Bad beekeeping 2020

In the absence of any very exciting news (Cummings good! (no-one wants to talk about that) or Cummings bad! (everyone wants to talk about that)) I thought I'd record the bees. It has been a warm - or at least sunny - spring, and so they dutifully swarmed. This was fortunate, as a friend is starting beekeeping and wanted a swarm.  Walking down to the hives one sunny lunchtime I could clearly hear the hum, and see them dancing in the gap between some trees; an hour later they weren't, and so I deduced they had settled, and wandering o'er the banks of the stream I found them, conveniently at ground level, somewhat less conveniently on various sticks barely above the mud on the riverside.


The stream isn't the dump this view suggests. However the bees are as irritatingly badly placed to be scooped up as the pic suggests. All the dry sticks need to be broken off and since they snap jerkily, that upsets the girls.


We came back with a big cardboard box and after cutting back the sticks mostly and not disturbing the bees too much, I scooped them into the box which is easier to say than to do, and we hoped for the best: there's an awkward time when you can't tell if the queen is inside or outside, and whether the stream of bees is heading towards settled or needing recapture.


Happily, they had settled, and a little later were taken away to their fine fresh new home (from which they decanted, but not far, and my friend recaptured them with no help from me).

After that my occasional run to Grantchester revealed that the rape fields were fading which is the sign for the spring recolte, and after an extensive period of nettle-chopping and other weeding the hives were fit to be seen to.

The first revealed - again, alas - a birds nest in the eaves. Will they never learn? It had three cute little eggs in it. I felt guilty, but Google Lens tells me these are of the Great Tit and it clutches in 12s, so perhaps these were just failures that didn't take. Anyway, I destroyed the nest and later repaired the mesh. See here for the eggs. See here for the hole in the gauze.


Inside... about half the frames were capped and that seemed good enough. On a first go I didn't explore the lower super; you can have too much of a good thing. Also there was a small amount of brood in the middle. How did that get there? Tut. So I thought I'd let the lower super sort itself out, somehow.

That was enough excitement for one day, but happily the next was sunny too so onto hive #2. This initially looked like it had gone solid, but that was illusion, it was mostly fine. And just like the first hive it seemed quite well populated, so I'm slightly puzzled as to which had swarmed. This too I managed to deal with quite efficiently, and put the newly emptied frames under the remaining full super, which I left for later. Spinning it all out the honey extractor was full, and I then recalled that I didn't have any jars left, so taking off any more supers can wait for Thornes' finest to deliver.

General view. Hive #1 straight ahead, hive #2 R, spare super and roof hanging around just in case they feel like swarming into it; and spun frames awaiting replacement in hive #2.


Hive #2: formerly top, now spun, super put back on, and the formerly lower, still unharvested, super off to the R on top of the green box awaiting replacement on top. All the comb standing up will have to be removed before replacement.


Inside hve #2 top super before it came off. You can do this "properly" with bee excluders, but I don't bother with that, and just remove it frame by frame, carefully brushing away bees as I go.


As I scraped off the upstart comb from the now-top super it went into the box together with the attendant honey; so afterwards I let them have it back.


There's a video on Youtube of tapping off the spun honey.


Coronavirus days: OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy

EXrjSOLWAAI2Qd4 Or, "I read this stuff so you don't have to" you lucky people. My pic is an example of the govt's almost comic innumeracy.

As you'd expect, there's revisionism in Bojo's foreword: That price could have been higher if not for the extraordinary efforts of our NHS and social care workers and had we not acted quickly to increase the capacity of the NHS... On 3 March we published our plan... OK, so the idea he's trying to push is that it's all Very Grave, but we've done Jolly Well, and it is All as Planned. But that plan contains no reference to lock-down. Or care homes. And whilst praising the NHS etc. always gets lapped up by everyone, he's trying to drag himself along on their coat-tails. Continuing I said we'd take the right decisions at the right time is, in retrospect, clearly wrong, so he is unable to learn even with hindsight1. Testing: the govt is still lying about the number of tests - having nailed its colours to the mast it cannot change now - but even their figures show less than 100k a day for the past week.

Having got that snark out of the way, I'm afraid that the actual plan itself is not mad, indeed their main problem is to try to disguise how bleedin' obvious it all is - do we really need to pay all these expensive people for this? There's still no attempt at any kind of numerical cost-benefit analysis, just an implicit hand-wavy one: fewer people might die if we continued the lock down, but then again the economy would suffer, and anyway are people going to take much more of this? That last is a valid consideration: even if your only concern was to save lives, some relaxation reduces the risk of an explosion.

If you'd rather read someone else's take then the Graun has a pretty straight summary. Update: they also (now) have If we follow Boris Johnson's advice, coronavirus will spread by David Hunter (professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Oxford). Excellent. Someone prepared to make a prediction.

The timelines are vague, as they should be: The next chapter sets out an indicative roadmap, but the precise timetable for these adjustments will depend on ... monitor closely the effect of each adjustment, using the effect on the epidemic to gauge the appropriate next step. Initially, the gap between steps will need to be several weeks, to allow sufficient time for monitoring. However... this response time may reduce.

There is a very tiny nod to regionalism: Restrictions may be adjusted by the devolved administrations at a different pace in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because the level of infection - and therefore the risk - will differ. Similarly in England, the Government may adjust restrictions in some regions before others: a greater risk in Cornwall should not lead to disproportionate restrictions in Newcastle if the risk is lower. But their heart isn't in it, and it isn't included in Step One.

The Beeb's report on all this pulls out "advice for people to wear face coverings on public transport and in some shops" which is sensible of them; this is in the Govt doc but not nearly so obviously - making it too obvious would raise the embarrassing question of why it wasn't suggested much earlier2.

Step One

Anyway, where do we start? For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible... All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Which seems almost sensible to me. The bit that isn't sensible is not considering whether people should travel to work on public transport; I wouldn't go on the Tube at the moment myself. Somewhat later they say everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible, which is all very well but if it isn't possible you're stuffed if you follow their rules; they keep trying with Social distancing guidance on public transport must be followed rigorously; it will be interesting to see how that gets enforced; clearly they haven't quite worked this one out as they say appropriate guidance... will be published this week.

Schools aren't to re-open, but as they note actually schools are open, for some categories of children, and they urge more children who would benefit from attending in person to do so, which appears to be a sensibly disguised way to push up school occupancy without going too high.

Going outside is less restricted - in England; the idiots in Wales are still in panic mode, sadly -, and it looks like the bloody stupid bit where the rozzers nick you for sunbathing is out.

Step N

Step Two won't be before the 1st of June: more school opening, more bizniz, some sporting events. And then the vaguer Step Three won't be before the 4th of July.

Stay Alert

It's a bit shit. isn't it? Pretty well everyone agrees on that. I hate living in a country where every policy has to have some associated fuckwitted slogan. Unfortunately the crit - at least as reported in the Graun - is not "this is all rather wanky" but that the “stay alert” messaging is “too vague” and that “more precision is needed”. Which is about as useless as the govt's slogan. But the Grain needs to attack the govt plan for something, since they're Tories, and it doesn't want to put its ass on the line by suggesting any substantive changes (update: and neither does the opposition). Incidentally, while having Bojo spout off on Sunday while the doc wasn't available until today was a bit shit too. Or was it? How much in the great scheme of things did that actually matter, except to the chatterati?


1. FWIW, I ran the Cambridge Half Marathon on the 8th of March, and would have been annoyed had it been called off, so I'm not claiming any great foresight for myself.

2. Actually they make excuses for this, and international quarantine, on p22, but I don't find their excuses plausible.


What can we learn about the COVID fatality rate from Guayas? - JEB
* Americans Didn’t Wait For Their Governors To Tell Them To Stay Home Because Of COVID-19 - 538
Boris Johnson’s new covid-19 campaign falls flat - Economist


Coronavirus days: regionalism, modelling, hypocrisy, global warming

MVIMG_20200508_160649 Let's start with Neil "Bonking" Ferguson, who said: "I accept I made an error of judgement and took the wrong course of action. I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms. I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing." This is interesting, in the light of claims to be "following the science". It would appear that his scientific advice is that, if you've had the virus you're immune so contact is permissible. As far as I can tell he believes his error was "undermining the message" rather than his scientific judgement. This then recalls... The Climate Change Hypocrisy Of Jet-Setting Academics? No, not that one, but the linked Climate chickenhawks.

But perhaps his scientific judgement was correct. Of course in the fervid atmosphere of the UK that is no proof against charges of hypocrisy, as should have been bleedin' obvious to him. Which leads me on to regionalism. Or, that the current one-size-fits-all policy is, errm, how about "non-optimal from a theoretical point of view". The rates of infection in the country vary wildly by region, with the general pattern being that outside the plague-pits of large cities things are fairly OK. And using hand-waving density arguments, that would likely be true with less lockdown. Unfortunately the centralised response we have appears to be unable to think about this; R4 this morning were desperately worried that even the smallest divergence between England and Wales might be confusing. Perhaps it might confuse their tiny minds but I think people could cope. The USA gets to experience this more directly I think, since the States are responsible for themselves, and this is good. Closer to home, we're going to see changes in Europe as an example - for either good or ill - to us.

One Adam Kucharski sticks up for NBF Twatting There seem to have been some misconceptions about how COVID science is done and how it helps inform decision making. As we clarify here, it's a large collaborative effort... and linking to their doc (arch). Which includes inter alia In early March 2020, the emerging consensus amongst scientists involved in this country-wide consultation was that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating widely in the UK, it was capable of causing substantial hospitalisations and fatalities, and that in the absence of drastic social distancing measures, the healthcare system would rapidly become overwhelmed in the same way that it had been in Northern Italy at the time. Although new studies and data have since emerged, this consensus has not changed. But there are problems there. Firstly the idea that little has changed revises away rather large changes in doubling time, as JA noted. And secondly, if the govt is "following the science" and the science in early March was such, why did we lock down so late? The answer of course is that rather important things did change, most obviously their belated revision of the doubling time.

Incidentally, SM points to the list of meetings which contains lots of interesting but frustrating minutes; it would be good to pore over those some time - but even better for someone else to do it and synthesise their timeline. Having browsed a couple I found myself frustrated because there are raw statements not backed by any references.

Moving now onto models, consider the Imperial model. Obviously at a superficial level, because I know little about it, but I did find We modified an individual-based simulation model developed to support pandemic influenza planning to explore scenarios for COVID-19 in GB. The basic structure of the model remains as previously published. In brief, individuals reside in areas defined by high-resolution population density data. Contacts with other individuals in the population are made within the household, at school, in the workplace and in the wider community. Census data were used to define the age and household distribution size... This model has been a bit crap overall, because as JA has so elegantly demonstrated, they fucked up the calibration by not doing any. Indeed this seems almost a textbook illustration of how useless it is to have an elaborate model capable of simulating fine-grained detail when important controlling parameters aren't know. As a country-aggregated simulation it appears almost comically inappropriate. And yet for what I want them to do - modelling regionally-varying degrees of lockdown / isolation - it could be quite appropriate; but the little buggers aren't doing that.

Global warming

Richard-the-Betts Twit “Like in the Covid pandemic, timing [of climate action] is critical to prevent devastation. If you wait until you already have a serious problem, then it is too late. Unlike with corona, sea-level rise cannot be stopped for many centuries", riffing on Sea levels could rise more than a metre by 2100, experts say. I disagreed, on the grounds that there's no exponential growth of temperature. In a thrilling continuation, RAB hit back with But there is a very long lag in sea level response. If we wait until we've seen (say) a 50cm rise before doing anything, we'll be committing future generations to substantially more, but so far he has no response to Well that's part of the point: the lag really is very long indeed. There is some limit beyond which it is not worth planning: Should we care about the world after 2100?


Ah, my picture: a swarm from one of my hives. They flew off not very far and collected themselves on the muddy bank of a local brook. We collected them into a large cardboard box and tookthem away; Mac reported that they swarmed again this morning, but he seems to have re-collected them again.

Another view

From Kal.


Coronavirus days: the Imperial model, impartially consider'd

But not by me, I hasten to add.

Quiz: to be taken before you get to the end. Who is this, and why is he relevant?

The story so far: Imperial have some kind of epidemic model that was used to predict, errm, stuff1. After a bit people, predictably (arf!) enough, said "where's your source code" and Imperial said "errm, it's a bit of a mess actually, hang on a mo" and after a fair while and heavy massaging from folk in the private sector that turned an unreadable unmaintainable 15k single-file model bearing a powerful resemblance to S+C's MSU code into something that could be seen in public without too much embarrassment, they put it onto Github2. I even poked around in there for a bit before realising I didn't know how to look at Github, and getting bored.

But! Other people have looked, and are unimpressed. This is no great shock I think. The people I found were "Lockdown Sceptics" who, despite their sensible but derivative motto Stay sane. Protect the economy. Save livelihoods, are probably a bunch of nutters; they also have a dreadfully slow website. They have a post (arch) called Code Review of Ferguson’s Model.

Most of the post is about non-determinism. This is interesting (though probably no great flaw) and I'll get to it in a moment, but first a few other things they pick out. The first is the absence of any kind of tests, which seems a fair point. Writing tests is tedious and often neglected even in the Real World, so it is unsurprising that a bunch of amateurs didn't bother. Another is poor documentation of some parts; and again, meh, so it goes. let's go back to the interesting part, non-determinism.

There are a number of meanings for this that need to be disentangled. In running such a model, you probably want to run a pile of runs with similar but perturbed initial conditions and do some averaging of the results. In this sense the model is intended to be "stochastic", and that's fair enough.  However, with a given random seed, you would rather like the model to be repeatable. It appears to be rather shaky at this. The first problem looks to be parallelism. This comes up in GCMs too, and indeed way back when I said:
There are two sorts of repeatability: you run the model again, and you get *exactly* the same results down to the last bit. This is call bit-reproducibility. Or, you run the model again, and you get *scientifically* the same result (the same climate; probably the same response to forcing within statistical error) but the exact details of the weather differ. Because the climate is chaotic (in the sense that small initial perturbations rapidly amplify) and GCMs reproduce this well, if your model diverges even slightly from bit-reproducibility it will diverge strongly from it, because the details of the individual weather will be totally different. But the climate (statistics of the weather) will be the same.
So you can see Repeatability of GCMs for more. The problem with the parallelism stuff if that the easy way to implement it leads to numbers coming back from other processors in a different order, and so inevitably the exact last few bits of floating point calculations don't quite match. If you put effort in you can avoid that, at the cost of slowing the thing down a little3. Imperial's solution appears to be running the model single-threaded, instead (but because they didn't really care about repeatability, and had no tests to pick up problems, they still had repeatability bugs even in single-threaded mode).

If you look at the report, the non-repeatability looks to produce a pretty big difference. However, I rather suspect this is like GCMs: if you look at output after one month after a trivial perturbation, it will look very different even though the long-term climate is the same. What that report / pic appears to show is sensitivity to when the initial perturbation starts to grow. This might be a problem; but it might not (I think you'd need to see a whole ensemble of runs to see what it is supposed to look like).

So overall I think the criticism in scientific terms isn't exciting. As a lesson-for-our-times I think "when you look behind the curtain of just following the science you'll see some messy stuff" will do. Or even Laws are Like Sausages. Better Not to See Them Being Made.

The East is Red

Interestingly, seen from one bug report, people are shamelessly using the concept of "Red Team" in this context. It's almost as though the concept is sensible and helpful, when used in good faith.


The Imperial College code - ATTP


1. I'm a big-picture man. Don't bother me with details.

2. I've been re-reading Proust.

3. The Met Office / Hadley Center are not a bunch of amateurs and did put the effort in. Incidentally, one reason for wanting the reproducibility is rare bugs where you model blows up. If you don't have reproducibility, you can'r re-run with extra debug to get to the same point and see the failure more clearly, so you're pretty well stuffed for debugging.


Predictions are overrated?

IMG_20200506_100300 Sabine Hossenfelder has a blog post (via Not Even Wrong) asserting that Predictions are overrated. Obviously, in PW's words, the naive view that you can evaluate a physical theory simply by the criterion “Does it make predictions?” is wrong; but SH goes too far in dissing predictions.

Happily, after all the physics, which they definitely know more about than me, SH comes on to climate models:
Another example where this misunderstanding matters are climate models. Climate models have correctly predicted many observed trends, from surface temperature increase, to stratospheric cooling, to sea ice melting. That’s an argument commonly used against climate change deniers. But the deniers then go and dig up some papers that made wrong predictions. This, so their claim, demonstrates that really anything is possible and you can’t trust predictions.
This is naive to the point of being wrong. Most importantly, most climate modelling - well, especially the IPCC - has been careful to talk of projections rather than predictions. The outside world hasn't been great at picking up that nuance, but it is there, and needs to be considered if you're attempting some scientific evaluation rather than a political one. That we don't know the value of climate sensitivity is well up front, and clearly century-scale predictions of climate evolution aren't possible without that. Secondly, some of the predictions she mentions - sea ice melting is the most obvious - are ones where the models have done a fairly poor job, other than getting the sign right. And thirdly, there's a variety of models predicting different things, and they can't all be right.

How you should evaluate the credibility of the climate modelling community / scientists / effort, based on past "predictions"? Clearly, picking any one "prediction" at simply verifying that is wrong. You need to look at more of an amalgam, like the IPCC. As to the kinda question "should we trust them now, based on what they said in the past?" you need to look at how the predictions were presented. If you could find multiple frequent cases where people confidently published clear predictions which were subsequently proved wrong, then you would indeed mark them down. Since that isn't actually the case, you don't.

And then there's the point, which SH notes that we have moved on to arguing about the integrity of scientists and the policies of their journals instead about science. If you're talking about denialists, then yes, you're talking about "integrity" and sociology of science, not about actual science. What if you're actually interested in evaluating the science? Then I still think the ability of the models to make predictions matters. In this case it's hard to say quite what we mean by "the science" - all the subcomponents like radiative transfer theory are effectively "unit tested" to borrow from software engineering, but those aren't the bits we're evaluating; in terms of GW, "the science" means that integrating them all together within a GCM (a) works and (b) captures enough of the physical world to say something useful. Without something in the way of prediction, I don't see how that's possible. Where generally you allow "prediction" to include predicting the past; i.e. temperature evolution over the 20th century.

SH proposes instead What, then, is the scientific answer for the climate change deniers? It’s that climate models explain loads of data with few assumptions. Which is nice, but never convincing, unless you believe it anyway. It isn't convincing because it isn't clearly true from the outside: you can't tell that they have "few" assumptions (hence, it is a useless answer for denialists themselves, and not much use when in front of an audience of the general public). Worse, the statement isn't even meaningful; GCMs have lots of "assumptions" in them, measuring "few" or "lots" in any meaningful way would be a difficult task in itself. This is why predictions are good: they don't require looking inside the black box. Perhaps it is just her rhetorical question that's wrong: if she'd asked, What, then, is the scientific answer for the climate change scientists? it would make some sense, but still be hard to evaluate.

Just to be clear, I don't think there's an absolute answer. Trying to evaluate a scientific theory and coming up with an opinion as to whether it is likely true or not isn't a science. There's a question of how much weight you give to predictions versus other factors. But making good predictions is generally so hard, anything that can predict correctly gets a lot of weight.


Coronavirus days: would most covid-19 victims have died soon, without the virus?

20200502_GDC100-Artboard_1 Asks The Economist. And the answer (as always) is no. Somewhat to my surprise and against my prejudices. But matching other studies I think I recall seeing elsewhere. But this one comes with a rather nice pic, which I share with you.

So each decade-group from 60 on up has about the same contribution to total deaths; proportionately more of the 90+ group die of course, but there are fewer of them to start with. And the x-axis is number of long-term conditions, so I think all you really see there is that 60 year olds have 1-2, and every decade adds a couple of conditions, on average. The y-axis being years lost we see that 90 year olds only lose a year or so, but the 60 year olds much more, and the average is about a decade.

When easing lockdowns, governments should open schools first

Another Economist headline that could perhaps have been answered with no, if it were a question. But it isn't, it's a policy prescription. The suggestion seems to be based on three ideas: that they appear to be less prone to catching and passing on covid-19; that loss of schooling is damaging; and that kids seriously get in the way if you want to work.

Minor disclaimer: I have a daughter in her last year of school. She would have gone on study leave on the 7th of May had this fuss not happened, so school is over for her. The only intervention that could matter is re-instating exams, but I'm fairly sure the govt nailed its colours to the No mast early, so that won't happen; because it would now be unfair to change the system.

I think the kids-don't-get-it-or-spread-it argument is weak, largely from lack of evidence (and slightly less so due to what I feel is implausibility) at this point, so relying on it seems poor. That loss of a term or two's schooling is a disaster is also I think weak; although that may be coming from a nice-middle-class perspective, where if Darling Daughter asks about divisions of particles in the Standard Model, I can at least offer a useful discussion.

I'm rather more sympathetic to the problem of getting people back to work while the kids are under foot. I think I'd solve this regionally: if you look at maps of the disease, some areas - most obviously big cities - are plague pits and much of the rest of the country is mostly free. So, re-open schools in such areas on a trial basis, see how it goes, would be my plan. Possibly do something complicated, if you want to keep the numbers down, like have half the pupils come in on odd/even days.

But I'd definitely re-open garden centers first. And book stores, and cafes; all with some density restriction, if required. And large offices and factories that can meaningfully impose distancing.


Coronavirus days: saving the planet demands sacrifices just as Covid-19 does

IMG_20200428_165609 An interesting article in the FT by Tim Harford, Saving the planet demands sacrifices just as Covid-19 does (arch), which links Covid and GW more usefully than previous attempts. The best line I think is The pandemic is giving us a taste of what an end to growth might look like. Which is aimed at the many environmentalists [who] nod along with Greta Thunberg’s sentiment about “fairy tales of eternal economic growth”. You can weasel about this as "of course this wasn't planned and it would be better if we planned it" but I don't believe that - apart from anything else, Covid shows how poor any central planning attempt is likely to be. As to the actual question, see my How much would we have to adjust our lifestyle to stop global warming?

As you see from my pic, the premature eternal summer is over. In other news, my cat has an Instagram account. And it rather appears that some people need to read stuff like Price Signals, Price Gouging, and Philanthropy.


What Do Donors Want? Heterogeneity by Party and Policy Domain

donors Via TF; see-also Twatter. It is fashionable, especially amongst the Left, to decry the influence of money in politics. This note, by David E. Broockman and Neil A. Malhotra, looks at how donors and public differ, by party. It considers them as blocs, so takes no account of how one may have influenced the other and come to alignment over time. The abstract:
Influential theories indicate concern that campaign donors exert outsized political influence. However, little data documents what donors actually want from government; and existing research largely neglects donors' views on individual issues. We argue there should be significant heterogeneity by party and policy domain in how donors' views diverge from citizens. We support this argument with the largest survey of U.S. partisan donors to date, including an oversample of the largest donors. We find that Republican donors are much more conservative than Republican citizens on economic issues, whereas their views are similar on social issues. By contrast, Democratic donors are much more liberal than Democratic citizens on social issues, whereas their views are more similar on economic issues. Both parties' donors are more pro-globalism than their citizen counterparts. We replicate these patterns in an independent dataset. These patterns can help inform significant debates about representation, inequality, and populism in American politics.
For the figure, you need to know The economic and social issues are coded to lie between 0 (most liberal) and 1 (most conservative). The globalism items are coded to lie between 0 (most pro-globalism) to 1 (most anti-globalism). Oh course, this is all written in USAnian, so when they say "liberal" on economic policy they don't mean liberal at all; they mean state-interentionist.

I wanted to trust their questions on the three issues, so I wouldn't have to bother read them, but grew suspicious and did. On social issues, their questions make sense (though they class The government should make sure that every American has health care coverage, even if it means raising taxes to pay for it as economic rather than social). Globalism is in some respects iffy (We should protect American jobs even if it means reducing the standard of living of people living overseas - this is protectionism, which is bad, including for Americans, so this question is hard to answer if you're economically sane). The Hill and Huber ones are worse: for globalism, only one question is about tariffs, and the other four are about sending troops abroad. This explains the massive differences between the two sets of results. Having said that... let's ignore all the caveats and just look at the graphs.

The Repubs are closely aligned with their electorate, except on globalisation; the Dems aren't very aligned - consistently further out - but are closest on economic.


What Tech Leaders Really Want - same authors, on Youtube. Irritating, as talking heads on Youtube usually are.
A Swedish Perspective on COVID19.


Coronavirus days: the IHME model is worthless

93486463_10158072109287350_8516462141245489152_o James half said this a bit ago in Dumb and dumber but on reflection he only half said it. But people keep on saying, effectively, "well the IHME model isn't very good is it" without ever bothering to look at exactly what it is. James said "some sort of fancy curve fitting that doesn't seem to make much use of what is known about disease dynamics" and I think that's true though I'm not sure how much it deserves the "fancy". I've been drifting along on the stream of all this modelling and not bothering to peer into the murky depths much, but I was very struck by this IHME "prediction" that James Twat; I've inlined it. If you look at it, there are - as James said - a number of obviously very strange things about it:

* the uncertainty range immeadiately leaps up on the first day of prediction to completely implausible levels (as well as having an implausible lower limit too);
* the model has an implausible level of certainty that the whole thing will be over by the end of the first week in May;
* it's all a bit Gaussian looking.

That's taken from https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-kingdom, if you want to look for your self.

I finally dragged myself out of my lethargy to read their paper and discovered that they don't go out of their way to tell you what their methods are. But if you read it, it's fairly plain:  The cumulative death rate for each location is assumed to follow a parametrized Gaussian error function. So, that's their "modelling". But that's worthless, because epidemics don't follow a Gaussian, especially if they've got a lock-down in the middle of the data, whereupon fitting a Gaussian goes form being a bad idea to a cretinous one.

I'm guessing (though I haven't looked) that this explains their uncertainty bounds too: all they've done is taken the mean and fuzzed it, so the uncertainty is proportional to the value. Which is also worthless.

This also explains why the model goes to zero when it does: since we happen to look like we've got to the "top" of the Gaussian, it's simply predicting a mirror-image of itself as a decline. Also worthless.

But then we get people like Nate Silver Twitting "There are some good critiques of the IHME model in here IMO" and... it's all to wishy-washy. Yes there is in that one good point: According to a critique by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Imperial College London, published this week in Annals of Internal Medicine, the IHME projections are based “on a statistical model with no epidemiologic basis.” (my bold). And yet despite all this no-one can actually be bothered to read their paper and say what's wrong with it.

Coronavirus days: Bluetooth based contact tracing

Contact tracing is going to save us all5, and, as my cartoon suggests, involves Bluetooth. VV reckons that a privacy respecting track and trace app to fight Corona is possible and effective; Ross Anderson and Bruce "who he?" Schneier are somewhat more doubtful. But never mind that; and never mind the Upper Layers gumpf about encryption and so on which is conveniently over my head: what of the lower layers?

There are apparently several suggestions; the one VV links to is distinctly light on radio protocol and looks like it has spent all its energy on privacy paranoia1, so instead I'll look at the Apple / Google one; the Bluetooth spec is over here (via more specs here). Wiki has an embryonic article which alas points out that the bureaucrats are keen to stick their sticky fingers in.

Which Bluetooth?

First of all, this is done via BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) not Bluetooth Classic (aka BREDR). They don't (unless I missed it) explain why they use BLE not BREDR but it does make sense: BLE adverts were pretty well designed for this kind of use case; and perhaps BLE is I think less locked down in the phone's OS (not that last bit matters too much if you're Google or Apple...)4. As everyone else also points out it doesn't use GPS at all, so there's no actual location data involved, only "proximity".

Distance estimation?

Don't be confused by the name "Low Energy"2 BTW; it is generally about the same power as "normal" Bluetooth. The radio spec says nothing about estimating distance; it does note that RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator) should be captured. BLE has a potential range of ~100 m in open spaces so I'd expect some kind of filtering based on RSSI is going to be needed, but I don't see that in their spec (though the spec does say that RSSI should be in the info captured; perhaps they hope to work out what to do with it later).

Digression: I made a brief attempt to Google this stuff, and found confused things like this, so it's probably worth a discussion. So: people often want to do ranging via Bluetooth, it seems obvious: the louder the signal, the closer you are, and vice versa. But "normal" Bluetooth has power control on links: if a device can't hear its peer clearly, it asks it to speak up; and if its getting deafened, asks it to be quieter. That obviously gets in the way of ranging. But, (a) this is BLE so there is no power control3 and anyway (b) there's no link up so there's no power control.

But although Bluetooth can have a long range in open air it can have a short range when expected to go through squishy wet human bodies (is your phone in your back pocket away from the person you're very close to?); it can bounce off walls; and (as RA points out) it can go through thin walls and glass.

All of which comes down to: distance estimation is difficult.


Your phone sends out BLE "adverts", which the other side receives. And, vice versa. But, each side is one-way, so to speak: there's no link, there's no two way exchange (the Verge seems confused on this, writing about a two-way code swap, even though their text is about a diagram that clearly shows one-way flow).

The adverts are non-connectable undirected (section of 5.2 Core Spec if you want details; I only copy this here to show you the level of detail they are providing, for those interested). Non-connectable means they are outgoing adverts, and cannot be used to attempt to form a connection back again (this is one of the design functionalities of BLE: devices can be temperature or battery sensors, that put out little blobs of data ("adverts") and never know if anyone heard them).

The other side "scans" (aka listens) for these adverts, and will record those it hears.

Whenever you have this kind of TX-RX pattern, you need to arrange it so that the communication has a reasonable chance of working, whilst not using too much power. So if devA TXs an advert every second, but devB is only listening for a packet start in a 1 ms window every 5 minutes, you're very unlikely to get lucky and hear devA. In this case the protocol says TX about every 200 ms, i.e. 4-5 times a second, which is fair enough, but the words about scanning are somewhat vaguer: Scanning interval and window shall have sufficient coverage to discover nearby Contact Detection Service advertisers within 5 mins. Scanning strategy that works best is opportunistic (leveraging existing wakes and scan windows) and with minimum periodic sampling every 5 mins. So I think this is saying that if you're scanning already, as you may well be, just leverage that. Notice that although this appears to say "scan every 5 minutes" it doesn't actually say that; it says scan-to-detect-within-5-minutes which is rather different. Minor: note that BLE adverts can be on one of three channels (unless you deliberately restrict yourself to just one, and the spec doesn't say to do that) so the scanning needs to be across those three channels. Also, I'd have thought you want to distinguish people who you briefly passed as against people you've actually been next to for some time, for which scanning rather more frequently and keeping those you've seen quite a few of might be more helpful.


* Without Apple and Google, the UK’s contact-tracing app is in trouble - the Verge, 2020/05/05


1. And it talks about BLE "beacons", which I don't fully understand in this context. I think they mean just adverts with a 16-byte payload, for a 16-byte Contact Detection Service service (which Gapple tell me is 0xFD6F), leaving 1 byte for flags, which would be a 31-byte advertising payload, which is the largest you're allowed.

2. It went through a variety of names while the marketing folk tried to find a name than conveyed the idea of long battery life but didn't sound wimpy; so ULP ("Ultra Low Power") came and went.

3. OK, there is power control in the 5.2 spec, but most devices in the field aren't 5.2.

4. An article I read but cannot now find said that at least on Apple, Apps using Bluetooth need to be running in the foreground, i.e. to be the active App. And that this was some kind of security measure. This is all way up the stack from me, but this Apple article appears to support that. Maybe Apple would remove that requirement for Covid-tracking baked into its OS?

5. Or, if we're honest, probably not. Me on COVAD-19 Contact Tracing Apps is Bruce Schneier offering his opinion.


Coronavirus days: endless summer

A wasps nest. Not new; I suspect from last summer; in which case
it's odd I haven't noticed it before. In other news, I've learnt how to
do image captions.
It has been a strange few weeks, and a strange last few days. This is the Easter - bank holiday here - weekend, so we have Friday and Monday off, and endless time in which to sit watching the garden, tidying the garden, reading books, web browsing, erging, playing Dominion, doing Sunday evening dinner over Zoom, and anything else. And all in near constant glorious sunshine, though I hear rumbles of distant thunder.

In virus news, James has called the peak, so it's all downhill from here. ATTP has a post I like on models, which almost but doesn't quite say what I've been thinking, which is that the epidemic modelling isn't really ready for the big time. Which brings me back to ...and global warming. Anything you do, and don't test, will be wrong.

Somewhat related, Interventions are likely to be fat-handed with incentive research as a case from TF. Which starts off with some cognitive-bias research which finds that even large incentives don't remove the bias; but then segues into the nice thought that this is only true if you leave the pool of those solving the problem untouched; but large incentives would of course attract those able to better solve the problem. Which is another way of expressing the advantage of the free market.

Contact tracing via smartphone is very much in vogue as an idea, so I'll point you at LBT's Contact Tracing in the Real World. If Google does it, it will be competent; but if (as the news appears to suggest) the NHS does it... we'll be perfectly safe from it for a couple of years. Incidentally, determining range from BT (certainly from BREDR; might be easier from LE) has a long history of being Difficult.


Will Fermi and Dirac Save Us All? Probably Not.
* A failure, but not of prediction - SlateStarCodex
* How to Win Friends and Influence People Book Club, Part 4 by Bryan Caplan
Why do human beings keep getting diseases from bats?
* Markets, Morality, and Mises by G. Patrick Lynch at EconLib


Another one bites the dust

Well, there are only so many headlines in the world, ol' Folksy Fred will have to make do with a retread now he's pushing up the daisies. Which fits his schtick. I'm sure everyone will recognise him from the picture.

As to his quality, I think How to be wrong is about right. That's most of a decade old and he's done precious little since then.

If you'd like to read someone at least ostensibly sad, you can read Joseph Bast writing as if through a veil of tears although presumably not actually through a veil of tears. Or there's some gushing stuff at WUWT, as you'd expect.

But for anyone tempted to fall for the "nice old guy" bullshit, don't miss A Note About Roger Revelle, Justin Lancaster and Fred Singer from Eli.

Best Twatter response.

Take it away, Freddie...


THE MANY GOOD WORKS OF S. FRED SINGER points out: Over four decades S. Fred Singer produced dozens of interesting, and stimulating, contributions to  astronomy and space physics, including seminal  and much cited work on cosmic rays and radiation in near Earth space (including one co-authored with  James Van Allen,) and his highly original, and still controversial theory of the formation of the Moon. However, none of these noteworthy scholarly papers had much to do with atmospheric science, and obituaries by partisan institutions like CFAC,  and the Heartland institute have accordingly ignored them. This indeed has strong similarities with the passing of Carter. Eli in similar vein offers Fred Singer the Good (there is lots of bad and ugly). Meanwhile, there are 49 comments on the WUWT post, which is rather low for them. Even Carter got more.


Interesting times (2008)
Eric Fnorrd and his Ouija Board? (2010)
Sea level rise in pictures (2018)
* Fred Singer Has Died - QS
* Fred Singer Has Passed. He Took Pleasure In Bullying Scientists. May He Rest - Paul Thacker doesn't like him either.


Coronavirus days: masks

MVIMG_20190908_153753 As I said about a week ago, wearing masks seems like a good idea. It doesn't have to be a real one, just anything that stops your breath travelling quite as far will reduce the risk of you infecting everyone if you're infected-but-asymptomatic.

Now, even the Graun has noticed the bleedin' obvious, and speculation mounts that even the thick-as-pigshit Mango Mussolini might get there eventually1. In which case that clown Bojo will doubtless slavishly follow suit. Some months later the WMO will issue guidance, apparently shielded by that old trick, "new research".

As far as I can tell the problem is that govts - ours in particular, but all of them really - are incapable of thinking or expressing any thought beyond the comprehension level of a six year old.

So the idea that Joe Public shouldn't buy quality facemasks because the govt, the NHS, and most medical practices were all too stupid to get in enough supplies in time and so need all the available ones has had to be expressed as "don't wear facemasks" because adding "but it would be a great idea to wear some homemade barrier" would make the thought too complex. And of course it would spoil our glorious pols dignity to appear with a facemask on.


There's an interesting Twit from AukeHoekstra pointing to EuroMOMO, who publish weekly bulletins of the all-cause mortality levels in up to 24 European countries or regions of countries. Fascinating stuff. I've never heard of them but I'm going to trust their pix, because they say something I want to see. Firstly you can "nicely" see the spikes in winter deaths in previous years. This year seems to have been rather mild. "Week 13" is I think 23-30 March, so nominally includes lots of recent death, but they're not showing up clearly on the graphs, which is odd.

I think the deaths are per week, so I think that in the "bad" year of 2017 there was at worse 10k deaths/week, which by eye lasted for ~5 weeks, so 50k excess deaths. It is estimated by ECDC that at least 40,000 people die each year from influenza in the European Union (EU) so that about fits. So far the EU has about 34k deaths from Coronavirus. That number, alas, seems likely to increase; I'm still somewhat doubtful that the relative responses to the two situations are balanced.

Uupdate: a week later, EuroMomo is a bit more exciting, as James points out. Most countries are now up to previous peaks, but few exceed them (Italy does).


It looks like the USA is winning at the moment: The focus of the coronavirus crisis has switched decisively from continental Europe to the US, with the country reporting the highest daily death toll of any nation so far, sez the Graun.


To the extent practical, without significantly impacting mission, all individuals on Department of the Air Force property, installations and facilities are required to wear cloth face coverings when they cannot maintain six feet of physical distance in public areas or work centers. Meanwhile, The Economist is part of the giant supertanker slowly swinging over to recognise the bleedin' obvious. This is all so Overton-window-ish; what is acceptable to say sloooowly changes. Or the BMJThe suggestion that the public should not wear masks because healthcare workers need them more is valid up to a point, but it is surely an argument for manufacturing more masks, not for denying them to populations who could potentially benefit from them.

2020/04/28: Scotland advises face covering.

2020/05/01: even that dickhead Pence can be shamed into wearing a mask.

Update: doctors

I don't see the medical establishment being keen on masks either. An analogy occurs to me: the reluctance of their earlier colleagues to wash their hands.


* James continues his heroic exploits with Lombardy Lockdown is working?!? and Are we achieving suppression in the UK?
* When you gotta go: Ghana's dancing pallbearers
* Our economy will likely reboot too slowly by Scott Sumner
* Economist: How covid-19 is driving public-sector innovation, aka "How an emergency reveals how stupid all your pointless regulation and bureaucracy was".
NHS worker quit when she was stopped from wearing face mask from the Graun; it could have been titled "NHS is a Stalinist bureaucracy".
* Face Masks Against COVID-19: An Evidence Review; Jeremy Howard et al.


1. The Trump administration announced Friday that the CDC is now recommending people consider wearing cloth face coverings in public settings sez NPR, but in a determined effort to retain that distinctive TaPS moniker, they note There's one big reason for the change: There is increasing evidence that the virus can be spread by presymptomatic and asymptomatic carriers. Which is of course a lie: that evidence has been there for rather a long time now. This is the familiar bureaucratic tactic of making things up in order to cover up earlier indecision. Colorado seems to be sensible too. Trump, who genuinely is a fuckwit, won't take this advice.


WATN: John Brignell

90896053_1428597724003210_5764002353552293888_o Alas, poor John Brignell, he has suffered the sad fate of being declared NN. Cue paroxysms of faux outrage about censorship from the Dork Side, if they can still remember who he is: they have memories like goldfish. Even more humiliating for him, I don't appear to have bothered to diss him. He survived a previous debate in 2007, but only by "no consensus". As the closer of that debate said: it would be appreciated if the numerous sources and references provided in this discussion were to wander their way onto the article. This reflects the usual pattern: people show up at AFD, vote keep, and then can't be bothered to improve the article. That was back in the days when I cared a bit, and !voted weak delete, based on Brignell being certainly less notable than Lambert.

To establish his place in the world, here's WUWT approving of him; or his own Global Warming as Religion and not Science (arch).

I'm pretty sure he's now pushing up the daisies, but I can't find any actual source saying so, just absence.


* COVID-19, climate and the plague of preprints - by Richard Telford
Sometimes it’s never good enough - ATTP
Is R0 larger than people think? - JEB
* Speaking of WATN, Pielke appears to be back Twatting.
* Teaching Teaching by Bryan Caplan
* Climate Change: What is (Not) To Be Done by Pedro Schwartz - another in the regrettable series of "Libertarians" (well, EconLib) saying regrettable things about GW.


Coronavirus days: and global warming?

90797873_10157993526827350_1355840889523535872_o ES makes two predictions:
1) Things are going to be okay if we follow the advice of actual experts and stay home for several weeks or more.
2) If things actually do turn out okay (because we stayed home), 1/2 the country will say this shows the experts were unnecessarily "alarmist".
Both of those sound reasonable, though 1 might be a touch optimistic. But suppose (1) is not only true but, to our joy, things are even more OK than we dare hope now. Then people connecting CV and GW, and saying things like planning for low probability, high impact, worst case scenarios1 is looking pretty smart right now are going to get the Dork Side saying "See! You told us to trust science, and we did, and we got all this lock down and economic damage for nothing; you think we'll ever trust you on GW? Ha!"2.

That happy event is unlikely, though.

In other news, I bought some US, on the grounds that the SP500 seems to have bottomed out. That doesn't mean things are getting better yet, just that the bad stuff has likely been (over)priced in. I could be wrong about that, too.

My photo shows the beginning of another day of hell in the office. See how green my lawn is; though not quite as smooth as it should be.

Update: Jem Bendell is an idiot

I don't think this is worth promoting to a full post, but his name comes up sometimes so I need Google to find what I've said about him. Up to now, nothing, for he is, after all, an idiot.

Here's some useless nonsense: Professor Sees Climate Mayhem Lurking Behind Covid-19 Outbreak
By Saijel Kishan at Bloomberg. Oreskes, also an idiot, Twats a mirror of it, because she is too dumb to link to the original. There's also This Is Not a Drill review – an Extinction Rebellion handbook from the ever-gullible Graun.

He has all the customary signs of idiocy, including puffing his CV: Bendell is a former consultant to the United Nations, has presented papers to the European Commission, co-authored reports for the World Economic Forum and advised Britain’s Labour Party.

Happily the Light Side is onto him: Michael Mann, a distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, said that Bendell “gets the science wrong on just about everything.” I think that'll do.

Uupdate: the experts made mistakes

It now becomes ever clearer that some of the expert analysis was, errrm, poor; or "the supposed experts churning out dross on an industrial scale" as JA put it. And people inevitably are thinking about using that.


1. also now I come to re-read it, it's a slightly odd comment. We should indeed factor low-prob hi-impact scenarios into our calculation, but not really plan for them; the problem seems to be getting people to plan for the hi-prob cases.

2. Perhaps Delay is deadly: what Covid-19 tells us about tackling the climate crisis by Jonathan Watts in the Graun would be a fairer target.


Fitting the COVID-19 SEIR model to data, part 2 - JEB
Protect The NHS - Timmy


Coronavirus days: policy?

90343127_10157291987478869_2697016565970239488_o Before you read on, consider Flatten the Curve of Armchair Epidemiology by  Noah Haber: Vet your sources or more people will be deluded. And also Noah Kaufman insightfully TwitsNew essay: "COVID Changes Everything Except 1 Thing" which impatiently explains why everyone must immediately drop their opposition to my long-held policy prescriptions. An example of wishful thinking is Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently. Here’s How from Politico. Leaving aside the question of why so many Noahs, we come to... (trigger warning) Trump Twatting "we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself" (except he said it in shouty all-caps, because he's a shouty sort of person). Naturally he got flamed for saying that, and I'm all in favour of flaming Trump, because he is a wazzock, and only a nation of idiots would put him in charge1. Anyway, I'm disappointed by the lack of cost-benefit analysis; at least, I haven't seen one.

I shall attempt one. Recall that this sequence of posts is to some extent in the nature of a diary of the plague season, so I'm recording my thinking, and what I see around me. Let's suppose a life is worth £1 million (on the low end I know, but these are mostly elderly folk dying... let's hope my mother doesn't read this...) and we (in the UK) might end up with 500 k deaths if we do nothing, then that's a cost of £500 billion. Which sounds like a large number, but you have to be careful with things that look like large numbers. UK GDP is about 2 trillion, so if we lose 20% of GDP this year that would be... £400 billion. Did I get my numbers right? That suggests that at least in ballpark, costs and benefits about balance; in which case it doesn't seem unreasonable to err on the side of humanity. That's assuming no knock-on cost to GDP in future years, and on the other side, that 500 k mostly elderly deaths wouldn't affect much GDP.

Alternatives to lock down?

The current lock down looks like a very blunt instrument. You can argue, and probably will, that even that blunt instrument is misunderstood, and that the govt-to-public interface is incapable of transmitting anything but a blunt message. But that won't stop me thinking that it is all rather badly done and could be done better. Examples abound: I can't work-from-work, even though I'm about the only person on my floor, and the risk is negligible; certainly less that the risk from going into a supermarket. Speaking of which, at the local Sainsbury's, precautions seemed minimal: no hand-san on the way in, no staff wearing masks. It feels like everywhere is suffering policies that are more tuned to large cities.

Update: would wearing masks help?

There's almost no mask usage in the UK. And pols never wear them when gathered together. This Tweet points to the Czech's making their own; see this Google docAs more and more people took to the streets and social media with masks, on March 17 at the daily government press briefing, all members were wearing masks. It seems to me this is at least worth considering. The point being that you don't need medical-grade-certified masks to make it less likely to transmit.

I'm not the only one to think of the obvious... Scarves now, masks later; and Bring on the Masks and Gloves! And Lithuania starts producing reusable N100 face masks. It took just 4 days from idea to government contract of 1 million units. Costs 1.5 EUR per unit, production capacity 10,000 / day.


Uupdate: I wrote a post about it.


UK now in "lock down" by which we mean don't leave your house unless necessary; but with a fairly broad definition of necessary, including a free pass for going out for a run. In a token of madness, even single sculling is now banned, presumably in order to prove that the world is insane. On a personal level, work has now bowed to the inevitable and sent me home. I'm anticipating that the garden will be at its best this spring, especially if the good weather continues.


I had some blogs by others queued up to comment on:

* Trump Murders Someone: The weapon: stupidity: DA/QS. Meh, more like suicide by stupidity. Anyone dumb enough to follow Trump's advice deserves a Darwin award.
* New York vs Italy - EarlyWarning: New York is in serious and, I would guess, irrecoverable containment failure; or you may prefer his We Are About to Lose New York City to Covid.
* Let Decadent Airlines Go Bankrupt by Pierre Lemieux at EconLib.
* Some thoughts about science advice - ATTP
* Uncertainty in the COVID-19 model - JEB: I think one thing that can probably be concluded is that the parametric uncertainty isn't hugely important for the broad policy advice. Rather like climate science, in fact :-).
That Oxford study, in full, in brief - JEB
Harsh But True - Timmy suggests Africa may show what happens without lockdown; though a commentator points out that they skew young, which helps.
* Open Borders: Now Do You See What We're Missing? by Bryan Caplan
* A battle fought on a million fronts by Scott Sumner
* J-value assessment of how best to combat Covid-19 by Philip Thomas
What About Economists’ Expertise?
* When Free-Market Prices Are Banned by Pierre Lemieux
* How long the lockdown lasts is not just a medical question – it's a democratic one; Richard Denniss - Graun
* Economic crash could cost more lives than coronavirus, says expert - The Times - Philip Thomas, Jvalue stuff.


1. and only a party of utter morons would have put up a candidate he could beat. It looks like they have actually learnt something this time round; I'm astonished.


Coronavirus Days: nice pix

As I said, we visited the National Gallery. There's some nice stuff there. Here's some of it. These are in some kind of order... the order I saw them, which is roughly by age. They are all clipped, mostly not very much, cos I don't like to see the frame. Despite my best efforts, not all of these are perfectly lit (or, for the longer ones, perfectly flat) so you may prefer a better repro elsewhere.

As to COVID itself I have nothing new to say today; I found How much ‘normal’ risk does Covid represent? by David Spiegelhalter interesting.

The Wilton Diptych (right hand panel). 139x. Gets a small room all to itself. Lovely, but I wish I could stop seeing the background as the fuzzy pegboard stuff.


Christ showing his wounds. Weirdly modern-looking in structure and colour - to me - but about the same age as the diptych above. If you look at it from a distance you may not notice that his robe is rent and there's a gash in his side. The apostles coyly hide behind him in their haloes.


A fairly typical scene of St Michael defeating the devil, but a gorgeous example. The armour! The serene face! The fearsome devil! The gorgeously folded cloak! And the benefactor, unfazed, kneeling. Bartolom√© Bermejo, the most important fifteenth-century Spanish painting in Britain.


Saint Veronica with the Sudarium: According to her legend, Saint Veronica saw Christ fall as he carried his Cross to the site of his crucifixion. Taking pity on him, she offered her linen handkerchief (called a sudarium) to wipe the sweat from his face. When he returned it, an image of his face was imprinted upon it. One of the many many weird ones in there; well, St Michael and the devil is pretty weird, too.


Christ being taken down from the cross. A nimble boy at the very top of the painting attempts to support Christ’s weight while clinging on to the arm of the Cross, hooking one ankle over it to prevent himself from falling headlong. Which is the bit I liked: his contorted spidery appearance and, because of his colouring, his visual identification with Christ, is good. As is the odd gilded niche in which the action is placed.


Mr and Mrs Andrews. This one is famous because it was in my school history textbook about the changing face of England in the 18th century.


The Fighting Temeraire. 1839. Massively famous, a good painting, well worth a look.


Lord Ribblesdale. 1902. Just to prove I can like things other than intricately detailed pain. Lifesize or more, hung on the wall of the mail hall.



Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (Uffizi)


Coronavirus Days, part two: drivel

90252544_10157958933532350_9084115092445855744_o (1) The opening shot in today's drivel wars is fired by doughty campaigner John Vidal in the Graun, with 'Tip of the iceberg': is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?3;The answer is of course No, as Michael Mann should have known. But I told him anyway. To make it more explicit, We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host is wacko. Viruses or any other kind of disease are not happy little things secure in their environment, and only "trying" to look for a new host(s) if their existing host(s) get offed. This is a mistake of teleological proportions. They have no will or desire; they just blat about randomly; if you keep on eating bushmeat or whatever you increase your chances of catching something regrettable; and that's true whether you also cut down the trees or not. The rest of the article is anodyne, merely noting that Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases such as Ebola, Sars, bird flu and now Covid-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise and The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building through remote places, rapid urbanisation and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before. Destroying nature doesn't cause these diseases; it's just the getting closer that does it1, coupled with our new-fangled ability to spread them across the world quickly.

Moving right along we come to Jim "back to Plato" Al-Khalili with A Physicist for President?, part of a long tradition2 of "people more like me should be in charge". Jim is a bit thin on any examples where his Physicist-President would break out the pencil and solve problems, but that hardly matters, because really he's just trolling; or perhaps more generously, trying to make you think about the different ways things could be handled. Pushing the obvious aside, his philosopher-physicist would never get nominated, much less elected. Because PP's on the whole tend to be not really people people. And on the whole they don't have a good grasp of history or politics which would allow them to function usefully in a political role. More fundamentally, they probably think like Jim in terms of "we must also find solutions to the climate crisis... to our energy needs" as though the state, or the President, needs to solve those problems. But it doesn't. It needs to impose a carbon tax and mostly get out of the way. Jim's PP would I fear be all too hands-on, getting in the way. [See-also: ATTP's view].

Lastly - and only at best ambiguously drivel - we have Scientists have been sounding the alarm on coronavirus for months. Why did Britain fail to act? by Richard "is editor of the Lancet medical journal" Horton, as Twat by James. And my only complaint is, as I said, is "What does Horton's own record on sounding the alarm look like?". Because although the piece is unflinching in its criticism of everyone else in not raising the alarm, it is notably short of "look, here, at what I said months ago, why didn't you listen". Perhaps he is just too modest to link to his own wise words of warning.

Closer to home, Waterstones Cafe on the second floor is now closed, and the ground floor one is takeaway only; how can I be expected to finish The Mirror And The Light under those conditions? School will go virtual from Friday, and what will happen next term is a mystery; ditto for D's 4th term at Cambridge. The shops are out of bread flour; all the yummy mummies desperate to fill their child-enriched hours with baking, no doubt.


1. Perhaps something the back-to-nature folk might like to think about.

2. I'm sure that's true but can I justify it? Well, there's Plato of course. And now Al-Khalili. And Heilein's vets in Starship Troopers. Oh go on, you can fill in your own examples.

3. Of course, the logic of the piece is clear: environmental destruction is not just bad, it is a sin, desecration; and so like any sin it must invoke punishment from the Gods; and is not a plague a punishment from the Gods?


How they got it so wrong - a theory - JEB
Coronavirus – getting angry - Bronte Capital
* Covid-19 and Conservative Liberalism - by Dan Klein