# Month: December 2020

## *The Way We Were* (with broad spoilers)

Oddly, I had never seen this 1973 movie before, and found a number of points noteworthy.  It is a more effective critique of the “white male patriarchy” than today’s performative yelpings, and makes the latter look, if anything, both hysterical and understudied.  And imagine a two hour movie which consists of little more than having two major stars — Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford — talk to each other.  I miss this in more recent Hollywood cinema.  And remember when movies generated hit songs?  By today’s standards, the sexual relationship between the two starts with her raping him while he is drunk (with implicit commentary on the famous bedroom scene from “It Happened One Night.”)  Circa 1973, the main sympathetic character (Streisand) could be shown as a fan of Lenin and Stalin (and Roosevelt) without anyone being too offended.  Nor does anyone mind that she smokes, drinks (more than a sip), and gets into scuffles while pregnant.  The core substantive takeaway from the plot seems to be “Jewish people should marry their own,” which is not the brand of segregationism that has remained popular today.

As stated, this movie for me was a first-time watch rather than a rewatch, but still it felt like a rewatch, as the most interesting elements were all a look into the past.  The more our world moves away from its previous moorings, the more “what to rewatch” will become an important skill.  Or what to reread, or what to listen to again.  This topic and this skill is underdiscussed.  When it comes to the past, increasingly “the uncensored” is more interesting than “high quality” per se.

Overall this movie is more interesting now than it was at the time of its release, so I guess I am glad I waited.  Here is an OK but quite cliched 1973 review of the film.  And here is Ebert from 1973.

2. Vitalik year end notes from Singapore.  Outside of crypto, Vitalik is perhaps the most underrated thinker, period.

4. Megan McArdle on dangerous group think in the public health establishment: “…the discussion of whether to prioritize essential workers was anything but robust. The committee left only 10 minutes for it, during which not one of those 14 intelligent and dedicated health professionals suggested adopting the plan that kills the fewest people. Nor did anyone run out of time to make that point. Ten minutes was actually a little too much for what turned out to be a pro forma opportunity to get on the record endorsing the plan, and particularly its emphasis on racial and economic equity in health care.”

## The Omission-Commission Error is Deadly

Britain will start a human challenge trial in January.

The Sun: Imperial College said its joint human challenge study involves volunteers aged 18 to 30, with the project starting in January – and results expected in May.

Initially, 90 volunteers will be given a dose of an experimental nasal vaccine.

They’ll then be deliberately infected with Covid-19.

But this is really just the first part of an excessively cautious study designed to “discover the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause a person to develop Covid-19 infection.” Moreover:

… it’s taken a few months to come to fruition, as before any research could begin the study had to be approved by ethics committees and regulators.

The omission-commission error is deadly. Notice that giving less than one hundred volunteers the virus (commission) is ethically fraught and takes months of debate before one can get approval. But running a large randomized controlled trial in which tens of thousands of people are exposed to the virus is A-ok even though more people may be infected in the latter case than the former and even though faster clinical trials could save many lives. Ethical madness.

## Larry Summers on the cash payments

The data are striking. Total employee compensation is now running only about $30 billion per month behind the pre-Covid baseline. Measures in the congressional stimulus bill to strengthen unemployment insurance and to support business will add about$150 billion a month to household income in order to replace all this loss.

The question is whether there is a rationale for further tax rebate of more than \$200 billion a month over the next quarter. This would represent additional support equal to an additional seven times the loss of household wage and salary income over the next quarter.

Here is the full Bloomberg piece, file under “questions that are rarely asked.”

1. Tim Lee, Jamie Lee, and Kevin Coldiron, The Rise of Carry: The Dangerous Consequences of Volatility Suppression and the New Financial Order of Decaying Growth and Recurring Crisis.  If you are looking for the most current version of Austrian Business Cycle theory, this is it.  Doesn’t mean it is right.

2. Abigail Tucker, Mom Genes: Inside the New Science of Our Ancient Maternal Instinct.  These days this science has an inevitably politically incorrect feel, in any case this is a good book for anyone contemplating or experiencing motherhood, or otherwise tied up in that whole set of issues.  That includes social scientists, too.

3. Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science.  A better book than it subtitle indicates, it has very good treatments of the role of Humphry Davy in British chemistry, William and Caroline Herschel, and the overall import of Joseph Banks for many decades, among other related topics.

4. Ritchie Robertson, The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness 1680-1790.  This tome offers 780 pp. about the Enlightenment, how unhappy can you be?  This book is a well-done introduction, yet perhaps for my knowledge level it spends too much time regurgitating general truths.  I am happy to recommend it to people less interested than I am in reading the primary sources.

I have read the first one hundred pages of Louis Menand, The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, a lengthy book due out in April, and my physical review copy just arrived.

I have not had time to read Sean McMeekin’s Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II, but it is of possible interest.

I have not had time to read Rachel Holmes’s Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel, about the suffragette movement and one of its leaders, but its 840 pp. would appear to be a major achievement with no comparable competitor.

On Christmas I tweeted:

Operation Warp Speed makes me think that America isn’t finished. We have now vaccinated more people than any other country in the world.

I hope Biden awards Slaoui, Perna, Marks and Bourla the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

and a bit later “Today we celebrate. Tomorrow back to demanding more, faster.” Well, it’s tomorrow and we do need to do more, faster. Israel, for example, is doing better than the United States on vaccinations per capita and they are rolling out 24/7 vaccination clinics.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called Thursday to keep the vaccine operation going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including on Shabbat.

Regarding the push to carry out vaccinations on Shabbat, Edelstein, who is Orthodox, cited the Jewish legal principle of saving a life, or “pikuah nefesh,” which trumps nearly all other religious requirements.

According to a Channel 12 report Saturday, Clalit, Israel’s largest health maintenance organization, will open 24/7 vaccination centers in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Herzliya in the coming days to help ramp up the pace of the vaccine drive. Additional centers are expected to be opened at a later date.

Israeli hospitals are also to join the vaccination effort next week, and hundreds of IDF medics will also participate, to help expedite the process.

Also, if Britain approves the AZ vaccine this week, as I think they will, it should be immediately approved in the United States, if not as part of Operation Warp Speed then on a right to try basis until fully FDA approved.

## How to improve and speed up vaccine allocation, from my email

One issue I haven’t seen discussed is slow throughput of the Vaccine administration, due to a combination of inefficient binning/allocation of distributed vaccines, hesitation to take the vaccine, lack of a central database of available appointments for vaccination, and those time slots potentially going empty if a front line worker misses their appointment, and when there’s no standby/waitlist for people to receive it.

These seems like a use case for a priority queue/heap, which would allow high priority folks to join the queue late but be bumped up to their appropriate priority if they wanted the vaccine, while also allowing those who want the vaccine but are not currently prioritized to get it if there are unallocated supplies.

If prioritization is done (cdc guidelines or not) by restricting who can get it during a particular time period, then it’s guaranteed that throughout won’t be maximized, as all appointment slots won’t be necessarily filled (given the hesitance I’ve heard from people across different levels of education and socioeconomic status) by the allowed demographics at each office where vaccines are available. Meanwhile, there will be those who would gladly take it in an instant who aren’t allowed.

I worry that slow throughput and bad prioritization vaccine administration will keep hospitals indefinitely full, hemorrhaging money, and will thus require a bailout, which I expect will come with medicare4all-style strings attached.

That is from Abhi C., a loyal MR reader.

## A Statistical Estimation of the Occurrence of Extraterrestrial Intelligence in the Milky Way

From Xiang CaiJonathan H. JiangKristen A. Fahy, and Yuk L. Yung, here is the paper:

In the field of Astrobiology, the precise location, prevalence and age of potential extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) have not been explicitly explored. Here, we address these inquiries using an empirical galactic simulation model to analyze the spatial-temporal variations and the prevalence of potential ETI within the Galaxy. This model estimates the occurrence of ETI, providing guidance on where to look for intelligent life in the Search for ETI (SETI) with a set of criteria, including well-established astrophysical properties of the Milky Way. Further, typically overlooked factors such as the process of abiogenesis, different evolutionary timescales and potential self-annihilation are incorporated to explore the growth propensity of ETI. We examine three major parameters: 1) the likelihood rate of abiogenesis ({\lambda}A); 2) evolutionary timescales (Tevo); and 3) probability of self-annihilation of complex life (Pann). We found Pann to be the most influential parameter determining the quantity and age of galactic intelligent life. Our model simulation also identified a peak location for ETI at an annular region approximately 4 kpc from the Galactic center around 8 billion years (Gyrs), with complex life decreasing temporally and spatially from the peak point, asserting a high likelihood of intelligent life in the galactic inner disk. The simulated age distributions also suggest that most of the intelligent life in our galaxy are young, thus making observation or detection difficult.

Via Anecdotal.

## What should I ask John Cochrane?

I will be doing a Conversation with him.  Just in case you don’t know him, here is basic information about his work.  So what should I ask?

## Markets in Everything–Zoom Books

Politico: When workplaces went remote and suddenly Zoom allowed co-workers new glimpses into one another’s homes, what New York Times writer Amanda Hess dubbed the “credibility bookcase” became the hot-ticket item.

…Books by the Foot, a service run by the Maryland-based bookseller Wonder Book, has become a go-to curator of Washington bookshelves, offering precisely what its name sounds like it does.

More generally, the service exists for hotels, showrooms, movie sets and so forth. Just tell them your theme…by color or content.

## That was then, this is now — Pakistan edition

Ayub Khan ended the political turmoil to become the country’s first military ruler in 1958. He revived the economy, carried out agrarian reforms, provided stimulus to the industry and encouraged foreign investment.  State-backed capitalism and alliance with the US powered a ‘golden age’ of high growth rates under Ayub Khan’s reign. The growth was significant enough for the international media to take a note of it.  In January of 1965, New York Times went on to predict that Pakistan might be on its way towards an economic milestone reached ‘by only one other populous country, the United States’.  A year later, The Times, London, called Pakistan’s survival and development ‘one of the most remarkable examples of state and nation-building in the post-war period’.  Pakistan was ‘considered to be one of the few countries at the time that would achieve developed-country status’.

That is from Sameer Arshad Khatlani’s recent and really quite good The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan.

## Neil Tambe on Courage Studies (from my email)

Most importantly, happy holidays to you and your family. Thank you (and Alex) for another year of MR and CWT.

I wanted to suggest that you involve the theme of courage into your various projects. For the purpose of this message, my working definition of courage is the capability to do the right or needed  thing, even though one knows it will be difficult.

Several recent posts in MR have a question of courage at their foundation. For example, reasonable people could agree that accelerating vaccine approvals by eliminating conventional but unnecessary bureaucracy, crossing the fault lines of polarized political issues, taking a risk to start a business, implementing provocative new ideas for democracy and liberalism, or launching a project within a corporation that improves productivity might all be “right” to do.

And yet they don’t happen. Why?

To be sure, there are many explanations. That said, I’ve spent my career operating in large organizations and I’ve come to observe a common thread – courage.

Teams and individuals often have motivation, skill, and even the power to do the “hard but important stuff” like the ones I’ve listed. But we pass. We aren’t willing to go out on a limb. We follow conventional courses of action even though they don’t live up to our ideals. If we only had the courage to act.

Again, there are many other reasons why hard stuff doesn’t get done. Courage, in my observation, is a fundamental one but not an idea that is well understood.

Much like you’ve suggested “Progress Studies” as  a discipline in its own right, I’d suggest “Courage Studies” (the study of what courage is and how to cultivate it) as a relevant sub-discipline within the domain of Progress.

I’m particularly interested in this area, and doing my own writing here, so I acknowledge that this point of view is biased by my own interests. I won’t be shy about submitting my work to Emergent Ventures once a manuscript is transcribed from my handwritten notebook!

In the meantime, I’m happy to share more detailed ideas on “Courage Studies” if they’d be helpful to you or your team.