Nobody cares about the Beirut explosions?

When there is a massive explosion in the middle of a city of more than 2 million people, you might expect people around the world to be interested. Certainly that was true in 1917 when, despite World War I going on, people were interested in the Halifax Explosion (see “City rebuilding costs from the Halifax explosion” for some excerpts from a good book on the subject).

Some graphics from the NYT, taking a rare break from Trump hatred:

Let’s consider my Facebook feed as a good proxy for what the coastal righteous care about. None of my friends care about this explosion! Here is a list of topics from the past few hours:

  • Covid-19 will permanently damage everyone whom it infects, even if it doesn’t kill everyone
  • Trump appointed an anti-abortion person to something
  • whether flight instructors should work in the age of Covid-19 (posted by a Shutdown Karen CFI)
  • Trump struggles to say ‘Yosemite’ at White House speech
  • various articles about whether America’s unionized public school teachers can be forced to work and whether America’s non-unionized private school teachers can be forced to not work
  • exhortations to wear masks more and “more better” (covering the nose, for example!)
  • 2015 Tianjin explosions (loosely related!)
  • “So far 2020 is like looking both ways before crossing the street and then getting hit by an airplane” (a meme that could apply to Beirut!)
  • a post about how Republican leadership is bad for the U.S. economy
  • stuff about what will happen when Trump refuses to leave office in January 2021 (with opinions by “experts” on the subject of something that has never happened, i.e., a U.S. president refusing to hang over the reins)

Is it fair to say that Covid-19 primarily affects the mind? Americans (nearly all of my Facebook friends are American) no longer think about anything but their personal welfare with respect to Covid-19 (the Trump-related stuff counts because these people believe that the Great Father in Washington can determine whether or not they are infected).


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Use testing and tracing infrastructure to enforce alcohol Prohibition?

Back in 2016, I wrote “Reintroduce Prohibition for the U.S.?”, pointing out various advantages for American society if we could reduce alcohol consumption. This proposal was not well-received!

What about in the Age of Corona? Technocrats are gearing up for a massive testing and tracing operation. Example: “Here’s A Way To Contain Covid-19 And Reopen The Economy In As Little As One Month” (Forbes, by a Boston University econ professor). Excerpts:

The solution is PCR group-household testing of all American households every week. … If a household tests negative, each household member would be notified to go to their local pharmacy to receive a green wristband coated to change to red after one week.

This system is voluntary. But if you choose to have your household tested and receive your green wristband, you’ll be permitted by your employer to return to work, by your teachers and professors to return to school, and by proprietors to enter their restaurants, shops, cafes, etc. You’ll also be allowed to frequent the beach, attend concerts, go to the movies, …

Any household that tests positive will be required by the local board of health to quarantine in place for two weeks and then be re-tested. Households that don’t voluntarily get tested will be free to come and go as they wish. But without their green bracelets, they will have a hard time entering into workplaces and other establishments. Employers who hired the untested could face legal liability. The same holds for any business serving the public who lets someone onto their premises without a green bracelet.

My Dutch friend: “This will be just like it was for Jews after the Nuremberg Laws and similar. They were perfectly free, but couldn’t run a business, buy a movie ticket, or go to school.”

Electronic bracelets can also work: “People-tracking wristbands tested to enforce lockdown” (BBC). See also “US, Israel, South Korea, and China look at intrusive surveillance solutions for tracking COVID-19” (zdnet)

Covid-19 is a pernicious disease. It has killed nearly 300,000 people worldwide so far. But what if we could use the above technology and infrastructure to stop a much more destructive killer: alcohol. WHO says that 3 million deaths worldwide are attributed to alcohol. The average age of a death with/from Covid-19 in Massachusetts is 82 and more than 98 percent of those who died had “underlying conditions.” Alcohol often kills people who could have lived for another 40-100 years. In terms of life-years, therefore, we could save many more by discouraging alcohol consumption.

(Is Covid-19 different because an alcohol-related problem is due to a failure of personal responsibility? Consider the child of an alcoholic or a passenger in a car struck by a drunk driver.)

Given that people can brew their own beer or distill their own vodka, presumably it is not possible to achieve a 100 percent reduction in alcohol consumption. But if restaurants, bars, and airlines (to the extent any are left) were not offering alcohol to every customer and there were no convenient liquor stores (“essential”!), wouldn’t it be fair to expect at least a 10 or 20 percent reduction in alcohol-related deaths? (marijuana consumption increased following legalization in Washington State; shouldn’t we expect alcohol use to be reduced following prohibition?)

Since Americans have now decided that “saving lives” is more important than what used to be considered individual rights… If we succeed with alcohol prohibition using test/trace tech, why not use the same technology to attack HIV/AIDS, which has killed more than 700,000 Americans? (Covid-19 would have to kill 7 million Americans to take away a comparable number of life-years, due to the much younger age at which HIV/AIDS victims perish.) There continue to be 6,000 deaths annually here in the U.S., which is roughly comparable to the life-years lost from 60,000 Covid-19 deaths.

None of these public health interventions were doable in the 20th century. Epidemiologists predicted that HIV/AIDS would spread beyond the LGBTQIA+ community and kill millions of Americans. White upper-middle-class single Americans were terrified in the 1980s by this disease that merited cover stories of TIME magazine multiple times. Nobody would have tolerated the criminalization of sex outside of marriage in order to “save lives”. Today, however, there is no limit on the power of the government when there is a public health goal. (Maybe outlaw all sexual activity? If people want children they can be imported via immigration and/or produced locally and without HIV risk via IVF.)

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Is it more difficult to be a mother today compared to 1,000, 10,000, or 100,000 years ago?

From our local public radio station: “I Love My Kids But I Loathe Mother’s Day — Especially This Year”.

… our culture has a pretty long rap sheet of under-appreciating women. And day in and day out, those moms tend to not get the credit they deserve because they make so much look easy: holding together infinite moving parts to accomplish the mission of the family machine, plus adding glitter. Metaphorical glitter. Sometimes real glitter, added by real children. Which the moms are usually stuck cleaning up.

The truth is, of course, that at this moment nothing’s okay for anybody. And I get that it isn’t the holiday’s fault that we need to adjust gender and work roles and laws and unwritten rules. But right now, it’s easier to imagine a marginally improved version of Mother’s Day (minus the false pedestal mess) than to dare to dream of civilizational change.

Solidarity, moms. Each and every one of you: Happy sub-optimal holiday in these sub-optimal times to some of the most superoptimal people on Earth.

In other words, something humans have been doing for 200,000 years is now intolerably burdensome, despite a climate-conditioned home packed with labor-saving machines.

Readers: Is motherhood in fact now more burdensome than in earlier eras? Or it was always intolerably burdensome, but mothers did not have as many outlets for complaining about the burden so we don’t how unhappy women were in Ancient Athens, Siddhattha Gotama’s India, or the China of Confucius?


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Your lockdown may vary: Senior Epidemiologist Edition

From last month,

Are we actually all in this together? I talked to four friends from the aviation world in the last few days. One is isolated on 40 acres of oceanfront with 12,000 square feet of interior space, a dock with a sailboat and a power boat (not in the water yet this season), jogging trails, a tennis court, a hotel-size home gym, etc. One is isolated on 90 acres of ocean inlet with more than 8,000 square feet of interior space, a pool, a tennis court, a dock with multiple boats. One is on 20 acres of oceanfront over in Europe (in a country that is smart enough to do load balancing of patients to hospitals). One is in a city in a southern state with ample health system capacity. He’s on more than 2 acres with more than 13,000 square feet of interior space.

(I found out later than my friend on 2 acres also owns 200 acres of land a 15-minute drive away and goes there for dog walks.)

What about the epidemiologists who are promoting lockdowns for the benefit of the general public? I previously noted “Shutdown decisions are made by people with no skin in the game; when would they ever decide to reopen?”

Now it seems that at least one epidemiologist is involved with some skin… “Imperial scientist Neil Ferguson whose advice led to lockdown being introduced QUITS government role after ‘breaking the restrictions to meet his married lover'” (Daily Mail):

  • Prof Ferguson has been a vocal supporter of lockdown, continually telling the public to follow the restrictions
  • However, he has now admitted he allowed his married lover to travel across London to visit him at least twice
  • Antonia Staats, 38, lives with her husband, in his 30s, and two children in a £1.9 million house in south London

The tabloids used to have to make up stuff like this!

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Coronavirus family isolation more likely to produce babies or divorce lawsuits?

Happy first day of spring. Will this be mating season, to the extent that cisgender heterosexual couples are imprisoned within their homes, to be followed by a January 2021 baby boom? Or, as a friend in Manhattan predicts, will the increased togetherness be more likely to lead to additional divorce lawsuits? (New York is a great jurisdiction for a plaintiff!)

How about a research study to measure the correlation between forced work-from-home and family outcomes as a function of square feet per person in the apartment or house?

A physician friend predicts “both”. A lot of babies will be born into the middle of divorce litigation circa early 2021.

[If, in fact, the baby boom theory proves correct, will 2033 be known as the “Year of the Quaranteens”?]

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Will the human race be more susceptible to obsessive compulsive disorder going forward?

What do you call someone who washes his hands 30 times a day? “OCD,” right? As the coronaplague spreads, what do you call someone who washes his hands 30 times a day? “Alive”?

If it turns out that OCD is protective against coronavirus and the virus mutates such that it can kill a significant number of reasonably young people (i.e., not well past their child-producing years), could it be that OCD will become a significantly more common human characteristic?

Even without coronavirus, if the world population expands to 11 billion or more and the trend toward urbanization continues, will the dense living conditions favor those with OCD habits? There are plenty of existing diseases that are transmitted from person to person and that can be stopped with OCD-style hand washing, wearing of obsessively-fitted face masks, etc.


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With unlimited paid sick leave for coronavirus symptoms, why will anyone work?

Friends on Facebook are demanding that the Federal government (i.e., taxpayers) underwrite unlimited paid sick leave in order to stop the coronavirus plague.

This sounds reasonable. We don’t want an infected person coming into work at a restaurant and spreading the infection to 100 customers.

But, on the other hand, especially since our testing capabilities are so limited, wouldn’t this result in 100 percent of people with less-than-fun jobs disappearing from the workforce? Why take the risk of contact with hundreds of customers by working as a supermarket cashier when it is easy to say “I am experiencing some coronavirus symptoms and therefore, out of an abundance of caution, I am staying home to collect my Gov Sick Leave”? (Americans love nothing more than saying “out of an abundance of caution”!).

People who believe themselves to be suffering from a mild cause of COVID-19 aren’t supposed to go to the doctor or hospital, right? So the employer can’t ask for a doctor’s note.

If our policy dreams come true, will the result be a complete shutdown of the typical service business? Or, actually, almost every business. The only thing better than “work from home” is “play Xbox at home and get a 100 percent paycheck”!

Readers: Is there any possible way to design this so that people who do feel well (something no doctor can determine) will continue to work while ensuring that people who don’t feel well will stay home?


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Why hoard paper towels for coronadoomsday?

Earlier this week, I met a friend in the paper products aisle at Costco. She said “This place has been stripped barer than a line of actresses auditioning for a role with Miramax.”

We later learned that they’ve been sold out of paper towels since the last week of February. Why? Food and water are plainly useful after the collapse of civilization, but why paper towels? Will armed bands roaming neighborhoods mock those whose kitchens aren’t sparkling clean? If it is about sanitizing surfaces, shouldn’t the run be on Lysol wipes?

The good news and bad news is that there is no shortage of gefilte fish and matzah:

What happens when rich suburbanites panic? There is a run on extra virgin olive oil:

Readers: Why the madness for hoarding paper towels?

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English is the terminal language for the human race

I recently listened to “Story of Human Language”, a 36-lecture course by John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia.

Of the world’s 6,000 extant languages, roughly 20 have a significant number of speakers (Vietnamese is on the list, for example).

19th century attempts to make a universal language failed with “volapuke” and Esperanto (some history). In the 20th century, however, English accomplished what Esperanto could not.

The world’s disparate languages developed due to isolation. Now that the world has been saturated with communication, the academic linguist does not expect substantial changes going forward. People tend to first learn a more popular language as a second language because it is useful for commerce. But eventually the unpopular language withers and their grandchildren end up being native speakers of what had been the useful second language. Native Americans had at least 300 languages when the European invasion began. Today, however, a Native American such as Elizabeth Warren will grow up speaking English. The same process has occurred in China, where linguistic diversity has shrunk and the comparatively simple second language of Mandarin is now the first language for children. That means that eventually English might eventually be every human’s native language.

Separately, the teacher is a bit of a heretic according to Wikipedia: “McWhorter considers that anti-racism has become as harmful a force in the United States as racism itself. According to him, what is holding blacks back is ‘black attitudes’ rather than white racism. … McWhorter has criticized microaggression and white supremacy theories, and has argued that technology cannot be racist”. Let’s try to imagine how long a white employee of Columbia would last if he/she/ze/they made these kinds of statements!

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Fight climate change by paying people to have fewer children?

One point from a geology class (previous post) was that the Black Death resulting in global cooling due to agricultural land (roughly 37 percent of Earth’s non-glacier-covered land) being returned to forest (see also “Immigration is the Reverse Black Death?”). So if the climate change alarmists are right that there will be a catastrophic loss of human life, the result should be an Earth that quickly returns to equilibrium state.

What about avoiding a sudden catastrophic reduction in human population?

The geologist teaching the course steps back from 40+ lectures and concludes towards the end that humans are currently the world’s biggest agent for geological change, perhaps dominating even the Milankovitch cycles that formerly got us into and out of ice ages. Considering all of the Earth’s resources, he thinks that a human population of around 2 billion is the sustainable number.

(Having seen what the Chinese are able to do with infrastructure and the latest “Crazy cheap solar power plant”, I think this estimate of the Earth’s carrying capacity might be low.)

We’re close to 8 billion right now. What are the governments and non-profit organizations that say they’re concerned about climate change doing? Paying people to have children! In the U.S., we have tax credits for the middle class who have kids, free housing, health care, and food for low-income Americans who have kids, free K-12 education to replace what used to be a parental expense (and soon, thanks to Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, free college). (see birth rate versus family income for how effective these programs are and also for how eventually most Americans will be descended from those who don’t work) In poor countries, various non-profit orgs are especially keen on providing services to “families” (i.e., adults who have chosen to have children). Traditionally, people in poor countries had children as a form of retirement financial security.

[In the U.S., there are also people having kids in order to harvest child support. Recent example from the news: Lunden Roberts is pursuing the unlimited child support profits available in Arkansas via a lawsuit against Hunter Biden, the former VP’s son (Biden is married, though, so this is really a financial tug-of-war between two women, the plaintiff former stripper and the Trump-hating previously-married wife). Would the plaintiff have been enthusiastic about populating the Earth with this additional CO2 source if not for the cash incentive? As noted in “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage,” there are plenty of Americans who are happy to sell an abortion at a discount to the net present value of the expected child support cashflow, indicating a fondness for cash rather than children.]

What if we took the scientists seriously on the subject of human population being the main source of climate change? Wouldn’t a good first step be stopping the cash incentives to have more children? After that, why not actually pay people who refrain from having children? World median household income is roughly $10,000 (Gallup). A $1,000/year payment would therefore provide a significant bump. What about paying adults with no kids $1,000/year and those with one child $500/year? We’d have to continue the payments into retirement to make up for the fact that children might otherwise provide retirement security.

Since it is tough to track the number of children that a human identifying as “male” might have, we can look at only those identifying as “female”. Assume roughly 2 billion “women” of childbearing age currently on Planet Earth (2011 source says 2 billion out of 7 billion, but they use an age range of 15-49). Let’s say that roughly 1 billion have fewer than 2 children and that we need to pay an average of $750/year to these 1 billion. That’s a total annual spend of $750 billion that will perhaps trend up to $1.5 trillion over the coming decades. World GDP is roughly $80 trillion (and will grow quite a bit as the cost of payments rises). So this is less than 1 percent of GDP to save the planet from the climate change and other environmental damage that scientists say is inevitable when human population is above 2 billion.

How does this compare to other ideas for mitigating climate change? Morgan Stanley estimates a $50 trillion cost for a combination of solar panels, wind, electric cars, carbon capture, etc.

Readers: What do you think? Is it inconsistent to bemoan climate change and simultaneously encourage population growth?


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