Madness and Maddow

The Navy hospital ships promised by President Trump to deploy to New York and Los Angeles arrived on-station as ordered a few days ago. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, presumed for some obscure-to-me reason to be associated with the provision of news to the public, and most recently famed through peddling Russian conspiracy theories regarding Trump’s election for the past three years, had ridiculed the President’s proposed schedule as “nonsense. ” She, or whatever pronoun she goes by, had loudly and publicly claimed that it would be “weeks” before the hospital ships arrived. Instead, the hospital ships arrived more or less to schedule. A lesser news-person would have the decency to be embarrassed over how transparent a prediction-flop this was. Not this Maddow person, it appears. This is not a good thing, and not for the reason first assumed. PBS’ Yamiche “Rolie-Polie-Olie” Alcindor baldly admitted, and in nicer words, that the name of the game for the national establishment news media is “Get Trump!” and anything goes, fair or foul (mostly foul) will serve that end. Well, really – those of us who have been paying attention, especially for the last decade and a half (or longer) have known very well that the name of the game as far as the establishment national news media is concerned, is to enthusiastically smear Republicans and their conservative supporters (no matter how mild or harmless) the pretext, and to excuse Democrats and their supporters, no matter how vile the offense and actions. Nothing new here, move along. SSDD, as we used to say in my active duty days. (Same sh*t, Different Day.)

Read more

American Has an Autoimmune Disease

An autoimmune disease is an illness that occurs when the body tissues are attacked by its own immune system.  The US today has this condition big-time.  Historically, the condition has arisen and reached toxic levels in other countries; as an example, France, during the run-up to the Second World War and even during the campaign of 1940.

General Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s military liaison with France, was told by Georges Mandel, the combative interior minister, about the mayor of a district in Paris which had been bombed who went about the lobbies, screaming:  I will interpellate the Government on this outrage as soon as the chamber meets!  Mandel expressed his contempt for this kind of behavior, saying sarcastically “Paris is bombed by the German?  Let’s shake our fists at or own government.”  Spears notes that “The other way, that of silently going off to collect a gun and have a shot at the enemy, was a solution that occurred only to a few…How Hitler must have laughed, I told myself.”

A few months earlier, an interviewer asked Paul Reynaud, who had just become Prime Minister of France, about his long-standing and bitter rivalry with Edouard Daladier.

Nevertheless, ”the interviewer  said, “Daladier is certainly a man who loves his country.”

“Yes,” Reynaud replied, “I believe he desires the victory of France, but he desires my defeat even more.”

This may have been a bit unfair to Daladier, who was far from the worst of the leading French politicians of the day. But it gives an accurate impression of the state of things in the late Third Republic.  And it may actually understate the state of things in America today, where for many politicians and journalists, the well-being of America and of Americans doesn’t seem to enter into the equation at all compared with the search for political advantage.

The obsession with political power, and with the denunciation of opponents, is not today limited to politicians, journalists, and ‘activists’…it has spread to a large proportion of the population.  Millions of Americans, it seems, are in a state of visceral rage against not only Trump, but against any and all of his supporters.  There is no activity, of any sort, that is safe from volcanic overflowings of political rage…not even knitting, as strange as that may seem.

It often seems impossible to find any point of entry for an attempt to get Progs to reconsider their beliefs, in however small a way.  I’m reminded of something written by Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, on the subject of intellectually closed systems:

A closed system has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of casuistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you yourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emotional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

In attempting to debate with “progressives,” one often encounters this kind of closed-system thinking:  there is absolutely no way you are going to change their minds, whatever the evidence or logic.  (I don’t think this is true of  all  “progressives”–otherwise the situation in America today would be even more grim than it actually is–but it’s true of a lot of them.)

But today’s Progressivism is not a coherent intellectual system with definable axioms like Marxism or a Christian theology; it seems much more a cluster of emotional reactions.

Certain Progs have gone so far out on the limb that there seems no hope they could ever come back; this certainly is true of most commentators on CNN and MSNBC…they will just become angrier and more extreme, and it will all be broadcast to millions as long as their owners (AT&T and Comcast, respectively) keep the money flowing.  But what about ordinary people, those whose lives do not center (or at least previously have not centered) around politics?…Is there any sign that some may be willing to reconsider some of their beliefs, specifically in the midst of the Cornavirus crisis?  I have seen comments by people saying they have friends who have recently been willing to reconsider their support for open borders, or for offshoring most American manufacturing to China, in the light of current events.  I haven’t seen much of this, personally.  What I see is more people who are so completely aligned with their ‘side’, that they view events largely through the light of how they can be interpreted to support that side.  These are often people who were not particularly interested in politics or political philosophy  prior to recent years.

This isn’t one of my more coherent posts, but I’d like to discuss: Can the American autoimmune disease be cured?  Why did it develop and get so bad?  What, as individuals, can we do to help with the cure or at least the mitigation?

One Million Health Care Workers

As I was driving to work today I heard on Bloomberg that presidential candidate Andrew Cuomo requested a million health care workers to help with the crisis in New York. “A million!” I said to myself in my car.

I looked at the population of New York City and it looks like there are around 8.5 million people there, where most of the problems are. Lets say ten million to make the math easy. So one health care worker per ten patients, assuming every single person in New York City gets sick. Really?

Where would you put them all? Aren’t most of the hotels closed? That would be importing a city the size of San Jose or Austin into New York. Of course it is stupid, so my question is why does Cuomo say something like this?

“A Fresh Perspective on the Covid-19 Numbers”

Robert Prost emails:

I wanted to share with you, my take on the corona virus situation in the United States.
But first, a brief introduction. I am professor emeritus at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
I have a PhD in Biophysics and spent my career in MRI-based research, mostly on brain tumors.
I check the Johns Hopkins’ website every day for the progress of the epidemic and I had a feeling about the numbers I’ve been seeing.
The website: is very good.
The daily case number totals can be extracted by mousing over each plotted point in the graph in the lower right hand corner of the screen.
The curve at first looks daunting, it seems to be shooting straight up. But being at least in part a mathematician, I wondered about the velocity of this upward move in cases.
If the velocity was going up, the epidemic would be accelerating, the epidemic would be worsening. If going down, it would be getting better (slowing).
So I plotted the data and took the first derivative with respect to time. What it shows is that the velocity of the epidemic in the US is definitely slowing, and quickly.
While the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, it is rising more slowly. If there were a confounding effect from increased surveillance (more testing revealing yet more cases), the apparent velocity should be going up.
Instead, it is going down. So I believe the effect to be real, and thus I believe we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the epidemic. While this data says nothing about the potential for re-emergence in the fall or following spring, it does suggest that we have in fact, flattened the curve.

US Covid-19 Cases and Rate of Change

UPDATE: A follow-up email from Robert is posted here.

Stuff Is Going To “Fall Off The Truck”

In my previous post I hinted that perhaps Mr. Cuomo doesn’t really need forty thousand ventilators for the Covid-19 crisis in New York. A lively and interesting discussion ensued and I thank the commenters for that.

Today I had on the Trump presser and I was doing other things until Trump said the following, (speaking of mask usage per day at a certain hospital) – and my ears perked up:

“How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000 — 10 to 20,000 masks to 300,000, even though this is different. Something’s going on, and you ought to look into it, as reporters,” Trump said.

As an aside, he really does speak in stream of consciousness, no? Anyways.

I love math problems and would like to see the actual numbers of staff/masks if those numbers exist – that could be interesting. Trump could have been fluffing the numbers a bit to make a point on something he has heard. But Trump isn’t stupid and brought it up for a reason.

Of course the Washington Post can’t have Trump doubting for a second that anyone in a democratic controlled area would…well…maybe…”borrow” some of the supplies – and they said that Trump was touting a “conspiracy theory”.

When the books are written about this episode, I am fairly confident that waste and fraud will be two of the more interesting aspects. Some of it will be on purpose, and some of it will be just because this is a large project run by the government.

Dueling Doctors

In the blue corner, we have the joint statement on multiple patients on ventilators by the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF), American Association of Critical‐Care Nurses (AACN), and American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST) which recommends letting people die when spare ventilator reserves run out. And in the red corner, we have the VESper by Prisma Health fresh off of its recent victory to get regulatory approval under emergency use rules to allow ventilators to be used by up to four patients.

It is triage with its ugly logic of letting patients die vs hope and technical advancement to save everyone, live in the United States at Covid-19 virus hot spots across the nation. This may affect you personally so it is important that you know whether or not the hospital you might depend on to save your life has picked one side or the other in a thoughtful way.

Everybody could ask the question but it would be better if our press did ask and broadcast the answers. At the time of writing, they’ve had two days to do so. Are you informed on the issue? Are your neighbors? Is your hospital?

This lack of discussion is the death of journalism. This time ignorance can have deadly consequences for us all.

Previous Links on Genetics and Related

We have not talked much about genetics recently.  These are people who know a great deal, but may not fully share your values.

The brilliant Steve Hsu over at Information Processing talks about an article in The Economist concerning embryo selection. November 2019.

 Here is that article from The Economist Modern Genetics will improve health and usher in designer children. November 2019

Legal studies paper by Gail Herriot on school discipline policies. June 2019 

Only some genetics in this last one. Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex, who Steve Sailer called the greatest public intellectual to emerge in the 2010s, talks about what intellectual progress he made during the decade. He started way ahead of me and I think has lapped me a couple of times since. A stunning variety of topics. January 2020.

Ventilator Math

So Andrew Cuomo says that they need up to 40,000 ventilators in New York City.

But “the number of ventilators we need is so astronomical,” Cuomo warned, pegging the “apex number” of ventilators that could be required in New York at 40,000.

So, I like math and I enjoy trying to suss out these types of problems. I’m assuming that a normal “joe” can’t just wake up and intubate someone, and that probably your run of the mill nurse who checks your blood pressure can’t either. I found this list of physicians in New York State as of 2019:

Psychiatry 6,759
Surgery 4,293
Anesthesiologists 4,262
Emergency medicine 4,560
Radiology 3,999
Cardiology 3,149
Oncology (cancer) 2,213
Endocrinology, diabetes, & metabolism 902
All other specialities 18,771
Total specialty 48,908

My guess is that at least half (more?) of these doctors probably aren’t able to intubate someone. So…I’m wondering (paging Dr. K), looking at these numbers of doctors that are up and running with their practice in the state of New York that are qualified, how would they even be able to use 40k ventilators? Maybe I am missing some legislation that would allow doctors from other states to practice in New York State right away. Perhaps it is easier than I think to intubate a patient and Joe Radiologist can do it. Anyone?

Positive Stores about Covid-19

Amid all of the doom and gloom that the press is all too eager to peddle upon you for eyeballs and clicks, I present a few promising stories about the latest Chinese virus to infect our shores.

Approximate timelines on medications/vaccines to combat the virus.
Canadian scientists have successfully isolated the virus, an essential step in getting a vaccine ready for testing.
A welcome side effect of the virus is that as people have sheltered, pollution has plummeted.
A University of Minnesota doctor has gone MacGyver in creating a ventilator.
The total number of people recovered has recently surpassed one hundred thousand.
Projections of death totals could be orders of magnitude too high.
Apple may start re-opening stores in China soon.

There are many, many more good stories about the event if you care to test out your Google-fu.

Also, some anecdotal items. It appears that people in general are helping one another, remaining calm for the most part, and doing the right things. If there were hospitals with people stranded in hallways or on floors we would have seen those photos/video by now so I am assuming that **at this point** they are handling the influx of patients just fine. My stores locally are fully stocked with all items, save some canned foods like tomato sauce, and of course paper products. I assume those will be available sooner rather than later.

Discuss as you wish.

Texas Aggie Doctor Reports — Clinical Pearls Covid 19 for ER practitioners

The following information is from a front line ER doctor using the handle of ‘nawlinsag’ on a Texas Aggie web site.  I’ve included the link below. I’ve also included the complete text of his post in full in hopes medical professionals and lay people could get the most benefit from his observations of the course of COVID-19 in a small front line Louisiana hospital.

Short form: This is not the flu.  It is a horror show of death and disablement that is crowding out all other medical care including an immediate downgrade of life saving cardiac care.  Only on in seven people put on ventalators in this hospital is surviving, and then only after 10-t0-12 days of ventalator support.


I just spent an hour typing a long post that erased when I went to change the title so I apologize to the grammar and spelling police. This one will not be proofread and much shorter.

I am an ER MD in New Orleans. Class of 98. Every one of my colleagues have now seen several hundred Covid 19 patients and this is what I think I know.

Clinical course is predictable.
2-11 days after exposure (day 5 on average) flu like symptoms start. Common are fever, headache, dry cough, myalgias(back pain), nausea without vomiting, abdominal discomfort with some diarrhea, loss of smell, anorexia, fatigue.

Day 5 of symptoms- increased SOB, and bilateral viral pneumonia from direct viral damage to lung parenchyma.

Day 10- Cytokine storm leading to acute ARDS and multiorgan failure. You can literally watch it happen in a matter of hours.

81% mild symptoms, 14% severe symptoms requiring hospitalization, 5% critical.

Patient presentation is varied. Patients are coming in hypoxic (even 75%) without dyspnea. I have seen Covid patients present with encephalopathy, renal failure from dehydration, DKA. I have seen the bilateral interstitial pneumonia on the xray of the asymptomatic shoulder dislocation or on the CT’s of the (respiratory) asymptomatic polytrauma patient. Essentially if they are in my ER, they have it. Seen three positive flu swabs in 2 weeks and all three had Covid 19 as well. Somehow this ***** has told all other disease processes to get out of town.

China reported 15% cardiac involvement. I have seen covid 19 patients present with myocarditis, pericarditis, new onset CHF and new onset atrial fibrillation. I still order a troponin, but no cardiologist will treat no matter what the number in a suspected Covid 19 patient. Even our non covid 19 STEMIs at all of our facilities are getting TPA in the ED and rescue PCI at 60 minutes only if TPA fails.

CXR- bilateral interstitial pneumonia (anecdotally starts most often in the RLL so bilateral on CXR is not required). The hypoxia does not correlate with the CXR findings. Their lungs do not sound bad. Keep your stethoscope in your pocket and evaluate with your eyes and pulse ox.

Labs- WBC low, Lymphocytes low, platelets lower then their normal, Procalcitonin normal in 95%
CRP and Ferritin elevated most often. CPK, D-Dimer, LDH, Alk Phos/AST/ALT commonly elevated.
Notice D-Dimer- I would be very careful about CT PE these patients for their hypoxia. The patients receiving IV contrast are going into renal failure and on the vent sooner.

Basically, if you have a bilateral pneumonia with normal to low WBC, lymphopenia, normal procalcitonin, elevated CRP and ferritin- you have covid-19 and do not need a nasal swab to tell you that.

A ratio of absolute neutrophil count to absolute lymphocyte count greater than 3.5 may be the highest predictor of poor outcome. the UK is automatically intubating these patients for expected outcomes regardless of their clinical presentation.

An elevated Interleukin-6 (IL6) is an indicator of their cytokine storm. If this is elevated watch these patients closely with both eyes.

Other factors that appear to be predictive of poor outcomes are thrombocytopenia and LFTs 5x upper limit of normal.

Read more

Ventilator manifold can quadruple number of people on ventilation

A paper published in 2014 documents the invention of a ventilator manifold which can lead to up to 4 people sharing a ventilator.

Ventilator manifold for disaster surge usage

You can find the paper here and an article describing the invention here.

Does anyone know the regulation that is stopping us from printing these manifolds and reducing the death toll from a local overwhelmed medical system? A lot of people are rightly worried about our ventilator situation. Something that quadruples system capacity would be a godsend.

Update: This is deemed a method of desperation with numerous problems that can lead to worse patient outcomes in this joint statement by six US medical associations. They really don’t like it.

This is not stopping innovators like Prisma Health from developing ways to have multi-user ventilators.

Update 2: New York has approved ventilator splitting as they purchase 7,000 more ventilators. Federal ventilators are also starting to arrive, all 400 of them.

China Virus

Seriously, I do wonder if there isn’t a strong antipathy against all things Official-Mainland-Chinese/ Chinese Communist Party and all its works building among Americans, in the wake of the almost-universal infection by the Wuhan Corona-virus epidemic. I mean – the damn plague started there, despite what all the official CCP agencies and bodies, and their sympathizers and hired media can and will insist. Bungling containment, concealing practically everything about the epidemic (the third devastating epidemic originating in China, by the way, the swine flu and the H1N1 virus being the first two) and then having the unmitigated gall to blame it on the United states – that takes the absolute cake, as far as I am concerned. It reminds me of the books I absorbed, growing up; most by English and American authors of the mildly popular sort (some fiction, some non) and dating anywhere in the first half of the 20th century whose detestation of Germany and Germans hung in the atmosphere of those books like a particularly dank fog. It was an almost visceral dislike, for all that we generally had been inclined favorably towards Germany before the turn of the previous century. Martin Luther, Johan Sebastian Bach, the Brothers Grimm, Schumann, Beethoven, Goethe, scientific, technological and medical advances all flowed to the rest of Europe and to the Americas, making us all the richer for it – but German ‘frightfulness’ in World War I, and the horrors inflicted by Nazi Germany burned through that enormous fund of respect and favorable opinion, leaving a very bad taste in the mouths of those old enough to have been exposed to them, either directly or at first and second remove. That bad taste may only now be fading with regard to Germany, but I wonder if it isn’t now about to be replaced with burning resentment of China, or at the very least, the Chinese Communist Party.

Read more

From the Cosmos to Strings: Parallels of Economics to Physics

The first macroeconomic model of the U.S. economy consisted of 20 boxes of punched cards at 2000 cards per box that I would wheel on a dolly stacked five feet high to the main frame computer center where it took about three days to get results back.

Mathematics is the language of physics. Graduating with a BS in mathematics in the 1960’s, I faced a choice between my two minors, physics or economics. Some famous physicists had already declared that the quest for a unified mathematical explanation of the cosmos and its smallest building blocks was at hand. In economics, the attempt to build a mathematical macro model of the U.S. economy and fully integrate it with the micro economic mathematical models of human behavior represented a new frontier. I chose economics.

In retrospect, physicists are still searching for a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) of the universe. In economics, mathematics and statistics have widened the disagreement about how the economy works and the proper role of government in economic management.

God and Physics: from Aristotle to Hawking

Aristotle (382-324 BC) described the cosmos of round bodies in motion circling around the earth. It took almost two millennia until the sun-centric Copernican model was popularized by Galileo, who was imprisoned by the Pope, the political enforcer of orthodoxy at the time, in 1633 for heresy, forcing him to recant. But only a half century later, Newton described the mechanics of the universe and sun-centric solar system in Principia Mathematica (1687), which remains the cornerstone of basic physics.

In Newtonian physics, motion and speed are calculated relative to what you are moving away from. Maxwell’s discovery in the mid-1800’s that the speed of light was “absolute” required an explanation that stumped many physicists until the young patent office clerk Albert Einstein, unaware of these efforts, provided the novel Special Theory of Relativity (1905) that if light speed was constant space and time must be relative.

His mathematical model proved over time to provide a more precise description of the movement of heavenly bodies, but the implication of his equations that the universe was expanding violated his belief in a master plan of a “creator,” so he inserted a mathematical cosmological constant (what economic model builders would subsequently call a “dummy variable”) to stagnate it. But other physicists confirmed his original model, which in reverse required a mathematical ”singularity” – a beginning of time with a “big bang” from an infinitely small spec. The Catholic Church approved this model in 1952 as consistent with its orthodox views of a creator.

In 1970 Stephen Hawking proved that the big bang theory was the only one consistent with the existing models of the universe, but he later challenged those models. First, the violent path of destruction and creation over billions of years subsequent to the big bang that ultimately produced the building blocks of life was a “million to one shot”- is ours just one of millions of universes? Second, macro models of the universe broke down at the mathematical singularity, which remains inconsistent with micro models of the very small – in my youth molecules then atoms made up of protons, neutrons and electrons, now subatomic “quarks” and more recently sub-quark vibrating strings.

The scientific method is a slog: to understand the universe, the models must not only be tested empirically but compared to all the potential alternative explanations. Pre-conceived orthodox ideology has at times set the investigation back centuries.

The Progressive Orthodoxy of Mathematical Models in Economics

Macro economics, the desire to understand and control the workings of the economy at large, developed in response to the Great Depression. The roots of the mathematical approach to economic management trace to the founding of the Econometrics Society in 1930. John Maynard Keynes published his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money in 1935, the title invoking the universality and finality of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity published two decades prior.

Paul Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis (1947) provided a mathematical model of micro economic consumer and business behavior. I was a regular reader of Samuelson’s Newsweek columns in high school and used his undergraduate economics text at UMass, where I worked on the first macro economic model of the U.S. economy developed at the University of Pennsylvania by Samuelson’s first PhD student Lawrence Klein.

As a student of former Federal Reserve Board economist Pat Hendershott, I worked on the first Flow of Funds model of the U.S. financial sector. The main frame computer at Purdue University would run the punch cards of a professor’s research overnight, a big improvement. Such macro economic models are “Keynesian” central government centric by design: fiscal and monetary policies are modeled to control the economy, mitigating recessions and unemployment.

But other models haven’t been ruled out. In The Forgotten Depression (2014) James Grant argues that the Depression of 1921 – there was no official designating body at the time – following the end of the Great War cured itself in 18 months due to official benign neglect. In Grant’s view (and many others, including economists living through it) what made the subsequent Depression “Great” was massive political intervention that prevented the required adjustments.

While the merits and long term effectiveness of “small scale” and “counter-cyclical” measures remain debatable, the merits of the socialist centrally planned economies are not: hundreds of millions died and the remainder suffered economic stagnation while the capitalist world prospered. Only self described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders openly touts the performance of the centrally planned economies, but there isn’t much difference in the government centric policy approach of progressive politicians.

This macro narrative is generally consistent with anti-capitalist progressive ideology of business, workers and consumers dating back to Marx that is accepted by the majority of more recent college graduates. Economic statistical research across a wide spectrum from discrimination and labor exploitation to income inequality and market failure is offered in support, albeit inconsistent with a competitive market system. The competitiveness of the U.S. economy implies that correlation is too often assumed to imply causation without rigorously considering alternative explanations.

Creative Destruction Produces Economic Expansion

Humans owe their very existence to the massive creative destruction of the Cosmos (whether or not by the grace of God) for we are all made from the dust of exploding stars. In the economic sphere, virtually all human economic progress is attributable to capitalist competition and creative destruction, favoring the adaptive over the sluggish. Mathematical models haven’t adequately described entrepreneurial innovation. Progressive intervention to mitigate downside risk of creative destruction, broadly or to specific political constituencies, is highly correlated with stagnation.

Historically, even natural disasters including pandemics such as the corona virus (I assume it was “natural”) have provided opportunities for creative destruction. Consider, for example, the requirement that university students study online during the pandemic. While traditional colleges aren’t yet offering rebates, we know from experience that without the room, board and administrative costs and with increased productivity of fewer professors, online degrees can be provided for as little as one tenth the cost of the traditional approach.

Progressive proposals for taxpayers to foot the entire bill for the high cost model may be called democratic socialism but are indistinguishable from democratic crony capitalism for the political elite.

Kevin Villani

Kevin Villani was chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on how politicians and bureaucrats with no skin in the game caused the sub-prime lending bubble and systemic financial system failure.

Scrooge McDuck In Reverse

Perhaps this is the time to teach, or at least keep as an example, how an economy works, to those who believe that rich people got there by taking money that could have gone to a poor person in a fairer system. We are in a situation where money is being lost, and it isn’t going to anyone. Some people are not much affected, if whatever their income is based on is not interrupted. I am considered “essential personnel” and have work. I’m not sure I actually am essential, but they have to draw the line somewhere, and danger increases if the hospital as a whole does not do what it does. There may be a very few businesses that do better – online entertainments, delivery services. I can’t think of much else.

There will be some pent-up demand that comes upon businesses as restrictions are eased, as folks want to buy cars or go out to restaurants. But some of the non-buying today occurs because people now do not have jobs that are paying them, and they don’t have money to spend. The restaurants and car dealerships are not going to make that up later. The money is just gone. You can frame that as being lost or as being never created, but either way it’s just not there. It is relatively easy to destroy value.

I hope the lesson can be turned to show that it is difficult to create value.

Covid-19 Weekend Update/Random Thoughts

This morning I went on a long hike up at Devil’s Lake State Park. It was chilly, but there was no wind, which made it absolutely wonderful. I took the “hard” way, meaning I went up and down the bluffs twice as I made my way around the lake. The photo above is from the west bluff. There was hardly anyone there, which was eerie and peaceful, as this is Wisconsin’s most popular state park and I have never seen it so devoid of people. You could hear the ice heaving and breaking on the shore, and I heard some interesting birds making calls that I don’t typically get to hear. The migration is in full swing. During this time I prayed, meditated and got my workout in. I am very glad I did it after a long week.

During the drive back, I noticed that a lot of farmers were spreading. The cycle of life continues here behind the cheddar curtain.

So, some random Covid thoughts. I have enjoyed Governor Cuomo bitching and griping for help over the past week. What a whiner. Hey Cuomo – who has run New York for the past, ever? Maybe you should look in the mirror before you start playing politics. Same goes for Lori Lightfoot. Hopeless.

My Illinois facility will remain open during the “stay at home” order issued by Gov. Pritzker as HVAC is an “essential business”. While I typically loathe anything this man does, he did a nice job with the presser yesterday, I will admit. Contrast that with Lori Lightfoot, who bitched and whined about the lack of federal response. There is one bit of hilarity in Pritzker’s “stay at home” order (yes, I read the whole thing). Can you tell me which one of these things is different from the other?

Section 12 (h)
Definition of Critical Trades
Building and Construction Tradesmen and Tradeswomen, and other trades including but not limited to plumbers, electricians, exterminators, cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties, security staff, operating engineers, HVAC, painting, moving and relocation services, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, Essential Activities, and Essential Businesses and Operations.

Oh yea, he kept the pot shops open too.

I am refreshed and pleasantly surprised by the State of Wisconsin coming forward with a united front and saying that there will be no “stay at home” order (otherwise known as government overreach). At least for now.

I stopped at a convenience store on the way home and picked up a dozen eggs. They were $1.49 and there were plenty of them.

Well, that’s about all I got. Hope everyone had half as good a day as I did. Let me know what you are seeing/feeling in your neck of the woods.

Ruin and Recovery

A brokerage note I received recently included the following quote:

What has so often excited wonder, is the great rapidity with which countries recover from a state of devastation, the disappearance in a short time, of all traces of mischief done by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and the ravages of war. An enemy lays waste a country by fire and sword, and destroys or carries away nearly all the moveable wealth existing in it: all the inhabitants are ruined, and yet in a few years after, everything is much as it was before.

John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848

Questions for discussion:

–How well has Mill’s assertion held up over the 170 years since he wrote the above?

–Will American recovery from the Coronavirus follow Mill’s pattern, or is there reason to think that it will be different this time, and not in a good way?

It is time to start the economy again.

I have previously described the COVID 19 virus, which is also referred to as Wuhan virus, to the annoyance of the China friendly US Media. The consequences for the US economy have been severe. The most affected states, New York, California, Illinois and Washington, have virtually shut down their population. Arizona is less affected with 78 positives cases as of today, and no deaths.

Italy and China have had the most deaths. There are a number of factors that probably affect these cases. China is notorious for air pollution and smoking, especially men smoking. There has been a dearth, so far, of listing comorbidities but age has been a major one.

One study lists mortality at age 80+ at 15%. The overall death rate in China was listed at 2.3%, which may reflect smoking and air pollution. South Korea, which has had a big spike as testing progressed much more rapidly than in the US, has a case mortality of less than 1%

South Korea has the dubious distinction of suffering the second-highest number of Covid-19 infections after China – but can also boast the lowest death ratio among countries with significant numbers of cases.

According to the WHO on March 6, the crude mortality ratio for Covid-19 – that is, the number of reported deaths divided by the number of reported cases – is between 3-4%. In Korea, as of March 9, that figure was a mere 0.7%.

AS US testing finally gets going, after the FDA and CDC delayed matters for a month, we will see a big spike in number of cases but, I am convinced, a big drop in mortality rate.

Telephone consulting services, drive-through test centers and thermal cameras – which, set up in buildings and public places to detect fever, swiftly came online. South Korea has undertaken approximately 190,000 tests thus far, according to KCDC Deputy Director General Kwon Jun-wook, and has the capacity to undertake 20,000 per day. Turnaround times are six-24 hours.

Tests are highly affordable. “The test kit is about $130, and about half is covered by insurance the other half by individual,” Kwon said. Those who test positive get the test free, “So there is no reason for suspected cases to hide their symptoms,” he said.

We should be doing the same.

At the same time, we are risking severe economic damage to the country by shutting down business activity. I believe that much of the drastic steps taken by governors, especially in New York and California, is unnecessary. High density cities like New York City and Chicago may have more reason to fear spread of the virus. Most of the country, a source of annoyance to left wing politicians, is of low population density.

Read more


We say in our cynical moments “All politics is theater.” This is true, but there is a positive side to that, if we define our terms well. Many things are theater, in a loose sense. For example, I was part of an online discussion years ago after George Bush had gotten off a plane looking crisply pressed after what should have been a multi-wrinkle flight. One commenter noted a brand of $3000 suits that were capable of doing just this, advising us that in high-level international business people were aware of this and noticed the cost of your suit, your shoes, shirt, tie, and all the rest. He claimed that merely having the right clothes on was enough to make a sale. I was one of the ones who objected to this, saying this would be a terrible method of making such decisions. Not at all, he countered. Shelling out that much money and paying close attention to detail signals that you will play by the rules. Not necessarily the laws of any jurisdiction, but the unwritten rules of high-level commerce. I complained that this placed talented newcomers at a disadvantage, but again, the man I was arguing with disagreed. He and his associates had all learned early to divert not only money but observational skills and advice from others into appearance. “You don’t put yourself in hock like that unless you plan to stick around. You aren’t going to break other rules and throw your insider status away. It provides very accurate signaling.” He told a few anecdotes about this and concluded “Business is theater.”

We might call it theater, but I think a closer word would be enactment. Enactment requires a greater level of commitment than just putting on a show. If we want to test the sincerity of someone’s commitment to a set of values, we often require enactment. Basic training in the military includes a lot of enactment of military values, including drill, following orders and cooperation, simulation of real situations. Church worship and festivals are not supposed to just be spectator activities, but the participant is supposed to enact the Lord’s Table. It is part of why the fellowship of the saints and attendance at worship are not incidental parts of worship. (Believe me, God is aware how difficult and annoying the people at your church are. That may be the point, that we enact here in this life what will be a reality in the next.)

Much of education is enactment. Job training (both official and unofficial) includes much enactment. Courtship is enactment. The ceremonial aspects of town meeting – or scout meetings, Rotary, country club membership, sorority rush, or just about anything you can join will involve enactment. When you go to court, the bailiff says “All Rise,” and the Judge must be addressed in specific ways. Those who are accused who arrive well-dressed and well-groomed are signaling that they understand the rules and are willing to play by them henceforth. They are enacting good citizenship. Are some of them lying and attempting to manipulate? Of course. Yet what are we to say of those who will not even nod to the values of society as expressed in court rules, who wear their beer t-shirts to DUI hearings? I have heard them when I have accompanied patients to court. “I don’t care how big he thinks he is. I’m not going to change who I am for anyone!” Well, you said it then, didn’t you Sam?

Raising children is about little else. We don’t want them to just hear our lessons about politeness, we want them to greet others with respect and say please and thank you. We have fewer gestures of politeness now and do not require them. Boys used to bow and girls curtsey, we would hold doors for others. The custom of holding chairs for women at dinner has nearly vanished. Fifty years ago at summer studies the boys were required to seat the girls at dinner, which was a combination of discomfort and humor even then, especially the first evening. If any girl was left standing, we all had to get up and start again. That rarely happened after the second day. I am sure the practice vanished soon after, but multiple values were being taught. Respect for women was the most obvious – and women were already pointing out that this was double-edged – but there was also respect for tradition, respect for formality, calmness and intentionality in eating, engaging in acts in unison as a community. Enactment requires more skin in the game than mere words. Sometimes the additional cost is small, sometimes the enactment comes close to the price of real demonstration. Nor is it entirely a positive. Groups can require that you enact their pathologies as well, right from the start, to show that you won’t turn the whole lot of them in, or betray the profession.

Politicians eat ethnic food and shake hands as a way of enacting that they are Jes’ Folks, that they care what happens to you. They dress well partly to show they have respect for you (or dress down in calculated ways to show the same). We don’t want to just hear them say things, we want to see them do them. The events they attend, the gestures they make, the people they invite, all of these are small enactments.

Scrooge McDuck

Brought over from Assistant Village Idiot. I am bringing over about one out of five this week, more than my usual one out of ten.


A young friend among my wife’s FB friends posted a  meme about blank supermarket shelves, comparing the empty shelves of socialism, which conservatives decry, and “late-stage-capitalism” empty shelves during the TP-and-disposable-wipes crisis of 2020.  He did not say that this proved equivalency, merely noting that he had seen the two posted near each other in some way online.  He is a polite young man, a middle-school teacher whose wife is homeschooling, and I think he doesn’t want to offend.  I have seen other posts that suggest he is very sympathetic to socialism.

His first two commenters, both also young, were thorough opposites.  The first noted that under capitalism, the shelves would be restocked tomorrow. I thought that an efficient argument, and am grateful that there are young people who can manage such things on short notice.  The other made the comparison that “if you don’t like people hoarding toilet paper, then imagine how much damage it does when an extremely small fraction of the world’s population hoards so much of its wealth.” I am no longer on FB and don’t like to drag my wife into such discussions, so I wrote nothing.  I did begin to think about what, exactly, I might theoretically say, reasoning that I might have to answer this in some context sometime.  The first young man got in very quickly, while I was looking at the page:  “Hoarding.  lol”

I thought that similarly efficient.  That is the key problem. I should research who that young man is and put his name forward as someone we should elect to something. Except politics would be a waste for him. Perhaps I should sneak over and just let him know I’m impressed. He may need encouragement.  There is a sizable group who thinks that the wealthy are in some sense hoarding, a good communist accusation that is thoroughly inaccurate. The mental picture is of Scrooge McDuck.

(embedded gif of Scrooge McDuck diving into a pile of gold coins)

Read more

The Far Limit

With an effort, I wrench my attention from contemplating local fall-out from the Wuhan coronavirus, or as an unknown wit called it the ‘Kung Flu’. The grocery stores we favor are pretty well picked over by mid-day, in spite of closing from 8 PM to 8AM to restock, the gym has closed, gatherings of more than ten are strongly advised against, and just about every local market or book festival that we had considered participating in has been cancelled or postponed until summer or even later – when, presumably, either the medical wizards will have a handle on the Kung Flu, or people will stop panicking over it.

Read more

The Problem With Lewis

Self-Isolation is only a touch different for me. I go to work at the hospital eight days a month, but now have sharply curtailed which units I will go to (I was covering on the phone, keyboard, doorknob, and desk surface of everyone in a department of 30) and do not circulate throughout the building at all. While at home, I pretty much sit at the computer, the reading desk, or stand at some appliance anyway, then go out for a five-mile walk every day. However, there is a slight restriction, and being an irritable sort the boredom annoys me. Thus I have gone looking for AVI posts which I might repost over here. You’ll just have to bear up under the strain. A few more to come.


I found that They Asked For A Paper is in the public domain.  It contains a few essays of CS Lewis I had never read, so I was glad to find it.  In particular, I had wanted to read “The Literary Impact of the Authorised Version,” having seen a rare early copy under glass at the Lanier Theological Library outside Houston. I had never heard of it, and it is a subject I am interested in even with a lesser author.

Yet I quickly find I dare not come up with an opinion in the least contradiction to him. He has read everything, and is clearly operating a level I cannot even imagine.

“With the first Protestant translators we get some signs of a changed approach. I would wish to take every precaution against exaggerating it. The history of the English Bible from Tyndale to the Authorised Version should never for long be separated from that European, and by no means exclusively Protestant, movement of which it made part. No one can write that history without skipping to and fro across national and religious boundaries at every moment. He will have to go from the Soncino Hebrew Bible (1488) to Reuchlin’s Hebrew Grammar (1506), then to Alcala for Cardinal Ximenes’ great Polyglot (1514) and north for Erasmus’ New Testament in the same year, and then to Luther for the German New Testament in 1522, and pick up Hebrew again with Munster’s Grammar in 1525, and see Luther worked over by Zwinglius and others for the Zurich Bible of 1529, and glance at the two French versions of ’34 and ’35, and by no means neglect the new Latin translations of Pagninus (’28) and Munster (’34-’35). That is the sort of background against which Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva, and Rheims must be set. For when we come to compare the versions we shall find that only a very small percentage of variants are made for stylistic or even doctrinal reasons. When men depart from their predecessors it is usually because they claim to be better Hebraists or better Grecians. The international advance of philology carries them on, and those who are divided by the bitterest theological hatreds gladly learn from one another. Tyndale accepts corrections from More: Rheims learns from Geneva: phrases travel through Rheims on their way from Geneva to Authorised. Willy-nilly all Christendom collaborates. The English Bible is the English branch of a European tree.

Yet in spite of this there is something new about Tyndale; for good or ill a great simplification of approach.”(Italics mine)

Read more