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.

And:

…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?

Fasten your seat belts…

New Stablecoin Charter Could Hinge on National Bank Act Rewrite

A special-purpose banking charter for stablecoin issuers – one of the potential options for federal regulators to rein in the risks posed by the digital asset – may require a revamp of the National Bank Act, the statute that defines the “business of banking,” analysts said in an American Banker piece this week. The prospect of the Biden Administration urging Congress to authorize such a charter was recently reported by the Wall Street Journal. The National Bank Act stipulates that the core activities for national banks are taking deposits, making loans and facilitating payments. The same statute is at the center of legal disputes over the OCC’s FinTech charter that would allow firms engaging in only one of those activities to receive a banking charter and essentially act as a bank.

That is from an email I received from BPInsights.

Will this revolution be televised?

More than a century after the artists of the Vienna Secession declared “to every age its art; to art its freedom”, the Austrian capital has found a new site for artistic expression free from censorship: the adults-only platform OnlyFans.

Vienna’s tourism board has started an account on OnlyFans – the only social network that permits depictions of nudity – in protest against platforms’ ongoing censorship of its art museums and galleries.

In July, the Albertina Museum’s new TikTok account was suspended and then blocked for showing works by the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki that showed an obscured female breast, forcing the museum to start a new account. This followed a similar incident in 2019, when Instagram ruled that a painting by Peter Paul Rubens violated the platform’s community standards which prohibit any depictions of nudity – even those that are “artistic or creative in nature”.

In 2018, the Natural History Museum’s photograph of the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf figurine was deemed pornographic by Facebook and removed from the platform.

The Leopold Museum has likewise struggled to promote its collection of nudes by the expressionist Egon Schiele, with advertising regulators in Germany, the UK and US refusing to show them in a city tourism campaign in 2018. (The tourist board successfully resubmitted the posters with banners obscuring the bare bodies reading: “Sorry – 100 years old but still too daring today.”)

Here is more from The Guardian, via Jason D.

What I’ve been reading

1. Carole Angier, Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald.  Might Sebald be the only semi-recent writer who can hold a candle to Ferrante, Knausgaard, and Houllebecq?  This book is sprawling, and suffers somewhat from lack of access to the author’s family, but it is a true labor of love.  And Angier has a deep understanding of Sebald, and also brings out the Jewish-related themes in his work (though he was not Jewish himself).  It attempts to be a Sebaldian work itself, and even if it does not always succeed it is the kind of passionate book we need more of.  Recommended, but you have to read Sebald first, if need be start with Die Ausgewanderten [The Emigrants].

2. Arthur Herman, The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World.  Ignore the subtitle!  There have been a number of good books on the Vikings lately, and this is perhaps the most “popular” and big picture of the lot.  The early Vikings swept through Europe in a matter of decades, mixing conquest and trade.  King Canute was pretty impressive it seems.  Specialists may pick nits, but it is very readable and seems to me to give a good overview of the role of the Vikings in European history.  This would be the one to start with.

3. Lawrence Rothfield, The Measure of Man: Liberty, Virtue, and Beauty in the Florentine Republic.  An excellent introduction to Florence, with some focus on issues of liberty and also civic leaderhip.  One should never tire of reading about this particular topic.

4. Howard W. French, Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World 1471 to the Second World War.  Think of this book as a retelling of some standard historical episodes, but with Africa at the center rather than as a recipient of European advances.  This is a useful reframing, and I enjoyed the read.  But perhaps by the end it was the New World that in my mind was upgraded as a more central spot for the rise of modernity?  Too frequently the relevance of Africa has to be rescued by invoking Portugal, as Sweden, Russia, and Turkey simply will not do the trick there.

New out is Diane Coyle, Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be; she is typically wise.

I am happy to see the publication of Calvin Duke’s Entrepreneurial Communities: An Alternative to the State, The Theories of Spencer Heath and Spencer MacCallum.

There is also Kyle Harper, Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History, long and comprehensive.

Tyrone, your local Straussian, comments on “Trap House”

I took it to refer to a place where drugs are sold, but you might be trapped either by the police or by the attendant lifestyle and its appeals.  The Yale Federalist Society was proclaming itself comparable to such a trap house, and thus at the same time broadcasting both its appeal and its potential danger.

By calling itself such a trap house, in a funny self-referring way it became one.  A kind of opposite to the Liar’s Paradox.  How many other claims become true by the mere act of making them?  “I am making a claim now” would be one of them.

Tyler: So says Tyrone.  But he is very consistently wrong.  And if you don’t know what Tyrone is talking about in this incoherent, philosophically naive missive, it is not worth trying to find out.

Now-defunct publicity markets in everything

The official Wizard of New Zealand, perhaps the only state-appointed wizard in the world, has been cast from the public payroll, spelling the end to a 23-year legacy.

The Wizard, whose real name is Ian Brackenbury Channell, 88, had been contracted to Christchurch city council for the past two decades to promote the city through “acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services”, at a cost of $16,000 a year. He has been paid a total of $368,000.

Here is the full story, and for the pointer I thank P.  And speaking of marketing, here is vaccine markets in everything.

Friday assorted links

1. Are strong interventions overrated?: “I find that the interventions reduce completion rates of the opposite behavior by 19-29%.”

2. Colby College bans caste-based discrimination.

3. The most overstudied places in development economics?

4. My sister wins another bird photography award.

5. Do Americans want smaller government once again?

6. A deeper look at the vaccine-hesitant (Zeynep, NYT).

7. UFOs and the import of Blink 182.

8. Tribute to Ronald Findlay, RIP.