Front Row Kids Revisited (Yep, the d*mn Virus)

Since I generally stay away from the popular press for sanity and utility reasons – tends to drive me crazy and be useless – I don’t know how that whole ‘front row kids’ thing from a few years ago went over. I suspect that Arnade’s division seemed obviously true to many people, and obvious balderdash to many others. I’d also imagine that, of those two groups, the first would be a lot more engaged in talking about and promoting this analysis, while the second would be more likely to role their eyes and find something better to do.

Chartiers Elementary School Classroom | Historic Pittsburgh

Accepting for the moment this front row/back row division of the world: for a front row kid, this idea that he is defined by his place in school is very appealing; I’d go so far as to suggest doing otherwise is almost unimaginable for him. Unfortunately, I’d say the same for most back row kids.

What’s lurking here: school is the primary formative experience of all front row and most back row kids. Coming from a rootless, cruel, and self-centered personal life, where mom and dad have divorced, moved, and remarried, often several times, school for such emotionally battered children is an oasis of order. Unlike their relationship with their parents, the rules in school are pretty clear: to be valued, to get approval, just do what the teacher says.

In the process of seeking personal fulfillment and career success, they have learned from their families, such as they are, to casually sever whatever non-work related relationships they may have otherwise formed. A child leaves a house full of emotional and sometimes physical insecurity, and spends most of his waking hours in a place where success is clearly defined for them.

To tell such a child, now grown into a physical adult and inescapably defining his success in terms of compliance, that something an authority figure has told them is wrong, is never going to be seen as a mere intellectual dispute. It is an attack on that which defines who he is. It is an assault on his entire world.

Here’s Arnade’s definitions, from a Forbes article (in which the writer seems to accept the distinction, and has moved on to worrying over what to do about it). This is a masterpiece of Orwellian newspeak. I’ll offer my corrections line by line:

Front row kids:

Mobile, global, and well educated (Rootless, disdainful of local loyalties, thoroughly indoctrinated)

Primary social network is via colleges and career (Social network is shallow, diffuse, and ephemeral)

Intellect is primary. (Compliance is primary) View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments (Has internalized the idea that compliance is rational, and that only the numbers and arguments presented by authority figures count regardless of their inherent soundness)

Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual pursuits (Has no concept of what meaning and morality are)

Faith is irrational. (Has internalized a strawman) They see themselves as beyond race and gender (They are obsessed with race and gender)

View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own (Contrary to what they see all around them, they accept the fantasy that success in school guarantees success in life)

Back row kids

Stay where they are born. (Are loyal and patriotic) Education beyond high school degree is via smaller state schools, community colleges, and trade schools (Recognize, however dimly, that college is a fraud)

Primary social network is via institutions beyond work. (Don’t think of family, etc., as ‘institutions.’ Love, and has a visceral loyalty to the people who love them and recognizes a duty to love and be loyal in return.) Such as family, geographic community, and Church (Finds fulfillment and meaning as part of a family, village or neighborhood, and church)

Faith is central. (They know what faith means. They reject the strawman) They find meaning (and morality) through the “Decency of hard work” (They work for reasons other than mere personal fulfillment – they find fulfillment in performing their duties to the family, village, and church they love)

They have “traditional” views of race and gender (They reject the authoritarian indoctrination of the schools)

They view their lives as worse than their parents and their children’s lives will be worse than their own (They have a toehold in economic reality – it will be a lot of work for them and their children to get as far as their parents.)

A front row kid’s sense of reality will always be tenuous, because it will always be contradicted by experience. The approval of teachers and schools, the gold stars, the pat on the head, the straight A’s, the diplomas, the advanced degrees – these are what stand between them and the abyss of abandonment they experienced in their family life. On this level, a front row kid really is triggered by simple, harmless words – any words that point out the contradiction. ‘Fake news’ points out the perfidy and incompetence of their peers. Those elite journalists went to the best schools, got the best degrees, and are front row kids to a degree to which most front row kids can only spire. That they are getting mocked for being such obvious frauds is unendurable! Those journalists are both front row kids like us, and stand in the role of teachers as the vanguard of the institutions that give meaning to their lives.

The key here for today: front row kids truly believe that parroting what they hear from whoever stands in authority IS science, logic, intelligence, and reasonableness itself. Agreeing with teacher IS morality. Opposing what the person in authority says IS anti-science, irrationality, and stupidity, and EVIL. They have been told that they are the best educated, most reasonable and most moral people the world has ever seen – and, as the price to be paid for acceptance and approval and something that almost feels like love, they believe it. This price, this membership in the kool kids klub, demands any who express doubts about any part of the program be treated as heretics.

As of today, I have had someone I know, who has an advanced degree, unload on me for calling the COVID panic a fraud, and, with complete disdain for any evidence, logic, math that might enter into the analysis, call me tool for stupid, evil politicians who want to get us all killed out of pure malice. I was accused of promoting conspiracy theories, which was backed up by a stream of conspiracy theories.

A stranger called me a monster and insane for pointing out something completely obvious from all the available data: that a child stands virtually no risk from the Kung Flu. Unlike the case above, this time I got a chance to point to the CDC data that backs this up; pointed to the IFR calculable from that CDC data. It simply was not possible to change her mind, because it’s not a question of thinking. It is a question of personal identity established over 16 or more years of schooling.

Simply raising questions about the government’s response to COVID, simply pushing back at all on the assertions of the talking heads, is enough to trigger a strong emotional reaction in front row kids. To take any pushback seriously would be to shake the very ground upon which they stand. To accept any view contrary to the front row kid group-think would be to cast oneself adrift, to sever social ties (such as they are) and force a reevaluation of the premises upon which your life has been built.

To say this is difficult is a wild understatement. If an authority figure comes along and says something diametrically opposed to what was said yesterday, front row kids will believe it without a moment of cognitive dissonance. COVID was not a problem – until it was. Masks didn’t help at all, until they might help some, until they are mandatory. And the front row will switch allegiance accordingly, and woe to him who points this out!

For change to happen, the easier route, which has happened many times, is simply to change the authority figure. Our current authority figures are fighting this with desperate fury. Or, I suppose, enough cognitive dissonance might eventually get through. Resistance to this level of fundamental, definitional change is strong, life and death strong.

I do not need to point out to regular readers that this transference of loyalty from family to state via a certified agent of the state – a teacher – and the replacement of thought with obedience is exactly what Fichte proposed way back in 1807.

Monday Mish-Mash

A. This scrap of flash fiction seems somehow relevant.

Minchinhampton Common: where the cow is king but only just ...

B. At first glance, I thought Amazon was trying to sell me bulk shotgun shells:

“Your go-to Solution” seemed a little dark for corporate America.

C. Is that, is that – Caleb Jones?

D. On a less light note: the recent Supreme Court ruling giving those confused about their sex cover as a protected class is, ultimately, the final puzzle piece in the 200+ year effort to bring all schools completely under the control of the state. As usual, the stated goals are a smokescreen: the champions of this ruling were talking fairness, discrimination, and mean old bigots, not ‘we can now sue private schools out of existence and lock up homeschoolers and take away their kids.’ But that is what this is about.

More detailed post when I can stomach it.

Brief (promise!) D*mn Virus Update

By now, I’ve despaired of convincing anyone who can open their own eyes and look around and is yet not convinced that the COVID 19 panic is and has been from the beginning a fraud. If you can’t see that, I don’t know what I could say to convince you. But, for my own satisfaction:

Way, way back on April 3, using then-available number, basic logic and a little math, I came up with an infection fatality rate (IFR) of around 0.25%, and said that was still probably quite a bit high. About 6 weeks later, the CDC published their “COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios“. Digging around a bit, their most likely scenario used an IFR of. 0.15 to 0.26%. That means the CDC expects about 15 to 26 out of every 10,000 infected people to die.

Imagine. And they evidently based this on their very ‘generous’ counting of COVID deaths. Now, I’m not some genius sleuth or anything, just pointing out that the data needed to reach these very-much-not-worth-panicking-over-numbers were right there all along, so that even I could reach them. And I’d still bet the CDC IRF is high by a factor of maybe 4. Just a hunch.

Thus: even accepting a world where we all are encouraged to imagine ourselves under dire threat from a disease where 95% of the attributed deaths are among very sick, often very elderly, people with multiple health problems and short, as in months, life expectancies, that risk is still TINY according to the CDC driving the panic. If you’re not in a nursing home or otherwise under palliative care, you are literally under more risk crossing the street than from catching this virus.

Those watching Our Betters decide that rioting over the approved issues immunizes people, while golf or church or a visit to a restaurant is literally courting DEATH for MILLIONS, all while even the ridiculously ‘generous’ death counts plummet, and STILL think the lockup was a good idea and people who don’t wear masks are evil, are not going to be convinced otherwise by math and facts. But I tried.

Charts, because we haven’t done those since they got boring:

Worldometers, as usual. They are the worst-case numbers reporters. John Hopkins and the CDC are always lower by about 10%.

In the US, boy, are they trying to make it seem bad despite all the evidence to the contrary. In a country with 330M people, where close to 8,000 people die on an average day, we’re supposed to cower like rabbits because, with ‘generous’ counting, because around 500 people (and falling), almost all of whom were very sick and most near death before they (may or may not have) gotten infected, are dying while infected per day.

No deaths at all since May 26. Note the hilarious “correction” on May 25, where they can’t say: “we overcounted deaths by a couple thousand, which is about 10% of the total,” Because that would be too easy. Instead, they said:

“Spain: On May 25th, the government decreased the number of total cases by 372 and the number of deaths to 26837. The discrepancy is the result of the validation of the same data by the autonomous communities and the transition to a new surveillance strategy. Discrepancies could persist for several days. We’ve adjusted our figures to reflect the new numbers [source] [source] [source]”

Over. Was over once a) it had ripped through the nursing homes; and b) spring weather arrived.

Stick a fork in it.

Turned the corner yet? Hard to say. Southern hemisphere, but the population is mostly in tropical and subtropical climates – usually hard on airborne viruses. Not sure what’s happening, but remember: 220M people, many living in very poor conditions – kind of like Wuhan tenements. This level of deaths, while certainly tragic on a personal level, is not something to panic over. Will keep an eye on this.


Mexico (pop: 129M, or twice Italy or France) is approaching the Top 6 in deaths (above). Will keep an eye on our neighbor to the south.

Also also: William Briggs took the data in the CDC report linked to above, and produced this chart, showing graphically the about 62M infections generating those 1.7M cases we’ve heard about. Again, it’s that whole functionally numerate thing: if this doesn’t make you guffaw, maybe numbers aren’t your thing?

And Dr. Briggs’ analysis:

As of Wednesday night, and using our standard sources (which exaggerate death counts), there were 1,689,630 reported “cases” (positive tests) and 94,352 reported deaths. The crude CFR was 94,352/1,689,630 = 5.6%. Again, this bug is not killing 5.6% of those with symptoms. The RFR was 0.03%.

The number of estimated actual cases are anywhere from 8 to 30 million Americans. That is, about 2.4% to 9.1% of the US’s population had symptoms or were otherwise cases.

The number of estimated actual infections are anywhere from 37 to 62 million people. That is, about 11% to 19% of the US’s population are already infected.

If actual deaths are lower, then all these numbers will be too high.

The point of all this: to find more cases, all you’d have to do is run more tests – the infection is out there in millions of (asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic) people. Panicking over increased cases is idiotic. Or, to be more generous, shows a lack of understanding of the data.

Would China Destroy its Economy if the Pandemic Wasn’t Real? YES.

This morning, we’re hearing about how there’s a new outbreak of COVID 19 in Beijing, and that flights are being canceled. The already tottering Chinese economy will take another massive hit; what, if anything, is left of Chinese credibility will be completely gone.

Is this not proof the pandemic is real? Note: the question is not: is COVID 19 a real disease? Of course it is. The question, put more pointedly, is: does this not prove that lockdowns, masks, social distancing and the ongoing panic is justified?

No, it does not. Let me explain. Way back in the 90s, my thesis adviser, a Chinese (probably Taiwanese, I didn’t ask) economics professor and I used to shoot the breeze talking about how little Americans really understood the Chinese Communist government. At the time, America was well into a China policy of economic engagement, under the express theory espoused especially by the Bush clan that if China were to move into a Western style economic model, they would necessarily also move toward a Western style liberal democracy. (That the Bush clan is alleged to have made many millions from facilitating Chinese trade deals was not part of the public discussion at the time.) That was under Bush the Elder; Shrub tried the same theory in the Islamic world a decade later, this time with guns.

I specifically remember discussing two scenarios with my thesis advisor: if the Chinese Communist would kill 100,000,000 of their own subjects if that’s what it took to retain power – answer: without a moment’s hesitation – and whether, if it had to choose between power and the vast wealth created by their snow-job, parasitic faux capitalist economy, if they would destroy that economy – answer: yes, although they might hesitate for a moment. Hey, wealth is fun.

This was 30 years ago. A few things to note:

A. 1958-1962: Mao, on what looks in retrospect almost like a whim, launched the Great Leap Forward, resulting it the deaths of an estimated 65 million of his own people. He did succeed in destroying to a large extent traditional social structures and village life, and instilled a fear that anybody could turn you in at the drop of a hat. The killing was generally carried out by young, ignorant thugs (Solzenitzen describes a similar use of the young and stupid under Stalin). There’s not the slightest evidence Mao or his fellow dons felt the least hesitation or regret. Just business, Communist style.

B. 1989: At Tiananmen Square, about 10,000 unarmed student protesters were ground into gore by Communist tanks; bulldozers were used to scrap up the mess. About a thousand who escaped getting crushed were offered safe passage if they would leave; they were machine-gunned on their way out. Again, business as usual.

C. Under Bush the Elder, we chose to make these people, the leaders of Communist China, preferred trading partners. At first, the cost in stolen IP and out and out espionage seemed minor, especially since it was generally private companies paying it. And the elites weren’t losing their jobs to Chinese slave- and near-slave labor, only those hicks in flyover country. And oh, those cheap goods! Wow!

Eventually, the IP theft, espionage losses and currency manipulation to ensure Chinese goods remained insanely cheap got more serious. By then, an interesting dynamic was in place: Nobody in the world market wants Chinese currency – no one outside of China does, and even there, they wouldn’t if there were an option. Trade banks demand Chinese deals be secured with $US, because they’re not idiots. Therefore, in order to do all those billions of dollars in trade, China needed to hold billions of dollars in US dollar-denominated securities: US Treasuries. The US government needed to issue treasuries to fund various bailout – and look! The Chinese Communists needed to buy those treasuries in order to secure trade financing (which all international trade requires).

So a huge chunk of the US dollars going to China to buy Chinese goods (and support all the theft, espionage, slavery and tyranny that involves) ended up coming back to the US, which issued treasuries to the Chinese so that they could keep doing what they were doing.

Trump, to his credit, knows this. He has a long history of denouncing US reliance on trade with China.

D. Hong Kong, with their British-founded banking system and history as a trading hub, is a pinch-point for all this trade: trading banks around the world have histories with Hong Kong banks – banking does come down to trust in the end – and so, while NOT trusting the Communist Chinese, they could and did do business through the Hong Kong banks, who provided a buffer. It was the Hong Kong banks that told the Chinese Communists what they would need to do and how they would need to behave in order to get this trade gravy train rolling.

And so, the Chinese Communists kept their hands more or less off Hong Kong for several decades. That has come to an end. Funny how COVID 19 drove the Hong Kong protest right off the news. Anybody know if protesters are getting machine gunned down or driven over with tanks? Yet, I mean?

The Bush clan was right, to some extent. At least in Hong Kong, a taste of freedom lit a bit of a fire. People there, all of whom have relatives and connections in mainland China, don’t want to be absorbed into the hive. The Chinese Communists must have figured they had established enough of a relationship with the trading banks to keep this train running without the mediation of the Hong Kong banks. I doubt it – the reality would be something like: Trade bank makes tons of money off Chinese trade mediated through Hong Kong banks; Hong Kong banks are crushed/brought to heel by the Party; having seen this movie before, trade banks look at how they can extricate themselves with as little damage as possible. Takes time. I bet it’s well under way.

E. Put this all together: The Chinese economy was going down ALREADY. (I didn’t even mention the costs of the one-child policy in terms of shrinking cheap labor force & social unrest. That’s a real economic crisis in itself!) Under Trump, America was clamping down on IP theft, currency manipulation, and espionage. Trump was piushing for onshoring of all critical pipeline items, and repatriation of manufacturing jobs. As the recovery boomed, the end of an endless supply of US treasuries loomed. The world’s trading and banking professionals are all over this: while the Bush clan was wrong about free trade pushing the Chinese toward democracy internally, the rest of the world has had enough.

The Chinese Communists hate Trump as much as any other deranged leftists. While, objectively, the gravy train’s days were numbered anyway, it’s not clear the Chinese Communist leadership acknowledged it, and Trump’s trade crackdown and a booming US economy certainly didn’t help. Would they pitch in, as it were, jump-starting Son of the Panic by overeating to a few COVID 19 cases in Beijing? Note: the reports are – ready? – 86 cases have turned up, 7 of them asymptomatic. So they lock down hard and cancel a thousand flights.

Beijing has a population of over 21 million.

I say, and I think history bears this out: yes. The Chinese Communists have their backs against the wall. Having read Sun Tzu, they know to try to appear strong when they are weak. But they are in much worse shape than the outside world is being lead to believe.

We may have already had our one unexpected miracle: the largely peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union. Should not count on getting another one. This time, we have a wounded animal cornered. No telling what they will do, but it’s prudent to remember that nothing, and I mean nothing, is off the table.

Word Salad – a Systemic Problem

‘Systemic’ is a nice word, like ‘problematic’. I get a visceral negative reaction when I hear either of them, however. Too bad, at least for systemic – unlike problematic, which is always used where ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ or ‘stupid’ is intended but not impressive-sounding enough, systemic does have a good fine meaning. So, here’s a small attempt to salvage it.

First, I’d suggest that systemic be used only in regards to clear, preferably consciously designed, systems. Hidden, unexpressed rules absorbed unaware are better called ‘prejudices’. And, indeed, for years they were – in my youth, the world as reported was all about fighting prejudice.

Second, it matters if one acknowledges the existence of human nature. If people are people like any other creature from ants to angels, there are going to be more or less sympathetic and understandable behavioral quirks that just come with the territory. The prime example in today’s unpleasantness: as tribal/pack creatures, we naturally (human nature) are suspicious of outsiders, non-tribal members. This suspicion is overcome when the tribe is receptive and the outsider – identified as such by his clothing, behavior, speach, mannerisms, etc. – performs ritual actions designed to put the new tribe at ease. Dogs wag their tails; we smile and show our empty palms. And so on.

Interactions with strangers make up a huge part of literature and history. First contact stories are a subspecies. All such stories explore and play off of the possibility of misunderstanding. There can be happy endings or disasters or anything in between.

One party here is trying harder than the other to show they mean no harm; the heavy military back-up is merely prudent…

All such stories would make no sense if human nature didn’t exist. If every encounter was merely blank slate to blank slate, there could be no expectations, nothing to be surprised or horrified or amused by. The attempt to replace human prejudice with some sort of system problem just kicks the can down the road a bit: from what did this supposed system arise? Who built it? If no one, how is that different from the concept of human nature? (Calling it a social construct is just trying to kick the same can a little further.)

Tribal prejudices are not systemic in any useful sense of that term. But if one refuses to recognize human nature, what else could they be? Refusal to recognize human nature is the end, not the beginning, of any discussion of human behaviour.

Here’s a (predictable) example of real systemic problems: schools. A system was consciously put in place to achieve certain goals. Over the years, that system has become integrated to the point where it is largely invisible to most of the people charged with it execution – teachers and parents. The resulting behaviors cannot be addressed by simple appeals to personal effort, because by design these behaviors are habitual and therefore nearly ineradicable, and are reinforced at every turn in a society in which nearly everyone has been subjected to that system.

The system looks like this:

  • Divide kids into arbitrary groups by age. Kids are to see their tribal membership as something decided by others, by people in authority.
  • Divide their school time into arbitrary segments. Kids are judged by how well they comply with arbitrary bells and instructions
  • Divide learning into subjects, and reward staying on task regardless of the skill or interest of the child, enforcing the idea that their interests are secondary to the school’s interests.
  • Ignore or denigrate the child’s skills or interests that are not in lockstep with school programs. Only following directions and regurgitating on command are rewarded.
  • Enforce these divisions spatially and socially. Each grade has its specified classroom, recess time, lunch area, etc. School has the unquestioned authority to control your social interactions.
  • Exclude the outside world as much as possible. Unapproved adults – parents, say – are forbidden from the classroom except under highly controlled conditions.
  • Extend the school control outside of traditional school hours by homework, sports, extracurricular activities, pre- and after-school programs. School is more important and has more authority than family.
  • Put parents in the role of school enforcer by making the completion of homework their responsibility. School has authority in the outside world.
  • Measure success and personal worth solely by school approval. Smart people sit in the front row, pay attention and get good grades; dumb people focus on what interests them regardless of what the school wants.

And so on.

Schooling really is a systemic problem. The solution really is to defund the schools K-grad school. Unfortunately, this rhetoric has already been drafted for much less defensible goals.

We’ll Never Know

One of us? The evidence seems somewhat fragmentary.

I’ve sometimes said that the correct scientific answer to most questions is: we don’t know. This is so because a) most interesting questions do not fall under the purview of science; and b) the highly conditional nature of all true science usually leaves room for reasonable doubt even in the relatively small subset of questions where science can be brought to bear. In the first group fall such timeless questions as “what am I to do with my life?” “Does life have any meaning?” “Should I marry this person?” “What should we name our child?” These are really important question for which science isn’t much help.

In the second group, fall such questions as: “When did human beings arise?” It is thought that creatures one could argue were human arose maybe 4 million years ago. Maybe. Modern humans, people who could pass unnoticed at a cocktail party given a shower, a shave, decent clothes, and a zipped lip, maybe 500,000? Maybe a million years ago?

And you know what? We’ll never know the answer. We’ll never eliminate reasonable doubt. We’ll never dig up every fossil, never be very confident of our taxonomy or dating of such fossils we do dig up, and in general, will never be confident we have enough information to be sure, even under the relaxed standards of reasonable doubt. (1)

It gets much worse when we don’t even have the tools of science to play with. We could probably trace the decline of Western thought in all fields through Scripture scholars. I’m sure all this predates Luther, but he is the one the most people will have heard of. First off, he really was a scripture scholar – he learned the original languages, and, like everyone in the monasteries where he was educated and which he later fought to have shut down, really knew his Bible. He is reported to have answered a question about his translation by saying: “Tell them Luther says it is so!”

Be that as it may, over the next 3 or 4 centuries in the West, Scripture scholars came up with one interesting interpretation after another, untethered purposely at first, but then as a matter of habit, from tradition. One might say it became a tradition to reject tradition. But since scholarship is, at its roots, tradition, eventually they become unbound by any rules.

Yet, at least up until modern Universalist Unitarians at the turn of the 19th century (2), each separate take on Scripture was considered a life-or-death matter. As hard as it is to imagine today, there was a time when a good Presbyterian passionately believed all Methodists were damned. There was a time when every new take entailed the founding of a new religion, the one true religion.

That was tiring. Sure, *Catholics*, enslaved to tradition, were of course damned. But, eventually, Protestants came to be more and more tolerant, in the sense of not attaching much value to the particulars of your beliefs, so long as you paid your respects to Jesus (Whoever He was) and were a good person.

And – here we are. Of course, the urge toward orthodoxy, the drive to find right worship, is more basic to us humans than any merely intellectual understanding. Like the parts of the water balloon you’re not pressing on at the moment, an obsession with right worship, and, even more important, on membership on the team doing the right worship, swell up and become dogma precisely when more intellectual dogmas are most denigrated.

A paean to uncertainty, with a nod to William Briggs, who (literally) wrote the book on it: The reason we need to be circumspect, the reason we need to act on principle rather than pretending to be pragmatic, is that we know so little. When I say I’m choosing a particular end the goodness of which justifies certain questionable or even horrible actions, I’m kidding myself. I don’t know if my actions will bring about the end I claim to seek, and, based on all experience up to now, I will never know. This is particularly true especially if that end is inherently vague if not utterly fantastic, as all Utopias necessarily are.

If I can’t know – and the future is always unknowable – I am acting on some other basis, whether I care to admit it or not. The wise understand that, to be free, we must know why we act. We must embrace our principles. To do otherwise is to embrace slavery.

Back to science. Let’s end with another quotation from that excellent Crichton Caltech address:

Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horseshit? Horse pollution was bad in 1900, think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses? But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source, unknown in 1900. Remember, people in 1900 didn’t know what an atom was. They didn’t know its structure. They also didn’t know what a radio was, or an airport, or a movie, or a television, or a computer, or a cell phone, or a jet, an antibiotic, a rocket, a satellite, an MRI, ICU, IUD, IBM, IRA, ERA, EEG, EPA, IRS, DOD, PCP, HTML, internet. interferon, instant replay, remote sensing, remote control, speed dialing, gene therapy, gene splicing, genes, spot welding, heat-seeking, bipolar, prozac, leotards, lap dancing, email, tape recorder, CDs, airbags, plastic explosive, plastic, robots, cars, liposuction, transduction, superconduction, dish antennas, step aerobics, smoothies, twelve-step, ultrasound, nylon, rayon, teflon, fiber optics, carpal tunnel, laser surgery, laparoscopy, corneal transplant, kidney transplant, AIDS…… None of this would have meant anything to a person in the year 1900. They wouldn’t know what you are talking about.

Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it’s even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future. They’re bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment’s thought knows it

Michael Crichton’s 2003 address to Caltech

Science is in many ways a heavily hedged bet: under precisely specified conditions, performing the specified steps will get you the predicted results. Don’t follow the rules, and all bets are off. We should be more amazed than we are that it works as well as it does in the real world. And science is the best we can do in this vale of tears. (3)

  1. In one of many long-running, acrimonious debates among paleoanthropologists, where whether or not you got invited to conferences or got your stuff published in a specific journal depended on what position you took on some arcane proposal, some wag quipped: never is the battle so fierce as when the stakes are so low. It matters not one whit whether, say, some subspecies of Australopithecus is or is not in the main line of human descent or is some ended branch (any species that doesn’t end in us being some sort of tragedy, it seems). But try telling that to the parties involved. And – NOBODY WILL EVER KNOW FOR SURE!
  2. Think it was Vonnegut who quipped: “Unitarians don’t believe in anything. I’m a Unitarian.”
  3. Apart from metaphysical necessary truths, of course. But those are in some sense not of this vale of tears….

Three Things, and a Thought

h/t to Don at Zoopraxiscope for links to these two essays:

Richard Grenier, “The Gandhi Nobody Knows

Michael Crichton, “Aliens Cause Global Warming” (PDF)

I had read years ago about what a creep and weirdo Gandhi was, so this first article just reinforced a vague opinion. The second, though – wow. Regular readers here have possibly noticed my occassional reference to the Gell-Man Amnesia Affect:

“Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.” 

– Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

So, before this essay, I knew Crichton as a really smart guy who wrote some fun novels and coined a very useful concept – and had the sense of humor to ask Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann (who is the sort of person Crichton would have lunch with) if he couldn’t attribute it to him, since it sounded better that way.

But this essay is now my second-favorite Caltech address, after the epic Feynman one I often quote, the ‘Cargo Cult Science‘ address. Crichton is also a very good writer (surprise), so where a large part of Feinman’s appeal is in his folksy bluntness, Crichton is a pleasure to read just for the nice English – and the hammer he throws down. Dude ain’t buying it:

To an outsider, the most significant innovation in the global warming controversy is the overt reliance that is being placed on models. Back in the days of nuclear winter, computer models were invoked to add weight to a conclusion: “These results are derived with the help of a computer model.” But now large-scale computer models are seen as generating data in themselves. No longer are models judged by how well they reproduce data from the real world increasingly, models provide the data. As if they were themselves a reality. And indeed they are, when we are projecting forward. There can be no observational data about the year 2100. There are only model runs.

This fascination with computer models is something I understand very well. Richard Feynmann called it a disease. I fear he is right. Because only if you spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen can you arrive at the complex point where the global warming debate now stands.

I’d love to quote pretty much the whole thing. He starts with a withering – and familiar to readers here – criticism of Drake equation. Oh, heck, here it is:

What is the Drake Equation? - Universe Today
looks scientifilicious….

This serious-looking equation gave SETI an serious footing as a legitimate intellectual inquiry. The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses. And guesses -just so we’re clear-are merely expressions of prejudice. Nor can there be “informed guesses.” If you need to state how many planets with life choose to communicate, there is simply no way to make an informed guess. It’s simply prejudice.

As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from “billions and billions” to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless, and has nothing to do with science.

Next, he makes a possibly topical observation:

Stepping back, I have to say the arrogance of the modelmakers is breathtaking. There have been, in every century, scientists who say they know it all. Since climate may be a chaotic system-no one is sure-these predictions are inherently doubtful, to be polite. But more to the point, even if the models get the science spot-on, they can never get the sociology. To predict anything about the world a hundred years from now is simply absurd.


Just as we have established a tradition of double-blinded research to determine drug efficacy, we must institute double-blinded research in other policy areas as well. Certainly the increased use of computer models, such as GCMs, cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them. The fact is that the present structure of science is entrepreneurial, with individual investigative teams vying for funding from organizations which all too often have a clear stake in the outcome of the research-or appear to, which may be just as bad. This is not healthy for science.

“…cries out for the separation of those who make the models from those who verify them.” That’s it exactly. Ferguson never had his programming and numbers checked by a disinterested party. Instead, a known panic-monger with a history of hysterical – and hysterically wrong – predictions of doom, was allowed to be be judge, jury, and executioner of his own scheme. INSANE.

The appropriate disinterested parties would be numbers guys. Data analysts. Model builders. Scientifically literate experts in the scientific method. Expressly not other epidemiologists, even less politicians and journalists.

Finally, also years ago, I read somewhere that the origin of the English word ‘slave’ was Slav, that so many Slavs were enslaved that it became a brand name, as it were. Well, check this out:

The oldest written history of the Slavs can be shortly summarised–myriads of slave hunts and the enthralment of entire peoples. The Slav was the most prized of human goods. With increased strength outside his marshy land of origin, hardened to the utmost against all privation, industrious, content with little, good-humoured, and cheerful, he filled the slave markets of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It must be remembered that for every Slavonic slave who reached his destination, at least ten succumbed to inhuman treatment during transport and to the heat of the climate. Indeed Ibrāhīm (tenth century), himself in all probability a slave dealer, says: “And the Slavs cannot travel to Lombardy on account of the heat which is fatal to them.” Hence their high price.

The Arabian geographer of the ninth century tells us how the Magyars in the Pontus steppe dominated all the Slavs dwelling near them. The Magyars made raids upon the Slavs and took their prisoners along the coast to Kerkh where the Byzantines came to meet them and gave Greek brocades and such wares in exchange for the prisoners.

“The Cambridge Medieval History,” Vol. II, 1913, via

That would be 1/2 of my ancestory. Note that Slavs were sold to – Africans. If this reperations nonsense comes to pass, I’m getting in line.

The Attack on Books

A large part of Marx’s appeal to the modern well-schooled student lies in Marx being the first and only example of thought they’ve been exposed to. All the authority figures they ever have in school accept the basic premises with greater or lesser degrees of awareness – because that is what they, themselves, were taught. (1) The student, again with varying degrees of awareness, accepts uncritically that everything is the result of the strangely willful movements of vast impersonal forces. Since every child has experienced deep feelings of helplessness, and, with the help of the schools, few have any sense of independent personal accomplishment (2), they can easily become convinced the individual is nothing but a twig afloat the river of events, where nothing he can do changes anything. History is presented as the story of oppression, without heroes, without valor, without any moments where an individual can shine or fail. (This, BTW, is why Star Wars ultimately HAD to be destroyed.) At the same time, witnessing to the Progress of History becomes the hallmark of virtue, even if you do it from the comfort of your living room couch.

Trouble in (the Worker’s) Paradise can be caused by other books. Marxists are pulled by the gravity of their faith into becoming, effectively, book burners. In the usual Orwellian fashion, the fury to get rid of competing books is framed as ‘being more inclusive’. We are to feel bad that few people of color, feminists and alphabet soup sexual deviants are included in the Western Canon, and only incidentally notice how these mediocrities squeese out real masterpieces of thought. Marx is a jealous, and, more important here, a tenuous, naked god.

A 3-‘n’ Western Cannon. Which is totally different. Or not….

Traditional Liberal Arts colleges have been relentlessly attacked by enlightened, progressive leaders since the middle of the 19th century, precisely because that is where most students first encounter the vast array of thought that precedes Marx, Fichte, Hegel and all the ‘Enlightenment’ thinkers back to Descartes (and, maybe, William of Ockham). Fichte (you knew we’d get there) saw reading as nothing but trouble, something to be taught, if at all, at the very end of a student’s education, after he’d been properly conditioned to do only what the state-approved authority figures told him to do.

In context – the context of 3,000 years of human thought – Marx is a patent dissembling minor leaguer. Aristotle and Thomas, the Book of Job, Sophocles, Thucydides, Machiavelli, Tacitus; Shakespeare, Dante, and Milton, and a dozen others (throw Gilgamesh and Beowulf in there, if you wish. I’ll add Sun Tsu), not to mention classical art, architecture and music, used to give at least some students a hint at what human genius looks like. These liberal artists in the classic sense were a bastion against the ambitious mediocrities that thrive, today, in our credential- and certification- addled world. Our Credentialarchy? Credentialocrity? I’m open to suggestions, here.

Since the great thinkers hardly ever agree in any detail, and more often vehemently disagree, one’s thinking gets honed trying to understand them: one gets used to the idea that really smart people can really, truly, disagree. Also – this is especially true of Aristotle and Thomas – one can see that opposing ideas are often each very appealing in themselves. One gets used to the idea that someone might have a very good point, and still be wrong, and that even brilliant people make stupid mistakes and harbor appalling bigotry, yet can still be right about other things.

It’s complicated out there. This appreciation of complexity and existence of multiple worthy viewpoints can somewhat immunize one against simple-minded theories that explain everything in one broad sweep – can raise one’s resistence to Marx, for example.

And so, as Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton and a Progressive icon, put it: the vast bulk of the people are to be denied the privilege of a liberal education and rather be fitted by public education for particular manual work. We are not to trouble our little heads with big ideas that might make life difficult for the likes of the extraordinarily well-credentialed Wilson.

This whole anti-intellectualism of the Marxists (against which label they will squeal like stuck more equal pigs, and make me laugh) is, in another example of Orwellian thinking, hiding behind their one fundamental belief: that they are smarter, more intellectual, than everybody else. Aristotle points out that a cultivated mind can consider an idea without accepting it; therefore, an uncultivated mind can (at best!) only consider ideas it has already accepted. This is what we are seeing when a Freudian analyzes the sexual hangups of his critics; when Hegel (and a host of others) classifies all who agree with him as the enlightened people, more or less tacitly dismissing all criticism as mere lack of enlightenment. And, preeminently today, when people are either woke or not, without any space in such a mental universe for one’s opponents to have a valid point, or even for them to be anything other than morally evil.

Books as a defense of civilized life are, as the saying goes, ‘downstream’ from family. The major attack, the prime position to be destroyed, remains the triumvirate of family, village and church. Right now, those with no or damaged families, who in any event reject family as foundational to culture, are burning neighborhoods and destroying the local businesses (and churches!) that make those neighborhoods at least potentially civilized. But this endless attack on the good, the true, and the beautiful, that has given us a crucifix in a bottle of urine and brutalist architecture, is hardly going to spare beautiful literature.

  1. Chesterton said students will readily ignore and forget what their teachers tell them, but will inerringly absorb what their teachers assume.
  2. What SAT was an acronym for changed from the ‘Student Aptitude Test’ – simply attempting to evaluate an unearned, morally neutral aptitude for academics – to the ‘Student Achievement Test’ – as if a high score was the Medal of Honor for kids. Those ‘front row kids’ now could study for the SAT -and, boy, do they ever! – instead of passively submitting to it as a diagnostic. It is the paradigm for everything considered an achievemnet in the front row kids’ lives: the approval of an outside authority that you’re worth-while.

Urgent Book Review: Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 1: Introduction and Death Counts and Estimates

Clarissa’s Blog reports that, due to public pressure, most notably by Elon Musk, Amazon, after at first rejecting the booklet without comment or recourse, today published Alex Berenson’s criticism of the COVID 19 overreaction.

Unreported Truths about COVID-19 and Lockdowns: Part 1: Introduction and Death Counts and Estimates is the first of a planned series of booklets about the wild panic-mongering surrounding the virus and initiating the lockdown. Berenson says he decided to publish this as a series of booklets because he wanted the information out now, and it takes time to compile and format it.

Short and sweet: buy this booklet now. Read it – it’s short. It’s the first part of all the data and analysis we’ve been batting around here for the last 3 months. It’s got the links, to all the official sources and reports from the major players. No sources that should be in the slightest controversial.

Berenson starts out from the same position as most people: that news out of Wuhan and especially Italy was very concerning. I gather the pictures were even worse – I don’t consume news lest it consumes me, so I didn’t see them. Then, he saw the numbers on age distribution in the March 16 report from the Imperial College and had, as Agent Smith might say, a revelation: old people were about 100 times more likely to die of COVID 19 than young people. Yet, this stunning fact had been ignored by the media. What was going on?

So he dug through the numbers. Readers here are already familiar with what he found: wildly overstated death rates, wildly inaccurate models, bait and switch on the lockdown, wildly uncertain, but almost certainly over-aggressive, counts of deaths and cases. And a psychotic resistance from the press to report on any of it.

Of course, he, like me, acknowledges that COVID 19 is a nasty bug for some people. An outbreak can be nasty to the old and frail. It’s not like it’s not a real disease or anything. Of course it is. It’s the wild, animal refusal of many terrified sheep to see any context that’s the worst feature, I won’t say of the disease, but of the panic surrounding it. That panic has already caused more harm than anything the virus could ever do.

The numbers are all there, in public, available to anyone. All it takes to see the lies is a willingness to look. The links are all there.

For those who find the more technical analysis at William Briggs’ blog sometimes daunting, this would be a good read. Berenson, a professional writer, presents the information in a pithy, readable way I can only aspire to. I’d say send copies to your panicked family and friends, but, alas! the panicked cannot be reasoned with.

The stupid Amazon reader won’t let me cut and paste, even for a review, so you’ll need to buy it and read it. It’s only a couple of bucks, and HAS ALL THE LINKS I got tired of including all the time. Do it now!

I eagerly await part 2.

Current Unpleasantness Comes Close to Home

Paris. 1832. No much like here and now.

While out here in the working class part of Contra Costa County, Antifa isn’t a huge or obvious presence, we are close by Berkeley and Oakland, where the revenge fantasies of those with daddy issues more often find a traditional Stalinist outlet.

But burning Oakland and Berkeley *again* is starting to lack that thrill of adventure. Why not, thinks the Antifa leadership, go to the other side of the Berkeley hills, where some rich people live, and where all the good high-end shopping is, and make our oppressed voices heard via smashing windows and looting stores and burning stuff down? Thus, ‘protests’ took place in Danville and Walnut Creek yesterday. Other nearby upscale cities – Pleasant Hill (borderline – mostly people who bought homes years ago, and saw the old California joke realized: I always wanted to own a million dollar home, but I thought I’d have to move.), Lafayette (similar, but with a dose of McMansions thrown in) – also got worried and Took Steps. We’ve got curfews and stern warnings in place in most nearby cities (not ours – yet).

Last evening, younger daughter drove to Danville, where she has a part-time job at a Costco, only to find the store shut down and all workers sent home. On her way back, the freeway was shut down – ‘protesters’ had stationed themselves in the northbound lanes. Gratifyingly, the Walnut Creek police warned them, gassed them, and hauled them off. But not before our daughter was forced onto surface streets – not entirely a happy situation. But she quickly found her way home like the Wise Men – by another route. Major relief.

This is all maybe 8 or 10 miles from here. We live in a working class neighborhood, little houses built in the 40s and 50s, nothing much worth looting, I should think. So, not really concerned – yet.

One irony: Danville and Walnut Creek are the homes to many current and retired athletes from the various Bay Area teams. It’s a very nice area, where a couple million can still get you a pretty nice house. Many if not most of these athletes are black. Most also get along very well with their neighbors – at least, in all my years living here, I’ve never heard of any issues.

(Personal stories: many years ago, I played on a city league basketball team. Several of the teams had players who were former Oakland A’s. Let’s just say they were a *little* more athletically gifted than your typical 35-ish city league players. I got dunked on my head a few times. Also, Steph Curry lives in Walnut Creek. A couple years ago, out local Safeway was all abuzz, as he’d dropped by to pick up a few things on his way home one day. He’s a demigod, at least, in these parts.)

There’s also a lot of retired military out here, and a few gun clubs. I could, in theory, walk a half-mile to a sporting goods store and get myself just about any legal firearm I might want. So, I wonder if the goon leadership has taken this into account. I, personally, am not armed (for now), but I can’t imagine if a riot happened on my street, some armed resistance would not readily appear…

UPDATE: Our county government, always one for overreaction and grandstanding, has issued a county-wide curfew starting at 8:00 tonight. Sigh.