Month: December 2020

Tuesday assorted links

1. Somewhat good news on the anti-inflammatory front.

2. Anna Netrebko sings Mussorgsky’s The Nursery.

3. Long report on the new virus strain (“not yet in Houston”), yet no one is saying we need to hurry up.  And a further update.

4. Spectacular Ice Age rock paintings found in Colombian rainforest.

5. Yves Nat Beethoven piano sonatas now complete on YouTube.  Old-fashioned sound and clunky in some ways, but also some of the most profound Beethoven to have been recorded.  It is the “direct, frank, bring you right to tears” approach.

Progress on Nuclear Power

In the last year two new nuclear reactor designs have been approved, the first time this has happened in a generation. In September, the NRC approved NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) and a few days ago they approved GE-Hitachi’s SMR. The Trump administration has also invested billions in nuclear power research and in 2018 passed the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act.

President Donald Trump signed into a law new legislation that will speed up the development of advanced reactors in the United States.

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act (NEICA) eliminates some of the financial and technological barriers standing in the way of nuclear innovation.

It also represents a strong commitment by the government to support the commercial nuclear sector, ensuring that the U.S. maintains its leadership around the globe.

Nuclear pairs extremely well with hydrogen, a carbon-free near pollution-free fuel, and nuclear also works great with solar (to smooth out capacity).

Will President Trump be remembered as the environmental president? Probably not. You can read dozens of pieces on Trump’s environmental policies (“rollbacks,” “reversals”) including this long Wikipedia article that never once mention nuclear, despite the fact that nuclear remains a leading technology for making progress on climate change.

School Closures During the 1918 Flu Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has reignited interest in responses to the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, the last comparable U.S. public health emergency. During both pandemics, many state and local governments made the controversial decision to close schools. We study the short- and long-run effects of 1918-19 pandemic-related school closures on children. We find precise null effects of school closures in 1918 on school attendance in 1919-20 using newly collected data on the exact timing of school closures for 168 cities in 1918-19. Linking affected children to their adult outcomes in the 1940 census, we also find precise null effects of school closures on adult educational attainment, wage income, non-wage income, and hours worked in 1940. Our results are not inconsistent with an emerging literature that finds negative short-run effects of COVID-19-related school closures on learning. The situation in 1918 was starkly different from today: (1) schools closed in 1918 for many fewer days on average, (2) the 1918 virus was much deadlier to young adults and children, boosting absenteeism even in schools that stayed open, and (3) the lack of effective remote learning platforms in 1918 may have reduced the scope for school closures to increase socioeconomic inequality.

That is from a new paper by Philipp Ager, Katherine Eriksson, Ezra Karger, Peter Nencka, and Melissa A. Thompson.  This is very good and important work, though you will find some Denkfehler in the second half of the abstract, namely confusing short- and long-run (is it so appalling to consider that “school” isn’t always “useful learning” over a 20-year time horizon?) and confusing inequality with absolute performance.  Those are simple points people, you are being misled by your ideology.

Classic Star Trek and rape (with spoilers)

With so few significant new movie releases to follow, I have taken to some strange pasttimes, including the viewing of old classic Star Trek episodes.  I was struck by two obscure episodes in particular.  One is Who Mourns for Adonais?, and the other is Metamorphosis, both from early in the second (and best) season.

In Adonais, a crazed being, who is in fact the ancient Greek God Apollo, seizes control of the ship and of a landing party, consisting of Kirk and a few others, including a beautiful Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas.  In due time Apollo “takes” her, with her degree of actual compliance being highly uncertain (the whole ship and landing party are under constant threat of death).  Kirk and the others encourage her to court him further, and then to reject him, to weaken his spirits, which leads to his eventual loss of control.  It is Carolyn’s cleverness that saves them, she has been through emotional hell, and then they spurn and forget her while returning to the ship.

I am very familiar with “Golden age” science fiction and how badly it treated women, not to mention classic Star Trek’s own reputation.  Nonetheless watching this episode it struck me, as a 2020 viewer, that the main message is how unaware high-achieving men are of the sexual travails of coerced women, most of all the coerced women they so often rely upon.  Really.

In Metamorphosis, Kirk is carrying a lovely female ambassador on a trip, and they are waylaid by a strange being on a strange planet.  I’ll spare you the whole story, but the ambassador ends up meeting a male castaway she dislikes, an alien takes over the body and partly the mind of the ambassador, and the combined alien/ambassador decides to marry the castaway so they can live happily ever after on the strange planet (really).  The ambassador never would have chosen any of that on her own, and it seems to me this counts as a lifetime of rape for her, not to mention imprisonment, exile, and having to share one’s life and thoughts with a deeply alien being.

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are just fine with this!  Admittedly, given the powers of the alien, they didn’t have much choice, but they are downright jolly — from Wikipedia: “When McCoy asks who will complete Nancy Hedford’s [ambassadorial] mission, Kirk shrugs and says, “I’m sure the Federation can find another woman, somewhere, who’ll stop that war.””

Brutal!  The collateral damage on the distaff side deserves not a single mention or act of mourning, though otherwise Kirk will risk the whole ship to save the life of Bones or Spock or Scottie.

Again, I went away from the whole episode feeling this was a progressive rather than repugnant take on the whole narrative.

Perhaps it is I who am crazy, but I am beginning to think that “The Revisionist Sexual History of Classic Star Trek” remains to be written.

And maybe you prefer TNG, or some other later Star Trek version, but I tell you the 1967-69 version is far less “censored” and for that reason much more interesting to rewatch.

What to do with your spare cash

Apple Inc is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters…

Central to Apple’s strategy is a new battery design that could “radically” reduce the cost of batteries and increase the vehicle’s range, according to a third person who has seen Apple’s battery design.

Here is the longer story.

*Smashing the Liquor Machine: A Global History of Prohibition*

By Mark Lawrence Schrad. From the Amazon summary:

This is the history of temperance and prohibition as you’ve never read it before: redefining temperance as a progressive, global, pro-justice movement that affected virtually every significant world leader from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries.

I have been reading the galleys, I will blurb it, it will be one of the best non-fiction books of 2021, more in due time you can pre-order here.

Monday assorted links

1. Steve Kirsch on current Covid-19 treatments.  He is attempting to maximize expected value, coming from me that is praise.

2. Ezra Vogel has passed away.

3. “…we need to vaccinate the population when the virus circulation is low to avoid selecting for a vaccine resistant strain.

4. Bob Dylan on Paul McCartney.

5. “Harvard University scientists plan to fly a test balloon above Sweden next year to help advance research into dimming sunlight to cool the Earth, alarming environmentalists opposed to solar geoengineering.”  Link here.

6. Insights on carbon pricing (which many overrate).

First Dose First

Writing on twitter Keith Klugman, world expert on infectious diseases and director of the Gates Foundation Pneumonia program, supports a policy I have argued for–First Doses First.

First doses of Pfizer/Moderna vaccines are 90%+ effective after 14 days. Most high risk lives will be saved by giving all these limited early supplies of vaccine as first doses – second doses can be given later if first dose effectiveness wanes or when supply improves

Here’s a way of thinking about this policy. Suppose you are scheduled for your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine but you have the option of giving your second dose to your spouse as their first dose. Would you?

If the answer is yes then can you ethically deny this to someone else’s spouse?

Keep in mind that we have at least three more vaccines that could be available in as little as 12 weeks, Astra-Zeneca, Johnson & Jonson and Novavax. We are also pushing for more doses from Pfizer and we should be willing to pay top-dollar for those doses. As those vaccines come online we can deliver second doses.

Addendum: If you are 75 and your spouse is 25 then maybe you wouldn’t give your second dose to your spouse and that too ought to help us think about the larger questions of allocation.

The Tremendous Success of Operation Warp Speed

I am annoyed at Fauci for the second time, this time for dissing the AZ vaccine:

But even if the vaccine ends up being approved, it will probably only have an efficacy of 60 to 70 percent. “What are you going to do with the 70 percent when you’ve got two (vaccines) that are 95 percent? Who are you going to give a vaccine like that to?” Anthony Fauci, the leading American expert on vaccines, recently wondered.

This attitude is counter-productive. As I wrote earlier:

In the big picture, the efficacious of a vaccine doesn’t matter per se what matters is getting to herd immunity. If you have a less efficacious vaccine you need to vaccinate more people but herd immunity is herd immunity, i.e. vaccines mostly protect people not because they are efficacious but because we reach herd immunity.

As a result, it can be much better to start vaccinating now with a 70% efficacious vaccine than wait for a 95% efficacious vaccine–thus, we need to encourage early vaccination. Indeed the AZ vaccine ought to be approved immediately (I predict the UK will approve by next week) and be made available to anyone who doesn’t want to wait for another vaccine.

For the next year or two, we will be operating under conditions of scarcity and we need to use every tool at our disposal. A 70% effective vaccine is great, well above what the FDA required and better than the flu vaccine. If you live in a country in which everyone has been vaccinated you won’t give a damn whether they were vaccinated with a 95% effective vaccine or a 70% effective vaccine–both will give you nearly 100% safety and allow life to return to normal.

Les priorités

F.D.A. Wants to Stop Regulating French Dressing

The federal agency said it was seeking to revoke its definition for the carrot-colored dressing, effectively erasing a government-required list of ingredients at the request of an industry group…the federal government has shown great interest in the humble dressing, painstakingly regulating since 1950 the ingredients that it must contain and revising the rules at least five times since then…

The lengthy and legalistic regulations for French dressing require that it contain vegetable oil and an acid, like vinegar or lemon or lime juice. It also lists other ingredients that are acceptable but not required, such as salt, spices and tomato paste.

Ahem.  Here is the full NYT story.

p.s. It is disgusting, and it is not even French.

Sunday assorted links

The new Covid strain and its policy implications

Here is one account, please note this investigation is in its early days:

“An increase in R of 0.4 or greater is extremely bad news. During the national lockdown in November the best we could achieve was an R value of somewhere between 0.8 and 1.0 around the UK,” said Prof Hunter. “What this means is that even if we went back to the lockdown it would still not be enough to bring the R value down to less than 1.0.”

Note also it is very likely the new mutation already has spread well beyond the UK.  And with compounding, an R increase of 0.4 is really bad as time passes.

If this all is true, what are the policy implications?  First, a lockdown with no pending vaccine will only postpone problems, a’ la the herd immunity theorists.

Second, we do have vaccines and so in any plausible model faster viral spread implies a faster timetable for vaccine approval and distribution.  And it implies we should have been faster to begin with.

If you used to say “we were just slow enough,” you now have to revise that opinion and believe that greater speed is called for, both prospectively and looking backwards.

In any plausible model.

If Godzilla is faster than you had thought, you need to start running away sooner.  And you needed to have started running away sooner.  In any plausible model.

In any plausible model.

Yet somehow I do not expect the rooftops to be so crowded over the next few days.

What should I ask Patricia Fara?

I will be doing a Conversation with her, here is part of her Wikipedia page:

Patricia Fara is a historian of science at the University of Cambridge. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and did her PhD at the University of London

Her areas of particular academic interest include the role of portraiture and art in the history of science, science in the 18th century England during the Enlightenment and the role of women in science. She has written about numerous women in science, mathematics, engineering, and medicine including: Hertha AyrtonLady Helen GleichenMona Chalmers WatsonHelen Gwynne-VaughanIsabel Emslie HuttonFlora MurrayIda MacleanMarie Stopes, and Martha Annie Whiteley. She has argued for expanded access to childcare as a means of increasing the retention of women in science. She has written and co-authored a number of books for children on science. Fara is also a reviewer of books on history of science. She has written the award-winning Science: A Four Thousand Year History (2009) [and Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science, and Serendipity (2012). Her most recent book is A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War” (2017). In 2013, Fara published an article in Nature (journal), stressing the fact that biographies of female scientists perpetuate stereotypes.

And she has a new book coming out on Isaac Newton.  So what should I ask her?

Paul McCartney as management study

I am listening to McCartney III, the new Paul album, recorded at age 78 with Paul playing all of the instruments and doing all of the production at home.  There is no “Hey Jude” on here, but it is pretty good and given the broader context it is remarkable.  I recently linked to an Ian Leslie post on 64 reasons why Paul is underrated, but I don’t think he comes close to the reality.

Paul has been writing songs and performing since 1956, with no real breaks.  Perhaps he has written more hit songs than anyone else.  He brought the innovations of Cage and Stockhausen into popular music, despite having no musical education and growing up in the Liverpool dumps.  His second act, Wings, sold more records in its time than the Beatles did.  On a lark he decided to learn techno/EDM and put out five perfectly credible albums in that area.  He decided to learn how to compose classical music, and after some initial missteps his Ecce Cor Meum is perhaps the finest British choral work in a generation, worthy of say Britten or Nicholas Maw.  And that is from a guy who can’t really read music.  He has learned how to play most of the major musical instruments, typically well.  He can compose and play and perform in virtually every musical genre, including heavy metal, blues, music hall, country and western, gospel, show tunes, ballads, rockers, Latin music, pastiche, psychedelia, electronic music, Devo-style robot-pop, drone, lounge, reggae, and more and more and more.

His vocal range once spanned over four octaves, he is sometimes considered the greatest bass player in the history of rock and roll, and he was the first popular musician to truly master the recording studio, again with zero initial technical or musical education of any sort.

He is perhaps the quickest learner the music world ever has seen.

He has collaborated with John Lennon, George Harrison, George Martin, Ravi Shankar, Jimmy McCullough, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Carl Perkins, Kiri Te Kanawa, David Gilmour, Kanye West, Rihanna, and numerous others.  He wrote the best theme song for any James Bond movie.  He was the workaholic of the Beatles.  He was one of the most influential individuals worldwide, including behind the Iron Curtain, in the 1960s and sometimes beyond.

He was a very keen businessman in buying up the rights to music IP at just the right time, making him a billionaire.

He is OK enough as a painter, has been an effective propagandist for vegetarianism, active in numerous charities, and has put out two (?) children’s books, which I strongly doubt are ghostwritten.  He has been very active as a father in raising five children, while touring regularly, often intensely.  He had planned to be touring this summer at age 78, with a world class show spanning two and a half hours with Paul taking no break or even letting up (I saw the previous tour).

There is no backward-bending supply curve for this one.

If you are looking to study careers, Paul McCartney’s career is one of the very best and most instructive.

Rapid Antigen Tests in Canada

Josh Gans announces a program of Rapid Antigen Tests in Canada backed by a consortium of major Canadian companies.

Big News! Today I am very pleased to be able to reveal to the world something that I have been very proud to have been working on with a hundred or so other people: The CDL Rapid Screening Consortium. Led by our Creative Destruction Lab, this consortium is a group of 12 companies who are partnering with Health Canada to begin the roll-out of rapid antigen screens to be a part of daily life for the next 12-18 months and deliver a safer path to normality. We have been working since September intensively to put the consortium together, explore screening options that were available globally and come up with protocols and an evolving standard operating procedure (SOP) to bring rapid antigen screens at scale to economies all around the world. The goal is to solve the pandemic information gap and ensure that we can quickly identify and isolate infectious people and protect others.

The initial sites will be run by RSC members. Those members are Air Canada, Rogers, Loblaws, Shoppers Drug Mart, Magna, Nutrien, Suncor, Genpact, Scotiabank, MDA, CPPIB and MLSE.

Read Josh’s announcement for more details and here is the website for the CDL Rapid Screening Consortium.