence. But there was a growing feeling that average Americans were not sharing in the progress, that business interests controlled the government, and that the balance of power ought to be reversed. Progressivism was a gospel of science and reason; progressives believed the same pragmatic thinking that was solving great technological and engineering problems could be applied to social problems.

The only economic activity in the Everglades at the time was killing birds for their feathers, which would ultimately be used for women’s hats.

The feather trade also provided income for Seminoles, but they practiced an early kind of sustainable exploitation, refusing to wipe out entire rookeries. “The Indian leaves enough of the old birds to feed the young of the rookery,” one writer observed. “The white man kills the last plume bird he can find, leaving the young ones to die in their nests, then returns a few days later lest he might have overlooked a few birds.” This kill-them-all strategy took its toll. Roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, great white herons, and short-tailed hawks nearly vanished from Florida. The wild flamingos that so enchanted Audubon—and inspired the name of the village at the tip of Cape Sable—did vanish from Florida. The lime-green-
and-carmine Carolina parakeet was hunted to extinction. There was only one pair of reddish egrets left on the peninsula, and only one rookery for brown pelicans, a clump of mangroves off Vero Beach called Pelican Island. “I

An Ivy League-educated professor tried to drain the swamp with a biological agent, the Australian melaleuca tree. John Gifford spread a handful of seeds near Miami and the tree is today considered a problematic invasive throughout the Everglades (immigrant humans are never illegal or “invasive”, of course, but immigrant plants should be eradicated with Roundup!).

This post is getting long, so I’m going to cover the post-1900 sections of The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise in a follow-up.

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Ron DeSantis vs. the Progressive Elite

Posts so far regarding The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival, by Ron DeSantis:

One topic that cuts through the book is how progressive elites have found new ways to dominate American politics and therefore, as the government has been greatly expanded, American society.

Ron explains how Facebook can now run U.S. elections:

In 2020, Facebook founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg poured $400 million into nonprofit groups to funnel directly to election offices in key states. This included more than $350 million dispersed by Zuckerberg’s Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) to provide so-called “COVID-19 response” election administration to local election offices, with the money going disproportionately to left-leaning counties to boost Democratic turnout in the election. Rather than fund groups seeking to influence the behavior of voters through persuasion, Zuckerberg used his $400 million to manage the election itself. In 2020 injecting private money into election administration was not against the law, largely because it was not something that state legislatures had contemplated. This meant that Zuckerberg-backed groups could direct the grant money it distributed to election offices. Groups like CTCL used this leverage to staff local election offices with partisan activists, requiring the offices to work with partisan “partner organizations” to expand mass mail balloting and to permit ballot harvesting. This represented an unprecedented transformation of election administration into an organ of partisan electioneering. Following the 2020 election, I responded to these questionable practices by ushering through the Florida Legislature a sweeping package of reforms to fortify election integrity. First, we enacted a prohibition on ballot harvesting and made it a third-degree felony. Second, we required voter ID for absentee ballot requests, equalizing the voter ID requirement for absentee votes with the long-required ID requirement for in-person voting. Third, we ensured that county supervisors of elections clean their voter rolls on an annual basis by instituting penalties for noncompliance. Fourth, we instituted an outright ban on Zuckerbucks to stop the use of private money in election administration.

The above is, of course, in addition to Facebook’s power to nag young progressives to get off the sofa and cast an in-person or mail-in ballot.

Facebook and friends had better keep working to keep Ron DeSantis out of Washington, D.C.!

As the years wore on, especially following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, large Silicon Valley companies began to evolve from being open platforms to serving as censors. Part of this was in response to pressure from the tech industry’s fellow travelers on the political left to crack down on what they considered to be “misinformation,” which was frequently just speech they didn’t like. Tech companies also received pressure from legacy media outlets, which had lost influence because of Big Tech’s rise.

This is all well and good, but when these tech platforms start to aggressively censor speech, it calls into question the basis for the federal liability protection. Indeed, the practices of Big Tech reveal the companies to represent the censorship arm of the political left, and their mission seems to be the enforcement of leftist orthodoxy and the marginalization of those who dissent from it. As companies like Facebook and Twitter make censorship decisions that always seem to err on the side of silencing those who dissent from leftist orthodoxy, they distort the American political system because so much political speech now takes place on these supposedly open platforms. From censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story during the 2020 presidential election to suppressing search results from conservative media sources, Big Tech has consistently placed a firm thumb on the scale for the political left.

Even apart from the risk of collusion with the government, Big Tech platforms have become the new public square, so viewing these quasi monopolies as just run-of-the-mill private companies is a mistake. While a properly functioning free market should allow for competitors to emerge to challenge the incumbent companies, Big Tech has used its massive market power to crush upstart firms. As a result, it’s wishful thinking to hope that the market will solve the problem of Big Tech censorship. With this in mind, I worked with the Florida Legislature to enact a series of reforms to protect Floridians from Big Tech censorship. We did this knowing these represented novel legal issues that would eventually be decided by the US Supreme Court. Our goal was to provide a legal framework that guaranteed more, not less, political speech. In doing so, we recognized that these massive tech companies are different from a typical corporation and are more akin to a common carrier like a telephone company. Our reforms included protections for political candidates against being deplatformed, which is a way for Big Tech to interfere in elections. What is stopping Big Tech companies from shutting off Republican candidates from social media platforms during the stretch run of an election? If someone hosts a get-together for a candidate and provides refreshments, that must be accounted for as a campaign contribution, yet a tech company can upend an entire candidate’s campaign, and that is somehow not considered interference with an election.

For those who are curious about the backstory regarding Disney and its fight with the people of Florida:

As the controversy over the Parental Rights in Education bill [“Don’t Say Gay” according to the New York Times] was coming to a head, [Disney CEO] Chapek called me. He did not want Disney to get involved, but he was getting a lot of pressure to weigh in against the bill. “We get pressured all the time,” he told me. “But this time is different. I haven’t seen anything like this before.” “Do not get involved with this legislation,” I advised him. “You will end up putting yourself in an untenable position. People like me will say, ‘Gee, how come Disney has never said anything about China, where they make a fortune?’ “Here is what will happen,” I continued. “The bill will pass, and there will be forty-eight hours of outrage directed at Disney for staying neutral. Then the Legislature will send me the bill a few weeks later, and when I sign it, you will get another forty-eight hours of outrage, mostly online. Then there will be some new outrage that the woke mob will focus on, and people will forget about this issue, especially considering the outrage is directed at a political-media narrative, not the actual text of the legislation itself.”

In promising to work to repeal the bill, supposedly family-friendly Disney was moving beyond mere virtue signaling to liberal activists. Instead, the company was pledging a frontal assault on a duly enacted law of the State of Florida. Things got worse for Disney. Almost immediately after the company issued its declaration of war, remarkable footage leaked from a video conference in which Disney executives promised to inject sexuality into programming for young kids. One speaker said that Disney would keep a “tracker” to monitor that the company was including a sufficient number of “canonical trans characters, canonical asexual characters, [and] canonical bisexual characters” in its programming. In bowing to the woke agenda, Disney had already, one speaker proudly pointed out, eliminated the use of “ladies,” “gentlemen,” “boys,” and “girls” from its theme parks.

Even though Democrats often rail about the nefarious power exerted over politics by large corporations, and supposedly oppose special carve-outs for big companies, they all dutifully lined up in support of keeping Disney’s special self-governing status. This confirmed how much the modern left has jettisoned principle in favor of power—so long as those corporations use their power to advance the left’s agenda, the left is perfectly willing to do the bidding of large corporations.

Ron D makes the point that Republicanism is essentially obsolete now that the biggest corporations have been enlisted in the Army of the Woke.

ESG provides a pretext for CEOs to use shareholder assets to target issues like reducing the use of fossil fuels and restricting Second Amendment rights. It is, in effect, a way for the political left to achieve through corporate power what they cannot achieve at the ballot box.

The battle lines almost invariably find large, publicly traded corporations lining up behind leftist causes. [Budweiser?]

For decades, a huge swath of GOP elected officials have campaigned on free market principles, but governed as corporatists—supporting subsidies, tax breaks, and legislative carve-outs to confer special benefits on entrenched corporate interests. Just because policies may benefit corporate America does not mean that such policies serve the interests of the American economy writ large. What is in the national interest is not necessarily the same as the interests of large corporations. And when large corporations are seeking to use their economic power to advance the left’s political agenda, they have become political, and not merely economic, actors. In an environment in which large corporations are aggressive political actors, reflexively deferring to big business effectively surrenders the political battlefield to the militant left.

Ron did manage to prevail in the 2022 election even in the very lair of rich corporate progressives:

While there had been chatter leading up to the election that Miami-Dade was in play, few were talking about the possibility that we could win the traditional Democrat bastion of Palm Beach County. Yet, we ended up being the first Republican to win Palm Beach in a governor’s race in nearly forty years.

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Ron DeSantis and Coronapanic

Posts so far regarding The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival, by Ron DeSantis:

Today let’s look at the chapter on coronapanic.

Compared to some of the Deplorables who comment here and myself, Ron DeSantis was a late convert to the Church of Sweden. He declared a state of emergency on March 9, 2020 and “Later than most governors, DeSantis imposed a lockdown” on April 1, 2020 (The Hill):

“All persons in Florida shall limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities,” his order said.

The lockdown ended on April 29, 2020 and that’s when DeSantis began to diverge from the Faucists. The book downplays DeSantis’s one-month Faucist period to concentrate on his Church of Sweden rebellion. He opens by quoting Eisenhower:

“we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” [1961]

Eisenhower cited the alarming risk that what he termed a “scientific-technological elite”—an elite that is neither interested in nor capable of harmonizing all the competing values and interests that are the hallmark of a free, dynamic society—could commandeer policy and, ultimately, erode our freedoms.

Eisenhower wouldn’t have been surprised by the takeover of American society by the Covidcrats:

In March 2020, Fauci was held up as the authority on the coronavirus. On its face, this seemed understandable because Fauci was the head of the NIAID and touted as the nation’s foremost expert on infectious diseases. However, Fauci was also the epitome of an entrenched bureaucrat—he had been in his position since 1984, demonstrating staying power in Washington that would not have been possible without being a highly skilled political operator. He proved to be one of the most destructive bureaucrats in American history.

Ron describes getting immersed in the Imperial College London model and conversations with various high-level bureaucrats, including CDC director Robert Redfield, Deborah Birx, but perhaps not the Great Fauci Himself.

At one point, I asked Dr. Birx whether the policies for which the expert class was advocating—and which could be very destructive to society—had any precedent in modern history and, if so, what were the results. “Well,” she said, “this is kind of like our own science experiment.”

I decided that I needed to read the emerging research and consume the available data myself, not just about Florida or the United States, but also about what was going on in other countries.

I wanted to be armed with the foundational knowledge to chart my own course for the State of Florida. This course kept our state functioning and ultimately led to Florida serving as an example for freedom-loving people not just in the United States, but around the world.

As more data came in, it became clear that the Fauci policy of perpetual mitigation was wrong. One important insight stemmed from a study done by a team of Stanford researchers led by Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a physician at the Stanford School of Medicine who also had a PhD in economics and was one of the few prominent academics willing to speak publicly about the failures in the COVID-19 policies advocated by Fauci and his followers. The Stanford study examined the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, which can be detected after someone recovers from a coronavirus infection, in Santa Clara County, California. The study found that the prevalence of antibodies in the population was dramatically higher than the number of “cases” that had been detected up to that point,

Ron DeSantis was checking the curves wherever he could find data:

The April 2020 COVID-19 wave in New York saw hospitalized COVID-19 patients peak at 18,000, a significant number but something that the medical system could handle and a far cry from the 140,000 predicted by the flawed models.

He got some information from a Deplorable Science-denying Nobel laureate in chemistry:

While lockdown advocates claimed the epidemiological curves nosed over because of so-called social distancing, Levitt pointed out how lockdown-free Sweden also saw its first COVID-19 wave perform in a similar fashion. Indeed, as successive COVID-19 waves hit various parts of the United States in the ensuing months, the waves almost always featured about a six-to-eight-week period during which the wave would escalate, peak, and then decline. This was true regardless of mandatory “mitigations” that were employed.

He makes similar points to what I wrote in June 27, 2020 in “Looking at Covid-19 death rate is like the old saying “An economist is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”?

A Covid-19 epidemiologist can tell you how many Covid-19 deaths your society has suffered and, perhaps, some things that you can do to reduce Covid-19 deaths going forward. But the Covid-19 epidemiologist can’t tell you whether Intervention A against Covid-19 is actually worth implementing because (a) the Covid-19 epidemiologist is ignoring deaths from all other causes, and (b) epidemiologists in general can’t tell us what human activities are worth accepting some risk of death. How many lives are we willing to sacrifice in order that our children can go to school? Obviously we are willing to sacrifice some, because all of the driving of children, teachers, and administrators to and from school causes some deaths. But the threshold number at which schools should be shut down is not something that any epidemiologist can give us.

Is asking an epidemiologist whether to keep schools and playgrounds open like asking your accountant whether you should buy a dog? Yes, the expert can give you a bit of insight (“my other clients with dogs spend $4,000 per year on vet, food, and grooming”), but not a life-optimizing answer.

Here’s what Ron D writes:

So many of the so-called experts lost sight of the fact that true public health cannot be blind to everything but a single respiratory virus. Led by Dr. Fauci, the experts seemed to be throwing away previous understandings of how to approach pandemic management—and sowing fear and hysteria in the process.

The mostly peaceful mostly unmasked George Floyd mass gatherings showed Ron D that the Covidcrats weren’t serious about preventing Covid-19.

For two months, these so-called experts lambasted anyone for making a cost-benefit analysis when it came to COVID-19 mitigation policies. Then, the moment it suited their political interests, they reversed course by endorsing the protests as passing their cost-benefit analysis over COVID-19 lockdowns. That they specifically rejected protesting for other causes they did not support told me all I needed to know about what partisans these people were. These “experts” were not going to save us. People making the best decisions for themselves and their families would. It was up to leaders like me to lead in a way that was evidence-based, that recognized the obvious harms of mitigation efforts, and that best maintained the normal social functioning of our communities.

I’m still looking for good summary-by-state excess mortality data (comparable to what Our World in Data gives us by country), but Ron apparently ran the numbers and Florida has done pretty well by this metric (remember that the righteous said that Florida’s COVID-tagged death numbers were fabricated so excess deaths should be a better place to look):

Between April 2020 and mid-July 2022, New York witnessed an increase of so-called excess mortality of 20 percent, while California experienced an excess mortality increase of 17.7 percent. Excess mortality represents deaths above what is normally expected; of course, it includes COVID-19 deaths but also includes deaths caused by lockdown policies. During the same period, excess mortality increased in Florida by 15.6 percent—a smaller increase than in lockdown-happy states that typically received

Ron says that he doesn’t Deny Science. He just follows different scientists:

The approach that we took in Florida reflected the thinking of prominent epidemiologists like Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya, Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, and Oxford’s Sunetra Gupta.

And it is following these MDs, PhDs, and MD/PhDs that turned DeSantis into a Science-denier:

After several weeks of consuming data and measuring it against policies implemented around the country, I decided that I would not blindly follow Fauci and other elite experts. To this end, I revoked my order suspending elective procedures at hospitals. The predicted April surge in coronavirus patients never materialized, leaving Florida with one of the lowest patient censuses on record. I also abandoned the federal government’s framework of essential versus nonessential businesses. Every job and every business are essential for the people who need employment or who own the business. It is wrong to characterize any job or business as nonessential, and this entire framework needs to be discarded in pandemic preparedness literature.

It was easy for me to join the Church of Sweden because nobody cares what I think, say, or do. But Ron took a lot of heat:

When Florida experienced its first major COVID-19 wave starting in the middle of June 2020, it sparked massive media hysteria. The media drew a connection between Florida’s lack of restrictions and the COVID-19 wave. If only Florida had not been so reckless, the narrative went, it would not be experiencing such a wave.

After I saw other states from similar geographies endure similar COVID-19 waves in the fall and winter, I knew that COVID behaved in a seasonal pattern. I was, though, monitoring the data on a daily basis, and I was sure that the summer wave would follow a pattern similar to the trajectory that Dr. Michael Levitt had identified from earlier waves. It would not simply increase exponentially without end in the absence of a shutdown. The pressure grew on me to shut down the State of Florida to mitigate the COVID-19 wave, not just from the media but also from experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and partisan opponents. On July 8, 2020, Dr. Fauci advised that states like Florida “should seriously look at shutting down.” This was because, Fauci explained, “we are seeing exponential growth.” All Democratic members of Florida’s US House delegation but one wrote me a letter to demand that I shut down the Sunshine State and impose a compulsory mask mandate. The letter was written on July 17, 2020.

Some of my friends and allies were worried about all the negative attention and urged me to implement some mandates and restrictions to help take the heat off me. For me, the important thing to do was to safeguard the freedom, livelihoods, and businesses of the people I was elected to serve. If doing so caused me to suffer political damage, and even to lose my job as governor, then so be it. It is easy to do the right thing when it is popular, but leadership is all about doing the right thing when under political attack.

In fact, by July 8, 2020—the day Fauci said Florida should shut down—infections in our state had already peaked. I knew this because visits to the emergency departments for COVID-like illness, which was the best leading indicator of infection trajectory, peaked on July 7.

What Fauci and especially the House Democrats were calling for was a post-peak shutdown, which would have been totally counterproductive and hurt Floridians.

As it turned out, even though during the summer wave Florida saw an increase in patients hospitalized for COVID, our hospital capacity was more than sufficient to handle the higher patient volume, just like in lockdown-free Sweden in the spring.

How did Florida end up as the mask-free state?

I was skeptical that masks would provide the protection that the public health establishment claimed, but I was adamant that a mask mandate was not an appropriate use of government power. If the masks were as effective as claimed, then people would choose to wear them without government coercion.

(The latest on Ron’s unscientific skepticism… “Were masks in hospitals a waste of time? Hated NHS policy made ‘no difference’ to

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New book on ChatGPT in medicine

Some friends have put together The AI Revolution in Medicine: GPT-4 and Beyond, a thought-provoking book released today. Health care is nearly 20 percent of our economy (compare to 4 percent in Singapore) and a higher percentage of our tax dollars (Happy Official Tax Day, though April 18 is the deadline this year; the opioid makers thank you for your efforts in the workplace). The book asks the important question “What will LLMs do for an industry to which Americans have decided to devote one working day per week?”

First, let’s ask why we think GPT-4, famous for its writing talents, might matter for doctors. Doctors aren’t primarily writers, after all. Many physicians, however, spend time attempting diagnoses and this is an information processing activity. The patient describes his/her/zir/their symptoms and the doctor matches these to known patterns, possibly asking follow-up questions or ordering tests to confirm or reject explanations. In other words, exactly what computer programs have traditionally done.

Second, let’s ask GPT-4 for its own opinion: “Explain why GPT-4 will change the practice of medicine and the experience of patients.” Our future overlord’s response:

GPT-4 has the potential to significantly change the practice of medicine and the experience of patients in various ways. Here are some key areas where it can have a transformative impact:

  1. Enhanced medical diagnosis: GPT-4’s advanced language processing capabilities enable it to understand complex medical information and provide diagnostic suggestions to doctors. This can help in the early detection of diseases, improving patient outcomes, and potentially saving lives.
  2. Personalized treatment recommendations: GPT-4 can analyze an individual’s medical history, genetic data, and other relevant factors to provide personalized treatment recommendations. This can lead to more targeted and effective therapies for each patient.
  3. Streamlining administrative tasks: GPT-4 can help automate and streamline various administrative tasks, such as scheduling appointments, managing patient records, and handling insurance claims. This will allow healthcare professionals to focus more on patient care and less on paperwork.
  4. Health education: GPT-4 can act as a virtual health educator, providing patients with accessible and accurate information about their conditions, medications, and self-care strategies. This will empower patients to take a more active role in managing their health.
  5. Mental health support: GPT-4 can serve as a virtual therapist, offering support to individuals struggling with mental health issues. It can engage in conversation, provide coping strategies, and help track mood and behavior patterns. While it cannot replace human therapists, it can be a valuable supplemental resource.
  6. Telemedicine: GPT-4 can enhance telemedicine platforms by providing real-time language translation services and facilitating communication between patients and healthcare providers across different languages and cultures. This can expand access to healthcare services for patients in remote or underserved areas.
  7. Research and development: GPT-4 can assist in the analysis of large volumes of medical data, identifying patterns and relationships that may be difficult for humans to detect. This can help accelerate the development of new treatments and technologies in the medical field.
  8. Ethical considerations: The integration of GPT-4 in healthcare can raise various ethical concerns, such as data privacy, algorithmic bias, and the potential for overreliance on AI. However, addressing these challenges and ensuring the responsible use of GPT-4 can lead to a more equitable and effective healthcare system.

Overall, GPT-4 has the potential to revolutionize the practice of medicine and improve the experience of patients by enhancing diagnostic accuracy, personalizing treatment, streamlining administrative tasks, expanding access to healthcare services, and more. As with any new technology, it is essential to address ethical concerns and ensure the responsible and equitable use of AI in medicine.

(Note ChatGPT’s passion for equity! If we put ChatGPT in charge, it might read “Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Health” (KFF), learn that “Black and American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) women have higher rates of pregnancy-related death compared to White women” and decide to euthanize 15 percent of white pregnant people who come to the hospital. That would be the simplest and fastest way for the AI to accomplish its equity goals of health outcomes based on skin color.)

A primary care doc neighbor says that he uses ChatGPT every day and would pay $1,000 per month for it if he had to. When confronted with a massive hospital discharge note that he is required to summarize in order to get paid, he will ask ChatGPT to summarize it, for example. He also uses ChatGPT to draft follow-up instructions. He says that ChatGPT is surprisingly good at interpreting blood tests. It is interesting to reflect that ChatGPT is useful to him describe the fact that he can’t feed it his institution’s electronic medical record. So the AI doesn’t already know each patient’s full history.

Let’s return to The AI Revolution in Medicine: GPT-4 and Beyond… starting with “Chapter 4: Trust but Verify” from the doctor (Isaac Kohane) and “Chapter 5: The AI-Augmented Patient” from the science journalist (Carey Goldberg).

In “Trust but Verify,” the question of how we would put GPT-4 through a clinical trial is explored. Other computer programs have passed clinical trials and received government approval, so why not GPT-4? The typical clinical trial is narrow, Dr. Kohane points out, while GPT-4’s range of function is wide. Just as an FDA trial probably couldn’t be done to approve or disapprove an individual doctor, it seems unlikely that an FDA trial can approve or disapprove a LLM and, therefore, AI programs are most likely destined to be superhuman partners with human docs and not replacements. The chapter contains a couple of concrete scenarios in which the doctor compares his own work in some difficult cases to GPT-4’s and the AI does fantastic.

In “The AI-Augmented Patient”, the journalist points out that the people who’ve been asking Dr. Google for advice will be the heavy users of Dr. GPT-4. She highlights that the “COVID ‘misinfodemic’ shows[s] that it matters which humans are in the loop, and that leaving patients to their own electronic devices can be rife with pitfalls.” Implicit in the foregoing is the assumption that public health officials are the best human decision-makers. What if the take-away from coronapanic is the opposite? Credentialed Americans refused to read the WHO pandemic management playbook, refused to process any information coming from Europe unless it fit their preconceived ideas about lockdowns, school closures, and mask orders, and refused to consider population-wide effects such as risk compensation. A computer program wouldn’t have any of these cognitive biases.

What happened when people expanded their sources of information? One notable example: Marjorie Taylor Greene turned out to be a better virologist than Dr. Fauci. In August 2021, MTG was suspended from Twitter for noting that the available COVID-19 vaccines did not prevent infection by and spread of SARS-CoV-2 and that masks were not effective. Virologist Greene’s statements were labeled “false” as a matter of Scientific fact by the journalists at the New York Times in January 2022 and then proven correct soon afterwards with a huge study in Spain and the Cochrane review. Plenty of those killed by COVID would be alive today if they’d listened to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s advice rather than the CDC’s. The elderly/vulnerable would have stayed safe at home, for example, instead of entering public indoor environments with masks on.

I’m optimistic that GPT-4 will do better in many areas than American medical officialdom because its judgment won’t be tainted by groupthink and “we’ve always done it this way”. We’ve often had standard of care disagreements with the Europeans, for example, and the Europeans have ended up being correct. The latest discrepancy in Science is that Denmark suggests a newborn get his/her/zir/their first COVID shot at age 50 (in the year 2073) while the CDC suggests four shots over the next 12 months. We might know who was right in 5-10 years, but an orthodox American MD isn’t supposed to question the CDC and would never ask “Are the Danes right?” while GPT-4 surely would be aware of the Danish MD/PhDs’ conclusions.

As long as we’re on the subject of every American’s favorite disease… later in the book, Kevin Scott, the CTO of Microsoft whose degree is in computer science, talks about the epic stupidity of physicians in rural Virginia. Not only did they fail to immediately prescribe Paxlovid to his tested-positive brother, but they actively refused to prescribe it when the life-saving experimental drug was asked for by name (cue the Super Bowl ad for the still-not-FDA-approved drug). Here’s a photo of the West Coast computer programmer who claims to know more about preventing death-by-COVID than doctors in Virginia’s Trump Belt:

Given the scattered nature of American medical records, I think that a patient who is diligent about saving all of his/her/zir/their tests and logging symptoms then running a local copy of GPT-4 will be way ahead in the diagnosis Olympics. There is a limit to what a doctor can do in a 15-minute visit and the typical doctor can see only a fraction of a patient’s medical record (because tests and treatments have been done at other institutions and the $trillions that Americans have spent on electronic health records have not yielded any practical integration).

What will this do to demand for medical services? The chapter quotes “Dr. Jim Weinstein, a leading expert on health equity now at Microsoft” that “[GPT-4] could be a particular valuable partner for the 100 million Americans on Medicaid, and it could cut unnecessary cost and waste across the board by helping patients understand more about their options.” Personal guess: GPT-4 will drive demand and therefore costs in the opposite direction. GPT-4 already covers its ass by providing the worst-case scenarios. Patients will learn that their “options” include aggressive rare cancers and calling 911.

Let’s try a concrete example. Suppose that you live in Maskachusetts and your female-led Social Equity marijuana home delivery was running late so you drink half a bottle of rum while waiting for the daily one-ounce high-potency bong refill. The next morning, despite all of the healing cannabis that you consumed, you wake up on the bathroom tile not feeling your best and ask GPT-4, “I have a lump on my head. What are the possible causes?” Here’s what it says:

There are several possible causes of a lump on the head, including:

  1. Head injury: A bump or lump on the head may be the result of a head injury, such as a concussion, hematoma, or skull fracture.
  2. Scalp infections: Infections of the scalp, such as folliculitis or cellulitis, can cause swelling, redness, and lumps on the scalp.
  3. Cysts: A cyst is a sac filled with fluid or other material that can develop under the skin on the scalp.
  4. Lipomas: A lipoma is a slow-growing, benign tumor made up of fat cells that can develop under the skin on the scalp.
  5. Bone deformities: Certain conditions, such as Paget’s disease or fibrous dysplasia, can cause abnormalities in the bones of the skull that may lead to lumps or bumps on the head.
  6. Tumors: In rare cases, a lump on the head may be a sign of a cancerous tumor.

It’s important to have any new lumps or bumps on the head evaluated by a healthcare provider to determine the cause and appropriate treatment. If the lump is the result of a head injury and you experience symptoms such as loss of consciousness, dizziness, or severe headache, seek emergency medical attention immediately.

The patient who didn’t talk to GPT-4 might wait a few days before seeking healthcare services. After all, plenty of Looney Tunes characters recover quickly from head lumps.

The patient who reads the GPT-4 output, however, is explicitly told that he/she/ze/they must be “evaluated by a healthcare provider” and that injury from an alcohol-and-cannabis-assisted encounter with tile is just 1 out of 6 possibilities. The idea that “the 100 million Americans on Medicaid”, who have $0 copays for going to the emergency room, will ignore GPT-4’s explicit

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