The Man’s a Fucking Idiot!

March 24th, 2020

Before Trump started talking about choloroquine, health experts were looking into it as part of the solution. But now the drug is flying off the shelves in pharmacies and it’s so scarce that pharmacists are saying they don’t have enough in stock for people who actually need it for things like arthritis and lupus.     Choloroquine is poisonous if taken improperly, so there’s an understandable hesitation on the part of health officials to tout a drug that hasn’t been tested for covid-19, knowing that people will seek it out and could harm themselves.

A man in Arizona died and his wife is in critical care after they treated themselves with the choloroquine they use to clean their fish tank. It had the same active ingredient as the malaria drug. The woman told NBC News that she heard Trump talk about the drug and that they “were afraid of getting sick.” Hospitals in Nigeria are also treating a flood of people who are suffering from choloroquine poisoning.

Source: Coronavirus Updates from The Washington Post


Mitigation vs Suppression

March 22nd, 2020

There’s been a lot of rather loose talk recently about the distinction between “mitigation” and “suppression” which are really just expensive words obscuring the simple difference between “make it grow less fast” and “make it shrink”.

The basic fact is that in most of the world, the number of as yet undetected cases of COVID-19 may already be so great as to overwhelm our intensive care capacity when the expected percentage of them become critical. This means that we need NOW to do whatever we can to minimize infection rates and actually make the infected numbers go down. Making it grow less fast is not enough.

But even making it go down is not enough. If we start it going down next week that won’t mean we can just relax. We’ll have to keep it going down for some time. And even if we eventually make it go down almost to zero, that will still not be enough if there are still parts of the world where it exists more strongly. We will need to be able to catch and stop any new cases that come in through our borders or that pop up from the few remaining undetected cases at home.

But the other side of this coin is that we may not have to eliminate it completely. If enough of the population (in this case apparently about 70%) is immune, then any local outbreak is expected to shrink. (This is sometimes referred to as having “herd immunity”.)
One way to make people immune would be by vaccination, but we don’t yet have a vaccine (and don’t expect one for at least 18 months). Another source of immune people might be those who have had and survived the disease. So the best bet might be not to try to kill the disease completely, but rather to keep the number infected at a constant level that is just below what would overload our intensive care capacity.

In the language of suppression and mitigation, this would be to suppress as quickly as possible until the acute care need becomes manageable, and then relax restrictions just enough to keep making almost full use of our IC facilities until either the “herd immunity” level is reached or an effective vaccine is developed.

See: COVID-19 « alQpr

(328) Alan Cooper’s answer to Why is capital more important than labor? – Quora

March 17th, 2020

This is a poorly phrased question because it uses the ill-defined term “important”.

But it is one that is often asked so maybe it needs an answer.

The word “important” is used in many ways. If you value human life, then even an economically unproductive life is important. And even in strictly economic terms, a hunter-gatherer may survive by picking fruit and catching frogs without the need for any physical capital besides access to a productive environment (and perhaps the “intellectual capital” of information passed down from previous generations about what is and is not safe to harvest). So capital has not always been even economically more “important” than labour.

But in the *modern* world we rely very much on both accumulated knowledge and built infrastructure to enhance our productivity – so much so that anyone who has access to and control of these things that we call “capital” can easily purchase any necessary labour from those who do not “own” the capital by offering them a small share of the product which will, though tiny, nonetheless vastly exceed what they could produce for themselves without access to that capital.

This raises the obvious question of in what sense it is in any way appropriate, fair, or right that some few people should by birth be assigned a hugely disproportionate share of the world’s accumulated capital while the rest are reduced to bargaining their increasingly unnecessary labour for a tiny share of the product.

So far as I can see, that obvious question has an obvious answer. It’s not! There is no argument that I can accept which justifies the present state of affairs and it’s long past time to fix it.

Source: (328) Alan Cooper’s answer to Why is capital more important than labor? – Quora

Covid 19 – Flattening the Curve

March 16th, 2020

It seems clear(?1) that the pandemic will proceed in each community until about 70% of the population has acquired immunity by having survived the infection. The question is just how many will not survive.

The good news is that the proportion of young and healthy people who will die is very(?) small. But the potential cull of their parents is much higher. For those over 70 the death rate appears to be around 10%, with the actual rate being strongly dependent on the availability of suitable intensive care.- especially mechanical ventilators which, not being so much needed in the normal scheme of things, will be in short supply when the peak infection rate hits.

Since there is as yet no way of reducing the actual number of people who eventually get the disease, the key to minimizing the losses is to lower the peak infection rate so that all those for whom the disease is critical have access to the best possible treatment.

This means that old people (and young ones who are not too desperate for a quick inheritance) may benefit from any behaviour which slows down the progress of the disease, and, by spreading the demand over a longer time interval, makes it less likely for people to die due to not having access to optimal treatment. (See this Washington Post Article for a good explanation of how “social distancing” works to keep down the peak number of active cases – and also this Medium article for more detail on some of the actual history of the pandemic – and this report form a team at Imperial College in London which apparently was istrumental in persuading the UK and US governments to adopt strong measures of social distancing.)

I must admit that my first reaction on hearing of the disease was (despite being over 70, and so in a relatively high risk population myself) to say “well let’s just get it over with and take our chances – like dealing with the pain of pulling off a band aid”. But on realizing the significant life-saving potential of high tech medical equipment, and seeing the numbers in need of that equipment quickly overwhelm the capacity of a relatively modern medical system in Italy, I have changed my tune and now favour as much social distancing as we can stand for as long as we can stand it.

However I do have a novel suggestion to add for dealing with this novel Coronavirus.

Perhaps, given the very low risk of serious harm to an identifiable sub-population, it might be helpful to ask for volunteers to undergo early infection and quarantine – after which they would be free (nay, even encouraged) to get out and mix with others as much as possible.

The main reason for bothering to slow it down (as opposed to taking the “rip off the bandaid” approach) is the fact that if all the infections happen quickly then the small percentage who get critically ill will still overwhelm our intensive care capacity and so suffer losses which would otherwise have been avoidable. But if we could increase the immune population by selectively infecting and isolating people at low risk for complications, then the peak IC burden might be lessened. Does it make sense therefore, to use the now empty cruise ships, hotels, and holiday camps to offer free luxury accommodation (and guaranteed access to whatever critical care might be needed) to groups of healthy young people who can expect to spend part of their holiday under the weather but who will be free to mingle among themselves throughout both their brief (usually mild) illness and also a substantially longer period of normal health?

For my own part it might have made sense to get it early if I could have been sure of getting in there with access to the best available care before the big rush made it likely for me to end up gasping without a ventilator. But sadly, I think it may be already too late for that.

(?1)NB (added March19) The success of China in suppressing transmission sufficiently to bring a halt to new internal cases leaves a large unexposed population still vulnerable to potential infection unless at least the borders continue to be very closely monitored with mandatory quarantine of every new arrival until fully confirmed with non-carrier status.

(?2)NB The claim that for the young and healthy this has a death rate that is “very” small may be understating the risk since a fatality rate of 0.5% per year would be about the same as that of US troops deployed to combat in Iraq in the early 2000s. (But perhaps asking people to expose themselves to that probably inevitable risk just earlier rather than later, and for the purpose of reducing the risk for others, is at least no more callous than asking them to do so in order to achieve a political goal which may have been mainly just to maintain control of a massive oil supply.)

Anti-Nausea Pill Resolves Moral Conflict

February 23rd, 2020

Here’s an interesting counterpoint to Jonathan Haidt’s ‘Moral Foundations‘ theory.

Before deciding that something is wrong, we might ask ourselves, is it just that I’m disgusted by it?

Source: Find something morally sickening? Take a ginger pill | Aeon Ideas

Why symmetry gets really interesting when it is broken | Aeon Ideas

February 23rd, 2020

Here’s a nice bit of writing that gives the reader just enough information to start a journey in each of several important directions: Why symmetry gets really interesting when it is broken | Aeon Ideas

From The Village Green

February 14th, 2020

My good friend and 1964-5 college roommate John Butler is the editor of The Village Green, an environmental newsletter focused on the area around his home in Ontario but with much of more general interest as well.

In the latest issue he writes:

I have long been an admirer of Rex Murphy, Newfoundlander extraordinaire, insightful essayist, courteous radio host, adept and sprightly player with the English language.

But he has changed.

Now, as columnist for mildly right-of-centre publications, he rails angrily (and with inaccurate logic and evidence) at those who oppose fossil fuel projects, particularly projects in Alberta.

He doesn’t seem to be an overt climate change denier, though he savages people who propose policies to deal with climate change. He seems much more interested in touting any fossil fuel project that produces jobs, no matter how vile the outcome of those projects. He also seems near-obsessed with not offending Alberta by espousing fossil fuel reduction policies, lest we seem ungrateful to that province and thereby drive it closer to western-province separatism.

In a recent column he condemns the very idea of an aid package for Alberta to deal with the loss of oil patch jobs, calling it something we do for third-world counties but not for our fellow citizens – it might demean them. Better, he says, for Canadians and their governments to embrace fossil fuel mega-projects like Alberta’s Teck oil sands mine.

Rex Murphy has one thing right – the scale of the issue is enormous. Vastly curtailing – even eliminating – the fossil fuel industry in western Canada will be necessary if Canada is to play its fair role in combatting global heating. Part of that involves drying up the insatiable demand by the rest of Canada – and the world – for fossil fuels. Part of it should also involve concerted national investment in developing green energy jobs in Alberta to compensate for lost oil jobs (easy to say but hard to do since it involves sacrifices on the part of non-Albertans to make those investments. It also involves Alberta’s willingness to be converted).
It will be tempting to make quiet exceptions, to appease oil appetites and industries – a pipeline here, an oil sand extraction plant there – to stanch the blood. Every nation with regions that rely on fossil fuel revenues faces the same temptation. A little exception here, there, everywhere, forgetting that ultimately there is no such thing as a “little catastrophe”.

Rex Murphy’s argument seems to be a call to loyalty and gratitude – western fossil fuels have enriched all of Canada, so it would be ungrateful and disloyal of us to turn our backs on a part of the country that has done so much good for us.

Imagine your brother opened a factory next to your house. For a long time it made a profit and he shared it with you because you are family. But the factory produced toxic by-products that poisoned both your properties and the people on them. For a long time neither you nor your brother noticed this insidious poison. But now you see it, smell it, taste it. Now you know. Your brother says, “If I close the factory I will starve. For old times’ sake and the sake of the family, let’s keep quiet about the poison. It will eventually kill us and others, but don’t interfere with my operation of the factory.

That kind of family loyalty kills people and their planet.

Millenials vs Mayor Pete

February 13th, 2020

Source: via (178) Habib’s Reading List – Quora

Greenhouse Saturation

February 12th, 2020

Must work on a “for the layman” clarification of all this:

OneTab shared tabs

Shadows on the wall

February 8th, 2020

Alexander Parker’s favorite thought experiment is Plato’s cave.

But what caught my eye was the comment by Gergely Mészáros which ended with the claim that “the analogy fails because we are not the watchers, we are the shadows on the wall”.

Why Vote?

February 7th, 2020

Aeon writer Julia Maskivker asks

Source: Given how little effect you can have, is it rational to vote? But her answer, though in accord with my own, is unconvincingly supported.

Rather than argue from some set of vague moral principles involving duty to community (which could in my opinion have been made much more clear and well supported), I would argue instead from the personal self-interest that Dr Maskivker considers inadequate.

In the modern world many elections are close enough that there is a non negligible probability of a tie. And in the case of a tie every vote has the potential of changing the result.

Furthermore, even when one’s preferred policy option is certain to lose (or to win), the demonstration of a higher level of support can deter those who defeat it (or encourage its elected supporters) in a way that benefits the individuals who wanted it.

Ride-hailing services won’t be accessible to all | Vancouver Sun

January 21st, 2020

I think it was with good reason that BC has been slow to allow ride-hailing services to undercut the service provided by well-regulated and market controlled taxis and encourage people to jump into cars with random unvetted strangers. But I would have thought that after years of delay they would have come up with something better than this!

Source: Ride-hailing services won’t be accessible to all | Vancouver Sun

Other jurisdictions which were quicker to allow these services (such as Toronto) managed to include a guaranteed minimum percentage of accessible vehicles so how did BC manage to fuck it up so badly?

Something to Celebrate!

January 21st, 2020

It may be a “one off” in the light of recent Canadian and US decisions but let’s hope that whether or not it gets overruled this marks the trend in global jurisprudence.

Source: Swiss Judge Acquits Credit Suisse Protestors – The Energy Mix

And of course there’s also evidence that some financial leaders are thinking it might well be.

Choosing Death

January 15th, 2020

Interesting article with good comments

Source: If you could choose, what would make for a good death? | Aeon Essays

Spurious Appeals to “Science”

January 12th, 2020

Sex is complicated. Some plants require the cooperation of more than two different gametes to produce a viable seed, and some animals live parts of their lives as male and part as female while others switch sex according to chemical signals in their environment and others are hermaphroditic (and in some cases even capable of self-fertilization) while yet others are capable of parthogenesis (by means of forgoing meiosis). Among humans true hermaphrodism is rare but not unknown (though not sfaik with evidence of fertility in both directions), and various other intersex body forms can arise from genetic abnormality or fetal environment. Even more common than intersex bodies are the cases in which behavior is different from the norm for the apparent body type and/or genome. This includes both cases of gender dysphoria and exclusive homosexuality (with the latter being so common as to apply to on the order of 10% of all humans). The range of secondary sex-related characteristics is of course huge – with bearded women and breasted men being far more common than is visible after the adjustments of depilation, makeup, and clothing. Not to mention the range of other physical attributes, sensitivities, and attitudes, which, despite perhaps being distributed bi-modally with high correlation to apparent sex, are nonetheless of such variance that sex is a poor (and in any case inappropriate) predictor.

Getting back to the two most highly correlated variables (namely chromosome pattern and externally apparent genital structure), they do indeed define two non-overlapping clusters in the multi-dimensional spectrum of human sex types which almost encompass the entire species.

Because of the dominance of these two particular clusters  and because of the correlation of these clusters with variation in physical size strength and aggression (and maybe other factors as well) those who identify with the “weaker” sex may feel at risk or disadvantage when exposed to the other group in vulnerable situations or in athletic competition. As a result, certain facilities and competitions are segregated, but then the question arises of how to deal with those who, for physical or psychological reasons, don’t fit into one of those two clusters.

Some people feel genuine terror at the prospect of entering an almost exclusively male environment (especially one involving public nudity) and others feel equally genuine terror at the prospect of not having certain spaces free from people who have penises (or in some extreme cases even from people who have some secondary male characteristics despite being biologically clearly female).

Some people who have changed their social presentation want to engage in sports in the category that they identify with, but many women feel that it is unfair to have to compete athletically with people who have the advantage of having grown through adolescence with typically male bodies and hormones.

These are not easy issues to resolve, but calling the latter groups above a derogatory term like TERF (or “bigoted fuckface”) is offensive – and so too is insisting on calling the former men and referring to them with male pronouns when that is easily avoided. (My personal preference is to refer to a person by whatever pronoun she or he prefers, but if someone feels unable to do that I don’t object so long as some other way is found of avoiding the pronouns that are known to be hurtful.)

Unfortunately both sides in the “debate” are most wrong when they claim that “science” supports their view.

YES it is true that, in humans, sex is almost always binary and immutable, BUT it is not always that way and it is certainly not a universal pattern in biology.

YES there is a (multi-dimensional) spectrum of sexual categories, BUT if anything, this contradicts the idea that one not in one of the two dominant categories can be appropriately assigned to one of them (either just by declaration or by some other means).

Science does not tell us how to behave, and in particular it does not tell us how to respond to people’s desire to appropriate an identity in a way that others feel is inappropriate. What we need for that is empathy, caring, and maybe a bit of wisdom.


The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – Butterflies and Wheels

Tribal Skepticism (in the Age of Gender Ideology)

Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia

What is happening at Unist’ot’en?

January 12th, 2020

With regard to the question of who speaks for the nation with regard to the use of its land, one answer is provided in this video:

But although the existence of a competing claim from the elected band council is acknowledged, its validity is denied without including any of their voices. And although I might prefer the position of the hereditary chiefs from an environmental perspective, I also feel strongly that hereditary (or other) authority has no legitimacy anywhere unless it is regularly endorsed by a clear mandate from the majority of the people whose lives and land it claims authority over.

If the people accept that authority, let them say so in a way that is clearly unforced like a secret ballot. Any claim to represent them without that is just as invalid as that which used to be made by the hereditary chiefs of my own homeland (where it took a civil war and a beheading to start the process of reform – which was slower but less bloody than those required in many other places).

Update(Jan15):For more perspectives see this G&M opinion piece

and this from BIV

Update(Jan24): Here is Jody Wilson-Reybauld’s view.

see also this from the National Observer

Update(Feb12): And here’s another attempt from G&M

Greenpeace also chimes in – with reference to analysis at ricochet.

Moral Foundations

January 10th, 2020

Biased presentation of a potentially good idea

Using the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, Haidt and Graham found that libertarians are most sensitive to the proposed Liberty foundation,[4] liberals are most sensitive to the Care and Fairness foundations, while conservatives are equally sensitive to all five/six foundations.[6] Joshua Greene argued however that liberals tend to emphasise the Care, Fairness and Liberty dimensions; conservatives the Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity dimensions.[17]

Source: Moral foundations theory – Wikipedia

What I find a bit offensive about Haidt’s version is the failure to recognize that the scales used to measure responses to the different “foundations” are independent.  There is really no meaning to the claim that conservatives are “equally sensitive” to all of them while liberals are “most” sensitive to the Care and Fairness foundations, since just changing the survey questions to include more extreme examples of Sanctity violations and more modest ones of Care and Fairness would have produced results showing equal response from liberals and a bias towards Sanctity among conservatives.

Also the whole model fails to distinguish between sensitivity and moral judgement.

For example I may feel disgust at things that I do not feel are morally wrong, and indeed there are cases where I may consider my disgust at something to be a moral failing on my part.

Similarly, with regard to group loyalty, I may feel that (except for the obligation to honour voluntarily accepted commitments) it is not a virtue because it limits the scope of our willingness to care for others.

Indeed if I were to adopt Haidt’s metrics then I might say that they indicate that conservatives lack a moral compass and just judge as morally good whatever pleases them, whereas liberals can distinguish between what they like and what is good. But that would be abusing the data so I won’t do it.


Can Renewables Suffice?

January 6th, 2020

A Tyee debate:

It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won’t End the Climate Crisis | The Tyee

Memo from a Climate Crisis Realist: The Choice before Us | The Tyee

Don’t Call Me a Pessimist on Climate Change. I Am a Realist | The Tyee

OK Doomer | The Tyee

Other sources:

Jacobson et al

My analysis to follow (maybe)

More on Philosophical Expertise

January 6th, 2020

In the recent Aeon essay Is there anything especially expert about being a philosopher? , David Egan draws an analogy between the relationships between philosophical and scientific expertise and between acting and music. I found it interesting and potentially relevant to the ongoing furore about whether physicists “need” the help of philosophers. But am still struggling with how it fits into the mix.


January 4th, 2020

Aeon has re-circulated an essay from last March which claims that belief in meritocracy is harmful without even identifying exactly what “meritocracy” is. In order not to be accused of the same omission I will identify a meritocracy as a social context in which power, wealth and/or other rewards are determined primarily by some kind of objectively measurable and universally recognized “merit”. There are of course many potential measures of both merit and power/reward, and so there are also many different kinds of meritocracy. The Aeon article appears to be concerned mainly with rewards of material wealth, and with merit as some vaguely defined combination of innate talent and hard work but it doesn’t explicitly say so and does not acknowledge any alternatives (such as those which apply in the academic world for example).

Another major problem with that article is that, despite claiming to make the distinction between reality and aspiration, it ends up nonetheless using arguments that conflate “belief in meritocracy” as a goal and as an opinion about the existing state of affairs. It starts by proclaiming the distinction and discussing the latter, but its main goal is to denounce the former and its arguments in that direction are where the conflation occurs.

Those who believe that we actually live in a meritocracy may indeed be unsympathetic to those who are less well off (and I am not unaware of the problem that if we actually did live in a meritocracy that might lead to an undesirable level of unconcern); but in fact we obviously do NOT live in a true meritocracy (where wealth and power are determined primarily by some kind of objectively measurable and universally recognized “merit”), and so the opinion of anyone who thinks we do is, to say the least, suspect (and I hope not representative of what would actually be the response of most people if we actually did live in such a meritocracy).

But the article then goes on to assert that having meritocracy as a goal also leads to hardening of unfair discriminatory attitudes. Some of the referenced research does seem to correlate a hardening of attitudes with a belief in the goal of meritocracy, but even in that research, not enough effort seems to have been made to clarify the distinction between what is desired and what is believed to be real – nor to discount the effect on one’s attitudes of thinking about an ideal alternate world without focusing on it’s difference from our own. In particular, for example, in the study by Castilla and Benard which “found that, ironically, attempts to implement meritocracy leads to just the kinds of inequalities that it aims to eliminate” the “companies that explicitly held meritocracy as a core value” may have followed the usual corporate practice of asserting that one embodies a value and expecting everyone to agree rather than admitting that one does not actually embody that value and working to identify and correct deficiencies.

I actually suspect that a fairly subtle change of wording in some of the questions in those surveys might have had a dramatic effect on the responses and “conclusions”. (And most of what passes as social science “research” these days is similarly worthless because of the ease with which minor changes in protocol can be used to manipulate whatever outcome one desires to “prove”.)

What in my opinion is harmful about belief in a certain kind of meritocratic ideal is the lack of concern for the hardships of those we judge to be less deserving. But the belief that only those with some level of merit deserve a reasonable life is only a particular kind of meritocracy and there is no indication that holding to a kinder form leads one towards the more cruel. Leaving aside the tedious debates about whether the real Bill Gates fortune is due primarily more to talent or to luck, there is no need for a meritocracy which permits such wealth to deny the provision of a respectable floor below which no person’s wealth is allowed to fall.