Apr 152020
 


Henri Cartier-Bresson A visitor to the Forbidden City, Beijing 1948

 

Today, I’m going to try to show you how and why we know that in the case of a pandemic like the one we’re in, surrounded by doubts and uncertainties, there are still a series of measures that we can and, more importantly, must take. But also, how these measures are hardly ever taken, and if they are, not in the correct fashion. This has to date led us into a ton of preventable misery and death. If only we would listen. And there’s still more we can do to prevent more mayhem, there is at every step of the process.

It took me a while to get this together. But in the end I wound up with the only COVID19 analysis that makes sense. It doesn’t leave much room for discussion, at least not in the steps needed to be taken in order to tame the virus (I despise the war analogies everyone uses, taming sounds much better). How to fill in those steps once they have -kind of- been taken is another matter.

I’ve been reading up on this for a while, adding -much- more stuff as I went along (this will be a long essay), and at some point realized that the coronavirus is an issue you can’t leave to epidemiologists and virologists, because there are far too many unknowns for them to create a working model, and without such a model they are lost. These fine people are not good at 10-dimensional chess, even if they like you to think otherwise.

These people are useful for the knowledge they possess of past epidemics, not for predicting what will happen in the next one, certainly not if it’s caused by a virus which they -and we- simply don’t know enough about to build a reliable model. In that case, you need to step back and apply more basic principles. Lucky for us, those exist.

 

 

This leads us into a territory that is not familiar to epidemiologists and virologists. Since a virus, and a pandemic, like the one we’re in the middle of, is linked to so many different facets and factors, and so many uncertainties, it takes us into the territory of risk management, assessment, engineering, and from there eventually pretty seamlessly into complex systems.

If you can’t know what will happen next because you can’t oversee the multitude of variables involved, and there are no models that can do so either, the best -only- thing you can do is to halt the growing complexity as soon as you are able to, in order to create a situation, an environment, which the epidemiologists and virologists DO recognize, and can work with.

That is the point where they come in, not before. At present, they are asked to do things beyond their knowledge. And, typical human trait, they don’t tend to acknowledge that. Well, there’s a second reason: some actually think they do understand. The outcome is the same: we- and they- are led astray, away from science and into “scientism” (more on that in a moment).

Which would be fine if this concerned just a hobby, or even if it was only an academic paper left to discuss in classrooms and web forums. But we are talking about 10s of 1000s of deaths, 100s of 1000s of gravely ill people, and in the wake of that an economy as much in need of assisted breathing as the human patients involved.

Lucky for us, we have people who DO understand these things. Unlucky for us, our “leadership” doesn’t listen to them. They think that an epidemiologist or two, three, should be enough. But neither the “leaders” nor the epidemiologists understand the limits every single scientific field has. They don’t understand what happens when scientists venture out of their chosen field. And most of all, they don’t understand what complex systems are.

Please note that the above also means that any and all virus modeling going forward should be taken with an ocean full of salt. We get new examples every day of “qualities” of the virus that are not in any models. Where the virus originated, asymptomatic patients, re-infection, huge discrepancies in ‘modeled’ numbers predicted vs factual ones, Asians vs whites, blacks vs whites, men vs women, smokers vs non-smokers, chloroquine (non-)effectiveness, contagiousness, the list goes on for miles.

There is a way to leave those discussions, based on, we must admit, far too little verifiable information, leaving us groping in the pitchblack, behind for now.

 

Most people who read a site like the Automatic Earth, where finance is a main topic, will know who Nassim Nicholas Taleb is, for instance because he wrote The Black Swan before the 2008 financial crisis. Or because a hedge fund he advises recently announced a 6,000%+ gain in “virustime”. But Taleb is also, and more interesting for this essay, “distinguished professor of risk engineering at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering”.

For much of his coverage of COVID19, Taleb has been co-operating with Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the New England Complex System Institute, and Joseph Norman, a postdoctoral researcher at the same New England Complex System Institute. That means “real scientists”, just not from where you might expect. Which in turn means they can help the other guys get out of the ditch they’re in.

I’ll refer to “Taleb” here, nice and short, but that often means his co-operators too. Key terminology you’ll find, and need, is “asymmetry”, “precautionary principle” (“first do no harm”, which is close to the Hippocratic Oath’s “to abstain from doing harm”), and perhaps also “convexity” (a term from the finance world that depicts a relation between interest rates and bond duration).

First, here are a few bits from a piece the three wrote on January 26, to get you familiar with some of the ideas. These are ground rules for approaching a pandemic such as this one, but they are also ground rules for -any- other problems with too many unknown variables.

This is crucial because it denotes that if you have a disease that is both contagious and deadly, you don’t -have to- first wait and (build a model to) see how deadly and contagious it is, as an epidemiologist is wont to do, you can act right off the bat. Of course the scientists at the WHO and various government know this basic stuff, but they still haven’t acted accordingly. On January 26 and after, the ground rules were ignored.

So then you’re forced into the next basic steps. Still -mostly- not an epic disaster, but surely an unnecessary -and potentially deadly- risk. Taleb doesn’t take prisoners, and labels the WHO “criminally incompetent”. And I fully agree: they get paid billions a year to be the world’s ears and eyes in case a new disease pops up somewhere, and they have still let it happen. Here’s that first bit:

 

Systemic Risk Of Pandemic Via Novel Pathogens – Coronavirus: A note

General Precautionary Principle : The general (non-naive) precautionary principle [3] delineates conditions where actions must be taken to reduce risk of ruin, and traditional cost-benefit analyses must not be used. These are ruin problems where, over time, exposure to tail events leads to a certain eventual extinction. While there is a very high probability for humanity surviving a single such event, over time, there is eventually zero probability of surviving repeated exposures to such events. While repeated risks can be taken by individuals with a limited life expectancy, ruin exposures must never be taken at the systemic and collective level. In technical terms, the precautionary principle applies when traditional statistical averages are invalid because risks are not ergodic.

Spreading rate : Historically based estimates of spreading rates for pandemics in general, and for the current one in particular, underestimate the rate of spread because of the rapid increases in transportation connectivity over recent years. This means that expectations of the extent of harm are underestimates both because events are inherently fat tailed, and because the tail is becoming fatter as connectivity increases. Global connectivity is at an all-time high, with China one of the most globally connected societies. Fundamentally, viral contagion events depend on the interaction of agents in physical space, and with the forward-looking uncertainty that novel outbreaks necessarily carry, reducing connectivity temporarily to slow flows of potentially contagious individuals is the only approach that is robust against misestimations in the properties of a virus or other pathogen.

Asymmetric Uncertainty : Properties of the virus that are uncertain will have substantial impact on whether policies implemented are effective. For instance, whether contagious asymptomatic carriers exist. These uncertainties make it unclear whether measures such as temperature screening at major ports will have the desired impact. Practically all the uncertainty tends to make the problem potentially worse, not better, as these processes are convex to uncertainty.

Conclusion : Standard individual-scale policy approaches such as isolation, contact tracing and monitoring are rapidly (computationally) overwhelmed in the face of mass infection, and thus also cannot be relied upon to stop a pandemic. Multiscale population approaches including drastically pruning contact networks using collective boundaries and social behavior change, and community self-monitoring, are essential. Together, these observations lead to the necessity of a precautionary approach to current and potential pandemic outbreaks that must include constraining mobility patterns in the early stages of an outbreak, especially when little is known about the true parameters of the pathogen.

It will cost something to reduce mobility in the short term, but to fail do so will eventually cost everything—if not from this event, then one in the future. Outbreaks are inevitable, but an appropriately precautionary response can mitigate systemic risk to the globe at large. But policy- and decision-makers must act swiftly and avoid the fallacy that to have an appropriate respect for uncertainty in the face of possible irreversible catastrophe amounts to “paranoia,” or the converse a belief that nothing can be done.

 

As you can see, that already contains the next steps in case the initial response is warped (it has been). An expensive failure, but not necessarily an all too fatal one yet. Missing the next steps as well, though, turns this into a whole other story, and one that must be familiar to you, because you’re living it.

Yaneer Bar-Yam on March 23 gave it another try when he wrote in USA Today that “We Need An Immediate Five-Week National Lockdown To Defeat Coronavirus In America”. We know how that went (I don’t really have space to include that piece). According to this little graph I picked up last week, the US is barely 50% locked down. And that’s not going to cut it.

 

 

Two days after Yaneer Bar-Yam’s USA Today article, Taleb and Bar-Yam had a piece in the Guardian, which focused on the UK situation. And guess what? Nobody listened, again. You have to understand, these guys are perceived by the “science crowd” in “epidemic land”, who demand to be seen as the ultimate authorities on the topic, as big threats to their perceived power.

The last thing the “science crowd” want is for a bunch of complex systems guys, who they don’t understand anyway, to upstage them. And granted, the headline alone is ample threat to the UK government’s scientific advisers. But that attitude leads to more entirely preventable deaths; as I said above, the epidemiology etc. crowd simply lack the knowledge that the risk engineers do have, and which could help them prevent those deaths.

 

Something related, before I forget: I’ve been following Nassim Taleb’s opinions on genetically modified organisms (GMO) for a long time, because in that field, too, he applies the same ground rules that he does vis-a-vis the virus. First, precautionary principle (do no harm), and in the wake of that, asymmetry (asymmetric risk). In “Monsanto’s GMO field”, just like with deadly viruses, the risks when something goes wrong are devastating. If you get that wrong, you’re literally talking potential extinction.

And that makes any “normal” cost/benefit analysis obsolete. If you get the preliminary risk assessment wrong, the consequences are so far-reaching that your only realistic option is extreme carefulness (precautionary principle). Ergo: you don’t allow GMO crops until you’re 100% sure they have zero negative impacts on human health. What Monsanto does is use “scientists” who declare that no negative effect has been found so far, so it must be okay.

Taleb asserts that that is not science, but “scientism”. It is obvious that the negative effects can take decades to show, but if they do, things have probably become irreversible (all corn contains GMO traces). In other words, the burden of proof MUST lie with Monsanto; you can’t demand that everybody else proves their GMO crops are harmful. On the one hand, Monsanto gets to make a profit, while on the other billions of human lives can get lost. That’s the asymmetry Taleb is talking about.

Labeling any such deliberation, any such cost-benefit analysis, scientific, is an affront to any- and everybody’s intelligence. There are things that you cannot afford to take risks with. Mankind, the animal kingdom, the planet, are some of these things. You can’t argue that a lockdown might cost jobs if and when a non-lockdown will cost lives; you can’t argue for measures that kill people.

The only thing we can really do is to apply those measures that best mitigate job losses, not the ones that keep jobs but mitigate loss of life. It’s not even an actual choice; it’s a false dichotomy, because the risk of consciously allowing people to continue to infect others who may then die, which you could have prevented from happening, is so much greater than the loss of a job. The risk is asymmetric. A job is not a life.

It’s nuts to argue that we should allow someone to die because his/her neighbor might lose their job or because his/her neighbor beats his wife. In case someone loses their job, a government can issue a bailout or even a UBI. That they don’t do that and/or not properly, is another matter. But not one that justifies murder.

And you can’t take the conscious risk of letting people die because someone married an abusive person either. Yaneer Bar-Yam wrote some good stuff on community efforts with regards to COVID19, to be found at the New England Complex System Institute site, which might help in that regard. But you can’t aim for letting a deadly virus spread in order to prevent joblessness, loneliness or poor -life- choices.

 

Back to Taleb and Bar-Yam’s March 25 piece in the Guardian. I have a hard time selecting only some of it, a general problem with well-written essays.

 

The UK’s Coronavirus Policy May Sound Scientific. It Isn’t

When, along with applied systems scientist Dr Joe Norman, we first reacted to coronavirus on 25 January with the publication of an academic note urging caution, the virus had reportedly infected fewer than 2,000 people worldwide and fewer than 60 people were dead. That number need not have been so high [..] Our research did not use any complicated model with a vast number of variables, no more than someone watching an avalanche heading in their direction calls for complicated statistical models to see if they need to get out of the way.

We called for a simple exercise of the precautionary principle in a domain where it mattered: interconnected complex systems have some attributes that allow some things to cascade out of control, delivering extreme outcomes. Enact robust measures that would have been, at the time, of small cost: constrain mobility. Immediately. Later, we invoked a rapid investment in preparedness: tests, hospital capacity, means to treat patients. Just in case, you know. Things can happen. The error in the UK is on two levels. Modelling and policymaking.

First, at the modelling level, the government relied at all stages on epidemiological models that were designed to show us roughly what happens when a preselected set of actions are made, and not what we should make happen, and how. The modellers use hypotheses/assumptions, which they then feed into models, and use to draw conclusions and make policy recommendations.

Critically, they do not produce an error rate. What if these assumptions are wrong? Have they been tested? The answer is often no. [..] Risk management – like wisdom – requires robustness in models. But if we base our pandemic response plans on flawed academic models, people die. And they will.

This was the case with the disastrous “herd immunity” thesis. The idea behind herd immunity was that the outbreak would stop if enough people got sick and gained immunity. Once a critical mass of young people gained immunity, so the epidemiological modellers told us, vulnerable populations (old and sick people) would be protected. Of course, this idea was nothing more than a dressed-up version of the “just do nothing” approach.

Individuals and scientists around the world immediately pointed out the obvious flaws: there’s no way to ensure only young people get infected; you need 60-70% of the population to be infected and recover to have a shot at herd immunity, and there aren’t that many young and healthy people in the UK, or anywhere. Moreover, many young people have severe cases of the disease, overloading healthcare systems, and a not-so-small number of them die. It is not a free ride.

This doesn’t even include the possibility, already suspected in some cases, of recurrence of the disease. Immunity may not even be reliable for this virus. Worse, it did not take into account that the duration of hospitalisation can be lengthier than they think, or that one can incur a shortage of hospital beds.

[..] No 10 appears to be enamoured with “scientism” – things that have the cosmetic attributes of science but without its rigour. [..] Social science is in a “replication crisis”, where less than half the results replicate (under exact same conditions), less than a tenth can be taken seriously, and less than a hundredth translate into the real world. So what is called “evidence-based” methods have a dire track record and are pretty much evidence-free.

[..] when one deals with deep uncertainty, both governance and precaution require us to hedge for the worst. While risk-taking is a business that is left to individuals, collective safety and systemic risk are the business of the state. Failing that mandate of prudence by gambling with the lives of citizens is a professional wrongdoing that extends beyond academic mistake; it is a violation of the ethics of governing. The obvious policy left now is a lockdown, with overactive testing and contact tracing: follow the evidence from China and South Korea rather than thousands of error-prone computer codes.

 

If that’s not sufficient, here’s Taleb in a March 31 Bloomberg interview. Please watch:

 

 

And just in case it’s still not clear, I have collected a series of Taleb tweets that should make his position that much clearer. That is, after we failed to halt the virus while we could, thanks to China, the WHO and your own government, in that order, mass mask wearing is inevitable -because not doing so involves an asymmetric risk: even the worst mask reduces infection rates by 30%, and if both people involved in an interaction wear one, that may be 90%.

In that same vein, you need mass testing. And reliable testing, which is still not a given. These are things that people like to question, but those people are in the wrong time capsule. The proper time for that was December in China, and perhaps January in Europe and the US. Not now. Now you can only save what you can save, and that inevitably means taking measures that appear drastic. But which will look walk-in-the-park-ish compared to what follows if you don’t take them.

Tweets first; please do read them all. Note: Fat Tony is Taleb’s best friend and alter ego, and there’s controversy about whether he actually exists. For what it’s worth, I agree with Fat Tony that we don’t need a conspiray theory to explain COVID19, we have a virus that is deadly and highly contagious, and 1000s of scientists and politicians who have no idea what they do.

Those are all the basic ingredients you need for absolute mayhem. Not that all theories, whether it’s glyphosate or 5G, China lab or US lab, intential release or not, are necessarily wrong or baseless, but because in the face of a virus that doesn’t need any of these things to replicate the way COVID19 has, you need to come up with very solid proof. And I have seen none, just plenty theories.

 

 

 

 

I don’t know about you, but where I am right now, Holland, there are no masks available on a grand scale. There is so little testing going on in large parts of the West that even medical personnel often go without testing. I would love to be tested, if only so I know I either can or can’t infect people, but who am I to take away a test from a nurse, even if I could?

And this happens 3+ months after all our governments should have made testing and masks for everyone their no. 1 priority. And that was onnly after they failed to crush the curve when they could have.

Donald Trump was talking over the weekend about the “biggest decision of his life”, referring to the moment the US economy could be re-opened. Trump, as well as all the other “leaders”, even if their science advisers don’t like it one bit, or maybe because of it, should contact Nassim Taleb and the risks scientists he works with, within the next 5 minutes.

What is happening right now is not because all the epidemiologists and virologists around the world are wrong, but because they’re asked to make decisons and construct models about something they don’t know nearly enough about.

Call Taleb, Donald, Emmanuel, Shinzo, Angela et al. If you care enough about the lives of your people. I see a lot of rational-looking measures today, in all the lockdown variations, but I also see many countries and states clamoring for peaks to be called, and subsequent calls galore for less stringent lockdown measures. Decisions prone to be taken by politicians and epidemiologists who are -way- out of their league.

Please be careful. Call Taleb. You have nothing -more- to lose.

 

 

 

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Home Forums The Only Man Who Has A Clue

This topic contains 47 replies, has 20 voices, and was last updated by  TonyPrep 6 months, 1 week ago.

Viewing 40 posts - 1 through 40 (of 50 total)
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  • #57225

    Henri Cartier-Bresson A visitor to the Forbidden City, Beijing 1948   Today, I’m going to try to show you how and why we know that in the case of
    [See the full post at: The Only Man Who Has A Clue]

    #57230

    PlanetaryCitizen
    Participant

    Bravo, i could not agree more! On every point!

    #57231

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    In the very early 80s, Frank Herbert, author of Dune*, a work of fiction that was kind of an ecological manifesto for the rising Boomer sci-fi crowd, did an interview with Mother Earth magazine. (I wonder it it still exists.)

    Regarding the ecology, a very very complex system, and humanity’s influence upon same, he said (paraphrase alert): ‘You can hardly see the road ahead because you’re creating so much unknown, largely invisible, asymmetric consequences by driving this enormous car with a two-mile long front end. If you’re going to attempt to reengineer the planet, this thing homo sapiens calls Progress toward a Better Life with humanity in the driver seat, you have to drive real real real slow-w-w-w-w. cuz you can hardly see the road and it takes forever to turn the thing around.’

    *the movie Lynch/studios delivered was a disaster. Unless you’d read the book beforehand, you couldn’t even follow the basic plot. I think there’s a metaphor in this ability of a genius auteur (Lynch) and the enormous backing of a studio working and spending in great amount just to produce an overwrought flop.

    #57232

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    Those with the inclination might be shrewd to begin crafting stylish, weather-compatible ‘street burkhas’. A mutant virus spreading in maximum Jet Set global culture is only one of countless ways that we as a society will find ourselves much more concerned about avoiding contagion than in the past.

    There’s drinking water: Flint, MI., comes to mind. Our water supply will become increasing septic as well as chemically toxic, which toxins tend to weaken immune systems and general resilience toward infection.

    Pathogenic resistance to antibiotics: self-explanatory

    Food shortages due to global climate disruption, topsoil erosion/loss of soil fertility, overuse of chemical farming, GMO ‘mutant mission creep’, increasing immunity of pestilential horde insects to insecticides accompanied by a major decline, ironically, in other insect populations, many of which used to reduce things like locust populations, likewise a reduction in general in wildlife, most of which eat things like locusts, lowering water tables, rising cost of natural gas which is crucial to our fertilizer supply…

    Political collapse messing with all of the above while inducing elevated chronic stress, boredom, depression, and hostility.

    etc…

    All of these will make us more susceptible to pathogens while increasing the population and diversity of pathogens.

    Winter wear

    Summer wear

    #57233

    kimyo99
    Participant

    dismissing the possibility of intentional release is like denying that the twin towers and building 7 were wired for demolition.

    the key element is that wave 2 will be under someone’s control. there may be evidence which will confirm this (unusual death distribution in local areas as compared to influenza, for instance). this evidence is less likely to surface if we adopt your position.

    #57234

    dermotmoconnor
    Participant
    #57235

    WES
    Participant

    Raul:

    Everybody wearing masks (and gloves too) is too simple a solution for our leaders to grasp or get

    It is sort of funny that engineers (those trained to apply science) seem to have a better grasp of risks than most scientists.

    As an engineer I get convexity. Maybe that is because by training we often wonder what could possibly go wrong (Murphy’s Law) with our assumptions in the real world!

    In the people mobility graph (graft?) above, Canada doesn’t exactly win honors for staying put! Sure Canada is a big space so social distancing should be easy, but the trouble is we are all crowded into a few big cities!

    In Toronto, I would say about 2/3rds are wearing masks (plus many wearing gloves) now up sharply from a several weeks ago.

    Social distancing outdoors seems to be understood by all. Indoors not so much!

    Whenever I do break my quarantine, rarely, people give you a wide burth, evoking internal feelings that maybe they don’t like you, or maybe you just lit a big barn smell!

    #57236

    WES
    Participant

    Bosco:

    Obviously the movie studio didn’t understand “convexity”!

    After it flopped, their balance sheet sure did!

    #57237

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    Regarding spouse/child abuse increasing because folks are stuck together more often: when things change, things change.

    Some spouses will find the desperation to harness up their courage and take a baseball bat to hubs while he’s asleep.

    Some abused children will make that break for it and tell someone what’s really happening. Abusive parent might even find their momenbt with a baseball bat on their collarbone.

    The elderly mostly need folks to look in on them. They did, in fact, before the virus wave. They’re old and sick and feeble and isolated too often. Right now, people are actually asking about their neighbors’ well-being sincerely, not in trivial social rituals (‘virtue-signaling’).

    What the net benefit/damage to at-home abused will bes, who can tell? When things change, things change. Convexity, if you prefer.

    “dismissing the possibility of intentional release is like denying that the twin towers and building 7 were wired for demolition. the key element is that wave 2 will be under someone’s control. there may be evidence which will confirm this (unusual death distribution in local areas as compared to influenza, for instance). this evidence is less likely to surface if we adopt your position.”

    And what will we the people do with this information? Lead a mass revolution against our global overlords? While we’re scrambling to survive?

    Currently, the problem is reducing contagion, not arguing Rubix-cube conspiracy complexities, which is what ALWAYS happens with topics like that. The inevitable search for the Smoking Gun will waste valuable resources that could be put to good use.

    Knowing whom to blame (if, indeed, there is such a conspiracy, which is merely speculation with insufficient data to make firm conclusions) doesn’t provide solutiuons to the problems allegedly caused by said conjectural conspiracy, which problems are currently very real and just getting started.

    There will be plenty of revolution as it is. Heads will roll*. The NWO is in full collapse right now. If they intentionally started this pandemic, that buttresses the notion that the CIC is too dumb to run a global empire if Gawdamighty Her Own Self handed it to them. This virus is killing them, jubilee or not. They won’t be able to hold on to their property*, which is mostly vaporware based on funny money they only get to call real so long as people can get enough of that money for themselves, which in turn requires the money have adequate value to buy necessary things.

    Any financial reset/jubilee will invoke price discovery. The price of necessary things will then increase drastically once the perodollar swindle is terminated, and the purchasing power of the USA dollar is no longer supported by global oil demand. If the elites released this virus, they’re even stupider than I and other believe they are. I’m not sure it’s possible to be more stupid than I deem them. But maybe.

    *”It shall be a jubilee to you; and each of you shall return to his own property, and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you. In it you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself, nor gather from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat of its increase out of the field. In this Year of Jubilee each of you shall return to his property.” Leviticus 25:8–13

    The Spanish Flu gave Woodrow Wilson great cover for his draconian Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918. This hardly means that he and his cronies caused the Spanish flu. Hell, they didn’t even get to capitalize on it. The Sediton Act was removed in 1920.

    Not that the above proves anything. But just because, here’s Bill Gates in a superhero suit:

    Vector Man

    You can’t see his face but it’s him. See how he battles evil in goofy monster suits amid phony staged wreckage? THat’s Billy fer sure.

    And:

    Rolling Heads

    #57238

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    “I think it’s vital that men and women learn to mistrust all forms of powerful, centralized authority. Big government tends to create an enormous delay between the signals that come from the people and the response of the leaders. Put it this way: Suppose there were a delay time of five minutes between the moment you turned the steering wheel on your car and the time the front tires reacted. What would happen in such a case?

    “PLOWBOY: I guess I’d have to drive pretty slowly.

    “HERBERT: V-e-rrrrrrr-y slowly. Governments have the same slow-response effect. And the bigger the government, the more slowly it reacts. So to me, the best government is one that’s very responsive to the needs of its people. That is, the least, loosest, and most local government.”

    Coming soon to a dismantled governmental structure near you.

    #57239

    kimyo99
    Participant

    And what will we the people do with this information?

    we can adjust our actions and protect ourselves to the extent possible. most of us would prepare/behave differently if we knew that an active bio-war was being waged against us.

    #57240

    V. Arnold
    Participant

    Bravo Ilargi!
    Wonderfully written; nailed every relevant point.
    Probably the best essay on the CV-19 in print today.
    Taleb is a treasure.
    TAE rules…

    #57241

    upstateNYer
    Participant

    V. Arnold: “Bravo Ilargi!” Totally agree. I’m trying to figure out if my budget can handle another donation just now. Raul’s been doing a boat load of work over the past few months. Wish I were wealthy and could donate more often … oh, forget it. I’m going to donate again. Maybe if I run out of grocery money Raul can spot me $20.

    And Bosco, damn, you nailed it again: “Currently, the problem is reducing contagion, not arguing Rubix-cube conspiracy complexities, which is what ALWAYS happens with topics like that. The inevitable search for the Smoking Gun will waste valuable resources that could be put to good use.”

    I know a woman who spends every spare moment trying to figure out conspiracies (Kennedy, 911, Jekyll Island, you name it). I always ask, what difference does it make? Talk about wasted energy! And, btw, I agree that if releasing this virus was some great conspiracy to accomplish (I have no idea what), those in power are way more flocking stupid than even I thought they were.

    #57242

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    Oh, yeah: what V. Arnold said. Attempting to write plain English after diving the deep waters of Taleb-speak, is a demanding job. Well done, senor!

    Yeah, I think Raul earned some generosity. I might even do it online this time. I hear it’s the 21st century.

    #57243

    LudwigVon
    Participant

    Dit is je “magnum Opus” Raoul, ik vind nooit dat juiste accentje, je zal het me moeten vergeven. En ik word donneur, zij het zeer bescheiden. L.B. op FB.

    #57244

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    “we can adjust our actions and protect ourselves to the extent possible. most of us would prepare/behave differently if we knew that an active bio-war was being waged against us.”

    How so? A virus is a virus is a virus. ONce released, the struggle is against contagion.

    I have no prob with people believing this is biowar. I think it’s 50-50 myself that it’s at least the product of bioweaponry gone awry somehow.

    But how, exactly, should we design anti-contagion protocols knowing they were released by Mini-Me rather than by accident or ‘merely’ the result of too many vectors swapping viruses between hominids and non-hominids? Are we supposed to overthrow the government first and then deal with the pandemic?

    But all that aside: how are you going to sell the global populace, or even just us USA Americans, on this truth, if true it is? Are we going to commandeer the internet and broadcast Dah Troof to the entire populace?

    You already believe it’s a master plan by the CIC, right? Does that change what the virus does? Does believing the virus is an intentional act by heavy players allow you to understand epidemiology and complex large systems better? Can you chart a better probability model knowing that Evil Men are behind it?

    That sounds like action/disaster-movie plot outlining, not serious live/survival strategy.

    #57245

    upstateNYer
    Participant

    I don’t know, Bosco, they’re saying we’re, like, almost 20 years into the 21st century? What the hell? When did that happen? I’m still living the way I was raised … by my grandmother who was born in 1892. (Not kidding). Interesting perspective …

    #57246

    V. Arnold
    Participant

    LudwigVon
    Dit is je “magnum Opus”…

    Magnum opus; fits to a tee…

    #57247

    Huskynut
    Participant

    Agree that masks seem to be a low-cost and sensible measure and it’s surprising that governments haven’t widely distributed them along with other basic PPE to their whole populations.

    Expanding the discussion, this article posted on the NZ situation today:

    Coronavirus economics and policy: from the mailbox
    It is important and nuanced, on two important fronts:
    1. The NZ government Covid modelling and response has cherry-picked catastrophic scenario data. The health “professionals” modelled several scenarios. The lower death scenarios (which turn out to be more in line with what we’ve actually observed *were simply excluded from theirreport*. Get that – they modelled them but didn’t like the results they produced, so simply didn’t report the scenarios. That’s a damn scandal right there.
    2. There is a good argument presented that reductions in GDP/wealth are statistically correlated with average life expectancy. Proposed Covid interventions can also be modelled in terms of impact to average life expectancy. Using average life expectancy as a common denominator eliminates much emotion (ie the morality of “allowing” deaths to occur and provides a more rational way to compare the impact of various actions. As a comparator it also weights more heavily towards the younger population who will bear a greater (ie longer) impact over the course of their lives from both the current crisis and however we respond than will older people.

    Please do take some time to wade through the detail – it is vastly more nuanced and rational than most of the Covid discussion.

    #57248

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    Test case: the whole world knows that the likes of Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton were all over Jeffrey Epstein’s girly gulag. There really isn’t a denialist defense movement for Jeffrey, and the implications are obvious.

    Yet the politics of the natiojn remain inane. Trump vs. Biden? NYC residents haven’t stormed the mayor’s bastille for letting Jeffrey disappear on his watch?

    I just don’t see the practical potential for knowing who to blame during a time when What To Do is of paramount importance.

    #57249

    kimyo99
    Participant

    How so? A virus is a virus is a virus. <b>ONce released,</b> the struggle is against contagion.

    you are assuming that no more releases will take place. i am arguing that the very different outcomes (for instance, us v south korea or italy v germany) are the result of localized releases of a second, far more deadly agent.

    future such localized releases would be very useful in keeping people in line and following orders.

    #57250

    upstateNYer
    Participant

    Huskynut: “There is a good argument presented that reductions in GDP/wealth are statistically correlated with average life expectancy.”

    Yup, poor people have lower life expectancy. Been proven statistically for many decades. Of course they die earlier. Poorer quality food, stress, depression, exposure to more pollutants and chemicals, etc., lead to chronic health issues. Poor people die younger. Most of the time no one cares because the people running the models aren’t poor.

    “Proposed Covid interventions can also be modelled in terms of impact to average life expectancy.”

    Yup, we can “model” this, too. If we reduce GDP, the life expectancy of people declines by x%. If we let Covid-19 run through the population then life expectancy reduces by y%. Look! Overall life expectancy reduces by LESS if we just let Covid-19 run through the population than it does if we reduce GDP!!

    “As a comparator it also weights more heavily towards the younger population who will bear a greater (ie longer) impact over the course of their lives from both the current crisis and however we respond than will older people.”

    Bye, bye Grandma and Grandpa. So sorry about your luck. We decided the model looked better for younger people if we didn’t reduce GDP so we let Covid-19 run loose.

    There were actually times throughout history when we considered the wisdom and contribution of elders to be worth something. Now we mainly warehouse them in nursing homes and wait for them to die. Sometimes we visit our elder relatives once a month to make ourselves feel better. Nice of us, isn’t it?

    Idk, maybe Covid-19 is a wake up call to begin appreciating something we’ve tossed to the side without a second thought. Anyone considered that?

    Btw, a red flag in your “mailbox” item: “a careful discussion about trade-offs.”

    Trade offs?? There’s little I can say to that aside from, how did humanity get so far off track? I imagine it started with discounting the value of plant, insect, and animal life, then discounting the value of people who live in dire situations throughout the world, then discounting the value of our own citizens … and now discounting the value of our own FAMILY?

    Reminds me of that poem that goes: “First they came for the Jews. And I did not speak out. because I was not a Jew.”

    #57251

    kimyo99
    Participant

    If they intentionally started this pandemic, that buttresses the notion that the CIC is too dumb to run a global empire

    “Permit me to issue and control the money of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws!”

    in two months they’ve collapsed the global economy, given themselves 4 or more trillion dollars, and placed hundreds of millions under martial law. a perfect setup for the introduction of a global digital currency. perhaps they’re not quite as inept as you think.

    #57252

    upstateNYer
    Participant

    kimyo99: if you think they can successfully introduce a “global digital currency” in the US, you haven’t spent enough time here in the non-coastal enclave areas. Not. Going. To. Happen.

    #57253

    Huskynut
    Participant

    Upstater
    “Bye, bye Grandma and Grandpa. So sorry about your luck. We decided the model looked better for younger people if we didn’t reduce GDP so we let Covid-19 run loose.”

    That, right there is a beautiful example of hijacking a rational discussion with a purely emotional dog-whistle, and sadly that’s exactly the widespread quality of debate.

    Yes, there’s some ugly trolls out there saying exactly that. There’s also some us trying to establish a middle ground so we can have some kind of meaningful discussion on the merits of various options, and it’s generally highjacked by precisely your style of comment.

    Medicine has *always* had to deal with the ethics of having inadequate resources to doing everything for everyone at all times. Its the basis of triage in it’s most simplistic form for instance. So please don’t shit on an attempt to build a bridge and establish some basis for a rational discussion with contemptuous generalisations like that.

    #57254

    VietnamVet
    Participant

    This post makes wearing a mask and gloves in public plain simple common sense if you want to stay alive. That it isn’t, begs the question why not. Also, why hasn’t a crash program undertaken to do the following; 1) identify patients infected with the Wuhan Coronavirus, 2) provide effective adequate PPE to first responders and healthcare workers, 3) divert personnel and resources to keep the healthcare system functioning and 4) isolate the infected. This isn’t rocket science. How to control the spread of infectious diseases has been known for over a century.

    What changed this century was public health was privatized and downsized in the West as part and parcel of cutting taxes on the rich and globalizing the economy. The very political leaders who the global system benefited now have to change their perspective. Joe Biden and Donald Trump can’t. Neither will rebuild and staff the public health system to track, isolate and treat all Americans. They will keep the current system and let the 90% fend for themselves and let thousands of Americans die for no good reason and leave the survivors deeper in debt.

    Last week Dr. Anthony Fauci projected 60,000 death from coronavirus. This is more than the number of U.S. combat deaths in the Vietnam War. What comes out on the other side will be a different nation. No longer an empire, either the USA be a renewed democracy or a dying autocracy.

    #57255

    kimyo99
    Participant

    upstateNYer: a collapse in the value of the dollar, combined with a ban on physical currency will be a severe test of the resolve of the non-coastal enclave residents.

    i 100% hope that you’re correct in your assessment. i suggest that some of these people already have dealt with the fact that norad stood down on 9/11 and its implications. perhaps their resolve will strengthen when they become aware of the cdc’s similar stand down this year. and strengthen further when they realize that ww3 is not between the u.s. and the axis of evil but instead pits the globalists against everyone else.

    #57256

    Huskynut
    Participant

    OTOH – it has helped me put my finger on something that’s been bugging me, and that I articulated poorly the other day.
    I’ve been following TAE virtually every day for years now (and on that note – sorry Ilargi.. I really should stump up for a donation towards the running of the site). One of it’s primary attractions has been the quality of the economics – information, models and discussion of the various merits, costs, externalities etc. Which sounds horribly dry, but what I care about is the impacts on real people. All the articles and discussion around the Greek economic crisis for example drove home the impacts on ordinary Greek citizens of the perverse behaviours of the European elites.
    But in the recent focus and discussions around Covid, I don’t experience this quality at all. Sure, its a frightening topic. Such data as does exist is limited, fragmented and often contradictory. People’s opinions are often driven by strong emotions built off exposure to limited and/or polarising information.
    And to be fair, it’s not just here. It’s the same at Unz, and the Saker, and.. well everywhere else – deeply polarised and entrenched sides either lobbing projectiles at the other side or patting their own side on the back.
    Maybe my expectations are all wrong, but from a position of government-mandated isolation (for everyone’s good I understand, before someone takes a crack at me..), submersed in incessant patronising MSM bullshit saturation, and with deep uncertainty around the future, I’d really like to find some online community capable of withholding judgement for long enough to discuss the relative merits of various actions, as it’s utterly clear to me this is not occurring almost anywhere I can see.
    Genuine question – am I the only one sensing or reacting like this?

    #57258

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    “you are assuming that no more releases will take place. i am arguing that the very different outcomes (for instance, us v south korea or italy v germany) are the result of localized releases of a second, far more deadly agent. future such localized releases would be very useful in keeping people in line and following orders.”

    I am making no such assumptions. Assuming what my assunmptions are seems rather assumptive.

    I see no evidence in modern history that says this info will be useful. To change the scenario, one would have to stop the next wave from happening. Some kind of Mission: Impossible or mega Daddy Warbucks Saves the Day (shades of Bill Gates!), both of which concepts have sold many Hollywood movies but achieved no successful conflict resolution that I know of except minor incidents between highly trained armies of competing nations. USSR espionage ops vs USA espionage ops, that sort of thing. Whatever public awareness campaign one could do with the truth would face enormous obstacles in the public mind, since the same creeps who would release said virus would also be controlling the media, and that media has proven very adept at controlling the message even with the truth running around nekkid on both mainstream news and the more underground internet. Again: Jeffrey Epstein. (If I wrote the screenplay, the reason the virus was released when it was would be because the Epstein story was about to slip out of control. Gritty realism, just like in a goof Tarentino flick.)

    You’ve spoken entirely in hypotheticals. You have yet to suggest a single practical means to use that info to significantly arouse the population to greater action.

    I am NOT saying it can’t be done; I’m saying that the path from here to that achievement is a vast fogbank. Yes, it IS possible, but then, it’s possible that man will live on the moon. How has never been answered except as nice plots for sci-fi books of so-called “hard” science fiction (“hard” scientism, is all they really are). How it can be turned from possible to happening is a one-in-a-million Die Hard Returns Lethal Weapon in Mortal Combat the Awakening prospect.

    So arguing that people like Raul should spend more time chasing elusive fey Smoking Gun data that no one knows what to do with other than enjoy the sense of vindictive certainty that blame allows, seems the oppposite of preparing for difficult times. It feels like an expenditure of discursive energy someone seeking to find their way through this mess can ill afford.

    You know, I don’t just chatter here because I love the look of my text (if not the sound of my voice). I am way more egotistical than that. I also chatter here because I suffer the delusion that I serve a useful role in keeping the discussions here at least halfway on productive track toward some kind of greater communal understanding that can benefit us.

    Even that much foolish vanity isn’t enough to will me to continue discussing this concept.

    I wanna be happy.

    It’s Great to be Here, It’s Great to be Anywhere

    But despite my best attempts:

    Every Day is a Winding Road

    #57259

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    “I’d really like to find some online community capable of withholding judgement for long enough to discuss the relative merits of various actions, as it’s utterly clear to me this is not occurring almost anywhere I can see.
    Genuine question – am I the only one sensing or reacting like this?”

    Speak to us. Tell us your mind. Articulate your thoughts. Don’t ask us to wade thropugh a detailed technical article. Explain it to us in summarized terms. JUdgment is withheld here by the more inquisitive. For example, Raul. He makes his case.

    Make yours, please. Don’t berate Raul or us FOR NOT MAKING IT FOR YOU.

    It makes heads asploe.

    Beat Me Daddy, 8 to the Bar

    #57260

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    Here’s one for all of our sense of dire foreboding and lonely prophecy. It’s glorious to be confused about really serious shit! What else is life!

    Wonderland!

    #57261

    kimyo99
    Participant

    >>How so? A virus is a virus is a virus. <b>ONce released,</b> the struggle is against contagion.
    >>I am making no such assumptions. Assuming what my assunmptions are seems rather assumptive.

    the assumption is clearly implicit in your original statement.

    >>So arguing that people like Raul should spend more time chasing elusive
    raul’s time is his to do with as he likes. i never suggested that he ‘chase’ anything.

    #57262

    Doc Robinson
    Participant

    What the models tell us, in New Zealand and elsewhere, seem pretty irrelevant to Ilargi’s argument (backed up by Nassim Taleb):

    “…at some point [I] realized that the coronavirus is an issue you can’t leave to epidemiologists and virologists, because there are far too many unknowns for them to create a working model, and without such a model they are lost… These people are useful for the knowledge they possess of past epidemics, not for predicting what will happen in the next one, certainly not if it’s caused by a virus which they -and we- simply don’t know enough about to build a reliable model. In that case, you need to step back and apply more basic principles. Lucky for us, those exist.”

    #57263

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    Neil is a talented fellow, and has written some choice work, but he’s always cashing in on some worthy cause without adding any useful data. Lord have mercy:

    SHut It Down or something

    #57264

    boscohorowitz
    Participant

    Never mind, kim. I’ve torn apart enough logical fallacies, misreadings, and obstuseness for one day. Maybe all week. At least from one person.

    ***

    Instead, I’ll post this, written quite a few years ago when I first started thinking I could maybe write a decent novel. Reviewing the first 15k pages today, I noticed how much this passage reminds me of places like here:

    Ken arrived in Carlton’s life four months ago by way of an online political forum called Dao of the Average Jones, the kind of place where evil banking cabals and shadow governments are discussed with abundant credulity and wayward citations. A manifestation of the internet as the ultimate Gathering of the Nerds. Search engines have been helping odd ducks meet odd ducks since 1969, when a military industrial egghead first emailed another military-industrial egghead over the Arpanet.

    Ken was mostly a lurker at the time, too awed by the spectrum of human weirdness revealed by peer-to-peer global networks to say anything, maintaining almost a wildlife photographer’s habitual hush, lest the dancing cranes or mating armadilloes be disturbed out of lens range. Not to mention the ability to google ‘mating armadilloes’ and probably find at least one image of just that.

    Add the weirdness of watching new kinds of sex, sex never even imagined before, via online pornography. Cosplay porn, furry porn, BORG porn, anime porn (not to be confused with mere cartoon sex), NeoNazis Love Grannies, and enough bestiality to make a zoo administrator want to put electric fences on the people side of the cages. Even weirder was the documentary on Modern Bestiality, including interviews with the nicest looking, sweetest sounding people you could ask for, appearing no more nor less weird or attractive than straightahead normal people-fuckers, explaining their relationships with Lassie or Mr. Ed without seeming the slightest bit creepy, which was even creepier.

    Dao of the Average Jones had been set up in 1998 by a Wall Street Buddhist who’d fled, running and screaming, from the industry in 1994 when Clinton dismantled Glass-Steagall. He’d survived the 1987 S&L stock market crash and knew what was coming. He’d intended it to be a voice for reform but was soon drowned out by doom’n’gloomers that he couldn’t justify banning because they usually had their facts half-straight even if many of them also suffered paranoid delusions. By 2002 he hardly ever visited anymore but kept it running because he was a nice guy.

    Not that Ken arrived at the Dao to discuss politics. Out of the kind of whimsy only a search engine connected to a WorldWideWeb can inspire, he’d spun the wheel on ‘Thelonius Monk Plays Erik Satie’. He knew of no such record, but you never know. Google’s first search listing was a set of rambling sentence fragments bracketed by something Ken assumed was HTML code. He clicked and found himself on a three-month old discussion thread on the Dao.

    Someone handled Tone Arm had written: “Monk adored his work. Satie was a huge influence on him. Monk would never play it in public because he felt his heavy-handed pianism was inadequate. But I never thought so.”

    In only a few weeks the two became one of the Dao’s most infamous tag-teams. The two had great fun tossing verbal rotten eggs. Not quite trolling but more than willing to make fools suffer.

    Soon they spent most of their time aboard the Dao hijacking thread topics toward jazz and Silent Era comedy.

    By summer 2003 they’d abandoned Dao Jones but maintained frequent correspondence. By fall, Ken learned that Carlton was growing too frail to take care of himself. He invited him to come stay with him and his wife, Ada.

    It didn’t take much to convince Carlton. Carlton soon pared his weak protestations down to one genuine problem:

    “You’re my best friend, Ken. I’m 83?84? All my friends are dead, demented, or just plain doddering like me. We don’t have the energy to take a cab to the other’s house, and it’s, it’s too depressing to see each other. Old sacks of shit. We drain too much from each other even if we understand each other like fingers in a glove and share memories well up on the endangered species list. You’re the only fun I have anymore. I’m afraid that much contact with me will drive you away.”

    Ken was smart enough not to refute this.

    “You’re saying you’re kind of an asshole sometimes?”

    “Yes.”

    “Me too. We should get along just swell.”

    “Just swell,” Carlton says, savoring the sound of an expression from his youth.
    <end>

    Sleep tight, y’all.

    #57265

    Doc Robinson
    Participant

    Meanwhile,

    Hot spots erupt in farm belt states where governors insist lockdowns aren’t needed

    The only hospital in Grand Island, Neb., is full. The mayor has asked for a statewide stay-at-home order that the GOP governor insists isn’t needed. More than one-third of those tested for coronavirus in the surrounding county are positive — and there aren’t enough tests to go around.

    Grand Island is the fourth-biggest city in a state President Donald Trump and his top health officials repeatedly name check for keeping the virus at bay without the strict lockdowns 42 other states have imposed.

    https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/15/coronavirus-hot-spots-farm-belt-189272

    #57266

    Glennda
    Participant

    Thanks for this essay. It is not paranoid when you have an enemy. And the bottom line is that the C19 is the Enemy. Not each other, not assigning shame and blame. We are all very highly charged in this time of Danger. Freeze, Flight, Fight. None of those gut reactions really do the trick.
    The big question is – What To Do? Wear masks (and gloves) when in public, stay at home as much as possible, work on a garden (?), work around the huge Limits we have on us. These limits can give structure to preparing for and working with the worst case scenarios.
    What to do? Be kind to yourself and to others. Be gentle. Be safe. If lonely, reach out to friends, listen to them. Helping others as best as we can is away forward. It builds that Social Capital that we know is more important than Being Right.
    Maybe telling stories of how these Hard Times can be managed, of who did the kind supportive things that we humans can be so good at. How can we cooperate? Who has ideas for funny home made masks? (I want to decorate a sock mask for my grand son. Something to do when I’m not doing Zoom gatherings or gardening or doing taxes.)
    Gloves – is that why my mother and grand mother wore gloves? had guest towels? to avoid germs in 1919?

    #57267

    Boogaloo
    Participant

    And the bottom line is that the C19 is the Enemy. Not each other, not assigning shame and blame. We are all very highly charged in this time of Danger.

    Sadly, we do have other enemies — especially those who will try to propagandize us to readily accept and embrace putting people in harm’s way too soon. For their financial benefit, not ours. And we have enemies who are looting the country and only sending a few crumbs to the people.

    I am all in favor of civil discourse, but that’s really really difficult when we are mired in so much propaganda. Here is a great warning piece “Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting” from a couple of days ago:

    https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2020/04/14/gaslighting-coronavirus-julio-vincent-gambuto

    And so we are about to be gaslit in a truly unprecedented way. It starts with a check for $1,200. And it will be a one-two punch from big business and the White House. Both are about to band together to knock us unconscious again. It will be funded like no other operation in our lifetimes. It will be fast. It will be furious. And it will be overwhelming. The Great American Return to Normal is coming.

    #57268

    Huskynut
    Participant

    “Speak to us. Tell us your mind. Articulate your thoughts. Don’t ask us to wade thropugh a detailed technical article. Explain it to us in summarized terms. JUdgment is withheld here by the more inquisitive. For example, Raul. He makes his case.”

    Dude, I’ll certainly speak to the others. But the incredible irony of you suggesting I summarise my thoughts better when it is you that spends so much time here rambling semi-coherently and derailing discussions.. I’m. Just. Completely. Speechless..

    #57270

    Huskynut
    Participant

    “What the models tell us, in New Zealand and elsewhere, seem pretty irrelevant to Ilargi’s argument (backed up by Nassim Taleb):..”

    Thanks Doc – your comment made me go and reread the post over again, realising I’d skimmed it too quickly in the first place.
    Much of Taleb’s take rings true for me.. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to make from an engineers/risk management perspective a very similar argument (albeit without Taleb’s encyclopedic knowledge) that we need to use first principles and a broad overview as much as narrow analytical views. Several of Taleb’s/Ilargi’s point have more nuance than mine, ie that in certain circumstances, we don’t need/can’t afford analysis at all, as the potential consequence of the outlying uncertainty/risk is so high that it can’t be entertained.
    But here’s where I depart from his reasoning:
    1. Reasoning that the potential ultimate risk of Covid is human extinction and thus mandates the most extreme of precautions is, well, useless. I mean in scientific terms then yes it’s technically true, but the same is true of other edge cases (including GMOs and climate change). There is no particular reason (that I’m aware of) that this risk should be uniquely or especially true of Covid vs a mutation of a pre-existing virus, or from one that emerges tomorrow, or from other scientific edge cases (physicists have speculated on a black hole produced by the Large Hadron Collider..). If there’s reason that Covid is indeed such a case (as opposed to we just don’t understand it yet), then sure, lets have the discussion. The burden of proof lies in both directions, else for every unknown situation with an articulable extreme edge case, we need to take extreme precautions every single time. Scientifically, rationally yes of course. But we’re humans, which segues nicely:
    2. Politics (and these are all political, not medical or scientific decisions being made) has been widely stated as the art of the possible. Despite Taleb’s insights, this is simply not lived human practice/wisdom. He may be live and die being 100% correct in his rational risk assessment, but the likelihood of persuading a sufficient number of human beings to override their biological and social selves and behave according to intellectual wisdom is vanishingly small. Like most, I was an idealist when young.. in my mid 50’s now I assess the likelihood of success of a project before signing onto it. As an idealist, if a project failed I felt OK – at least I tried. As a realist, I understand that committing time to an enterprise without a reasonable chance of viability means that other, viable, things wont get done. So there’s that.
    3. Lastly, there’s the potential for misuse. The form and mechanism of the lockdowns concerns the hell out of me. In NZ the data and rationale for the actions preceding and during lockdown is simply not public. We are told a decision will be made on next steps on April 20th, but there’s been no public data or discussion of how that decision will be made. The reality is it’s decision by fiat.
    Now if the virus turns out not to be an extinction-level event (and the odds based on probability are extremely weighted that it won’t be), the political and economic costs will be realised regardless. So the tangible concrete cost of protecting ourselves from an extremely unlikely extinction is potentially huge, including the risk of subverting the entire basis of our democratic polities. It’s good to have this discussion, but, please – be honest and direct about the relative likelihoods of events.
    And sure.. it is strictly rational to prioritise avoiding human extinction ahead of other more mundane concerns. And – human nature being what it is – it’s an ephemeral argument which smashes into practical reality as soon as you try to ground it.
    Now in, say, a GMO case it’s a helluva lot simpler. There’s a financial player who stands to realise great benefits, and that we can task with spending their resources against their potential future gains. That should be a slam dunk. It’s not of course, but only because of political corruption. There’s no tough moral question at the heart of it. Climate change is a bit harder, but still very doable – we can identify the financial beneficiaries and tax them to provide protections for the affected. It’ll be imperfect and somewhat unfair, but it fits within the capitalist economic model fairly easily.
    With Covid, it’s quite different, and extending thinking from the above cases crashes quickly into reality (and this is exactly where the emotional deflections seems to rise spontaneously to preclude debate).
    There’s no financial benefactor who will risk applying their resources against present or future economic gains – in fact there’s the precise opposite (you might expect nations to want to protect their workforce, but the young workforce is not much at risk). There’s no way to escape it – the primary tangible beneficiaries are the greatest at-risk population ie the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. The cost of mitigation (in terms of debt costs, deferred opportunity and reduced life expectancy) will be born disproportionately by the youngest (fittest, financially weakest) part of society. I’m not arguing to kill granny. These are just the basic facts.
    I struggle with bringing Taleb’s argument into this context because in this context it feels so much like a rationalisation to avoid confronting the previous truths. Yes, if we face an extinction-level event, then it behooves all of us to pull together to avoid it, and humanity benefits in the meta sense. And maybe, if our societies operated in this way, on this basis in decision making day in, day out, year in, year out then for sure, that’s the agreed social contract that we act together for the benefit of society. But user-pays gutted that thinking long ago, and gutted the health care systems along with it. I hate that it did, but it did. And there’s something that rings entirely false about trying to resurrect a narrative of human solidarity where and when the tangible costs will be borne by the younger generations.
    You know Taleb/Ilargi – when you can show me how this new morality will claw back the billions from the 1% to finance this humanity-embracing effort, rather than ditching the costs onto future generations, then I’m up for it. When you have the debt jubilees scheduled in, or the new taxes, or whatever it is that will prevent this proposed intervention from landing like yet another huge yoke around my 6 year old daughter’s neck, then yeah I’m up for it. But as long as it’s pie-in-the-sky theory with thoroughly skewed costs and benefits, then nah. It’s just like every other politician peddling snake-oil solutions. Focussing on the urgency and importance of implementing these policies, without negotiating the tangible effects, the winners and the losers is just wrong.

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