What is going on in this Malaysian-Chinese libertarian video of the year?

Blocked on Weibo, by the way.  One major figure in the video is the Malaysian-Chinese rapper Namewee, also Kimberly Chen.  I put up this post, among other reasons, to show just how much there is in the way of cultural codes to crack.  How much of it do you understand?  Do you get the references to this Thai-Chinese internet controversy?  What else?  Here is further excellent commentary from Sabina Knight.  #20 on the YouTube music charts.

Via Stu.

Tuesday assorted links

1. Ted Gioia 12 predictions for the future of music.

2. How and what should a ghost maximize?

3. Agarwal and Budish survey chapter on market design.

4. Can robotic textiles improve your breathing?

5. Colombia’s antimachismo hotline (NYT, a good thing to be clear!).  Encapsulates the broader trend.

6. Puerto Rico now the most vaccinated place in the United States.

7. Janos Kornai, RIP.

Make TeleMedicine Permanent

One of the silver linings of the pandemic was the ability to see a doctor and be prescribed medicine online. I used telemedicine multiple times during the pandemic and it was great–telemedicine saved me at least an hour each visit and I think my medical care was as good as if I had been in person. I already knew I had poison ivy! No need for the doctor to get it also.

Telemedicine has been possible for a long time. What allowed it to take off during the pandemic wasn’t new technology but deregulation. HIPAA rules, for example, were waived for good faith use of standard communication technologies such as Zoom and Facetime even though these would ordinarily have been prohibited.

The Federal Ryan Haight Act was lifted which let physicians prescribe controlled substances (narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, and anabolic steroids) in a telemedicine appointment–prior to COVID an in-person appointment was required.

Prior to COVID Medicaid and Medicare wouldn’t pay for many services delivered over the internet. But during the pandemic the list of telemedicine approved services was expanded. Tennessee, for example, allowed speech therapists to bill for an online session. Alaska allowed mental health and counseling services and West Virginia allowed psychological testing to be delivered via telemedicine. Wisconsin allowed durable medical equipment such as prosthetics and orthotics to be prescribed without a face-to-face meeting.

Another very important lifting of regulation was allowing cross-state licensing which let out-of-state physicians have appointments with in-state patients (so long, of course, as the physicians were licensed in their state of residence.)

The kicker is that almost all of these changes are temporary. Regulatory burdens that were lifted for COVID will all be reinstated once the Public Health Emergency (PHE) expires. The PHE has been repeatedly extended but that will only push off the crux of the issue which is whether many of the innovations that we were forced to adopt during the pandemic shouldn’t be made permanent.

Working from home has worked better and been much more popular than anyone anticipated. Not everyone who was forced to work at home because of COVID wants to continue to work at home but many businesses are finding that allowing some work from home as an option is a valuable benefit they can offer their workers without a loss in productivity.

In the same way, many telemedicine innovations pioneered during the pandemic should remain as options. No one doubts that some medical services are better performed in-person nor that requiring in-person visits limits some types of fraud and abuse. Nevertheless, the goal should be to ensure quality by regulating the provider of medical services not regulating how they perform their services. Communications technology is improving at a record pace. We have moved from telephones to Facetime and soon will have even more sophisticated virtual presence technology that can be integrated with next generation Apple watches and Fitbits that gather medical information. We want medical care to build on the progress in other industries and not be bound to 19th and 20th century technology.

The growth of telemedicine is one of the few benefits of the pandemic. As the pandemic ends, let’s make this silver lining permanent.

Worrying Sentence(s) of the Day

NYTimes: An examination of hundreds of health departments around the country shows that the nation may be less prepared for the next pandemic than it was for the current one.

…State and local public health departments across the country have endured not only the public’s fury, but widespread staff defections, burnout, firings, unpredictable funding and a significant erosion in their authority to impose the health orders that were critical to America’s early response to the pandemic.

People have had it. Let’s hope we aren’t tested again soon.

My podcast with philosopher Jimmy Alfonso Licon

Somewhat less than an hour, here is his summary of our chat:

Prof. Cowen and I had a wide ranging interview on topics ranging from whether economic growth is a moral imperative, UFOs are extraterrestrials, rent seeking is a drain on the economy, things like Plato, pumpkin spice, and the Founding Fathers are overrated, why we should (or shouldn’t) care about chess, and how to think about failure, among other topics.

I am pleased to have Jimmy visiting at George Mason this year.  Here is Jimmy’s home page and publications, note he is on the job market this year.

Average is over

Thirteen-year-olds saw unprecedented declines in both reading and math between 2012 and 2020, according to scores released this morning from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Consistent with several years of previous data, the results point to a clear and widening cleavage between America’s highest- and lowest-performing students and raise urgent questions about how to reverse prolonged academic stagnation.

The scores offer more discouraging evidence from NAEP, often referred to as “the Nation’s Report Card.” Various iterations of the exam, each tracking different subjects and age groups over several years, have now shown flat or falling numbers…

both reading and math results for nine-year-olds have made no headway; scores were flat for every ethnic and gender subgroup of younger children — with the exception of nine-year-old girls, who scored five points worse on math than they had in 2012. Their dip in performance produced a gender gap for the age group that did not exist on the test’s last iteration.

More ominous were the results for 13-year-olds, who experienced statistically significant drops of three and five points in reading and math, respectively. Compared with math performance in 2012, boys overall lost five points, and girls overall lost six points. Black students dropped eight points and Hispanic students four points; both decreases widened their score gap with white students, whose scores were statistically unchanged from 2012.

In keeping with previous NAEP releases, the scores also showed significant drops in performance among low-performing test-takers. Most disturbing: Declines among 13-year-olds scoring at the 10th percentile of reading mean that the group’s literacy performance is not significantly improved compared with 1971, when the test was first administered. In all other age/subject configurations, students placing at all levels of the achievement spectrum have gained ground over the last half-century.

Here is the full story, please note these are pre-Covid test scores, arguably now the problem could be worse.  Via Luke, a concerned human.

FDA relents on mix and match for third dose

Here is the NYT account, they sound both confused and confusing.  How about “if you have had J&J, it is fine and probably preferable to get a further dose of Moderna or Pfizer”?  Yet suddenly it is fine.

And it is the usual story — people have been doing this for months, and the FDA would not say it is terrible.  Because they knew it wasn’t.  But they wouldn’t say so.  And now the status quo has shifted, and so everyone will treat it as fine, as if the supposed fears of yesterday never ever existed.

Maybe I should insult people more often?

Some of them are frauds

The panel also seemed intrigued by preliminary data suggesting that Johnson & Johnson recipients may be better off with a booster shot from Moderna or Pfizer. Although no vote was taken, Dr. Peter Marks, who oversees the F.D.A.’s vaccine division, said regulatory action to allow boosters with a different vaccine was “possible.”

While some experts emphasized that the data was based on small groups of volunteers and short-term findings, others urged the F.D.A. to move quickly with what has fast become known as a mix-and-match approach, especially for recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which is much less widely available.

“I’m sold already,” said Dr. Mark Sawyer, an infectious disease specialist with the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. “We need flexibility and to improve access to everyone.”

Others said they worried that the public would end up bewildered if the government kept broadening the categories of people eligible for boosters and which vaccine could be used for extra shots.

“I hope we can do this in a way that doesn’t look like we’re changing rules all the time,” said Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of immunology at the University of Iowa.

Health officials and committee members suggested on Friday that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine had long been less protective. In a particularly biting critique, Dr. Amanda Cohn, a high-ranking C.D.C. medical officer, said a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine offered less protection than two doses of the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer or Moderna — a gap that would only grow if it remained a one-shot regimen while the other two-shot vaccines were followed by a booster…

The experts generally agreed that the protection conferred by a single dose was inadequate, but at least some were unconvinced that the second dose would bolster that protection significantly.

The smart people I know who started with J&J took this matter into their own hands some time ago, typically opting for an mRNA supplement.  They are just “people,” yet they had “skin in the game” and they are miles ahead of the FDA and CDC as formal institutions.  Here is a research paper on the question.  Here is another.  And here is a Paul Sax tweet and Op-Ed: “Don’t know anyone who disagrees with this, and the data have been highly suggestive for months.”  And this is after the authorities insisted for months that all vaccines will be treated the same.

Again, I will repeat the perennial question: do our public health agencies wish to maximize their own status and control and feeling of “having done everything properly as they were trained,” or do they wish to maximize the expected value of actual outcomes for the citizenry?  If it is not the latter, and too often it is not, I say they are oppressive frauds.  (And please don’t try to tell me this kind of craperoo is boosting their credibility — in fact they have lost massive credibility with America’s public intellectual class, both left wing and right wing and for that matter centrist.)

I really do not have much sympathy for Kyrie Irving and Bradley Beal and their ilk, but in fact their views are more understandable than you might think from reading MSM.  Their generalized mistrust is not so crazy, even though they are quite wrong in this particular instance.  By the way, don’t take those aspirin any more!

Here is the full NYT article, cringeworthy throughout, and I thank Jordan for the pointer.

Be Green: Buy a Coal Mine!

It’s time to reup the idea of buying coal mines and shuttering them. I wrote about this a few years ago based on Bard Harstad’s piece in the JPE and it came up again on twitter so I went looking for a coal mine to buy. Here’s a coal mine for sale in West Virginia for only $7.8 million! According to the ad, the mine produces 10,000 tons of coal monthly and has reserves of 8 million tons. Now here are some back of the envelope calculations.

(Warning: There may be errors since there are a lot of unit conversions. I invite someone with expertise in the industry to do a more serious analysis.)

Each ton of coal burned produces about 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide (you get more carbon dioxide since the carbon combines with oxygen). Sources: 2.86 short tons. 2.086 short tons.

It costs about $100 to sequester a ton of carbon dioxide for a long time.

Thus, 10,000 tons of coal burnt monthly produce 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide that it would cost $2.5 million a month to sequester. Or buying the mine pays for itself in reduced C02 emissions in about 3 months.

Ordinarily buying up the supply would increase supply elsewhere but coal mines are going out of business–thus no one is investing much in building new coal mines. The supply curve, therefore, is inelastic. In addition, you could buy up the right to mine in precisely those countries that are not committed to reducing coal mining. Indeed, you could buy the right to mine costly-to-exploit coal deposits–those deposits are cheap (since they are costly to exploit) and by taking them off the market you are making the supply curve even more inelastic so you aren’t encouraging much additional supply. Imagine, for example, that coal mining will be banned tomorrow. Thus, companies will be producing all-out today but that means you could reduce a lot of carbon emissions by buying the right to mine from the most expensive producers (who will sell cheap) and you won’t appreciably increase the incentive to mine. Indeed, on the margin, a higher price of energy might even do more to increase alternative sources of power like solar, especially if you buy thermal coal where there are lots of substitutes (there are fewer substitutes for coke coal.) See the Harstad paper and references in my earlier post.

Thus, buying a coal mine and leaving the coal in the ground looks like a cost-effective way of sequestering carbon dioxide.

Addendum: There are also some crazy “use it or lose it” laws that say that you can’t buy the right to extract a natural resource and not use it. When the high-bidder for an oil and gas lease near Arches National Park turned out to be an environmentalist the BLM cancelled the contract! That’s absurd. The high-bidder is the high-bidder and there should be no discrimination based on the reasons for the bid. See this Science piece.

H/t: Austin Vernon.

Jack Yeats, the greatest Irish artist

I am going to pick Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957, Sligo) as Ireland’s greatest artist. And yes he was the brother of William Butler Yeats and son of the artist John Butler Yeats, notable in his own right.

(For background, here are my earlier posts on William Orpen, John Lavery, Mainie Jellett, and Harry Clarke.  Here are a few contenders whom I ruled out from the get-go.)

Wikipedia offers the following useful description of Jack Yeats:

His favourite subjects included the Irish landscape, horses, circus and travelling players. His early paintings and drawings are distinguished by an energetic simplicity of line and colour, his later paintings by an extremely vigorous and experimental treatment of often thickly applied paint. He frequently abandoned the brush altogether, applying paint in a variety of different ways, and was deeply interested in the expressive power of colour. Despite his position as the most important Irish artist of the 20th century (and the first to sell for over £1m), he took no pupils and allowed no one to watch him work, so he remains a unique figure.

I don’t think there are images I could show to convince you that Yeats should stand above the other contenders.  His signature expressionist works are thick with three-dimensional texture, and they look like crap on-line.  I am fortunate to have seen a large exhibit of them lately in Dublin.  When I first saw some many years ago, I thought they were a splotchy mess, a kind of second-rate Gaelic Kokoscha, but they hold up and improve remarkably well with time.  Everything is where it ought to be.

Here is a “more normal” picture by Yeats:

His scenes are more animated, more impudent, more multi-faceted, and fresher than those of any other Irish painter.  It is easy to imagine him still inspiring painters today, Irish or otherwise, and I don’t think the same is quite true for the other names surveyed.  There is something “whole greater than the sum of the parts” that makes Yeats a clear, easy, and I think (mostly) consensus choice for Ireland’s greatest artist.  And he certainly was “Irish enough” to count.

Here is a good Christie’s short essay, mixed in with six high-quality images of works recently up for sale.  Oh, and here is one of the expressionist horse paintings after all:

The best places to see Yeats works are in Dublin and Sligo, but London and even the Walters in Baltimore have some.  Catch the Dublin exhibit while you can!

*Let It Be*, the new release

So what did I get for my $117, other than six discs that could have been three or dare I say two?

“I Dig a Pony” was a good composition that never saw an effective release; the Glyn Johns mix rehabilitates the song, though it remains far from perfect in execution.  You can listen to some of McCartney’s even better than usual vocal leaps on the outtakes of “Oh, Darling.”  It is fun to hear outtakes of segments of “Gimme’ Some Truth” and “All Things Must Pass,” done by “The Beatles,” though once probably is enough.  That is pretty much it, I am sorry to report.

The Giles Martin remix of the Let It Be album is a step backwards.  He botches “The Long and Winding Road” by keeping the strings orchestration, and “Across the Universe” is worse too.  The good version of “Road,” as approved by its creator, is on the “Naked” Let It Be release from about twenty years ago.  That one is the real contribution, and this release is not nearly as revelatory as the Esher demo tapes from the White Album.  Here is a good Pitchfork review.

I am looking forward to the six-hour movie nonetheless.  And I will (again) recommend the Laibach cover of Let It Be, one of the most underrated albums ever.  In the meantime, the price discrimination shall continue.

Sunday assorted links

1. “Nearly 40% of California state workers are unvaccinated against COVID despite Newsom order.”

2. “Part of the Catholic church in Sicily has imposed a three-year prohibition on naming godparents, arguing that the tradition has become merely a way to fortify family ties — and mob ties, too.”  Jonathan Schulz, telephone!  (NYT)

3. Carmen Mola is three men.

4. The immigrant health advantage, for blacks.

5. Carbon tax making a Biden comeback? (NYT)  And profile of Juliette Binoche (NYT).

6. Claims about Chinese hypersonics.

The continuing case for nuclear energy

Climate mitigation scenarios envision considerable growth of wind and solar power, but scholars disagree on how this growth compares with historical trends. Here we fit growth models to wind and solar trajectories to identify countries in which growth has already stabilized after the initial acceleration. National growth has followed S-curves to reach maximum annual rates of 0.8% (interquartile range of 0.6–1.1%) of the total electricity supply for onshore wind and 0.6% (0.4–0.9%) for solar. In comparison, one-half of 1.5 °C-compatible scenarios envision global growth of wind power above 1.3% and of solar power above 1.4%, while one-quarter of these scenarios envision global growth of solar above 3.3% per year. Replicating or exceeding the fastest national growth globally may be challenging because, so far, countries that introduced wind and solar power later have not achieved higher maximum growth rates, despite their generally speedier progression through the technology adoption cycle.

That is a new paper from Nature Energy, by Aleh Cherp, et.al., via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Yes, yes, Moore’s Law for solar cost and all that, but we need to think about the problem more deeply and that still implies a significant role for nuclear energy.  And here is some good news:

Finland has joined France, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic in lobbying the European Union to categorize nuclear power as sustainable. According to the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Finland’s pro-nuclear lobbying marks a U-turn within the Green Party.

Link here.

Is this the uh-oh moment for renewable energy?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

American elites like to argue for a carbon tax and other means of raising the price of carbon emissions, and I fall into that camp myself. Yet higher energy prices are extremely unpopular with many voters. A recent study found that most Americans would vote against a mere $24 annual climate tax on their energy bills. Many countries now have to ask themselves if they really are ready to start paying the bills for a transition away from carbon.


…the Biden administration has been playing a two-sided game. Policies strongly discourage domestic producers from adding fossil-fuel capacity, and indeed those investments remain depressed. Perhaps that is how it should be. Yet when it comes to global capacity, America is talking and playing a very different hand.

For instance, the Biden administration has criticized OPEC for insufficient production of crude oil. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said bluntly: “At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough.” That kind of policy talk is hard to square coming from the same government that has revoked permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, limited oil and gas leases on federal land and in Alaska, and used the Endangered Species Act to limit energy development on private lands in the West.

The federal government’s strategy seems clear. It is discouraging fossil-fuel capacity in the U.S. and Canada, but to keep energy prices low it will tolerate and indeed encourage high fossil-fuel spending in other, more distant nations. That would give the U.S. some domestic “trophies” in the fight to limit fossil fuels, yet without higher energy prices for the world at large.

The problem is that the same mix of policies won’t do much to limit overall carbon emissions. It will hurt American industry, by penalizing domestic energy production, and also damage U.S. energy independence.

So far I am not seeing a lot of evidence that the world really is willing to tolerate higher energy prices.  Countries all over are rushing back to coal — what are we supposed to conclude from that?