Update/Links/Thoughts

A. Life is a bowl of cherries. Really:

Three-in-one cherry tree, from the front yard orchard. Yes, the could be riper, but the birds are eating them as soon as they get really red. Plus, while the Bings should be almost black, the other two varieties don’t get much redder than those above. And they taste good.

A young lady we’ve known for years came by every day to feed the cat and water the gardens. She did a good job. While we were gone, the cherries hit their stride. It’s only one tree, so we’ll only get a few bowls worth per season – but fun. Next up: apricots and peaches, probably end of the month.

B. Back from the Epic Wedding Trip. 7 days, 6 nights, 4 states not counting airports and home. Some pics:

The restored and Catholicized chapel. Our son’s wedding mass is the first to have taken place in this lovely building.
The sanctuary. Much of the renovation had to do with creating a proper sanctuary, where Catholic altar and tabernacle replace Protestant pulpit and organ. The Latin is a from the life of St. Thomas Aquinas, who set his works before the tabernacle and offered them to Christ crucified. The image of Christ on the cross said: “You have written well of Me, Thomas. What would you desire as a reward?” “Only You, Lord,” Thomas responded.
This is the student center at Thomas Aquinas College New England. I don’t know that the picture captures this vibe, but I just wanted to grab a book, find a corner, and read as soon as I walked in. Cozy and scholarly at the same time.

C. In New Hampshire, the spell of the magic mask talisman has been suspended – one can go about bare-faced and walk up to people, and the gods, we have been assured, will not be offended; cross the state line into Massachusetts or Vermont, however, and the wrath of the gods will descend upon any who dare sally forth with undiapered visage.

For now. Our betters are pumping the brakes, mixing it up, because, as any animal trainer will tell you, being predictable with your rewards does not get as eager a compliance as keeping the animal guessing. To add to the hilarity: when the New Hampshire folks decided to remove restrictions, they didn’t just announce: “OK, nobody’s dying of the Coof anymore, so go ahead and take off your masks and feel free to walk up to people and shake hands.” Nope, that would be too easy. Instead, it was *scheduled* for Monday, May 31. As in:

Owner Balancing Treat On Dog's Head Causing Untold ...

D. Speaking of terrified, scientifically illiterate rabbits doing as they’re told, I’ve got a massive post to drop in the next day or two about analyzing risk. Sometimes, I think I’ve been uniquely prepared for the COVID hysteria:

  • worked in the actuarial department of a major life insurance company, picked up some basic knowledge of how risk is measured;
  • worked as an underwriter and and underwriting analyst for a few years, so I know how the pros apply those risk models;
  • used and helped design mathematical models for 25 years, and taught people how to use and understand them (I can literally say: I wrote the book (well, a fat pamphlet) on a couple fancy models used by thousands of people to do fancy financing).
  • analyzed and cleaned up data for these models so that it was useful. Unless you’ve had to do this sort of clean up on real-world data, you simply have no idea how much sheer judgement goes into what gets measured and how. E.g., financial reporting systems are about as well defined, well-tested, and well funded as any data systems anywhere. Every company has one or more, with trained professionals inputting data, and have been doing this for decades. Yet, a data dump of the raw inputs is chaotic, unclear, and confusing. The question I had: what cash flows took place when? Surprisingly hard to answer! Correcting entries are ubiquitous, and often raise their own questions. And so on.
  • read a bunch of medical studies. When our kids were babies, I, like every other new parent in America at the time, was constantly ordered and shamed to not let the baby sleep in our bed with us. But I knew that this practice, called a family bed, was common everywhere else in the world. So I searched around, found the studies, and read them. Insane. Bad methodology, dubious data, poor analysis, no criticisms and answers (meaning: a study should address the obvious criticisms and answer them – it’s called science.) Just out and out junk. Yet – and here’s the real eye opener – a protocol had been developed from these two junk studies, and every freaking pediatrician in America was pushing the no family bed nonsense. It’s Science! It’s the medical consensus! Also read a few studies on salt and blood pressure, and was likewise unimpressed. Then noted how nobody did studies on drug interactions until it was clear such interactions were killing people – who’s going to pay for such endless studies? I reached the conclusion, since backed up by all the failed attempts at replication, that medical studies are mostly – useless? Wildly overconfident? Wildly over cautious? Not to be taken at face value?

With that background, and an amateur’s love of the scientific method, I was not buying the claims of pandemic, the outputs of models, the cleanliness of the data, and the ‘logic’ for panic and lockdowns. Looking into it, it was puke-level idiocy. And yet, here we are.

E. Briggs captures a good bit of what I’m trying to say in my upcoming post on risk analysis in this week’s COVID post:

Many people sent me this Lancet note about the difference between relative and absolute risk reduction. I’ve warned us many times to use absolute numbers (in any situation, not just this), because relative numbers always exaggerate (unless one is keenly aware of the absolutes).

Here’s an example. Suppose the conditional (on certain accepted evidence) risk of getting a dread disease is 0.001, or 0.1%. A drug or vexxine is developed and it is discovered (in update evidence) the risk of getting the disease is now 0.0001, or 0.01%.

The absolute risk reduction (ARR; conditional on the given evidence) is 0.001 – 0.0001 = 0.0009, or 0.09%.

The relative risk is a ratio of the two risks, and the risk reduction ratio is 1 minus this, or 1 – 0.0001/0.001 = 0.9, or 90%.

That relative 90% reduction (RRR) sounds much more marketable than the actual 0.09% reduction; indeed, it sounds 1,000 times better!

Here from the the Lancet piece are some numbers using published results, recalling, as the authors do, that everything is conditional on the evidence, which is always changing.

VaccineRRRARR
Pfizer95%0.84%
Moderna94%1.2%
Gamaleya91%0.93%
Johnson & Johnson67%1.2%
AstraZeneca67%1.3%

For instance, the CDC says only 300 kids 0-17 died with or of coronadoom (a terrific argument kids don’t need to be vexxed). Population of this age group is about 65 million. We don’t know how many infected or exposed or this group, but you can see that differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated kids would be very small.

Read the whole thing. I only dare write anything on something the esteemable Briggs has already written on because even this level of math is off-putting to some people. I focus on the narrative part – why is it that huge reductions in risk might be meaningless, when the underlying risk is originally very small, as in the COVID risk to kids 17 and under. When pestered by a friend about why I’m not getting the vaccine, I replied: I will not take experimental drugs to lower my risk of death from COVID from something like 0.01% to 0.005%. She immediately changed to the ‘protect others’ tack, so I let it drop.

Alas! If information mattered, we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in.

F. And then there’s this. And this. I tend to go data=>analysis=>political speculation, or perhaps claims=>evidence=>reasons/explanations=>politics. Therefore, I have only really lightly touched on the politics/corruption/coup aspects of the Coronadoom – because I foolishly keep expecting people to care about the truth of the claims first. Yet ‘truth of the claims’ is nowhere to be found in the thought processes of the many, who instead substitute ‘whatever belief maintains my good standing in my group.’ Most people seem to go my social group’s position=>politics. Don’t ask why you need to raise your hand and get permission to go to the bathroom – JUST DO IT, DAMMIT! That sort of training, where group position is paramount and approval is always contingent on mindless obedience, is a large part of what got us to this point.

Your Own Lying Eyes

So, having correctly identified the COVID overreaction as fraud in March, 2020, I have not only not submitted to lockup, nor worn a mask except when needed to gain entrance to stores where I need to shop or to keep Karen from shutting down our church, nor observed the ‘social distancing’ rules, I and mine have actively sought out occasions to fraternize with people who similarly refuse to be cowed. Tends to only be a few times a month where we’ve hung out like normal people with normal people, but we’re trying.

So, I’ve noticed a couple things. Of course – duh – the people in these groups of normal people acting normally are not dying any faster or more dramatically than anyone else. If the propaganda were true, there would have to be a bunch of deaths in at least one of these groups, where many dozens of people over 60 gather regularly (I’m being vague here, for obvious reasons). I mean, we’re talking 80 year olds here, fraternizing with the other reactionaries of all ages, including smiles, hand shakes and – oh the humanity! – hugs. Over and over, week after week.

And none of them have died, and I’m pretty sure I’d have heard about it if someone had. Nobody’s been hospitalized. To all appearances, the elderly in this group are if anything more healthy than is typical of people their age.

Yet this is not evidence anyone on the terrified bunny side of the issue would admit. As unlikely as they are to acknowledge the cherry picking being done in the name of horrifying the rabbits, they are that likely to insist that this example is cherry picking on the ‘ain’t no plague’ side, that, if anything, it’s the fault of people acting normal that ‘we’ haven’t ‘defeated’ the virus yet. People refusing to be cowed into following totalitarian fantasy instructions unsupported by logic or evidence are somehow asymptomatically transferring the disease to others who then dutifully and in perfect accord with the panic die in droves, off-camera. Since we’re absolutely, dogmatically certain people are dying, and it’s clear the people immediately in front of us aren’t (at least, aren’t any more than any other year), then there must be people we never see dying someplace we haven’t been – nursing homes, for example, which were never overrun with visitors even pre-COVID, and are completely devoid of visitors now.

COVID deaths are also miraculously immune to that eternal bane of logic and science: confirmation bias. Even to suggest that confirmation bias needs to be guarded against gets one labeled a ‘denier’. The rules for filling out death certificates, which DO NOT mandate a positive test result for a COVID diagnosis, but rather encourage a COVID diagnosis if any two of the classic symptoms were present in the deceased, suggest, to put it mildly, a strong risk of confirmation bias. Since those symptoms include fever, aches, and breathing trouble, anyone who dies while showing evidence of a cold, a flu, an allergy attack, or a bout of asthma is almost guaranteed to get classified as a COVID death. It is otherwise impossible to rationally explain how, according to WHO data, no one anywhere in the world has died of the flu since March, 2020. (I heard a poor simple soul suggest that maybe the masks, lockups, and social distancing worked against the flu, even if they didn’t against the ‘Rona. In other words, this innocent was willing to accept that masks, distancing, and lockups worked against one virus but not against another that is exactly the same size and uses exactly the same transmission vectors. I didn’t even try to straighten him out.)

I know one man who had a younger, allegedly otherwise healthy relative die of COVID – 10,000 miles away. Not somebody he knew well, not somebody he’s seen in years, but somebody who was a real person to him – of course, I’m sympathetic, and said a prayer for the repose of her soul and comfort for her family. But, again – 10,000 miles away, on the ragged edges of Western medicine and of systematic reporting of numbers of any kind. Maybe this poor woman is the one in 100,000 or more healthy younger person who the Kung Flu kills. More likely, its a case of evil telephone – people are looking for COVID deaths, and so, by the time the story has been relayed a couple times, they will find them.

But that’s it, as far as my personal experience goes. A few friends and acquaintances have caught and recovered from it, with no more trouble than a typical flu. Does no one remember from the distant past of lo two years ago, when, every year without fail, we or somebody we knew caught the flu and just had a hard time shaking it? We’d get sick, feel kind of better, try to return to normal, then get hammered again? And how it would be a month or two before we finally felt 100%? Or even the common cold that took 2 weeks to shake and left us weak? No? Some other planet, then? But none of the people I know, even a few ‘high risk’ types in their 70s and 80s, has had any more than a ‘bad flu’ experience with COVID. Most shook it off faster than a typical flu – 3 days, maybe, with one ‘I’m not feeling right’ day followed by an ‘I’m pretty sick’ day followed by ‘feeling better but weak’ day. Of course, if you were already dying of something else, like the majority of nursing home patients, even this might kill you – because, if you are in a nursing home, SOMETHING IS GOING TO KILL YOU sooner rather than later.

No one I know has died of this disease; the deaths I’ve heard of from friends have all been elderly and sickly – and there’s only 3 total of those. To say an elderly, sickly person died of anything specific apart from being elderly and sickly is perverse. People get old and die – if we’re lucky, we each will get old and die. But in the current environment, it is tacitly assumed every old person would otherwise be immortal if the plague didn’t get them. I, like every sane person ever, assumes a sickly old person is going to die sooner rather than later, baring a miracle. Nursing homes are full of such people.

But back to evidence near versus evidence far. I’ve heard COVID is raging now in India. Looked it up – nope. But that won’t stop the headline writers and politicians from telling us it is. Very handy to have the latest deadly outbreak on the other side of the planet, from a nation to whom any standards of methodical reporting of anything are a bit of a British novelty, and certainly subject to more ingrained local practices. If that’s not clear: numbers coming out of India are suspect, to say the least; but what numbers have come up suggest the current ‘raging’ outbreak is still vastly smaller on a per-capita basis than any of the panic leaders in Europe. And make no allowances for confirmation bias.

So: There are those who have hardly stepped outside since March 2020. All they have, with slight apologies to Don Henley, is the word of

  • the bubble-headed bleach blond who comes on at 5.
  • Tell you all about the COVID with a gleam in her eye.
  • It’s interesting when people die – give us Dirty Fauci

Those who, like the hypochondriac who forgets not to use the arm that he says is crippled, go out often but imagine they are locking down, the lack of dead bodies on the street will go unnoticed.

Who are you going to believe, the ‘experts’ or your own lying eyes?

Pre-‘Rona. And one of the greatest guitar solos ever recorded, to boot!

Non-Scientists with Science Degrees mad at Scientists with no Science Degrees

A writer is someone who writes, right? A piano player is someone who plays the piano, a painter someone who paints. And so on. So, a scientist is someone who, well, sciences. More precisely, a scientist is someone who tries to understand the material world by applying (roughly) a Baconian approach: all theories are generated by rigorous logic with constant and inescapable reference to observations made in the real world; all theories are tested against objective reality and rejected if they fail to conform; where appropriate, structured experiments are used to tease out needed observations; no effort is spared to escape confirmation bias. Something like that.

Science used to be a little like Christianity, in the sense that ‘by their fruits you shall know them’ – Ben Franklin and Michael Faraday, to take two well-know examples, were great scientists because of their fruitful application of scientific principles. That neither had any formal training, let alone formal certification, in science was and is irrelevant.

Of course, if you want to be a nuclear physicist or a genetic engineer or any number of other highly technical fields, you will almost certainly need to get into a university program, at least to get any access to the equipment used. It’s not so much the formal education, even less the formal certification, that matters – it’s the access to the experts and the tools they use. An Einstein or a Feynman or any true creative expert are self-taught by all accounts – BUT also had extensive opportunities to rub elbows with other geniuses, with whom they could talk and to whom they could show their work. Insofar as formal education provides for these things, it is not at all to be denigrated. I am here only urging one not to mistake the container for the contents.

In the above senses, I am a very slight (and truly humble, even if it may not come off that way) scientist. I confine myself almost exclusively to checking whether the basic rules of science and logic have been followed, most specifically the rules against overstating what the evidence will support and ignoring confirmation bias. Whatever slight technical skills I have are confined to model building and data analysis.

So, it turns out, I am the enemy. Because I don’t reflexively submit to the teachings of the formally certified ‘scientists’, I’m promoting “unorthodox science online.” Here’s a link to William Brigg’s write up on an MIT study by *certified* ‘science’ critters attesting to the badthink of us troublemakers. Also, reader Billy Jack sent me this study last week, when it first came out.

The horror that somebody *not certified by the Academy* would independently apply the rules of science and thus dispute the *consensus* of said Academy is something up with which these folks will not put!

The truly chilling part: that this ‘study’ has not been roundly condemned and laughed off the stage by the real scientists at MIT – which, at least historically, has been home to plenty of them. But, follow the money – where does MIT’s funding come from?

Lysenkoism: not just a bad idea, it’s the LAW.

“Always”: Unspoken & Clueless Assumptions

Because I have nothing to do (ha!), wasted a couple minutes trying to understand what NFTs – Non-Fungible Tokens – are. Pretty sure I don’t understand it, any more than I understand money.

(There exists a large class of objects in this world that seem pretty clear until you spend a few seconds thinking about them, and another class that start out murky – NFTs, say, or Hegel – that merely become more fundamentally murky the more thought one puts into them. In the extreme, one achieves what might be called Socratic nihilism: you only know that you don’t know. One of the reasons Aristotle is, at a minimum, more useful than Plato – but I digress… )

I was struck by this phrase in the first article on NFTs I looked at:

The other aspect is that it is a smart contract, permanently on blockchain, always able to be tracked. 

National Review Online

“Always”? You sure about that? This is the sense of ‘always’ I use when I say that an S&P index fund will always have value, meaning: as long as any stocks anywhere have value, an S&P index fund will have value. Put another way: if an S&P index fund becomes valueless, then the money you lost investing in it will be the least of your problems. Since investing in an S&P index is a close proxy for investing in the world’s economy, any general collapse(1) of S&P indexes would mean the world’s economy has collapsed. Rather than worrying about how your comfortable retirement just went up in smoke, you’d be worrying about how soon you are going to need to eat the family dog.

Thus, the reporter can say a “smart” contract will always be able to be tracked. All tracking it requires is the Internet and all the technology that supports it. Not just computers and wires, but the energy grid, metallurgy, international shipping infrastructure, roads – you know, the totality of the modern world, circa 2021. And don’t forget: the rule of law under which the concept of a permanent contract has meaning. The rule of law means not just written law, not just cops, judges, and lawyers, but the willingness of people to live as if the law binds them.

Notice anything fragile in there? Anything that might make this particular ‘always’ brief and exciting? Ultimately, the rule of law boils down to not stealing stuff even if you know you won’t get caught, not running the red light even when nobody’s around, filling out your tax forms without a thought given to how likely you might be to get caught if you just fudge a little, or a lot, around the edges. Like fiat currency, the rule of law exists only where people agree it has value and should be accepted.

Oligarchies of various flavors sometimes give the appearance of being law abiding. They know other oligarchs can make life hard on them, sometimes, if they don’t play by the rules, and they really prefer the little people to follow the rules, at least insofar as those rules prevent violence and theft against oligarchs. It’s also a lot easier to manage people who are under the impression the law applies to everyone. Otherwise, the oligarchs must keep up a constant show of power to keep the little people in line. As the Dread Pirate Roberts says, “Once word leaks out that a pirate has gone soft, people begin to disobey you and then it’s nothing but work, work, work, all the time.” Can’t go soft, once the rule of law – the law YOU make and interpret – vacates the hearts of your subjects. Far better to keep up the illusion.

Problem: the idea of the “law-abiding” “citizen” is dead except as an eccentric idiosyncrasy. The law has been reduced to whatever our betters decide it is and is applied however and to whomever they decide to apply it. Freedom of assembly? Freedom of speech? As dead as the concept of representative democracy. Our citizenship has been rendered meaningless by the last election.

Even all that other, more physical, infrastructure is not nearly as tough as it seems. Things get lost. Technological progress, like progress in general, happens when we only take 99 steps back for every 100 steps forward.

Was teaching the 8th graders about the Greek Dark Ages. After the fall of the Mycenaeans after 1200 BC, the use of Linear B script stopped. A literate people, builders of great palaces and defensive works, heirs to some degree of the great Minoan civilization of Crete, just stopped writing. In other words, a literate people became illiterate. Only centuries later did the Greeks adopt an alphabet from the Phoenicians and return to literacy. It’s an unanswerable question, if the Greeks would have ever developed writing on their own. The Mycenaean Greeks seem to have adapted Linear A (based on a forgotten language and unreadable) from the Minoans into Linear B (a syllabic script for Greek) the first time around, then the Archaic Greeks who followed them relearned to write from the Phoenicians the second time. People in the running for the greatest literary culture in history might never have written anything, left to themselves. That they forgot how at one point is edifying.

Can we forget how to access a block chain to validate the ownership of ephemera via smart contract? How many people understand what that means, or would care if they did? How many people today would be baffled by a rotary phone, or a physical map? How many would be able to reduce a live animal to something you could eat? I still run across floppy discs I forgot to throw away. CDs are all but useless today.

Skilled manual workers could build things like the F-1 rocket engine without computers or 3-D printers. And, weirdly enough, today’s engineers with computers and 3-D printers can’t. The highly skilled engineers, welders, and fitters, who got their hands dirty building rocket engines, aren’t around any more. That knowledge has died. In the linked video, the narrator assumes the original builders were in too big a hurry to notate every trick they used, revealing his ignorance of how highly skilled and productive people work. Welders – and I knew a lot of expert welders, including my dad – just knew stuff, and used it every day. The very idea you’d need to notate every trick you used to get something to work so that some newb non-welder could understand it would have been laughed out of the room.

I suspect NFTs will be dinosaurs sooner rather than later. Recall that all we have of dinosaurs are some bones and a few rare impressions of skin and feathers. From this, we imagine giant beasts, and imagine how they lived, like you can tell from bone fragments the often stunningly complex ways animals behave. The question is: do they become dinosaurs because better solution were developed, or because an asteroid strike, figuratively speaking, wipes out the world as we know it?

Vet Anatomy UofA on Twitter: "African Lion Skeleton (male ...
Large Dog Skeleton - Dapper Cadaver Props
Bear Skeleton by ArsonAnthemKJ on DeviantArt
Even if you can tell the difference between a dog, a lion, and a bear based on their skeletons, could you tell that dogs hunt in packs, bears hunt alone, while some cats (tigers) hunt alone, other cats (lions) hunt in packs? For one example of important things you can’t tell from bones alone.

Imagine explaining the function of a mimeograph machine to someone under 40. “It’s like a computer printer, except completely different” isn’t going to help the callow youth run it. Heck, he probably couldn’t work the typewriter to make up the original. (I remember mimeograph correction fluid – I suspect that blue crap could have gotten one high. I am too straight-laced, and was even back in the Pleistocene, to have ever found out.)

Now imagine explaining how to use a mimeograph machine from some rusted, incomplete scraps. Thus, we see the Minoan’s beautiful ruins and artwork, and their Linear A script, and can as easily recognize that script as writing as we can recognize a Tyrannosaurus Rex bone as part of an animal. But we can’t read Linear A (and not through lack of trying), and we can’t tell much about what a T-Rex IS. We just guess.(2)

The near-universal confidence we have in the permanence of our current tech would be funny if it weren’t horrifying. It never rises to the level of thought, even thought by today’s debased standards of ‘thought’, that maybe, just maybe, it takes work to keep anything going, that entropy is the law, and we and everything we build and love, are profoundly antientropic. Civilizations really don’t spring up naturally, and tend strongly towards decay unless constantly renewed; libraries don’t just happen; knowledge is hard-won, and not yours if you don’t personally know it. The idea that this is ‘our’ technology is delusional. it belongs to those who understand it – and those people can forget, die, or simply fail to pass it along. It’s all very fragile by nature.

Once, a few years back, I had an amusing thought (it amused me, at least) at a meeting of our Chesterton reading group. At the table were about a dozen people, including a doctor, a couple teachers, an economics professor, a couple tech geniuses (I’m told one regular was somewhat famous in Silicon Valley for some fundamental invention used by everybody). A couple doubled as musicians and artsy-types. There were graduates from St. John’s College, MIT, Stanford, and sundry other schools you might have heard of. My funny thought: wow, we here at this table could just about recreate Western Civilization from scratch! ha ha ha. The main thing (among many) we lacked would be one little thing: everybody else’s cooperation.

Civilization is only possible when almost everybody plays nice – and agrees to come down hard on any who don’t. Otherwise, entropy will win.

  1. If only your particular investment firm’s index fund collapsed – say, due to fraud or gross incompetence – that’s another story. I’m talking here about funds becoming valueless because the underlying assets are no longer valued. Just to be clear, in case anyone as pedantic as me reads this.
  2. One of the fun things about the hundreds of cuneiform tablets from all those Mesopotamian civilizations is that almost all of them are boring business records. Imagine putting in the years to learn to read the various languages, then spending the time deciphering some tablet, only to discover it’s all about how many beans somebody owed somebody. Yet Gilgamesh was discovered pretty much by some poor slob happening upon the one in a thousand tablets NOT a boring business record.

Sociopathic & Possibly Unintended Consequences

Ran across this YouTube video about the destruction of the world’s container ship fleet. Summary: due to the drastic drop in world trade caused by the lockdowns, the world’s container ship fleets are being decommissioned and sold for scrap. The decades-long trend to larger and larger ships, which reduce the unit cost of shipping compared to smaller ships, has been dramatically reversed: the larger, more modern ships are the first to go, because, while they are more efficient when fully loaded, they are money-hemorrhaging disasters when sailed at less than capacity. Thus, ships worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, with decades of useful life left in them, are being run ashore in Bangladesh and scrapped.

(China is spending heavily on infrastructure, raising demand for scrap iron, raising the scrap value of those container ships. All this means is that the math leans even more toward ‘sell it for scrap’ and away from ‘ride it out’.)

I’m a little sheepish that it took me this long to become aware of this issue, because, after all, my credentials (Bow to me, bow!) are a Masters’ in International Business and Finance, so this – the financing & mechanisms of international trade – is exactly the sort of thing I’m supposedly an expert (expert I tells ya! Bow some more!) in and am supposed to know about.

But I’ve been pretty much avoiding the ‘news’ for many, many months now. Sanity has some value.

Container ships run aground in Bangladesh, awaiting their turn to be reduced to steel scrap and sold to China

Anyway, the gist of the video: shipping is a highly competitive, low-margin business. What this means: in order to stay in business, a shipping company has to run at close to capacity at all times. The cost of running a 75% full ship versus a 100% full ship are essentially the same, but the money coming in is vastly different. 100% capacity: you make some money. 75% capacity: you quickly go broke. There’s a point where it’s better, financially, to simply scrap a ship you expect to run at 75% capacity than to lose the ocean of money you’ll bleed if you continue to run them. Take the loss up front, rather than die the death of a thousand cuts.

The lockdown has brought us to this point.

The bigger the ship, the lower the cost per container, but the higher the loss if run at less than capacity. Therefore, the world’s container shipping industry is scrapping their bigger, more efficient ships in favor of smaller ships. Smaller = easier to run at capacity. BUT: smaller = higher costs per container. As trade dries up, the size of ship that can be run without going broke keeps shrinking. At some point, the industry dies.

For those of you wearing two masks while driving alone in your car and cowering at home while wagging an angry finger at those who aren’t, deal with this:

International trade is the engine that has, over the last 40-50 years, reduced the percentage of the world’s people living in poverty from ‘most’ to ‘under 10%’. All those factory jobs, and the jobs in the infrastructure that supports those factory jobs, have lifted a couple billion people out of a precarious hand-to-mouth existence to something like a decent life. The Green Revolution has made it possible for fewer and fewer people to feed more and more people with less and less work.

This is a good thing, if you think more and more people living, and living healthier, less soul-crushing lives, is a good thing. We seem to love the stories of evil factory owners working poor peasants to death, but the reality is that, for the most part, those peasant farmers eagerly left the farm behind and took up factory work, because -follow closely – they were thus much more likely to live decent lives. While picturesque, those rice paddies and garden patches where subsistence farmers toiled away their lives are in practice dreary, exhausting, and tenuous. Nobody had to go round up the peasants – they came of their own will, after making their own decisions – for the most part. (Economics is complicated, but, in general, the idea that mean old capitalists had to make people abandon their farms in order to staff their factories simply doesn’t work, not in practice nor in theory.)

But for all this depends on cheap international shipping. If you are competing on price – and that’s about the only thing third world countries can compete on – then, since shipping costs are, you know, costs, then rising shipping costs make you less competitive.

The last 50 years or so have seen pretty much every non-totalitarian country with a coast join in the world of international commerce. If your country didn’t have a coast or a big navigable river that could get your stuff to a coast super cheap, the shipping costs would exclude you from this boom. Mongolia or Tibet, for example, could only compete on items where the market value of the product dwarfs the shipping costs, because they would need to go overland to get to a coast to take advantage of cheap shipping. The example in the video was Switzerland and watches – the Swiss produce super-high-value products where the shipping costs are trivial compared to the cost of the product. (Also, the Swiss sit atop possibly the world’s finest overland shipping network of roads and rail, with a huge market just across their borders. Not so Mongolia.)

So, on the the sociopathy, defined here as a complete lack of empathy for the suffering of others. We’ve institutionalized sociopathy, where we are effectively forbidden to even raise the issue of what is happening in the rest of the world due to our rabbit-like and rabidly anti-science reaction to the ‘Vid. What is happening, beyond the horror described in the video:

  1. As the cost of shipping rises and demand drops, factories producing low-cost goods in low cost (read: third world) countries are going out of business
  2. The people who worked in them are being laid off.
  3. The people in the supporting economy – everything from restaurants to business services to clothing – are also getting laid off or losing their little businesses
  4. Those farms the newly unemployed used to work on? They’re unlikely to still be there. Even if they were, how fast can they ramp up production to feed the extra mouths returning from the cities?
  5. Bonus: we’re destroying not just the ships, but the shipping and ship building industries and all the industries that support them. More layoffs, further drop in demand, further reductions in shipping, etc. Let’s hope we get them back before the needed skills pass from living memory!

Bottom line: it is likely, bordering on inevitable, that millions of people are going to starve to death over the next year or two as a direct result of our idiotic overreaction to COVID. People who don’t have a safety net, who can’t just go to the local soup kitchen or food pantry, who’s countries are unlikely to have the pull needed to get in shipments of food from elsewhere in a timely manner. (Shipped in on what ships? At what cost?)

In William Gibson’s excellent short story Burning Chrome, the protagonist is a hacker who exploits a weakness in the older software and hardware being used in Africa to rob their banks blind. He watches the news with detached indifference as the financial infrastructure collapses and the continent descends into chaos. He does not react to pictures of bodies floating down the rivers. He is simply detached from the disaster he has caused, and feels no remorse.

As he so often was, Gibson was a prophet. If we even allow the thought that our insane overreaction to COVID is causing mayhem and death around the world, we feel nothing, certainly not any responsibility. They’re brown, black, and yellow people who we don’t have to look at, so I guess it’s OK? Not racist or anything.

If Only We Had Known…

CaliforniaProposition8.svg
Green: for . Red: Against. Even L.A. was only pink.

In California, for reasons that date back a century, the voters can enact laws and, indeed, amend the state constitution directly through the ballot initiative process. Thus, when a proposition amending the constitution is passed, the state constitution is changed. The proposition becomes ‘constitutional’ – enshrined as part of California’s constitution.

Back in 2008, Californians were given a chance to vote on the idea that marriage is something that can only exist between a man and a woman, at least as far as state law goes. Prop 8, which amended the state’s constitution to that effect, passed by 600,000 votes.

Yet, as a result of a ruling by a carefully selected (gay) judge on a carefully crafted lawsuit, Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional. So, follow the head-exploding logic here: an actual part of the state constitution, put there by a fairly decisive majority of the voters, expressly amending the constitution, is ruled *unconstitutional*. Now, there could be problems with an amendment that require clarification, because, frankly, the initiative process does put some pretty poorly thought out or poorly worded stuff to the vote. A judge could say: this part here is unenforceable as written, so we will suspend enforcement until it is clarified. Or: I will apply this range of interpretations according to what I believe the spirit of the law intended until such time, if any, these particular issues are clarified. Or something that recognizes the law is the law.

What is not rationally possible is to declare the constitution unconstitutional. The will of the people as expressed with their votes, not to mention the thousands of hours invested by citizens to get this law on the ballot and passed, were simply set aside. It was more than a partisan ruling that defied any concept of the rule of law. It was a flex, a show of force and contempt, where our self appointed betters showed us deplorable little people just how much our votes mattered to them.

It hardly stopped there: in 2014, Brendan Eich, who was well-respected enough to get appointed CEO of Mozilla, was forced out due to having committed the heinous crime of having given $1,000 to Prop 8, a cause that won handily, and for supporting Republicans.

That most voters agreed with Eich at the time means: these people would do the same to most voters. And, indeed, when I get together with Catholic dads, one topic that often comes up is the need to keep your opinions to yourself at work while simultaneously tolerating having the ‘correct’ views rammed down your throat.

So, now we are being treated to a similar insult and flex: Congress is attempting to impeach a private citizen. The way it works in law: government officials can be impeached; military people can be tried by military courts; private citizens get tried in courts of law. These are constitutional rights – guaranteeing the right to a trail when we private citizens are accused of breaking the law is just exactly the sort of thing you bother having a constitution *for*.

If only we had known that our elected officials can simply change the Constitution at will, when they really, really feel like it!

The real point here: if Trump were to be accused of treason and given a real trial in the civil courts according to established legal practice, the prosecution would have to produce coherent charges and produce evidence, there would be a discovery period, and his team would get to present evidence and make counterarguments, witness would be called to testify under oath – in public, on the record, with normal people watching.

Can’t have that. We will instead, if sanity doesn’t miraculously prevail, have an utterly illegal show trial, where senators shout down and threaten each other and anybody testifying ‘wrong’, and where rules are changed as needed to get the desired result and prevent any counter-evidence from being presented (not that the media would allow us to see it even if the Senate slipped up and let it get said out loud). All law is suspended so that we little can be kept ‘safe’ and in our place.

We have the spectacle of elected officials blatantly violating the Constitution in order to ‘protect’ ‘us’ from somebody violating the Constitution. Somebody is trying to incite insurrection, but it ain’t the most recent former president. Got to follow through on the Reichstag Fire Capital ‘riots’ to complete the congressional purge so that the federal and state purge can proceed efficiently. Then it’s reeducation for the little people.

Well, miracles do sometimes happen.

Note: “The Reichstag Fire Decree suspended most civil liberties in Germany, including habeas corpus, freedom of expression (see above), freedom of the press (riiiight), the right of free association and public assembly (gone since March), and the secrecy of the post and telephone (let me check with Siri about this… Yep, gone).” Wow, we’re ahead of the curve! Already lost almost all that – to the applause of millions. Boy, are we ‘safe’.

We Have Always Believed in American Exceptionalism

Remember when the belief that America was not like other countries, but somehow especially blessed and protected, was a shibboleth that marked one out for culling at the next round up? Only deplorable people would ever believe such a stoopid fantasy….

Well, forget that. Nope, that went down the memory hole. We are now required to believe that, unlike every other country on earth now and throughout history, we are immune to:

  • A State-controlled media. Nope, not in America! Just can’t happen. All media – real media, that is – agrees on all particulars and the general sweep of current events and history that has brought us to this, a dawn of a glorious new era where 6′ 200lbs men will be playing women’s hockey and paper masks both trap billions of deadly virons AND pose no health threat when you handle them and throw them in the trash. Among a million other absurdities obvious truths every right-thinking person believes.
  • Election Fraud. Nope, not here, not even possible! All the most intelligent, enlightened, and moral people (as they themselves will tell you) roll their eyes so hard at this, you just KNOW it’s true! Only a rube, an ignoramus, a bad person, would even dare bring up Huey Long, or the Chicago Outfit, or Billy Bulger, or Tammany Hall, or… Only someone truly evil would point out that same Europe at whose feet we should sit and learn – not only do they have flawless, perfect socialized medicine with no downsides whatsoever, but they gave the Lightbringer a Nobel Prize – require IDs to vote, because, well, they have much more experience than us in….uh, never mind.
  • Propaganda. What? Not here in America! Impossible! We are the land of free and open expression, and, besides, way too intelligent, educated, and moral to fall for that sort of nonsense! it’s like advertising: Only rubes buy anything because it appears in an ad or the product is placed in a movie we like. Only pork rinds and Coke are sold that way, to people living in trailers and missing teeth. The advertisements in the shows and magazines we consume have NO EFFECT. AT. ALL. We can’t be swayed by stories repeated and repeated and repeated until they are part of the background noise. Only an evil person would suggest we enlightened Americans have anything to learn from the German intelligentsia, professional classes, lawyers, judges, journalists – who, by the way, were objectively the best educated, most enlightened and, indeed, most moral people the world had ever seen up to that point- who fell right in line with Goebbels’s propaganda campaign. Not the rubes, not the farmers – the smart people. But we’re different, because we’re told we’re different.
  • Totalitarianism. Well, THAT almost happened until the good, intelligent, moral people, for our safety as determined by them, put a stop to freedom of association, freedom of speech, and fair trials. Can’t have the rubes talking among themselves. It’s not safe to hear out the other side when we already KNOW who’s right. But that’s the opposite of totalitarianism, which can’t happen here. Only an evil, crazy person would point out the parallels with many, indeed, EVERY democracy that fell into totalitarianism, via some mix of reigns of terror, military dictatorship, revolution, counterrevolution, and so on. Because, you idiot, that simply can’t happen here.

America is simply different. We make our own rules. We are beyond history, beyond reality, even – everything that is, is spoken into being by our word. Have I mentioned that we are the most intelligent, most enlightened, most moral people the world has ever seen? We are incapable of being fooled, manipulated, herded! We are just the best! America: History’s Chosen People! But totally not in any religious sense – that’s just stupid.

A Possibly Relevant Autobiographical Note

In general, brave people are simple souls. Not stupid, by any means, but simple. Such people will face up to outrageous evil because they cannot imagine doing otherwise. Many great saints suffered outrageous martyrdoms because they simply couldn’t be made to say what they knew was untrue.

With my back against a golden throne, I fought once again for Dejah Thoris.

A somewhat secular example is Captain Carter in Princess of Mars. He says himself several times in the course of the story that he took heroic action because he simply could not imagine doing otherwise. And that’s the trick – in saner times, honorable people saw it as their duty to raise up such people from the cradle, because that sort of simple heroism is what is needed to be honorable in everyday life, let alone at times of crisis.

And it is the right thing to do.

I am not that guy. At my roots lives a deep well of fear. From whence it comes, I can only speculate. It is not attached to anything I can confidently identify. Just as I cannot explain how it could be that I’m not an alcoholic – if I were, no one would be surprised, given my personality and weakness – I cannot explain why I do not spend my days rolled into a ball whimpering in the corner. God knows there are many days I would like to.

So, how comes it that I find myself, trembling, at least trying to stand up for the truth? Growing up, as we all have, amongst the People of the Lie, truth may appear a fragile thing, easily beaten down and ignored. Certainly, the idea that truth is a lion, that you just need to set it free and it will take care of itself, is not something one can often see over the number of years one is given to live. Defending truth, in other words, is generally expensive and fruitless, at least in the short run.

I would like to hear your stories of how you came to care about the truth, Dear Readers, if you care to share. If you put truth above tribe, you are a rare bird.

For me, the answer is 3-fold:

  1. I have always been an outcast, and usually didn’t care. I never remember once obsessing over being a part of some group or other. In fact, I’ve never quite understood the desperate energy with which so many people strive to be part of the Kool Kids Klub, the Inner Circle.
  2. I think the appeal of science, which I began reading compulsively at age 9 (in the form of Time/Life books, tbh, so not *that* precocious), was at least partly in that it provided some level of certainty, truth on some level. As I got older and realized science could not address any of the really important questions, I started reading philosophy.
  3. When, in 5th grade, I made a fool of myself trying to straighten out our poor teacher on some minor point of astronomy, and found nothing by eyerolls and exasperation, I tuned out. These people, least of all the teacher, didn’t WANT TO KNOW. This was a profound realization, even if, at the time, I was not at all clear about it. What I was clear about: school was going to get the absolute minimum effort needed from me to get by.

So, more or less accidentally, I was immunized against caring what the school thought of me. 5th grade was also the only time I ever won the ‘merit pin’, given to the student with the best GPA. Found out that didn’t make me any friends or get me anything positive, either. So, from then on, the head-patting and gold stars and brownie points meant nothing to me.

But none of this makes me brave. I still avoid conflict, and tremble inside when forced to speak out against evil. I’m trying to overcome the fear, and am greatly encouraged by the example of my wife and children, who are brave in the way described above.

In a 10 days, the annual Walk for Life takes place in San Francisco. There is, of course, no rally, probably no mass, but people are planning to walk, my wife and children among them. I tremble, but I will go. Then, the 40 Days for Life starts up over Lent in February.

Word is the SF police are aware and will maintain order for the Walk. Over the 40 days, police in one local city have clearly been told to stand down, so that the harassment, screaming of obscenities’ and physical threats are allowed against the people praying. Our city so far has been better, but who knows? This is where the rubber hits the road. I’m terrified. I need to stand up anyway.

We all need to pray for each other.

On Protecting Your Emotional & Spiritual Health

Clarissa, a college professor who is immersed in but not of the current academic tribe, is always good to read. She grew up in Eastern Europe and has broad experience of the world, and so her takes on America are priceless. Here is some good advice, from someone whose extensive experience under repressive regimes puts her in a good position to know:

When an aggressive psy-op is being conducted against you, you’ve got to protect yourself. Take measures. I’ve seen people turn into a cowering mess. It’s very sad.

Rule #1: curate your sources of information extremely carefully. Look at the lengths we go to in order to protect our bodies from a virus. We need to do the same to protect our minds.

Rule #2: the philosophy of “I’m such a special cookie” will be your downfall. It’s precisely the people who believe they are too smart to be manipulated who succumb the most easily. I have developed a narrative of “I’m extremely sensitive and impressionable, so I’m high-risk.” It helps you still feel very special yet protect yourself from the onslaught.

Rule #3: dedicate 2-3 days a week to a complete news and media blackout.

I succumbed to the corona-panic back in March, folks. I’m a hypochondriac and an OCD neurotic with a history of late-term pregnancy loss. It could have ended badly. But I used these strategies, blacked out the media, avoided FB, and saved my sanity.

Currently, the second part of this psy-op is being unleashed. So please, stay vigilant, and curate, curate, curate.

On a spiritual level, these are also good first steps. We don’t need to let ourselves get hammered over the head with the glee and flexes of our self-appointed betters. Living well is not just the best revenge, but is also the first steps to recovery. Don’t feed the black dog.

I’m reminded of two passages from C.S. Lewis, another college professor who was immersed in but not of his academic tribe. In That Hideous Strength, Jane, Lewis’s stand in for the relatively harmless modern enlightened and therefore clueless people, visits Dr. and Mrs. Dimble, old friends from her student days. Their home is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Cottage of Lost Play or even the Last Homely House – except the magic is wholesome normalcy:

Cecil Dimble, a Fellow of Northumberland, had been Jane’s tutor for her last year as a student and Mrs. Dimble (one tended to call her Mother Dimble) had been a kind of unofficial aunt to all the girls of her year. A liking for the female pupils of one’s husband is not, perhaps, so common as might be wished among dons’ wives; but Mrs. Dimble appeared to like all Dr. Dimble’s pupils of both sexes and the Dimbles’ house, away on the far side of the river, was a kind of noisy salon all the term. She had been particularly fond of Jane with that kind of affection which a humorous, easy natured and childless woman sometimes feels for a girl whom she thinks pretty and rather absurd. For the last year or so Jane had been somewhat losing sight of the Dimbles and felt rather guilty about it. She accepted the invitation to lunch.

The Dimbles, childless but with a house full of ‘children’ as it were, have a garden famous among those children; the N.I.C.E. is planning to bulldoze it along with their house. An echo of Adam and Eve in Eden, certainly, but with the added New Testament touch of having no natural offspring, but plenty of adopted children, as it were. (I could write a long essay just about this scene – better stop now.)

Normal, happy people and their stuff must get bulldozed by the progressive people – they offend and terrify them. For good reason. For our parts, we should try to be those normal, happy people. And plant spectacular gardens according to our skills and gifts. If it get bulldozed, plant another.

And from Perelandra, the Lady has been listening to the Un-Man as Ransom watches helplessly:

But the Lady did not appear to be listening to him. She stood like one almost dazed with the richness of a day-dream. She did not look in the least like a woman who is thinking about a new dress. The expression of her face was noble. It was a great deal too noble. Greatness, tragedy, high sentiment — these were obviously what occupied her thoughts. Ransom perceived that the affair of the robes and the mirror had been only superficially concerned with what is commonly called female vanity. The image of her beautiful body had been offered to her only as a means to awake the far more perilous image of her great Soul. The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy’s true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.

Our play has likewise already been written, and from the same source. Sadly, we are not unfallen Adams and Eves, but rather fatally crippled souls in need of salvation. So, when we are tempted to see ourselves as noble, heroic, great souls, we grab is with no hesitation. I’m not going to look it up – curate! – but we all remember that speech delivered to SS people, explaining how only truly far-sighted and heroic people could bring themselves to kill all Jews, even the nice ones they had been friends with. Men can make themselves do unspeakable evil when the story they tell themselves is how tragically heroic they are.

And everybody today is repeating the same story.

I suppose I’m required to end with one more Lewis quotation:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology)

A clear conscience is only necessary for the useful idiots. A nihilist conscience is a contradiction in terms.

I like Mr. Bultitude, nature in its natural relationship with Man, wiping out lots of evil. One can hope.