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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Female infanticide disproves sociobiology?

Wikipedia says “Sociobiology is a field of biology that aims to examine and explain social behavior in terms of evolution.”

One of the things that we learned about on our Northwest Passage cruise was the historical practice of female infanticide among Eskimos/Inuits. When food got scarce, female infants were at risk. The explanation given in museums and by guides was that boys would grow up into adult male hunters who could take care of their elderly parents.

From The North West Passage Exploration Anthology (a report from John Franklin from his 1825 trip):

The difficulty of procuring nourishment frequently induces the women of this tribe to destroy their female children. Two pregnant women of the party then at the fort, made known their intention of acting on this inhuman custom, though Mr. Dease threatened them with our heaviest displeasure if they put it into execution: we learned that, after they left us, one actually did destroy her child; the infant of the other woman proved to be a boy.

If the goal of an animal is propagating his/her/zir genes, this does not seem to make sense. A typical human female reproduces, thus passing on her parents’ genes. A typical human male has no offspring (polygamy is the natural human state, it seems; see “The era of monogamous long-term marriage was a brief interruption” within Real World Divorce).

The period of life in which the son will be potentially useful won’t likely start until after the parents are beyond reproductive age (and therefore whether they live or die has minimal effect on their reproductive success).

Readers: Is the existence of female infanticide across a range of cultures a simple proof that sociobiology is wrong?

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Kate Atkinson on modern romance and marriage

Indulging in a mystery for this cruise… From Big Sky by Kate Atkinson:

She was good at what she did—acrylics, gels, shellac, nail art—and was proud of the attention she gave to her job, even if trade was sparse. It was the first thing she’d ever done that didn’t involve selling her body in one way or another. Marriage to Tommy was a financial transaction too, of course, but to Crystal’s way of thinking, you could be lap dancing for the fat sweaty patron of a so-called gentlemen’s club or you could be greeting Tommy Holroyd with a peck on the cheek and hanging his jacket up before laying his dinner before him. It was all part of the same spectrum as far as Crystal was concerned, but she knew which end of it she preferred. And, to quote Tina Turner, what does love have to do with it? Fig all, that was what. There was no shame in marrying for money—money meant security. Women had been doing it since time began. You saw it on all the nature programs on TV—build me the best nest, do the most impressive dance for me, bring me shells and shiny things. And Tommy was more than happy with the arrangement—she cooked for him, she had sex with him, she kept house for him. And in return she woke up every morning and felt one step further away from her old self. History, in Crystal’s opinion, was something that was best left behind where it belonged.

Modern physical appearance?

Crystal was hovering around thirty-nine years old and it took a lot of work to stay in this holding pattern. She was a construction, made from artificial materials—the acrylic nails, the silicone breasts, the polymer eyelashes. A continually renewed fake tan and a hairpiece fixed into her bleached-blond hair completed the synthetic that was Crystal.

A man whose daughter has just finished high school…

He was grinding toward fifty and for the last three months he had been living in a one-bedroom flat behind a fish-and-chip shop, ever since Wendy turned to him one morning over his breakfast muesli—he’d been on a short-lived health kick—and said, “Enough’s enough, don’t you think, Vince?,” leaving him slack-mouthed with astonishment over his Tesco Finest Berry and Cherry. Ashley had just set off on her gap year, backpacking around Southeast Asia with her surfer boyfriend. As far as Vince could tell, “gap year” meant the lull between him funding her expensive private school and funding her expensive university, a remission that was nonetheless still costing him her airfares and a monthly allowance.

As soon as Ashley had fledged, on an Emirates flight to Hanoi, Wendy reported to Vince that their marriage was dead. Its corpse wasn’t even cold before she was internet dating like a rabbit on speed, leaving him to dine off fish and chips most nights and wonder where it all went wrong. (Tenerife, three years ago, apparently.) “I got you some cardboard boxes from Costcutter to put your stuff in,” she said as he stared uncomprehendingly at her. “Don’t forget to clear out your dirty clothes from the basket in the utility room. I’m not doing any more laundry for you, Vince. Twenty-one years a slave. It’s enough.” This, then, was the return on sacrifice. You worked all the hours God gave, driving hundreds of miles a week in your company car, hardly any time for yourself, so your daughter could take endless selfies in Angkor Wat or wherever and your wife could report that for the last year she had been sneaking around with a local café owner who was also one of the lifeboat crew, which seemed to sanction the liaison in her eyes. (“Craig risks his life every time he goes out on a shout. Do you, Vince?” Yes, in his own way.) It clipped at your soul, clip, clip, clip.

He had trudged through his life for his wife and daughter, more heroically than they could imagine, and this was the thanks he received. Couldn’t be a coincidence that “trudge” rhymed with “drudge.” He had presumed that there was a goal to be reached at the end of all the trudging, but it turned out that there was nothing—just more trudging.

Despite being 67, Atkinson is familiar with Internet app culture:

Craig, the lifeboat man, had been jettisoned apparently in favor of the smorgasbord of Tinder.

The book is consistent with the Real World Divorce section on England:

“If only I’d listened to my poor mother,” Wendy said as she itemized the belongings he was allowed to take with him. Wendy who was getting so much money in the settlement that Vince barely had enough left for his golf-club fees. “Best I can do, Vince,” Steve Mellors said, shaking his head sadly. “Matrimonial law, it’s a minefield.” Steve was handling Vince’s divorce for him for free, as a favor, for which Vince was more than grateful. Steve was a corporate lawyer over in Leeds, and didn’t usually “dabble in divorce.” Neither do I, Vince thought, neither do I.

Now that regular novels are mostly about LGBTQIA characters and people with glamorous urban jobs, maybe mystery novels will end up being the best record of cisgender heterosexual working class life in the 21st century? Certainly they have always covered people in social classes ignored by writers of typical literary novels.

More: Read Big Sky (or start with the first book in the series, Case Histories)


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Financial Planning 101, v2.0

Dan had worked 80 hours per week in the family business since finishing high school. Due to the long hours, at age 45 he was still single and still living at home with his father.

His father’s health was failing, unfortunately, and it was clear that the man did not have long to live. Dan knew that he would inherit a fortune upon the death of his father and decided he needed to learn about investing.

One evening, at an meeting run by Morgan Stanley, the presenter asked attendees to talk about what they were hoping to get out of the seminar. Dan said “In a year or two, my father will succumb to his cancer and I will inherit roughly $200 million. I’d like to figure out if index funds are the best option or if, with this size portfolio, there are higher returns available from alternative investments, such as hedge funds and direct ownership of assets.”

Sitting next to him was a beautiful woman in her 20s. She complimented him on his taste in clothing and asked for his business card. Dan was flattered that a woman two decades younger would take an interest in him.

Three weeks later, she became his stepmother.


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Income and virginity among Japanese men

“About 1 in 4 Japanese adults in their 20s and 30s are virgins, says study” (CNN) started a bit of discussion among some of my (married high-income guy) friends. They highlighted

‘Money talks’
The report found that a higher percentage of men on lower incomes remained sexually inexperienced compared to women.
“Although the discussion around cause and effect becomes very complex when considering who becomes sexually experienced and who remains a virgin, we show that heterosexual inexperience is at least partly a socioeconomic issue for men. Simply put, money talks,” said Cyrus Ghaznavi, the lead author of the study.


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Bike infrastructure doesn’t make Americans happy…

…. or at least it doesn’t motivate them to use their bicycles.

My 2013 post: “Danish happiness: bicycle infrastructure”

From USA Today: “Fewer Americans bike to work despite new trails, lanes and bicycle share programs”

Uber and Lyft are blamed for part of the three-year decline. I wonder if it is the absurdly high price (compared to in China) of electric-assist bikes that is also limiting the popularity of this modality. The article notes that “electric scooters” have cut into bike commuting. If we could get a decent electric-boost bike for $300, would we still buy scooters? This industry report from 2014 says “By utilizing lead-acid batteries, the cost of e-bicycles in China averages about $167. In comparison, e-bikes in North America cost on average $815 and those in Western Europe average $1,546, reflecting the different choice in battery chemistry, according to Pike Research.”

Considering Americans’ propensity for thievery (how long does a bike last in San Francisco?), $167 is a more reasonable price to pay than $815!

The map in the USA Today article shows the sharpest declines in the hilly cities where an electric bike would be the most helpful.

Can we say that bike infrastructure, like socialism, hasn’t truly been given a fair chance in the U.S.? Our capital investments in bike lanes would pay off if e-bikes were available at Chinese prices?

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