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. 


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Many children's books deal with racism, even anti-racism


Smithsonian Magazine has an article recommending ten children’s books teaching them about racism and anti-racism.  

I don’t know how much into the science it goes (distance from the equator, ultraviolet and vitamin D).

There is a recommendation for anti-racism, by Tiffany Jewell, “This Book Is Anti-Racist.”  That would seem to install a since of duty to take action deliberately.

And there are books on protesting, like Julie Merberg, “My First Book of Protest”.

The books are recommended by the new African-American History Museum on the Mall.

The Washington Post has a similar article by Martha Conover. 

The video discusses a book “Anti-racist Baby”.  There are real questions as to whether babies are “color blind”.


Friday, June 12, 2020

"A Guide to Allyship" (for Black Lives Matter): it is indeed very confrontational and "collectivist"


A Guide to Allyship: A Guide to ‘Black Lives Matter’ and Why ‘All Cops Are Bastards’”: What Happened on May 25th? -- was suggested to me on Facebook. 

This is a Google Doc that is essentially a booklet. It has been posted by Nicel Mohammed-Hinds on Facebook, but I am not sure if she is the author.

But the page-booklet certainly grabs your attention. It does give justification for the idea that some protesting needs to be violent, and that people who have losses imposed on them need to realize they are learning what it is like to lose privilege and be like everybody else.  Yes, it sounds Maoist.

I don’t encourage anyone to follow this, but you should know about it and understand where it is coming from.

Breonna Taylor's murder in Kentucky in March sounds every bit as outrageous (maybe even more) but did not get as much attention at the time.  Protests then might have stopped the lockdowns. 

R.H. Lussin writes in The Nation (paywall), “In Defense of Destroying Property: We Cannot Conflate the Destruction of Plateglass with the Violence that Is Being Protested”.

Andrew Sullivan writes in NY Magazine: The Intelligencer, “Is There Still Room for Debate?” and talks about the need for “moral clarity.” To be woke is to recognize that everything is “oppression or resistance”.  At an individual level it is not.  But you have to have your own agency outside of a group or mob. (My William and Mary expulsion in 1961 is a good case in point.)  “White Silence = Violence.”  But so was my skipping out on a hazing ceremony.)  Sullivan also talks about Trump’s Plummet.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Trade publishers called out on not paying black authors (advances) equitably with white authors


Concepion de Leon and Elizabeth A. Harris warn authors seeking trade publishers that major houses don’t seem to treat black and non-black authors equally (as far as advances and royalties go). The article title is telling “#PublishingPaidMe and a day of action reveal an industry reckoning; A viral hashtag invited black and nonblack authors to compare their pay; publishers pledged to improve their diversity efforts.”

Authors have been discussing this problem on Twitter with the #PublishingPaidMe hashtag

The article notes activism by Farrar, Straus and Giroux working on books specifically by black authors (with donation of pay).

The video above by Judayah Murray maintains “Black books don’t sell’ so black authors self-publish”.

I can imagine the debates to come about inclusion of black characters in fiction novels and screenplays with “mainstream” or even other focus like LGBTQ.  My own work is based on my own experiences and perceptions over decades.  Yes, I do have some diverse minority characters (in high places, like in the CIA), but I don’t present an intimate relationship that I would not have wanted, for example.

There is a question of reading and literacy in some communities that would otherwise be customers of book publishers.  Covid19 has badly damaged efforts to make independent bookstores  (or channels like Boomtube) more active in this area.

 I wanted to note also that I personally don't feel I have a racial or ethnic group identity at all. The alt-right wants to claim one (Charlottesville), but now a writer like Diangelo seems to insist that I have one and don't get to choose not to have one, to accept my share of responsibility for group privilege (?)  But I've also gotten that complaint from the right, like why don't I promote Israeli sovereignty for Bethlehem if I am a Christian?  That seems to be a problem with "spectator" journalists.  If I drive down to Richmond to take a picture of the fallen (Confederate) Lee statute and use it (under my own copyright) in my own neutral "news" blog, then why am I too smug to raise money for their fight or join their protest?  

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Pueyo offers a new paper, examining the "herd immunity" approach to coronavirus, rather than his "Hammer and Dance"


Tomas Pueyo has offered another detailed mathematical article updating his “Hammer and Dance” strategy for controlling coronavirus. That is, “Coronavirus: Should We Aim for Herd Immunity like Sweden?

Pueyo argues that the United States (partly because of its federalism and the political difficulty of doing uniform policies, even from an authoritarian like Trump) is effectively following a “herd immunity” approach as many states, particularly away from the coasts, are re-opening their economies without convincing evidence that they have put the pandemic under control.

He offers a very interesting chart at the end, color-coded, showing the progress of each state in number of (confirmed) cases per day. New York and New Jersey have improved recently because they did take stricter measures than did, say, southern states.

Pueyo does not believe that the U.S. should or will return to lockdowns with future waves, but believes states should ban out-of-state visits by quarantine threats from hot areas.

He offers some sobering discussion of case fatality rate and infection fatality rate.

Personally, I believe that there are more people getting “trivial infections” (including those who lose smell for one or two days and then regain it) where their immune systems do catch it in time, than is being reported. These are not asymptomatic (which also happens) but fortunately short-term symptomatic, which usually doesn’t get medical attention and doesn’t get tested (in the U.S.)  Some of this perspective is based on my own conversations with people in Zoom sessions.  I think more attention is needed to T-cell health (the virus can enter T-cells but cannot reproduce inside them, compared to HIV).

I also believe that in general countries have not paid attention to the tremendous economic losses or personalized conscriptive sacrifices incurred to citizens caught in "quarantine traps" against their will (when they are not even sick); there is not nearly enough attention to compensating them.  It is true that in the US, the various state "stay and home" or even "shelter in place" (a leading term) orders were not as draconian in practice as in other countries, and neither is the contact tracing. Were I in some of the other countries, I probably would have lost my Internet work, which I might not have been able to maintain or been allowed to stay up (and there are indications tech companies in the US are having more trouble keeping up than they have been letting on -- starting with Cox). 

Pueyo, born in France, has engineering degrees from Stanford and is “young” (age 38).  I would wonder if he has met  or communicated with Jack Andraka (now a graduate student at Stanford working on the wastewater issue, not sure of his future plans yet judging from social media), Avi Schiffmann (who has developed and maintained one of the world’s largest coronavirus statistics databases, as a teenager, and also maintains a list of activist and charitable groups), and, for example, John Fish (previous post). I don’t find a Wikipedia article for Pueyo, which surprises me.

Picture: Demonstrations in Washington DC, my photo (June 3).

Update: June 22

Notice his other papers, esp. the one April 1 about the U.S., where he compares the coronavirus to an invading enemy of secret agents. 


Saturday, June 06, 2020

"Black Lives Matter": John Fish reviews a number of important books on the topic (that is, on hidden racism) and gives his own personal perspective

John Fish presented a video today (“Black Lives Matter”) where he described some books on the subject.  He also highlighted one user comment, to the effect that the phrase reestablishes the humanity of black people after it had been systemically stripped away, by long-established and ancestral structural racism.

I wanted to mention a couple of those books here (even if I haven’t read them yet, and a lot of my reading recently has been on free speech issues and more traditional liberty interests).

Robin Diangelo’s book is “White Fragility: Why It Is so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism”, 2018, 192 pages, Beacon, so it is fairly short (which may make it easy for me to read soon, once I finish a book on Section 230!)  There is a foreword by Michael Eric Dyson.

Chapter 1 starts with a section “We don’t see ourselves in racial terms.”  Correct.  I am a white gay male. I don’t see my race as part of an identity, because it was never socially constructed for me.  I am supposed to see my sexual orientation as a source of identity, and that is more complicated. As belonging to a group of people or new tribe that I owe loyalty to, no, I don’t see it that way.  As for a set of values and attitudes toward people that I grew up with, yes, these ideas did shape my adult identity, as my adult life went through various episodes over many decades with one episode linking to the next (and a “new normal”) after some kind of unusual moral irony that later makes sense.  Even this period of Covid (I have not been ill but was probably exposed at one point – and should be tested) fits into this sequence of ironies.  And ability to resist this disease seems genetic and biological (as well as circumstantial – avoiding doing certain service jobs, living in crowded housing) – and will take us back to the same moral quandary.

I really don’t think I see others in racial terms either, except in the special compartment of contemplating, entirely in mind, the idea of an intimate partner. But not in terms of otherwise productive social interaction. I mainly care about whether someone can communicate fluently in the same language (regardless of what they look like, and that would be true of gender, even fluidity, too).  Yet, I must say, with people who grew up in inner cities (or for that matter, rural people who may be on the other side of political extremism) I have no proximity (an idea Bryan Stevenson has talked about) and no communication with.  But this has no connection to “group identity” in my mind.  The idea of tribe is not of much use to me personally. I have to admit, I think I have cognitive empathy, but relatively little emotional empathy with a lot of people. 

I looked quickly at the later chapters on Amazon. Yup, the “repair”.  I can say that in the workplace, back in the 1990s, a couple of “black” employees did share with me their concern about hidden discrimination (and mentioned the police issue) and said I could “pass” without attracting attention and they could not. That sounded odd.  One of the men said he thought I lived with my mother (because I was not married). I was shocked at his assumption (I had my own apartment, paid my own rent – but mom, widowed, was still in the nearby Drogheda house. But ten years later, in mom’s last years and after my own retirement, I would be living with her, so his assumption about me, in a time travel sense, wasn’t completely wrong after all. )

Then there would be litigation in the company, from a black person who was fired. I actually gave a deposition. It was dismissed.  But it was apparent (even to the lawyers) that different employees had very different ideas about personal responsibility, family loyalty, and even racial identity which, for white people, was like empty space in the universe. Another idea comes to mind, that a decade before (in Dallas) I had worked for companies that wanted to move further north into the wealthier suburbs with "better" school districts, reinforcing the idea of redlining and de facto segregation (structural racism indeed). 

Another book (besides Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”, which I have already discussed in my blogs) will be Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, 2020, the New Press, 352 pages.  An obvious point is going to be, this war on drugs, with libertarians want to end, and which seems so set up to entrap black people, given the way the world still works 150 years after the end of slavery.  Stevenson’s book and movie did examine the self-prepared conclusions about guilt, and lack of presumption of innocence in practice.

Another friend of mine, filmmaker Ford Fischer, will read John Hendrix’s “John Brown: His Fight for Freedom”, from Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2009, 40 pages about Harpers Ferry, to a grade school class (online) soon.  This brings up a curious event that happened when I visited there on my birthday in 2013, and again last December (after a train wreck there, picture above) but I won’t go into that here.

I have to say, I don't "do things" with the idea of solving a problem just for people belonging to a group;  I don't follow intersectionality in my own thinking, and I don't really see people as defined by group identity in a way that is psychologically meaningful.  So there is no way I can, in good faith, set out to practice or publicly promote "anti-racism", as some kind of quid pro quo for my other speech.  I need to warn people about that, the way this issue is playing out.  Is there such a thing as being "non tribal"?  Is that like being an inert element on the Periodic Chart, or a metal that is relatively non-reactive? Is that like living "orthogonal" to other people rather than in their same plane? 

There are related posts here Jan 1, 2020 and Feb 7, 2020 (about Booktube).  Some films (besides "Just Mercy") I have reviewed (on Wordpress blogs) that relate to this include "D.C. Noir", "Always in Season" (about Leon Lacey), "Waves", and especially "Queen and Slim" where a police profiling incident in Cleveland leads to catastrophe. If there was ever a time to finish the late Gode Davis's film "American Lynching" (which I have some connection to and which I think PBS more or less controls now), it is now.  Yes, I would help with that. 


Wednesday, June 03, 2020

"Silas Marner": That little novel from high school English class -- and a fable about accidental parenting

Silas and Eppie

 In 10th grade English, starting in the fall of 1958 at Washington-Lee (now Washington-Liberty) high school in Arlington VA, we first read “Julius Ceasar” (Shakespeare) and then took on “the novel”, that is “Silas Marne: The Weaver of Raveloe” (1861) by George Elliot (Mary Ann Evans).

The plot in this relatively short novel is rather intricate and deals with the misfortunes of a relatively modest man Silas, who is framed for crimes and loses his savings.  In the middle of the novel, he rescues a small girl (Eppie) from another tragedy and raises her.  Becoming a parent while otherwise childless himself (and not have ever had the chance to have his “masculinity” validated in more usual ways) becomes an existential challenge which he accepts.

I can remember quizzes and I think we had two tests on the novel (just like we did for the Shakespeare).  Later we would move on to reading short stories.

I do remember that many of the quiz questions involved Eppie and the lost cache of gold, and some of the other familial relations in the novel.  I think that on the final exam there was an essay question concerning stepping up into parenthood.  (The teacher was a young male and former football player but quite articulate.)  Given the course of my life since then, it sounds a but ironic.

The novel does lend itself to audiobooks.  See also Dec. 6, 2012 posts.