BRIEFLY NOTED: For 2021-09-18 Sa

Things that went whizzing by that I want to remember:


Nearly everyone in the Bush administration had a very very bad conscience by the end of September 11, 2001. That much of what they did was a reaction to and a transference of that set the stage, I think, for so many of the disasters that have afflicted America since. This is the most powerful piece I read on the 20th anniversary of 911. By the superb Michelle Goldberg. But, of course, the New York Times also publishes Maureen Dowd’s “how dare a Black man have a birthday party!”:

Michelle GoldbergHow 9/11 Damaged America: ‘We didn’t win. The danger jihadist terrorism posed to our country, while serious, was never truly existential; Al Qaeda fell apart shortly after its greatest triumph. Yet the damage Sept. 11 did to the United States was more profound than even many pessimists anticipated. The attacks, and our response to them, catalyzed a period of decline that helped turn the United States into the debased, half-crazed fading power we are today. America launched a bad-faith global crusade to instill democracy in the Muslim world and ended up with our own democracy in tatters… 

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Does Charles Hilu really want more stress on how different things are today than they used to be—on how back before 1807 slaves in the Carolina Low Country were worked so hard that a newly-landed captive’s life expectancy was less than ten years—and on how the National Review he has the cheek to write for has, from the day it was founded, never ceased making excuses for the slavelords?

Charles HiluMichigan Center for Racial Justice: Scholarship or Left-Wing-Activism?: ‘Trevon Logan of Ohio State University, the first guest, is particularly active on Twitter. He has criticized from a racial lens those who want to open schools amid the COVID–19 pandemic as well as the experts they have cited. “Bottom line: none of these experts actually care about Black children,” he tweeted. In his commentary on Texas’s six-week abortion ban, he has been uncharitable in his characterization of his opponents. “This is demoralizing,” he tweeted. “I’m so angry and upset for the women in Texas (and soon many other states, perhaps Ohio as well) who will no longer have reproductive freedom. Conservatives hate autonomy for any and everyone they wish to control. Women have a right to an abortion. Period.”… The professors involved are quite politically biased…. Nowhere in the university’s promotion of the center is there an indication that students will be taught anything about the progress America has made in race relations and civil rights… 

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U2 with Mick Jagger & Fergie (2009): Gimme Shelter <>:

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Very Briefly Noted:

  • Rice and Bones <>

  • Wilhelm II Hohenzollern: ’Should you encounter the enemy, he will be defeated! No quarter will be given! Prisoners will not be taken! Whoever falls into your hands is forfeited. Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend, may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German… <>

  • Bill Gardner: Why the U.S. Should Vaccinate the World: ‘We should do this because it would save many lives…. This is all that needs to be said…. Also… the U.S. stood to benefit if we could substantially reduce the number of global covid cases… slow the rate of evolution of new coronavirus variants…. The global vaccination effort would pay for itself… <>


The usually thoughtful and empathetic David French asks: why the death shaming, why the schadenfreude, when an unvaccinated MAGA moron dies of COVID? Where is the empathy?

I think that the answer is clear: “Brian (not his real name)” did not just kill himself out of his ofermod, he killed other people—those to whom he gave the disease, and then further down the train—as well. He is not just a victim and a casualty. He is a murderer. Why can’t David French understand that people have a very human tendency to put themselves in the shoes of “Brian (not his real name)”’s victims, and have a very human tendency to see his death as just karmic vengeance for his deeds.

The tell is when French describes “Brian (not his real name)” as “not view[ing] it as a meaningful risk”. It was very much a meaningful risk—it turned out to him, but much more so to the people he sneezed on. That lack of empathy on the part of David French and of “Brian (not his real name)” for those who were going to get infected further down the plague chain strikes me as the most appalling, inhuman, and sociopathic piece of all this:

David French: The American Crisis of Selective Empathy: ‘And how it reaches into the church…. Brian (not his real name) was a kind Christian man. He and his wife were always there to help a friend in need, and in the local business community, he was known for his relentlessly cheerful disposition. He was Republican—like virtually everyone else in his church and community—but he wasn’t defined by his politics. Then the pandemic hit. Brian hated the lockdowns, and he also hated masks and especially mask mandates. He hated them so much that he boycotted services until the church allowed unmasked people to worship. Brian also refused the vaccine. It’s not that he thought that COVID was a hoax, but he didn’t view it as a meaningful risk…. You can guess the rest of the story. Brian caught COVID…. The disease he discounted had taken his life…. Can you imagine the grief if a member of your family falls to COVID in this way? Can you imagine the realization that an imminent death was entirely, easily preventable? Can you imagine how that understanding would tear at your heart and soul? Yet I’m seeing trends that are deeply unsettling. I see schadenfreude. … Elizabeth Bruenig wrote powerfully in The Atlantic to decry what she rightly called “death shaming.” There is a profound lack of empathy for these terrible losses, an unwillingness to “weep with those who weep,” and a stubborn refusal to even try to place oneself in the shoes of the grieving. Why?…


The French Press
The American Crisis of Selective Empathy
I’m going to tell you a true-life story, one of many virtually identical stories I’ve heard these past few weeks. Be honest with yourself as you consider how you feel. Brian (not his real name) was a kind Christian man. He and his wife were always there to help a friend in need, and in the local business community, h……
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A true self-own: a pathetic parody of thinking-like-an-economist. A real economist says: There’s an externality. The market will get it wrong. What is the best way to fix it? Alison Schrager… does not:

Allison SchragerBiden’s Vaccine Mandate Is More Bad News for the Labor Market: ‘The U.S. would be better off if as many adults as possible are vaccinated. But while President Joe Biden’s mandate will lessen risk for Americans, it won’t eliminate it, and the benefits must be weighed against the costs that will be borne by the most economically vulnerable…. The libertarianish economist in me feels ambivalent because of the trade-offs posed by any regulation on businesses…. It will be expensive for businesses to ensure everyone is vaccinated or to set up a testing system…. Employers could be overwhelmed with testing and accommodating non-compliant employees….

If someone quits rather than get a vaccine or needs to be fired, it will be very expensive and difficult to replace them. This puts a outsized burden on companies…. There are already lawsuits cropping up against employers, such as the one brought by George Mason professor, Todd Zywicki, who already has immunity after having had the virus. More inevitable lawsuits will pose more costs to employers and the economy… 

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A very nice take on a difficult problem. I wish I could discern more just how confident those near the margin of going or not going to college are about their individual benefits and prospects, and whether they are right to have that degree of confidence:

Daniel Herbst & Nathaniel HendrenOpportunity Unraveled: Private Information and the Missing Markets for Financing Human Capital: ’College is typically financed through non-dischargeable, government-backed student loans…. Adverse selection has unraveled private markets for college-financing contracts that mitigate risk. We use survey data on students’ expected post-college outcomes…. Students hold significant private knowledge of their future earnings, academic persistence, employment, and loan repayment likelihood, beyond what is captured by observable characteristics…. A typical college-goer must expect to pay back $1.64 in present value for every $1 of equity financing to cover the financier’s costs of covering those who would adversely select their contract. We estimate that college-goers are not willing to accept these terms so that private markets unravel. Nonetheless, our framework quantifies significant welfare gains from government subsidies that would open up these missing markets and partially insure college-going risks… 

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This strike me as sober and convincing. I do wish Natasha Loder were a little more sophisticated with respect to what knowledge is: what we fear, what we suspect, what we believe, what we know, and what organizations agree is true for purposes of action are five different things. They are all “knowledge”, but failing to distinguish between them can lead to a lot of confusion about how things went down when:

Natasha Loder: The November story: ‘Russell Westergard, the Deputy [U.S.] Consular Chief in Wuhan…. writes….

By mid-October 2019, the dedicated team at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan knew that the city had been struck by what was thought to be an unusually vicious flu season. The disease worsened in November. When city officials began to close public schools in mid-December to control the spread of the disease, the team passed the word to Embassy Beijing and continued monitoring. The possibility of a new viral outbreak was always on the consulate’s radar. Still, the working assumption in every scenario had always been that, as in past outbreaks like H1N1 (known as swine flu), it would appear in rural areas first and then spread to major urban centers across China.

One might read this and conclude that mid-December was the moment ConGen Wuhan started to pay attention. But the account doesn’t preclude any earlier discussions…. [The] medical branch of the Defense Intelligence Agency… [perhaps] knew something was up in November… a contagion sweeping through Wuhan in late November… analysis of “wire and computer intercepts coupled with satellite images”…. This NCMI report was “briefed multiple times"…. By this account, the briefings began at the end of November…. It is [thus] hard to believe that the head of the Chinese CDC learned of the outbreak from a WeChat group on December 30th. Or that the world’s leading bat coronavirus researcher, based in Wuhan, didn’t find out until she received a call that same evening…. For there to be so many cases of what would become known as SARS-COV–2 in early December, there had to have been transmission in November….

This is the correct context to consider the reports of cases in Europe (see here), particularly northern Italy, detected in stored patient samples in November…. Wuhan is well connected to Europe by air…. Since the outset of the pandemic, many journalists have pieced together a sorry portrait of Chinese behaviour. Of a country that has consistently withheld knowledge and data on covid–19 and its origins. Whether the virus came from a laboratory, a field worker, or a food chain, China broke agreements with the world that it will promptly disclose an outbreak of a dangerous new pathogen. One important question for the world is whether virologists themselves should also be bound by these rules to inform others. Or whether foreign governments should be bound to report on countries they suspect to have outbreaks. For what it is worth, I think the virologists—indeed everyone—needs to be more open about what they knew and when. A lot of people have died. Their families deserve answers…


The November story
This week I want to set sail into choppy and difficult waters. I want to try to assemble some of what we know about the origins of covid-19 into some sort of order. On this matter, there are many journalists who have written with perseverance and brilliance. So this isn’t an easy subject to write about, and there are no easy answers to be had. But, eve……
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