2020-10-28

Me on USAnian politics

PXL_20201026_101945221 Well, there's an election coming up - you may have noticed - so it is Time to Opine, thereby fixing my words in stone for posterity to hold against me. Just like last time the presidential choice is unappealling. Trump is, obviously, horrible: personally, and in many but not all policies. By contrast Biden is a nice enough std.pol, or at least projects that as an image, but it is hard to get enthused over his policies. Given his opponent I hope he wins; and given a choice I'd hold my nose and vote for him2; and in the remainder I'll assume he wins, as that seems quite likely3.

Perhaps a place to start is The Economist's The pragmatist: Joe Biden would not remake America’s economy: He would improve its fortunes, though. It isn't anything very complimentary, mostly a discussion of a list of special cases, because Biden - as far as I can tell - doesn't have much in the way of principlesthat you could derive general policies from, and so would govern by a series of ad-hoc decisions. Not as badly as Trump, though, since Trump often seems to be either genuinely malicious or shamelessly self-centered. A quote: having rejected its signature policies and outmanoeuvred its star figures, Mr Biden might try to placate the left of his party by giving it lots of jobs in the regulatory apparatus where they would emit a cacophony of left-sounding signals.

Another place might be my WATN: Trump from 2018, wherein I defend my assessment of him overall as "minor"5. Given all the outrage that might seem perverse, but - as the Economist notes - while Biden might be nicer than Trump there are quite a few dumb Trump policies, most obviously tariffs on China, that Biden isn't in any hurry to revoke, at least judging him by public utterances. And yet, conversely, if those hadn't been in place I doubt he'd have added them. So he seems rather a let-things-be kinda guy. While this is an improvement on Trumps do-random-dumb-things, it doesn't seem terribly glorious or inspiring or principled.

What would I like to see him say that he hasn't? That he'd drop the protectionism (he won't say this, but might slowly edge that way, quietly); that he'd push for voting reform such as prohibiting gerrymandering; that he'd continue Trump's people's deregulationary intent (obviously, no hope there); that he'd like a carbon tax. That's he'd back away from the Google-bashing Trump has started so strangely. And so on.

SCOTUS

The Evil Repubs have pushed through Amy Coney Barrett, thereby demonstrating conclusively that they are not gentlemen; the Dems, alas, had no real principle with which to oppose this: their pathetically weak argument was that the Repubs had said, four years ago, that they wouldn't do this kind of thing. Suppose the Dems are in any position to do anything about this (which I take to mean controlling the presidency and the senate) what should they do? Astonishingly, Biden's plan - a special commission to suggest supreme court reforms - makes sense to me. Despite all the angst, ACB will probably turn out much less exciting than feared4; and the threat of court-packing will probably constrain the court. And if you did want to "rebalance" as Brian does, adding two seats to a 6-3 split isn't really going to help; you'd need to be bold and add 4, which would probably be regarded as Well Over The Top.

Repubs post Trump

Shirley it is not too much to hope that, if Trump is defeated, the Repubs will come to their senses? I like Steve Landsburg's My fantasy outcome for next week’s election is for Trump to lose every state by a wide margin while mainstream Republicans take over both houses of Congress and revert to their better selves.

Refs

* America’s election: Why it has to be Biden: Donald Trump has desecrated the values that make America a beacon to the world - the Economist:  THE COUNTRY that elected Donald Trump in 2016 was unhappy and divided. The country he is asking to re-elect him is more unhappy and more divided. After almost four years of his leadership, politics is even angrier than it was and partisanship even less constrained. Daily life is consumed by a pandemic that has registered almost 230,000 deaths amid bickering, buck-passing and lies. Much of that is Mr Trump’s doing, and his victory on November 3rd would endorse it all. Joe Biden is not a miracle cure for what ails America. But he is a good man who would restore steadiness and civility to the White House. He is equipped to begin the long, difficult task of putting a fractured country back together again. That is why, if we had a vote, it would go to Joe. And then quite interestingly Mr Trump has fallen short less in his role as the head of America’s government than as the head of state. He and his administration can claim their share of political wins and losses, just like administrations before them. But as the guardian of America’s values, the conscience of the nation and America’s voice in the world, he has dismally failed to measure up to the task.

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party?

The Volokh Conspiracy: Why Biden is a Lesser Evil than Trump by ILYA SOMIN.

Trump no more: Joe Biden is set to capture the White House: After a hard electoral battle the Democrats have almost certainly won the presidency, but they have done less well than they had hoped - the Economist.

Why a Vast Election Fraud is Highly Implausible by Pierre Lemieux 
America changes course, while remaining very much the same - the Economist: in other words, this race ended up looking very much like what would occur if a generic Republican ran against a generic Democrat in a year when not much of note took place.

Elections Are Neither a Ruler's Toy Nor a Sacred Panacea

* Theses on Trump (SSC, from before). Also SSC: plebs like Trump because although wealthy, he is clearly a pleb himself.

Notes

1. Distinguish "doesn't have much in the way of principles" as in not really having anything that would guide your political course from "is unprincipled" meaning "a bad person; untrustworthy".


2. For anyone uncertain, I'm in the UK, so I don't have a vote. Elections like this, with candidates like these, are a great advert for the idea of "negative voting"; I'd vote "not Trump", if I could, in preference to "for Biden".


3. With the appropriate genuflections to the gods for the impiety of being hopeful out loud.


4. This is my SCOTUS prediction. That, and to note that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh haven't done anything outrageous yet.

5. Clear evidence of this is found in Counterfactuals: What If Clinton Had Won in 2016? by Pierre Lemieux.

2020-10-26

Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago?

tempt The latest installment in a long line of bollox. E&E News breathlessly tells us that Scientists at two of America's biggest automakers knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change, a monthslong investigation by E&E News has found.

Can they really prove this? Of course: In a 1975 paper in Science, she asserted that aerosols caused "heating of the atmosphere near the poles... published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology in 1979. It focused on albedo, or the measure of how well a surface reflects sunlight. Their second paper, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research in 1981, explored "increases in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide." Or perhaps you prefer: Before arriving at Ford, Plass had published a series of eye-grabbing pieces on the climate, including a 1956 article in the magazine American Scientist titled "Carbon Dioxide and the Climate" and a 1956 paper in the journal Tellus titled "The Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climatic Change." And so on. In case you should think that these papers were ignored - and therefore the auto-makers, who, errm, sponsored them before they employed these people, errrm, had some kind of inside track, E&E helpfully destroys its own case by noting that Plass' findings reached the highest levels of the U.S. scientific community.

Yup, you read that right: their evidence was that they published public research papers. In other words, the "GM, Ford knew", with its implication (actually, more than an implication: E&E lies directly: More than two decades after GM and Ford privately confirmed the dangers of climate change...) of sekrit knowledge, is utter drivel: whatever they knew was public. This is the fruit of a months long investigation? 

All of this stuff is stupid. It is done by idiots trying to plump up their public profile, and with a future eye on lawsuits, which judging by Alsup will fall over horribly because they will learn nothing from that case. The idea that people really knew with any confidence about GW in the 1960s is obvious drivel; see previous posts; at best, you could claim that the first IPCC report in 1990 is a good date, but even that is doubtful, if you've ever read the thing. The idea that the oil companies, or anyone else, knew anything sekrit is also drivel: #everyoneknew.

Refs

* TIRED OF MONSTERS BRED BY THE SLEEP OF REASON?

* More drivel, this time a Twat from Alexandria Ocasio-CortezI’m willing to hold you accountable for lying about climate change for 30 years when you secretly knew the entire time that fossil fuels emissions would destroy our planet. Fuckwit.

2020-10-23

Mistah Morner – he dead

Another Hollow Man shuffles off, though I don't have an RS for that, only the Potty Peer. Oh, the shame. Does no one else notice, let alone care? Morner made it into Myths of the Near Future all the way back in 2005, though he was only #10 on the list. That seems to be about it, though I did also glancingly diss him in 2018.


Refs


Nils-Axel Mörner har gått bort - he's also dead in Swedish.
* Another one bites the dust (Fred Singer, 2020).
Science advances one funeral at a time (Robert Carter, 2016).

2020-10-14

Coronavirus days: the only way is up

Not so long ago, when I last wrote - the first of October - the Beeb was reporting "Covid-19: Growth in cases may be slowing in England". That was stupid, even at the time4, and has not aged well. Now a more typical headline is Coronavirus: Northern Ireland set to announce partial lockdown: Stormont thrashes out plan including closure of businesses and schools, as well as new limits on gatherings. Our own idiot populace bears much responsibility for this, with stuff like Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson says partying crowds have 'shamed' the city being all too common1. And lest we somehow think our glorious British govt uniquely incompetent2, I include this nice pic from the FT, showing the Spanish doing about twice as badly as us right now, and the French roughly as rubbish as us. And even the nice Krauts are suffering something of an uptick, though doubtless they will crush it.

But now let us turn our thoughts towards the future, helpfully projected - note, projected, not predicted - by JA. We see a peak of perhaps 5k stiffs/day5, about 5x the initial peak, and surely that would not be tolerable; our medical services would be overwhelmed, not to mention the sadness of so many premature deaths.

But we have left it rather late to turn the ship around. As JA thoughtfully notes today, we have "baked in" a significant increase already, and unless the govt does something soon other than rename things, we'll soon be baking even more.

In retrospect, the relaxation in July instead of continuing to drive the numbers down, looks to be an error. But I'm pretty sure the natives were getting restless at that point - see comment above about our poor-quality population - and the relaxation was definitely popular. So overall I'd say we're getting the epidemic we deserve, and I feel somewhat pessimistic about the future3.

Leaving aside the prospects of a higher quality citizenry, the other obvious failing is anything vaguely competent in the nature of test, or trace. The latter I think I have something of a hard time believing in, but the test element could be done so much better, and should be. It also looks like I am to some extent getting what I wished for in "Regionalism", but in the confused atmosphere of a state occupied by morons, I see how hard this concept is to explain. Can we perhaps be more Swedish? I wanted to say something sympathetic about The Great Barrington Declaration, too. So I have.

Update: circuit-breaker

People - including Labour - have called for a "circuit-breaker" of a couple of weeks. I think this is an example of people giving a name to an idea, and then taking the name for the thing, an imagining that because the thing has a given name, it will work as the name implies. But reality isn't like that.

Update: GDP

Cruel though it is to say it from my comfortable position, I don't think the impact on GDP is as large or as important as it looks. To an extent, we're losing "fluff". Of course I regret losing my weekly coffee-in-Waterstone's, and this loss reduces GDP, and someone is no longer being paid to serve it to me; but this loss in the service economy isn't as serious as losing food production or imports; and so on. It also implies, to my mind, in a rather half-formed thought, that the country can "afford" to continue paying wages for those so laid off; though in this experiment, to maintain balance, the money would have to come from the likes of me, which is to say higher taxes.

Notes

1. Good liberal commentators like the Graun struggle personfully to blame it all on the Govt, or Boris; but this is a pathetic abdication of responsibility: people are responsible for themselves, if they are adults.

2. That nice SR seems rather prone to this particular error.

3. I say that from the comfort of my home, and my desk job that has if anything got more comfortable in lock-down. I miss my Saturday coffee-n-book in Waterstone's, and of course the bumps were cancelled, but that's about as bad as it gets for me personally.

4. It now appears that while this drivel was appearing in public, behind the scenes by Sept 21st SAGE was arguing Cases are increasing across the country in all age groups... the doubling time might be as low as 7-8 days... not acting now to reduce cases will result in a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences... If schools are to remain open, then a wide range of other measures will be required... [including] A circuit-breaker (short period of lockdown) to return incidence to low levels and so on. It is now 3+ weeks later with only the token changes.

5. Somewhere on Twatter I think he qualified that somewhat; with different parameters you could plausibly halve the peak perhaps; but even 2.5 k would be a lot.

Refs


* COVID-19: nowcast and forecast; Paul Birrell, Joshua Blake, Edwin van Leeuwen, MRC Biostatistics Unit COVID-19 Working Group, Daniela De Angelis - turns out to be optimistic
Quotation of the Day… "Donald Trump, Peter Navarro, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, Oren Cass – the list is long of people who continue proudly to peddle the economic equivalent of Ptolemy’s “theory” of celestial spheres".

2020-10-01

Coronavirus days: fog of war

Things are getting somewhat confusing. In our own parochial UK... no wait, in our own parochial East, things aren't too bad; we're one of the lower regions. But in the UK as a whole, there's uncertainty. There are so many clamouring voices saying so many things, it's no wonder people don't really know what is going on. Some of the voices are genuinely trying to help, some are just looking for the oxygen of publicity, but the end result is unclarity.

I think the prime example of this is Covid-19: Growth in cases may be slowing in England:

The growth in cases of coronavirus may be slowing down, the largest study of the infection in England suggests. A team at Imperial College London analysed samples from 84,000 people chosen at random from across the country. They said the R number, the virus's reproduction number, appears to have fallen since measures including the "rule of six" were introduced. However, they warn cases are high, with one in every 200 people infected. The React study is highly influential, both due to its size and because it gives an up-to-date picture of how the virus is spreading. The last samples used in the analysis were collected as recently as Saturday. It was the previous React report that found infections were doubling every seven to eight days in late August and early September... Then the research group estimated the R number for their study - the average number of people each infected person is passing the virus on to - was 1.7. The latest analysis, of swab samples collected between 19 and 26 September, suggests the R number has fallen to about 1.1 - although the precise figure is uncertain.

EjOIRCqXsAIGdSH This is from Dear Aunty Beeb, you can trust her even in times of war, and all that gumpf. However is it true? Probably not. Consider the pic, stolen from Oliver Johnson's Twat. It-was-1.7-it-is-now-1.1 is based on interpretation B. Whereas interpretation A seems more natural.  Apart from anything else, B is discontinuous, which is unphysical. Also I just don't trust their underlying "explanation" for the slowdown: that the Glorious Leader's "rule of six" has pulled down R. That may have made some difference, but not a lot; and the return-to-school and return-to-university has certainly pulled the numbers in the opposite direction; finger-in-the-air, I'd say those latter two will have made more difference. JA is barely able to believe that people are still falling for this stuff, and yet they do. People want the Bad Thing to go away.

[Update: alerted by Twatter, I bothered to read further down the article, and find However, Prof Oliver Johnson, from the University of Bristol, said the conclusion that cases were slowing down was "wrong and dangerous". And he doubts both the old and the new estimates of the R value. He said: "I suspect they were both wrong, and it was actually more like R=1.4 each time.". So not finding that the first time was a bit crap of me. But burying it so far down was even crapper of the Beeb.

More people not being dead impressed can be found at [E]xpert reaction to preprint with the latest interim data from the REACT-1 study on COVID-19 spread across England, but even there they lead with someone liking it.]

Also, version A is consistent with James Annan's daily-updated modelling, which looks vastly more sane than anything Imperial have been able to do. I admit that I did lose faith a little when deaths clearly fell below the curve towards the end of August, but happily the corpses have started stacking up since then, and my trust is restored.

The govt of course has not helped the aura of confusion by being a pack of incompetent clowns; but there's more blame to go round. The media have been irresponsible too, and not a few of my fellow citizens have been dumb enough to go out partying, the tossers1.

It is conventional to compare Science in Covid and Global Warming. When Science delivers us a vaccine, all will be well let us hope, but at the moment Science isn't doing a brilliant job on Covid, except in a rather confused, muddling-along, ants-moving-a-leaf kind of way. Certainly in the UK we haven't managed to get any competent unified voice speaking sense. SAGE is too tied to the govt; and anyway doesn't seem to manage to be particularly sensible, and doesn't really speak in public. Unlike, say, the IPCC. Though the IPCC has the luxury of much longer timescales; and doesn't I think say much that is influential on the economics, instead grinding over long-solved problems in ever greater detail2

Indeed the competence of (local?) govt seems to be more important than Science; though the latest FT Covid pix blow the idea of some Socialist Miracle; France and Spain now have deaths well over the UK; only the Squareheads are looking good.

Away from whingeing, via PaulThis Overlooked Variable Is the Key to the Pandemic from The Atlantic. Oversold, of course, but perhaps correct in that looking at the average too much hides important information.


Refs


Today's random restrictions, by region - DailyMash
* Self-Help Is Like a Vaccine by Bryan Caplan
* Ridiculous Widespread Beliefs by DON BOUDREAUX and Expert Failure to Know
CAN CARBON-NEGATIVE SOLAR CREMATION ECLIPSE THE ANTINOMY OF CASTE-NEUTRAL SUTTEE? 
Jeez People, Get This Right - Timmy
* Adding to my JA Twit collection; shame he is so restrained.

* The Dunning-Kruger effect: Misunderstood, misrepresented, overused and … non-existent? Just stop using it!

* Opinion: The case for voting against presidential candidates by GEORGE LEEF. But, why only for presidential voting? I've advocated similar, but can't now find where. Related: Why Can't They Both Lose?


Notes

1. Anecdote: a friend of my daughter's is at St Andrews, now isolating in his household, because another member of the household has got Covid, due to going out and screwing around. This is irresponsible, but on a statistical level that's going to happen when young folk go away from home.

2. I exaggerate for effect, you understand.