The war in Ukraine proves Isoroku Yamamoto right?

I haven’t written too much about the war in Ukraine because I don’t speak the languages involved, don’t know the history, and don’t know anything about military strategy and tactics. The situation for individuals is horrifying, I’m sure, and that is not pleasant to contemplate.

One feature of the war, as I understand it, is that the Russian military has had a lot of armored vehicles, e.g., tanks and ships, and these have proven vulnerable to inexpensive weapons on the Ukrainian side.

Who could have predicted this? Isoroku Yamamoto, one of the greatest thinkers and strategists of World War II (had Japan followed his advice, it would not have chosen to fight the U.S. to begin with). Admiral Yamamoto was an enthusiast for naval aviation starting in 1924 and correctly predicted that heavy expensive battleships would be almost useless going forward, vulnerable to submarines but especially to swarms of comparatively light and cheap airplanes. (And, of course, the great admiral was ultimately killed by U.S. fighter planes in 1943.)

I’m wondering why the U.S. Army wants to pay to keep 5,000 tanks in its inventory. If we’re fighting a peasant army equipped only with rifles, these tanks are obviously useful, but then we don’t need 5,000 of them. If we’re fighting a big battle in Europe, doesn’t the Russian experience in Ukraine show that the last place anyone would want to be is inside a tank and its illusory protection?

Related:

  • U.S. Army’s official page: The Abrams Main Battle Tank closes with and destroys the enemy using mobility, firepower, and shock effect. The Abrams is a full-tracked, low-profile, land combat assault weapon enabling expeditionary Warfighters to dominate their adversaries through lethal firepower, unparalleled survivability, and audacious maneuver. The Abrams tank sends a message to those who would oppose the United States as to the resolve, capability, and might of the U.S. Army.
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Enforcing orthodoxy among physicians

From the Federation of State Medical Boards:

The FSMB is closely monitoring troubling legislation that has been introduced in a number of states aimed at limiting state medical boards’ authority to act in the furtherance of public health and patient safety. If enacted, a number of bills would make it more difficult for licensing boards to discipline a licensee for spreading disinformation. The FSMB strongly opposes any effort to restrict a board’s authority to evaluate the standard of care and assess risk for patient harm.

Unless politicians obsessed with free speech intervene, physicians could be canceled, presumably, for saying that schools should stay open while marijuana and alcohol stores should be closed (as evidenced by California and Massachusetts public health experts, who follow the science at all times, #Science proves that marijuana and alcohol are “essential” while education is optional). Certainly we need a system where docs can be stripped of their ability to earn a living if they agree with the World Health Organization (#Science as of early June 2020) that masks for the general public are not effective (archive.org) and cite Peru, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia as examples.

Separately, a friend recently attended a cardiology continuing education class at a luxury resort hotel. COVID-19 is a public health emergency, of course, but not severe enough to prevent doctors from occupying $600/night rooms paid for by employers (well, ultimately by you via your health insurance dollars!) and gathering each morning to spread Omicron to each other. As the class was being held in a free state, only about 60 percent of the docs showed up to the meeting room in masks. Drs. Karen, Karen, and Karen had done enough complaining by the end of the morning session that signs and emails were posted demanding masking for the remainder of the event.

Related:

  • non-COVID specialists in Maskachusetts might not have to work too hard for the next few months… “Elective Procedures Paused at Some Mass. Hospitals Amid COVID Spike, Bed Shortage” (NBC Boston): Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered Massachusetts hospitals with bed shortages to stop non-urgent procedures this week. “Mass General and the Brigham are running most days over 95% capacity. The state is trying to get us to 85% capacity to have that extra elasticity for additional patients, but that is a really big reach for us,” said Dr. Ron Walls, chief operating officer at Mass General Brigham. … As of Tuesday, more than 900 people statewide were hospitalized with COVID. “We’re seeing a pretty big resurgence of delta right now. Our numbers of inpatients in our Mass General Brigham system in the past three and a half, four weeks have almost doubled,” said Walls. [89% of people in Greater Boston, age 5+, are vaccinated.]
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Universal health care and vaccinations would have saved us from COVID-19

We’ve spent 1.5 years listening to people say that universal health care like in the UK and France would have prevented many COVID-19 deaths. We’ve spent 0.5 years listening to people say that universal vaccination like in Israel would end the plague.

What countries does the CDC say are “very high” risk and should be avoided? The UK, France, and Israel (among others). See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/map-and-travel-notices.html

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Biden builds a tunnel to rival the Swiss

Your tax dollars at work… “At Long Last, a New Rail Tunnel Under the Hudson River Can Be Built” (NYT):

After four years of stalling by the Trump administration, officials in Washington approved the $11.6 billion project for federal funding.

The Biden administration has indicated its support for the project and the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, has acknowledged its importance to the economy of the region and the nation. “This is a big step for the Northeast, and for the entire country, as these tunnels connect so many people, jobs and businesses,” Mr. Buttigieg said in a statement announcing the approval.

The existing Hudson River tunnels, e.g., the Lincoln Tunnel, are approximately 1.5 miles long. How then can this project be said to rival the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which is 35.5 miles long and 8,000′ deep through a solid granite mountain in Switzerland? The actual cost of the Swiss tunnel was roughly the same as the best-case estimate of what this NY/NJ tunnel might cost!

Related:

  • “The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth” (NYT): “The estimated cost of the Long Island Rail Road project, known as “East Side Access,” has ballooned to $12 billion, or nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world. The recently completed Second Avenue subway on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the 2015 extension of the No. 7 line to Hudson Yards also cost far above average, at $2.5 billion and $1.5 billion per mile, respectively.”
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Economic wisdom from MIT (David Autor)

Notes from a Zoom talk today by David Autor, an economics professor at MIT. Whenever Democrats are in charge of the economy, I think it is worth listening to the “experts” at Harvard and MIT because that’s where the policy justifications come from.

Inequality is extreme in the U.S. and harmful, according to Autor. He did not explicitly say how he is measuring inequality, though. The charts that he presented seemed to show wages. But a previous slide showed the low and falling rate of labor force participation in the U.S. In other words, a lot of adults live in the U.S. despite $0 in earnings. What if he looked at spending power and lifestyle? Much of the U.S. welfare system is directed toward non-cash benefits, e.g., a free or low-cost apartment in public housing, a $3/month family subscription to MassHealth (Medicaid) that would be $20,000/year at market rates, SNAP (food stamps), Obamaphone, etc.. The non-working folks whom I know here in Massachusetts have a lifestyle that would cost $80-100,000 per year (after tax) to purchase at market rates (apartment in Cambridge or Boston, health insurance, etc.).

[See this Wall Street Journal piece: “The census fails to account for taxes and most welfare payments, painting a distorted picture. … In all, leaving out taxes and most transfers overstates inequality by more than 300%, as measured by the ratio of the top quintile’s income to the bottom quintile’s. More than 80% of all taxes are paid by the top two quintiles, and more than 70% of all government transfer payments go to the bottom two quintiles. … Today government redistributes sufficient resources to elevate the average household in the bottom quintile to a net income, after transfers and taxes, of $50,901—well within the range of American middle-class earnings.” See also the Work Versus Welfare Trade-Off, in which we learn that poor people are not stupid and Fast-food economics in Massachusetts: Higher minimum wage leads to a shorter work week, not fewer people on welfare, in which employees cut their hours to be sure to maintain eligibility for free housing, health care, etc.]

Minimum wage should be much higher, according to Autor. What about the fact that employers won’t want to pay people way more than they’re worth? A friend’s Spanish language tutor, sitting at home in Guatemala with only a high school degree, on hearing about the proposed $15/year minimum wage, said “Won’t that mean a lot more unemployment since many people aren’t worth $15/hour?” Autor says that the government will invest in educating Americans to the point that they’re worth more. On a per-pupil basis and as a percentage of GDP, we already spend more than almost any other country on K-12 education; why aren’t American high school graduates already worth a lot to employers? Autor points out that the average American high school graduate is way less skilled than a high school graduate in other developed economies. “We should fix that.” Autor’s big solution for 13 years of government-run education that he says are generally ineffective is to add one more year: “universal pre-K”. With 14 years of pre-K through 12 and maybe another 5 years of taxpayer-funded college, a worker will surely find employers delighted to hire him/her/zir/them at $15/hour. (Autor also notes that many of today’s college graduates are going into personal service jobs at low wages.)

Borrowing is free. Interest rates have never been lower. We will grow our way out of any amount of borrowing that we do and, after paying back whatever we borrowed, be richer than if we hadn’t borrowed.

Apparently contradicting the above point, he says that successful Americans should pay vastly more in taxes than they’re currently paying. (Why does the government need all of this current tax revenue if borrowing is, in fact, free?) The capital gains tax rate should be much higher (but still not adjusted for inflation, so actually it would be more than 100 percent in a lot of situations, as it is already (if you bought an asset for $10,000 in 2000, for example, the BLS says you spent $15,700 in today’s mini-dollars; if you sell it for $15,000 in 2021 you’ve actually suffered a loss, but will owe capital gains tax nonetheless).

Estate taxes should be higher and there should be no step-up basis for the assets inherited.

Everything that Joe Biden is doing and has proposed is awesome and will propel the U.S. forward toward a dreamland of prosperity. “The Biden Administration is right to go all in rather than nibbling around the edges.” Can all of our dreams be achieved via bigger government? Autor would rather the government “create” better quality jobs than address inequality through the tax code. (i.e., what we really need is a planned economy, a point made by an emeritus professor and former senior MIT administrator, who asked whether Capitalism wasn’t the real source of inequality).

Autor was in sync with the folks at New Yorker magazine: “The President, channelling his inner Elizabeth Warren, pitches an American utopia after a dystopian plague year.”

(Trump’s fantasy was that Americans might not be rich enough to afford the work-free utopia that we desire; Biden is grounded enough to realize that utopia can be ours if we tax and borrow a little more.)

Readers: Have you been following Biden’s latest proposals, e.g., in last night’s speech? Are you as excited about bigger government as Professor Autor?

Related:

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Meet next week in Jupiter, Florida?

We’re escaping to the Florida Free State for the Maskachusetts school vacation week (April 18-25). A journey of 1,000+ miles is the best way for the kids to get a “mask break” (under what would be the “law” if it had been passed by the legislature instead of merely ordered by the governor, walking outside one’s yard, even at midnight in a low-density exurb, is illegal without a mask).

Our destination: Jupiter, Florida, specifically Abacoa. Who wants to meet for coffee, lunch, beach walk, etc.? Please email philg@mit.edu if you’d like to get together! Bring the dog:

In case you’re wondering when coronapanic begins to wind down here in the epicenter of coronapanic… from Monday, “[Governor] Baker: No Plans Yet to Change Guidance on Outdoor Mask-Wearing” (NBC):

Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday he had no immediate plans to change the Massachusetts’ mask mandate, saying his administration would only do so when more people are vaccinated.

Almost half of the states in the country no longer have mask mandates, but all of New England still has them, which has prompted questions about when the rules might be relaxed in Massachusetts and the region.

In a press conference at the Family Health Center of Worcester, Baker said he would follow federal guidance on mask-wearing and incorporate additional information about COVID-19 variants.

“A lot of it is going to depend on both guidance we get from the feds and how fast we are able to vaccinate people, and how big a deal these variants are, not just here in Massachusetts and the northeast but around the country generally,” he said.

Everyone will be wearing a mask, which #Science says makes spreading coronavirus nearly impossible (it is even safe to join 150 people inside a 100% full Airbus!), much will continue to be shut down or capacity-restricted, and everyone who was previously considered vulnerable has already been vaccinated. But sticking healthy young people, the only folks left here who haven’t tried out the investigational vaccines, will make all the difference:

“The vaccine saves lives,” Baker said at the press conference, during which he highlighted the importance of community health centers during the pandemic.

Related:

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How was the immigration of Ahmad Al Aliwi Al-Issa supposed to benefit an average Coloradan?

According to Wikipedia, Ahmad Al Aliwi Al-Issa immigrated to the U.S. in 2002, complained that non-Muslims were unreasonably subject to “Islamophobia”, and killed 10 of his fellow Americans in a Boulder, Colorado supermarket in 2021.

Why did it make sense to admit Mr. Al-Issa as an immigrant in 2002? Housing in Colorado already cost more than Coloradans could afford: “Denver originally adopted an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance (IHO) in 2002, requiring for-sale developers building more than 30 units to set aside 10% as affordable to moderate-income households” (denvergov.org). Mr. Al-Issa would require 13 years of K-12 school, nominally costing taxpayers roughly $130,000, but the headline “per-pupil spending” numbers don’t include capital costs, e.g., for school construction. Arvada, Colorado, where Mr. Al-Issa lived, was considered to have “overcrowded” schools and therefore taxpayers also had to work extra hours to pay for new school buildings. Taxpayers without children would have had to pay for various tax credits and other government subsidies that are provided to non-welfare parents in the U.S. So let’s say that the expected cost would have been at least $250,000 by the time Mr. Al-Issa reached age 18.

At this point, would we have expected Mr. Al-Issa to earn more than a median income? Presumably that is the best assumption about someone for whom minimal information is available. We can expect the average person to be average. But already in 2002 the average (median earner) person in Colorado couldn’t afford the basics of life (housing, health insurance, etc.) without a government-run program of assistance, such as the above-mentioned affordable housing scheme.

For a working class taxpayer, wouldn’t Mr. Al-Issa’s presence in the U.S. have led to higher rents (more competition for scarce housing), worse traffic (if Mr. Al-Issa had gotten a job and commuted to work), and higher taxes (to pay for the subsidies that a median earner would require).

Maybe Mr. Al-Issa’s immigration could benefit the Colorado elites, as pointed out by Harvard professor George Borjas. A Colorado owner of apartment buildings or real estate could benefit from a larger population generating demand for housing. An upper-income Coloradan could benefit from the availability of labor at lower prices due to Mr. Al-Issa offering his services, e.g., as an Uber driver. A Colorado government worker, e.g., teacher, police officer, prison official, firefighter, or bureaucrat, could benefit from a larger population and resulting increased hiring by the government, thus generating opportunities for promotion.

But how did the elites sell so many non-elites on this kind of immigration? (55 percent of Coloradans voted for Joe Biden and therefore additional low-skill immigration)

(Separately, what will taxpayers spend to prosecute and imprison Mr. Al-Issa? Colorado has no death penalty. Mr. Al-Issa could easily live to 100, so that’s 79 years of incarceration, state-funded prison health care, etc.)

Readers: If Mr. Al-Issa hadn’t committed 10 murders, but instead had turned out to be a median wage earner, how would that have made the other median wage earners in Colorado better off?

(At first glance the above seems like a stupid question. The best expectation for a native-born baby is that he/she/ze/they will become a median earner. We don’t say that we’re worse off when a baby is born within our own family, right? The difference is that parents experience a lot of joy from having their own children in the house (except for, at worst, 95 percent of the time!). We value our children even if they never earn a dime, which would offset to some extent the loss to other taxpayers from having to support our children in means-tested housing, on means-tested health insurance, and shopping for food via EBT/SNAP.)

From a 2018 trip to Colorado, where stores began selling marijuana in 2014

Related:

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Joe Biden updates the Mahabharata (loyal dogs expelled from the White House)

Wikipedia on Mahaprasthanika Parva, a book within the Mahabharata:

Indra appears in his chariot with a loud sound, suggesting he doesn’t need to walk all the way, he can jump in and together they can go to heaven. Yudhishthira refuses, says he could not go to heaven with Indra without his brothers and Draupadi. Indra tells Yudhishthira, all of them after their death, entered heaven. Yudhishthira asks if his friend, the dog, can jump into the car first. Indra replies that the dog cannot enter his chariot, only Yudhishthira can. Yudhishthira refuses to leave the dog. He claims the dog is his friend, and for him to betray his friend during his life’s journey would be a great sin. Indra says that after abandoning his brothers and wife, he had acquired great merit, then why be stupefied by a dog, he is renouncing everything. Yudhishthira said that there is neither friendship nor enemity with those that are dead. When his brothers and Draupadi died, he was unable to revive them, hence he abandoned them. However, he cannot abandon the one who is alive beside him. Indra urges him to consider his own happiness, abandon the dog and hop into his chariot. Yudhishthira refuses to go into the chariot, explaining he cannot abandon the dog who is his companion, for his own happiness, while he is alive.

Today, from CNN:

The two German Shepherds belonging to President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden were returned to the Biden family home in Delaware ..,. Major, who is 3 years old, is the younger of the two Biden dogs, and has been known to display agitated behavior on multiple occasions, including jumping, barking, and “charging” at staff and security, according to the people CNN spoke with about the dog’s demeanor at the White House. The older of Biden’s German Shepherds, Champ, is approximately 13 and has slowed down physically due to his advanced age.

So the 13-year-old dog will die without the human companions on whom he has depended for 13 years.

Background enthusiasm from November and contrast to the hated dictator… “Biden to Restore a White House Tradition of Presidential Pets” (NYT):

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to restore a time-honored tradition of having a presidential pet at the White House.

At a February 2019 rally in El Paso, Mr. Trump said that he didn’t have a dog because he didn’t have time, and felt it would be “phony” for him to get one for political reasons. “You do love your dogs, don’t you?” Mr. Trump said. “I wouldn’t mind having one, honestly, but I don’t have any time. How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn?”

“Biden tells NASA engineer Indian Americans are ‘taking over the country’” (New York Post):

“It’s amazing. Indian-descent Americans are taking over the country — you, my vice president, my speechwriter,” Biden told Swati Mohan, NASA’s guidance and controls operations lead for the Mars Perseverance rover landing.

In May, Biden walked back comments telling voters they “ain’t black” if they supported a candidate other than him.

He said in August that blacks are less diverse thinkers than Hispanics.

Fair to say that, despite the above sentiments about the impending take-over, President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, M.D. will not advocate for the Mahabharata to be taught in our schools (should they ever reopen)?

A photo from the reverse journey, starting with a small-scale breeder saying goodbye to an 8-week-old Samoyed:

Leo, now 10 weeks old, has been #MarkedSafe from the Bidens and is receiving all of the love to which white privilege entitles him at a friend’s secure compound.

Related:

  • “In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” (TIME)
  • “I want a world where Frank junior and all the Frank juniors can sit under a shady tree, breathe the air, swim in the ocean, and go into a 7-11 without an interpreter.” — Lieutenant Frank Drebin, 1991 (video)
  • “Which dog breeds will homeowners insurance not cover?”: The most commonly excluded dog breeds are rottweilers, pit bulls, German shepherds, chow chows, and many wolf breeds.
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Almost as scary as coronavirus: the Vendée Globe this year

Previously on this blog: Godforsaken Sea, a book about a round-the-world solo yacht race.

This year… “‘Just terrifying’: Vendée Globe sailor rescued after yacht breaks in half” (Guardian):

“I didn’t have time to do anything,” said Kevin Escoffier. I just had time to send a message to my team. I’m sinking, I’m not joking. MAYDAY.”

Escoffier, 40, the French sailor who was lying in third place in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race, was talking after his dramatic rescue. On Monday afternoon, 840 miles south west of Cape Town, in strong winds and heavy seas, his 60ft carbon fibre boat PRB slammed into a wave at 27 knots and broke in half. PRB is one of the latest generation Imoca 60s with foils to lift it up so that it is practically flying. Escoffier abandoned ship and took to his life raft.

Escoffier was at 40°55′ S, 9°18′ E (source), confirming the old saying:

Below 40 degrees south there is no law;
below 50 degrees south there is no God.

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Do we need some more national parks?

A friend who has been suffering through shutdown on an oceanfront estate in Maine mentioned that Acadia National Park has experienced record-breaking visitor counts. For the first time in history, you need to make a reservation before driving into the park at all.

Our National Park system was set up in 1872, i.e., for a country with a population of roughly 40 million. Today there are 330 million residents of the U.S. (or 350 million maybe?). Mobility, even in coronashutdown, is greater than it was in 1872. This leads to what I would have previously called “Manhattan-style crowding” in some parks (but now Manhattan has been de-crowded!).

Having the Federal government run stuff is not ideal, as evidenced by the filthy and decrepit bathrooms that are provided for visitors to Acadia. On the other hand, of all U.S. government functions, the National Park system seems like the best value for the dollar.

Why not see if we can create some additional National Parks or at least National Forests with much better visitor facilities and cut out the logging?Demolish some ugly condo buildings before climate change can get them and create additional National Seashores?

If so, where should the new parks be? My semi-local ideas…

  • Lake Champlain (Vermont/New York)
  • Chappaquiddick Island (“The Ted Kennedy National Seashore”)
  • Baxter State Park (take it over from Maine, expand it, and make it more accessible with some awesome roads; call it “End of the Appalachian Trail Park”)
  • Moosehead Lake (Maine; buy up some land to connect with what is now Baxter State Park)

A few photos from Acadia, September 2020:

And, right next to the park, a guide to healing our nation (“Vote Democrat; Wach MSNBC & CNN News”):

Related:

  • Park Drive photo above by Tony Cammarata of Aerial Boston (I was flying the Robinson R44 helicopter)
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