Monday, August 31, 2020

A smidgeon of history

You've probably heard of the Sullivan Act in NY.

This was the heyday of the pre-Prohibition gangs, roving bands of violent toughs who terrorized ethnic neighborhoods and often fought pitched battles with police. In 1903, the Battle of Rivington Street pitted a Jewish gang, the Eastmans, against the Italian Five Pointers. When the cops showed up, the two underworld armies joined forces and blasted away, resulting in three deaths and scores of injuries. The public was clamoring for action against the gangs.

Problem was the gangs worked for Tammany. The Democratic machine used them as shtarkers (sluggers), enforcing discipline at the polls and intimidating the opposition. Gang leaders like Monk Eastman were even employed as informal “sheriffs,” keeping their turf under Tammany control.


Sullivan knew the gangs would flout the law, but appearances were more important than results. Young toughs took to sewing the pockets of their coats shut, so that cops couldn’t plant firearms on them, and many gangsters stashed their weapons inside their girlfriends’ “bird cages” — wire-mesh fashion contraptions around which women would wind their hair.

Ordinary citizens, on the other hand, were disarmed, which solved another problem: Gangsters had been bitterly complaining to Tammany that their victims sometimes shot back at them.

FWIW, some Chicago politicians have close ties with gangs. On the national level... We wonders, aye, we wonders.

Followup- Men's Sheds

A few years ago I noticed what I thought was a great idea to address men's mental health issues. Men's Sheds seem to still be going strong. Some morphed to allow women as well. There are even some (don't tell the SJW's) in the USA (even in Hawaii and Washington, though most are MidWest). Motto: "Men don't talk face to face, we talk shoulder to shoulder."

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Sampling bias

If Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon (or perhaps in his honor?) then it may be simple to understand the curious passage in which he says he's found 1 man in a thousand but not a single woman (in context he's looking for the upright and wise).

If, as 1 Kings 11 suggests, his wives were political acquisitions, you'd expect the bulk of them to be "ambassadors for their families/countries," and always keeping their eyes on what influence they can have. I don't think many kings pick their concubines for qualities like wisdom. Together these groups don't sound like a pool one could draw from to find uprightness and wisdom. In that culture, they'd represent most of the women he met.

In other words, it was his own fault his search failed.

Clever cells

When the body is damaged, the injured cells release "I'm in trouble" chemicals. Other cells (e.g. white blood cells) come to help out.

How can they figure out which way to go? After all, the chemicals are going to diffuse all over the place. True, a blood vessel is a simple one-dimensional region, but do you go left or right to get to the hammered thumb?

The model this group was testing is pretty simple and clever: the seeking cells destroy the trouble chemicals near them. After that the region with a higher density of those chemicals will diffuse into the newly cleaned regions by the seeker cell first. The seeker cell detects the alarm chemicals on (e.g.) its left side first--so that's the direction the seeker cell should move. That's a pretty clever way to estimate a density gradient, and it has the added benefit of getting rid of the old alarm chemicals so the body isn't in constant alert mode.

They have videos of ameobas and cancer cells threading mazes to find "chemoattractants".

It isn't infallible, of course--brownian motion might randomly bring attractants to the low density side first. You can see that in the videos. But most of the time it works, and it seems like a simple process to implement. It'd be more robust than a simple "try to measure concentration on both sides" scheme, since very high densities of chemoattractants would overwhelm a seeker cell's finite number of built-in receptors.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Taken for granted

"I love you like salt"

How much of my world is invisible? Air is, usually--and I tend to forget about it until I either get pneumonia or try to swim.

Unless you live in hurricane country, food generally just arrives at the store. Maybe some things get scarce for a while, but even in poor areas something shows up.

If you tent camp regularly you don't take electricity for granted, but it's so ubiquitous that it's easy to overlook.

I've read the "privilege knapsack" stuff and don't consider it particularly useful, but yes, imagine living among people who are radically different from yourself, and who don't like your tribe. If they express the dislike violently (as in inner city Chicago or the old "Don't let the sun set on you here" towns): just imagine how you'd watch your back. Non-violent expressions of tribalism (e.g. in universities) induce you to watch your mouth.

Even the antifa and blm folks rely on the police--as one can hear in the Kenosha video. Yes, if you're black encountering the cops you're more likely to get roughed up (and less likely to get shot) than if you're white--but you don't have to worry about just disappearing. Everybody assumes they'll get a day in court, and that the rest of the world will be able to hear from them. That's not a small matter.

We have vast machinery to supply parts and drugs and food and information and legal help and clothing (ever notice how often a suit of clothes is mentioned as a great gift in old stories?) and loans and things that aren't easy to get without that machinery.

Some of those invisible things we should be grateful for. Ingratitude is ugly--though excuseable in babies. Some things, maybe we should change--but don't forget Chesterton's Fence. Other things--do "window treatment" fashions matter? (You should probably not trust my aesthetic judgment on such matters.)

How do we see the invisible? A few things come to mind; there are probably plenty of others.

You can have someone sit you down and explain in detail why you are a bad person and never knew it before. I assume that corset and riding crop are extra cost options.

The Grand Tour is nice, if you have the money. But having money makes a lot of things invisible, even in a foreign environment.

You can try to get to know someone from a wildly different environment. But then, are you treating the person as a means to an end--your enlightenment? You won't really meet them that way, and it may rankle them. If you aren't, there's some goal you both share that brings you together--which is good and also means they may not be as different from you as they could be.

Read. Read the foreign stuff first, and then maybe the careful explanations. How do those foreigners like to think of themselves? Poetry, folk stories, other literature--if you feel brave tackle some internal debate. Their arguments seem sound from their point of view--why? Assume they're not deliberately malicious--though some people are.

Read stuff from the past. Your grandfather's worries were generally quite serious ones--why are yours different? Hint: it isn't because you're smarter or more moral. You aren't.

Read stuff you disagree with. Assume for the sake of argument that the writer isn't deliberately malicious. Sometimes even the beyond-the-pale ones see something you don't, though their cure may be wicked.

As mentioned above, camping can, if you cut out the electronics and other luxuries, make some everyday things like waste disposal rise up out of invisibility. (The same is true of hunting, if you want to avoid spooking the deer.) Try mending with needle and thread. (I'm not very good at it.) Exercise your imagination when visiting one of those museum displays of ancient villages--and try not to be a smartass in your fantasy. You wouldn't know any more than they did.

Cut out all electronics for a week or two. What was harder/impossible? What was better and why?

You're not trying to become cosmopolitan =home-less, just see more--and maybe be more grateful for what you have.

FURTHER Another little thing: how much money do you need to buy groceries today? We don't have hyperinflation and prices are posted--you can estimate how much you need, and not have to spend time dickering and hoping there's not just one item left (driving up the seller's price).

The climax by itself isn't enough

I saw a Kenosha video in which the youth was being chased, knocked down, and attacked--and when he shot back. Absent other information, that's pretty cut and dried self-defense.

But. As I commented over breakfast this morning, what happened before that video is key. If the first shot was unprovoked, the kid was committing a crime, and other deaths occurring as a consequence of it are murder. If it was provoked, he's innocent of everything except being a minor carrying a rifle in public, and perhaps not even that.

What happened before the chase-down seems to depend on who you talked to. Unsurprisingly. So the climactic scene doesn't tell you as much as you might hope.

FWIW, Andy Ngo seems to have done the research the State Journal didn't: identify the perforated ones. I remember reading about Bernard Goetz and wondering how, if he was such a bigoted random shooter, he managed to hit so many with criminal records. The rally organizer said about the perforated ones: "They came out here every time with us. Sweet. Loving. They were the sweetest hearts, souls." Kindred souls, perhaps?

Allegedly protesters in Madison are trying to limit who gets to associate with them, but they haven't always been very effective at that.

UPDATE: A detailed analysis can be found here.. First time I've heard of the site, btw. It seems plausible, though no doubt if I was on the jury I'd hear other things as well. I couldn't make head or tail of the video I saw of the first shooting--it was too blurry, obscured, and had too many gunshots.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020


We've been seeing a lot of documentaries on WWII Pacific battles, and the Franklin's amazing damage control story came up. After hearing about arguments regarding what the best placement for armor was, I wondered if modern flight decks used Kevlar. Carriers do. The stuff seems to handle fire relatively well as well as protecting against penetrations.

The topic doesn't tend to come up in most families' table-talk, but if it does you're ready.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Is there a name

for "first past the post wins" knowledge?

You've seen it: a "fact" conflicts enough with other facts that the person asks for clarification, but cannot accept that their first "fact" was wrong.

Forgotten names

"Yet, while the rock itself is blameless, the cultural associations with it are enough for some to call for its removal."

The State Journal was unable to find a reference to the objectionable name that was more recent than 95 years ago--and certainly I've never heard it before. "The term itself appears to have fallen out of common usage by the 1950s."

That sounds, to first order, as though somebody dug long and hard to find something they could object to, at a university that seems to try hard to be welcoming to black students.

As far as I know for the past N decades it has been simply known as Chamberlin Rock and celebrated as a very large glacial erratic.

I suppose if someone were to find proof that it had been used by the Sioux to sacrifice immigrating Ho Chunk, the local Ho Chunk might be pleased to see it go away. But they might not care anymore--the Sioux lost and were driven west.

The old term--it wasn't even an official name--was long gone. It lost. This kind of demand resurrects it. Even if the rock goes away, the hole will remind everyone of the old name.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Against evil forces

The radio played Beer For My Horses in the car this evening. If you're not familiar with it, it celebrates vigilantism--as a backstop when those entrusted fail, but vigilantism nonetheless.

"The police aren't there to protect people from criminals, but criminals (and presumably merely suspected criminals) from vigilantes."

I don't think so. There's a foolish line from the song's lyrics "When the gun smoke settles we'll sing a victory tune And we'll all meet back at the local saloon." Some vigilantes never came home.

The issue is unfortunately quite relevant in certain of our cities where it looks, from where I sit, as a power struggle in the Democratic/Progressive parties is playing out with street thugs, and police are ordered to stand down. Some of the brownshirts have have marched into residential areas. I've read this story before, and it doesn't turn out well.

I've not made a systematic study, but what I've read of history is full of situations where a tiny violent group cowed a larger one--even when the larger one was also armed at some level. Just being armed is only part of the story--being confident in your arms and being ready to go first is the rest. If antifa's brownshirts decided to march down our block, I don't know how many of my neighbors would be standing guard outside their homes. I suspect very few. (I know several who'd call the cops and trust that the cops would magically do the job.) The risks of standing out are high--you get to be the target of deniably lethal attacks (they're just throwing stones...), the enemy makes a note of your address, and there's a non-trivial chance that when the police do arrest somebody they'll go for the easy stationary target, the one with a home to lose. And if your face gets on the national news, you'll get lots of death threats, some of them serious, maybe lose your job--lots of downsides. And, maybe somebody else will do the defense for you, so hiding inside is probably fine.

A march through your home streets is literally a threat close to home. Defending it isn't like asking you to counter-protest somewhere else.

I know a few men who'd not think twice about standing in front of their homes, even alone--disciplined sorts, too, just not living in my neighborhood. I gather from the news that they exist elsewhere too. But I wonder how many there are who are ready to be first. Would I be? It's easy to kid yourself. I know it would take a lot to get me to join a countermarch somewhere else. Ditto for the guys I mentioned, so I'm in good company there.


I typo'd the name on youtube, and up came a song I probably should have heard back in the day, but which I don't remember at all.

People took it as a protest song against the South African rulers in '68. The composer said it was about a mine worker telling his boss he was going elsewhere. Maybe he meant both things. When she sings it, neither situation is what first comes to mind.

If you can describe even a small human experience just right, it echoes in many others.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Nuclear energies

If you know much about nuclear decays, you know that they're so much more energetic than ordinary chemical reactions that you can neglect the latter. The energy released by the decay of a uranium 238 atom is the same as that released by the decay of U-238 chloride, to within measurement errors. The energy ratios are a million to 1, or a hundred thousand to 1. The chemical bonds don't matter enough to bother with.

Unless they do. "Thorium 229, which has an isomeric state Thorium 229m, which can be obtained as a decay product of Uranium 233. The transition energy of this state is 8.28 +- 0.17 eV" That's electronVolts, and that's easily within range of chemical energies. In fact even the crystal structure matters for predicting the exact energy release.

I'd never heard of such low nuclear energies before.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020


In between student debt changing the financial calculus and covid cutting into attendence, prospective students may need to look at universities with a different, and more frugal eye. That's going to hurt. I looked at online learning before, but I think I want to try again from a different direction. AVI recently wondered about what universities would do with the diversity staff in their current financial stress.

I suspect they'd help the bottom line and provide a much better campus climate for everyone if universities fired everybody with "diversity" or "equity" in their job title. I don't think you learn a lot from picking scabs, especially when you just assume the scabs are there without asking. And I judge that there's quite a bit of unity to be found in working together to learn.

I don't think the universities will, though. A bureaucracy is like plaque--it just keeps building up while things rot underneath.

Nor do I think they'll generally get a good handle on online-learning--figuring out how to add enough value to merit the student $$$. I think a lot of universities will break before they adapt.

They provide some things we want, so whatever replaces them (assuming we don't crash so far that nothing does) should provide those same things. Some of the things a university does are easily adapted for remote students. Some don't really need anything like a university at all.

Here's my list

Credential You

  1. Generic:
    1. IQ: You have above some threshold level of intelligence. This could be easily replaced with a test suite, but that's politically and sometimes legally impossible right now. (Remote=easy/impossible)
    2. Perseverance: You are able to persevere through a 4-year plan. A job history might be able to do that for you also, unless you were unlucky with job situations. (Remote=irrelevant)
    3. Getting along with others: You are able to put up with people (some of them quite strange) for 4 years without resorting to homicide. This too might be inferred from a job history. (Remote=irrelevant)
  2. Specific:
    1. Body of knowledge: You absorbed, however temporarily, a specified body of knowledge. In some cases you could substitute a suite of tests, but those aren't always easy to design--imagine trying to prove by a test that you are skilled in Turkish literature. You really need experts to examine you. (Remote=possible--pay an expert to examine you and personally certify you; cheaper than 4 years of college.)
    2. Able to do work in your field. This is related to the above criterion, but is more demanding. Think of the internship after med school, or an engineering student's portfolio. A job history can do this too--often better. But getting hired in an advanced field in the first place isn't easy. (Remote=possible, with work/study)
    3. Able to contribute orginal work in your field. You've passed the apprenticeship as a researcher. Or, if this school is like Juliard, you can play music people will pay to listen to. An autodidact can demonstrate this--in theory. In practice, it isn't easy to get into the journals without somebody vouching for you--like employing you at a known research institution. (Remote=difficult)

Teach You

People learn in different ways, of course.
  1. Talk at you. They use lectures, live or recorded. For these you don't need a university as much as you once did. (Remote=easy)
  2. Read. Some things are harder to come by outside the university, but at least in theory you could get these elsewhere. (Remote=easy)
  3. Show. Labs and some kinds of lectures (e.g. math) involve demonstrations. These could be recorded, of course. (Remote=easy)
  4. Do. Labs, language classes, some kinds of physical training demand that you do them yourself. Equipment and guidance aren't free--the university is the go-to place. (Remote=impossible)
  5. Discuss.
    • You question the teacher during a lecture or demo--"I don't understand X" There's no substitute for live; questions submitted and replied to the next day aren't a good substitute. (Remote=impossible for a group, possible for one on one)
    • The teacher questions you during a lecture. It is really easy to think you understand, and the best time to check and correct is right then. In person, a good teacher can sometimes spot the students who aren't quite getting it. Remotely it's not so easy. (Remote=difficult)
    • You question other students. In STEM there's generally a right answer, but in most of the other liberal arts--What is "justice," Socrates? There's something different about being physically with someone that multiplies the opportunities to talk. Phone or video-phone feel more distant. (Remote=difficult)
    • Other students question you. Can you defend what you think--without resorting to "my felt reality" solipsism? That can be a great education in itself. (Remote=difficult)
    • "The Grand Tour" of meeting other people and ideas and customs that are not always congenial. It can give a good lesson in what's common and what divides us. Most of us, by default, stick to the congenial. (Remote=possible, if you take advice)
    • Late night bull sessions. They're mostly nonsense, but who's keeping score? And it's practice thinking. (Remote=possible)

Connect You

  1. Make acquaintances that will be important professionally. The Ivies are renowned for this--making sure the proper people know each other may be their main function. (Are frats like the Odd Fellows?) (Remote=possible)
  2. Find a spouse. There are few other places that bring so many of your cohort together for long enough. A concert doesn't last long; classes do. (Remote=impossible; you're on your own)
  3. Find friends. You can probably do this most places--in fact other places might be better, in that they mingle ages more than a college does, and there's a poverty in only having friends of one age. (Remote=impossible; you're on your own)
  4. Bond you to the school so they can put the touch on you for alumni donations. I'm a cynical one sometimes. (Remote=impossible)

Labs can't be done online. Discussion, and one on on interaction with the teacher, don't seem to be done very well by most online schools, if early reports are any guide. But scheduling 1:1 teacher time should be possible, albeit expensive. I wonder how the language classes are doing.

A lot of the credentialing can be done elsewhere, or replaced with job history, or replaced by hiring specialists.

The social part would be hard to replace, since many of the older connecting institutions aren't popular anymore. (Bowling Alone?) Reviving the secular ones depends on fashion, not fiat.

James 3:1

When I'm wrong, you're at risk. When I'm right, I'm at risk. (pride)

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Dreams of a scholar

Sometimes a writer hits just the right note for a character: "... the Balearic slingers would be listening to him as he told them how they used to use their slings, and the next thing he would know would be either his housekeeper tapping at the door ..."

After all, you wouldn't be dreaming of listening to the ancients explaining things to you, the great scholar?

My own dreams are shorter and stranger. I found myself reading an economic treatise--I looked at the page header and it said Romans 16 as I expected, but looking back at the text it was still on economics. Finis

Monday, August 17, 2020

Witch Fragility

See Witch Fragility (1692 edition) from The People's Cube.

Sex roles

I'm not an expert, except perhaps in the sense of having lived through it myself, but puberty is awkward and confusing enough even with society's help. When the guidance is "You decide your life" or worse, when people who profit from your confusion get the magaphone, it is surprising as many kids turn out as well as they do.

With roles, you start out a boy or a girl, with the understanding that eventually you'll be a man or woman. Thanks to the roles you have a formal idea of what that means, but not a visceral one--yet. When you hit puberty, you have categories for the new feelings, and ways to understand and express them. Generally along with the roles come social rules for interacting with the opposite sex, and a path toward marriage and social frameworks to help you be a parent and grandparent. A few people have troubles with the roles, because they're from the tails of the distributions, but for almost everybody the roles mostly just work. If you aren't cut out for marriage, there are often roles for that too--sometimes religious ones and sometimes other "secular" insofar as that concept is even defined in your society family support roles.

But without anything clear, all you know is that you aren't quite the person you thought you were. If it is all your choice, what do you choose? You're too young to know the trajectory of any of the choices.

I'm fairly smart, though not always wise. When I started out in marriage I didn't have a firm handle on what things were going to be the most important long term. I'm not sure I would have taken advice, but roles are more embedded in "what everybody knows." "What everybody knows" is harder to argue with. And you can probably think of people who would have had a less bumpy start with clearer roles too.

Depending on how flexible those sex roles are, some folks would be squeezed hard. If men's roles involved not just willingness to protect your family, but regular fighting against each other, I'd not do well. Perhaps in some really dangerous era it's essential to be ready to fight at the drop of a hat, or be willing to help spear a lion for the tribe, but that would be a little exaggerated for our place and time. (I didn't do wonderfully well in sports either.) Some flexibility is important. But roles need some rigidity too: the parents are supposed to take care of their children, and only serious disability excuses them. And men and women are objectively different, no matter what the fashionable madness claims, so their responsibilities (roles) will, on the average, differ--and a little collective experience (tradition) can tell you how. Of course in a pinch you do what you have to.


Email is a little formal, and even a video talk is more formal than a water-cooler meeting.

You miss a lot of cues remotely--even not-so-remotely. The other night my wife and I were writing in different rooms. Neither of us noticed that the other was slowing down, stretching more, changing breathing patterns a little--so neither noticed that the other was tired and ready for bed.

In the comments to a Chicago Boyz post Gavin wrote "There is probably an element of “eating the seedcorn” in today’s remote work — guys doing certain types of activities who have worked together effectively for a while may be able to continue to work effectively for some time. But as new projects come along and people leave the organization and new people try to find their feet on the job, the lack of face-to-face contact will probably degrade both performance and individual satisfaction."

And... probably new ideas won't congeal as quickly either, if you lose the body-language cues for how David ranks alternatives.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

You never know what rabbit tracking will start

While contemplating a tiny spider the other morning I wondered: are there any vegetarian arachnids?

Spiders and scorpions and ticks and even horseshoe crabs (new addition--or maybe a very old one). The latter sometimes eat algae, harvestmen eat anything handy, mites eat--it depends on the species, but anything handy, but ticks--no, scorpions--no. Spiders: Bagheera Kiplingi sometimes eats insects but more often eats "protein- and fat-rich nubs called Beltian bodies" on Mimoseae trees. I like the name, but it isn't appropriate for a largely green vegetarian.

After looking up the first link, I looked up Donald Swann. I had no idea anyone had tried to make an opera of Perelandra. Some time after Lewis’ death, however, the film rights to the Perelandra story had been sold and as a result, an embargo was placed on commercial dramatic adaptations. Following this, the Perelandra Opera vanished into obscurity for another 50 years, until the Oxford CS Lewis Society arranged a limited reproduction of it in 2009. There are no commercially available recordings of the performance, but it was recorded and high-quality archive CD-sets made available at selected research institutions."

Unfortunately, the UW-Madison doesn't seem to be one of them. Wheaton looks like the nearest And I wonder who owns the film rights--or if they reverted from disuse They reverted. (I can't imagine a successful film version. Too much of the story involves interior reactions to sights and sounds and tastes that the rest of us, in a bent world, would have different reactions to.)

Three short selections.

The purified elect?

With a hat-tip to David Warren, read Cadevilla's essay on millenarian Mobs: "Pastoureaux, Flagellants, Cathars, Free Spirits, Ranters" and more recent versions.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Gell-Mann Amnesia

If the speakers have the knack of sounding plausible, we tend to believe them. Even when we know we shouldn't.

An actor's bread and butter is "sounding plausible." IIRC most cultures don't respect actors very much--I wonder why we do. The risks seem obvious.

My experiences have been that most salesmen have been honest, but they don't always have stellar reputations. And yet people deal with even the crooks.

In recommending his son to a merchant as a valuable salesman, a father does not say he is a nice, moral, upright boy, and goes to Sunday School and is honest, but he says, “This boy is worth his weight in broad pieces of a hundred—for behold, he will cheat whomsoever hath dealings with him, and from the Euxine to the waters of Marmora there abideth not so gifted a liar!”

WRT Biden: I've heard people say that "He's not deteriorating; he has always talked this way." I haven't listened to him, so I can't say for sure, but I suspect his defenders listen for meaning, and if the meaning is the proper shiboleths they assume his wisdom is undiminished. This isn't crazy, but I notice they don't allow Trump any benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Athletics departments

I was talking with a PE teacher this morning about school closures (he says: closed in Dane County, not in the surrounding ones). He wondered about the sports teams: if one player tests positive (even if not sick), that player is out for 2 weeks, which can put a crimp in your lineup, and maybe take out others. He worried that departments would have a perverse incentive to not test players, or fudge the testing.

Monday, August 10, 2020


How razors wear out, as seen by electron microscopes. If you cut at an angle, the flexing of the hair can snap tiny cracks in the thin blade in regions where the blade metal isn't homogenous--and the cracks grow into tiny chips.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Location, location, location

The Master said, 'It is virtuous manners which constitute the excellence of a neighborhood. If a man in selecting a residence, do not fix on one where such prevail, how can he be wise?'

Is that "cultural appropriation?"

Learn something new every day...

I'd heard of "The Chicago Machine" for decades: everybody has. Apparently I only heard of part of it. "This is the Prickwrinkle Machine continuing the "campaign" that they lost to the Rahm/Daley Machine. Crimesha, Evans, Dart and Prickwrinkle are birthed from the Stroger Machine. Their first loyalty is to the County Machine, not the City Machine." ... "We understand why you're writing this column - you see that Groot is losing - badly - and the future belongs to the Prickwrinkle Machine. The remnants of the Anton Cermak Machine are dissolving in a flurry of federal indictments and an old aging white guard. You won't have a job worth speaking of unless you have some sort of "in" with Prickwrinkle's people"

Toni Preckwinkle aka Prickwinkle lost the mayoral election to Lightfoot aka Groot (because of a close resemblance).

On the subject of tribal conflicts, the mostly black Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission succeeded in demoting the latino police chief Morales in favor of a black replacement. "Morales' relationship with the commission began to deteriorate almost as soon as the panel appointed him chief in 2018." (FWIW, the commission head is under investigation for misusing his position.) In July that commission banned the police from using tear gas: a number of police departments promptly "recinded their support" to help Milwaukee with the Democratic Convention.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

"Come on you SOBs; do you want to live forever?"

I wrote before that there were parallels between combatting foreign enemies and combatting plagues. I need to be more precise: there are anti-parallels too.

Before I go on, I need to remind us that using armies for internal crime control almost always turns out badly. You don't want to even think about it unless you have an insurrection (political or Mexican-cartel) already. It turns corrupt very easily.

Within a country, or tribe, or even a family sometimes, we rob and kill each other. You might be able to reduce that, but you'll never get rid of that problem. Punishment works better than no-punishment; the rest is details I don't want to get into right now.

But crime, so long as it doesn't grow into a state-within-a-state, is something we can keep under enough control that we, as a group, can live with it. Individual action can make a difference. Don't go there alone; don't hang around people using drugs; don't fool around with somebody else's squeeze; carry your own weapon; etc. That'll be no comfort to me when I get mugged, of course, but human nature isn't something I can change, and a lot of the "cures" make the problem worse.

Invaders are another matter. Their scale is already large enough that individual action is of no use, and the scope of the potential damage they do is not limited. Unless there's no possible way of fending them off, and sometimes even then, you band together to provide and support your warriors. In an ideal world, in which generals are more interested in winning wars than in politics, you trust the generals to be careful with the lives of the soldiers, but be willing to expend them in order to stop the enemies. You expect some of your soldiers to die. Traditionally, and wisely, the burden of that risk falls on the men. The risks of losing fall on the women and children too.

You have to measure your enemy. How big is the risk, and how much effort must you marshall to deal with it?

You have to expect setbacks and mistakes. If a general makes too many mistakes, he (one hopes) is removed. How many is "too many" is a judgment call, and I wish I could be more confident about how well that's usually done. But you're supposed to be able to point to the responsible people. After the Fitzgerald crashed into a freighter, Bryce Benson needed to move ashore permanently, but when the extent of the problem came out, the Secretary of the Navy should have gotten the axe too. And somebody needed to explain matters to politicians who want to "show the flag."

The demands of a war sometimes require infringements of rights. Someone needs to be responsible for that, and there needs to be a clear end to it as well. Otherwise it's hard to claw the rights back afterwards. Power is addictive, and especially the power to suppress dissent.

Diseases happen. Some of them are random, and some of them are self-inflicted stupidity, and some happen because somebody else was careless or stupid--or malicious. Usually we worry along somehow, trying not to be too stupid. Eventually something kills us. It is possible to spend infinite resources in health care--the demand will grow to match the supply, but in the end everybody dies. Some projects make health better overall (sewage treatment), and others have opportunity costs that make things worse.

Deadly epidemics are another matter. Their scope is large enough that individual action is of little use, and the damage they can do is not very limited. If you hope to live, you need to coordinate with your neighbors and essential workers to simultaneously provide food/water/waste disposal while minimizing the chance of contagion. Without supplies and waste disposal you will die of hunger or some other disease, but each contact brings a probability, however small, of contagion and the plague. Unless the plague discriminates somehow, the risk falls on everyone.

You have to measure your enemy. How big is the risk, and how much isolation and effort must you use to deal with it?

For example, the current plague is relatively mild as these things go. It isn't as contagious as measles, or as deadly as ebola, or as apt to hide out as anthrax. That's not cheering to the crippled or dying, but it's true. FWIW, I'm getting into the higher risk category, and expect that I'll get it one of these years.

As an exercise, imagine a plague, spread by touch or fomites, with 30% mortality rate. Quarantines would be enforced at gunpoint, and transportation would shut down--including vital supplies. Some people would starve or die of unrelated diseases. You'd have to balance deaths by plague against deaths by starvation or lack of critical drugs. (And by quarantine I mean both town border enforcement and locking the sick in their home until the inhabitants either die or survive the illness.) In an ideal world, there would be people clearly responsible for these decisions, and they would be careful with people's lives, but willing to let some die that more would live.

You expect some random failures, and some mistakes, but you also hope that those who make too many are removed and replaced with more competent people. There needs to be a clear chain of responsiblity. Different states may wind up with different policies, especially if the plagues hits them differently.

Combatting the plague may require infringement of rights, including the right to travel--even for vital things. Someone has to be clearly responsible for that, and there needs to be a clear end to it as well.

There would be plenty of opportunity for abuse, score-settling, and profiteering--just as in a war.

Some of the parallels are pretty clear: collective effort, people sent to likely death, redirection of resources, tight controls on ordinary life, and a need for chains of responsibility/command.

Both bring a strong temptation to mission creep: using the military to police, or to do public works service; expanding the Department of Plague Defense to address lesser diseases as well. ("If we can stop smallpox, why can't we cure tooth decay? Let's ban sugar.") Do I have to explain why both are very bad?

And, as I wrote before, both are very likely to be caught with their pants down when a real plague or war breaks out.

There are anti-parallels. In times between epidemics, the Department of Plague Defense will want to justify its existence. Politicians would tend to favor this: increasing "free" medicine plays well in the ballot box. In times between wars, the military gets more interested in internal empire-building and politics than actual readiness. Politicians tend to be eager to cut military budgets in favor of their personal priorities.

People understand volunteering for war well enough--the dangers are clear, the enemy is clear (well, usually), and what to do is clear. Plague defense is more abstract, and much creepier. You feel more exposed and helpless with an invisible enemy.

In my schema for this kind of program, the CDC's mandate is far too broad--they'd be more analogous to police than army. I'd not want to give them the kind of emergency authority the DPD would need--especially when they show an interest in broadening the definition of epidemic to include crime. I think they need some housecleaning, not greater scope.

Still topical

"the passion for equality made vain the hope of freedom". Lord Acton, in The History of Freedom and other essays, wrt the French Revolution.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Lincoln projects

Althouse reviewed the Lincoln Project's attack ad on Trump's physique and sex. "We do it," Wilson continued, "because every second Trump is distracted by a Lincoln Project ad, ... — every moment he’s focused on us, he’s not campaigning against Joe Biden."

This seems to be in the same tradition as another Lincoln project, this one from 1864, sponsored by The World. They had political beefs with him, and also were peeved that he was interfering with a stock market manipulation scheme they were involved with.

Little has changed in politics.