Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Coronavirus lockdowns slow down the traditional book publishing business, because they need in-person encounters all the time


Here’s a strategically important piece by Elizabeth A. Harris in the New York Times, “Books are a great fit for a quarantine; the Book business, not so much”, June 25.

This article seems to carry on a discussion here May 12 about how literary agents really work.

There’s a lot of business socializing among agents (who “intern”), and editors, and sometimes authors.  A lot of that has moved to Zoom, which is a little awkward.

What seems more relevant is that authors would not be able to set up booksignings at bookstores, especially independent bookstores, which were back on the rise until Covid hit them so suddenly in March.  Combine that with, say, the opportunities of Booktube.  I don’t yet know how this can come back.

The article links to another Times article about an online Book Expo event.


Monday, June 29, 2020

“This Is Nathan Wolfe: We Should Have Listened to Him”, about pandemic reinsurance (in Wired)

Evan Ratliff writes in Wired, This Is Nathan Wolfe: WeShould Have Listened to Him”.  Had he earned my “privilege of being listened to?”

We Can Protect the Economy from Pandemics.  Why Didn’t We?” “A virologist helped crack an impossible problem. How to insure against economic fallout from devastating viral outbreaks. The plan was ingenious.  Yet we’re still in the mess.”

It’s July/Aug 2020, p. 40.  The concept is massive reinsurance for pandemics.  He had designed a product.  Nobody bought

The article gives the history of Metabiota, the disease surveillance company he bought in 2013, as a disease surveillance company.  That sounds a bit like Avi Schiffmann’s tracking databases for coronavirus today.  

In 2001, ReliaStar, the subsidiary of ING where I worked in Minneapolis, had reinsured many companies in the World Trade Center in NYC, which was sometimes cites as one reason for the layoff I finally exited in.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

"How the Virus Won": Picture booklet by the NYTimes (with lots of animated drawings)

Derek Watkins, Josh Holder, James Glanz, Weiyi Cai, and Jeremy White explain “How the Virus Won” in a New York Times booklet today.  

The article maintains “invisible outbreaks sprung up everywhere.”  Many of them died out.

It also traces the West Coast v. East Coast strains, and there are some indications that the East Coast version has an extra spike protein (D614G mutation) that makes it more transmissible.

Some of the outbreaks were attributed to specific spring break activities, like Mardi Gras. 

People in the US don’t seem to accept the self-sacrifice for the group that authoritarian societies like China demand.

Update:  June 28

The New York Times followed up Sunday with a News Analysis by Sabrina Tavernise, Frances Robles, and Louis Keene: "After Asking Americans to Sacrifice in Lockdowns, Leaders Failed to Control Virus." 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"The Coming Bank Collapse" in The Atlantic


Frank Partnoy examines “The Looming Bank Collapse” in The Atlantic.  The tagline is “The U.S. financial system could be on the cusp of a calamity. This time, we might not be able to save it.”

This time the poison is “collateralized loan obligations” or CLO’s and they don’t contain mortgages or default swaps.  But they can be badly undermined by the collapse of so many “non essential” businesses as it is so difficult for any enterprise dependent on people coming together for large events or for rapid travel.

The latter part of the article goes into worst case scenarios, with some virus-like diagrams showing that most CLO’s have failed, undermining the values of (apparently) most bond funds (even those invested mainly in Triple-A’s).

Tyler Mowery, a screenwriting guru (April 3, 2020), also advocates bitcoin and digital currency as ultimately more stable given the upcoming crisis, and cites this thread by Public Citizen


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Vox reviews the idea of a bottom-up power grid (but then wants to integrate it all into a national system anyway)

Vox has republished a November 2018 article by David Roberts, “Clean energy technologies threaten to overwhelm the grid: Here’s how it can adapt.”  There are animated graphics by Javier Zarracina.  

It does not appear I had covered this article before.

It has also updated the article with an addendum, "A national US power grid would make electricity cheaper and cleaner". The article works backwards in five parts. 

The original article was motivated in part by the wildfire catastrophes in California.

It also discusses the legal authorities, which overlap between state and federal, and the ownership structures of utilities, which in turn are bunched into three top-down structures: the Eastern, Western, and Texas grids, which the newer article proposes integrating. 

But the capacity to generate power locally (with DER’s, or distributed energy resources, or “microgrids”) changes the games, and, however flexible it needs to be, fits in to what is necessary for climate change.

The article does not discuss power grid security, from cyberthreats to air gaps, or from physical attack or even international (North Korea). But it makes sense the decentralization could make recovery of power more feasible after a catastrophe.  Taylor Wilson has proposed decentralization with small underground fission reactors. 

(Picture: solar power farm N of Altoona PA, 2019)

Friday, June 19, 2020

Foreign Affairs looks at "The World After the Pandemic"


The July/August 2020 issue of Foreign Affairs offers four major essays on “The World After the Pandemic”  (subscription paywall).

Michael T. Osterholm (University of Minnesota)  and Mark Olshaker write “Chronicle from the COVID-19 Failure – Before the Next Outbreak Arrives”, p. 10.  This article reminds us that we need to take the novel influenzas incubating in Asia (H5 and H7 strains of “bird flu”) and have vaccines ready should they become more transmissible among humans.  They argue that a universal flu vaccine is an urgent national security need.  That may be true of coronaviruses.  There is some evidence that cellular immune resources do remember “similar” viruses that you don’t have antibodies on the shelf for.

Francis Fukuyama writes “It Tales a State”, (p. 26, which is a little more testing than Hillary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village” (I never did a book preview on that, or did I?)

Danielle Allen writes, “A More Resilient Union: How Federalism Can Protect Democracy from Pandemics”, p. 33    Federalism has meant states managing their own stay-at-homes, reopenings (although they are making regional agreements among governors) and rebounds of cases, it looks like now.  Federalism is a controversial idea in political theory of democracy (Vox’s Ezra Klein likes to question it, as has leftist Carlos Maza).

Stewart Patrick writes “When the System Fails: COVID-19 and the Costs of Global Dysfunctions”

How can you explain how 17-year-old Seattle high school student Avi Schiffmann realized in December that COVID that this virus in China would explode and needed to be tracked?   Did the CDC?  CIA?  Trump didn’t take it seriously, of course.

Even John Fish (20, involved for a while in a project to make ventilators cheaply in Montreal, while on his gap year from Harvard) says he didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation until February. 

The young people own this problem now.  David Hogg, where are you?  Maybe we need to lower the minimum age for the presidency below 35. 

Picture: Skyway in Minneapolis (mine, Sept. 2019). 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

"The Problem with Booktube" (and "Black Lives Matter")

“The Artisan Geek” (an author, black and female) explains “The Problem with Booktube”.

She says, “Staying silent means you do not care about a particular part of this community”.

Yet earlier Booktube had done an interview of Bryan Stevenson.

At about 4 minutes she describes a personal incident that I would have a hard time following. 

"Subscribers and followers give you power."  Yup. Note her list of diverse reviewers.