Luxury sneaker markets are a preview of Capitalist Dystopia

Thursday, December 31st, 2020

Luxury sneaker markets are a preview of Capitalist Dystopia:

Buyers now use bots to automate sneaker purchasing to ensure they’ll get as many pairs as possible to resell on online sneaker marketplaces like StockX and GOAT. Retailers, meanwhile, have sought to guard against such bots through raffles, leading to a proliferation of raffle bots. Raffle bots will automate hundreds, if not thousands of entries. Bots themselves are sold and resold for thousands and created in limited supply to ensure they remain effective in an ever-more competitive purchasing arms race.

Consignment and resale stores are the result of side hustles becoming a primary business — one that’s now profitable enough to exist in retail space. Successful buyers market their own guides on sneaker investing. News articles hold forth on the value of kicks in investment portfolios. Enthusiastic YouTubers giddily sound off on whether or not you should “sit or sell,” claiming to possess insight on the potential long-term value of sneakers.

If you can master the tricks of the trade, it’s highly lucrative. Effective resellers can pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars. The terminology of sneaker resale markets offers a more urban version of the language used by Wall Street banks and investment firms.


Consumers of rare sneakers range from collectors who will display their trophies and keep them as “deadstock” — industry lingo for shoes that are never worn — all the way to simple enthusiasts and those disparagingly referred to as “hypebeasts” — people who covet, wear, and obsess over every new release as a display of wealth.

The global sneaker resale market is valued at $2 billion and expected to triple in the next few years, reaching $30 billion by the end of the decade. This fall, StockX opened its first Canadian warehouse, another expansionary step for a global corporation already valued at $1 billion.

We should embrace the Cassandras when the next disaster comes

Wednesday, December 30th, 2020

Megan McArdle decided to close the year by reflecting back on the COVID-19 Cassandras, who fell into two groups: the Voice of Experience, and the Voice of Dissent:

Aside from a few infectious-disease doctors or virologists, the Voice of Experience was inevitably someone who’d lived in Asia during the 2003 SARS crisis, or else had a parent or a spouse who did, and thus had already overcome their natural skepticism about the likelihood of a major epidemic.


So what made the Dissenters stand out from the herd?

First, they were comfortable enough with technical writing and data to understand early scientific reports about the Wuhan epidemic. Second, they were sufficiently statistics-minded to not confuse “very rarely” with “never,” as most people do. Third, they resisted the normal tendency to discount catastrophic risks simply because addressing them would wreck their other plans. And fourth, they persisted in their conclusion even when their peers thought they were crazy. The most prominent example of this type is probably Peter Navarro, Trump’s chief trade adviser.

Notice that neither Cassandra type was a public health expert.


Humans are social animals; we long to agree with the group, and usually defer to people with higher status, such as scientific experts. We also tend to assume that something is safe if everyone else is doing it, or at least maintain a shamefaced silence about our fears. We hate being wrong, but we’re most terrified of being wrong on a question that everyone else got right.

Even if everyone could become the kind of person who calls a pandemic early, most of us wouldn’t want to. The social cost would be too high, and not just to ourselves. Pandemics aren’t fought only by identifying them; they’re also fought by persuading people to do something about it. For that latter task, you want agreeable people who are good at reading social cu


But if we don’t want to be the Cassandras, we do need to heed them, even when they speak hard truths. When the next disaster comes, as it will, we’ll respond quicker and better if they’re within the citadel working to avert our common doom, rather than out in the wilderness shouting in vain.

Capitalism was designed for outsiders

Tuesday, December 29th, 2020

A February 2019 Harris poll found that roughly half of younger Americans would “prefer living in a socialist country”:

What many young people today don’t realize is that socialism is a machine for empowering insiders. Few insiders have ever been rewarded more assiduously than the nomenklatura of the Soviet Union. Few governments have been as gray — in every sense of the word — as the Brezhnev regime. A vast expansion of the American government, as imagined by today’s Democratic Socialists, would create its own privileged elite.

From its inception, by contrast, capitalism was designed for outsiders. Its original apostles, such as Adam Smith, argued that entrepreneurs needed freedom from the royal regulations that limited trade and the formation of new enterprises. When the government controls decisions to work or to start a business, political pull becomes a prerequisite for success. The whole point of economic freedom is that all people — not just the connected — can use their talents to help themselves and, potentially, to change the world.

These days, capitalism’s advocates often focus more on defending the status quo than on promoting outsider opportunity. If capitalism is to win over the young, that must change—and a new freedom agenda can help make that happen. In January 1941, Franklin Roosevelt announced his four freedoms (of speech and worship, from want and fear) that helped frame his objectives for World War II, which the nation would enter before the end of that year. Our contemporary outsiders would benefit from a renewal of four key freedoms: to build, to work, to sell, and to learn. The young need fewer land-use restrictions that make it tough to provide affordable housing in productive areas. They need fewer employment rules that limit their ability to find work, as well as fewer business regulations that suppress entrepreneurial energies. And — even before these other important things — they need new educational options that liberate them from underperforming educational monopolies.

In 1981, the social scientist Mancur Olson published his magisterial The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities. Olson had already won acclaim for The Logic of Collective Action, which explained why some groups received an outsize slice of the political pie. In his new book, Olson turned to the question of why nations fail. His thesis: nations lost dynamism when insiders managed to stack the rules against disruptive outsiders.

Stable societies with unchanged boundaries, Olson observed, “tend to accumulate more collusions and organizations for collective action over time.” Instead of accepting rules that encourage overall growth, these collusive organizations — trade groups and labor unions were paradigmatic examples — fight to keep what they have, slowing down “a society’s capacity to adopt new technologies and to reallocate resources in response to changing conditions,” thus reducing economic efficiency. Decline follows.

Olson pointed to Japanese stagnation under the Tokugawa shogunate, when, “before Admiral Perry’s gunboats appeared in 1854, the Japanese were virtually closed off from the international economy.” Ruling Japanese society, he writes, “were any number of powerful za, or guilds, and the shogunate or the daimyo often strengthened them by selling them monopoly rights.” The guilds “fixed prices, restricted production and controlled entry in essentially the same way as cartelistic organization elsewhere.”

A second example: Great Britain, “the major nation with the longest immunity from dictatorship, invasion and revolution” and, consequently, Olson explained, suffering “this century a lower rate of growth than other large, developed democracies.” In Olson’s view, the weak performance resulted from limits on change established by a “powerful network of special-interest organizations,” which included labor unions, industrial groups, and aristocratic cliques. By the 1970s, after the conservative government of Edward Heath fell in a losing battle with striking miners, many deemed Britain ungovernable. Olson contrasted the British situation with that of postwar Germany and Japan, where the chaos and destruction of wartime defeat wiped away established industrial and retail groups, leaving the field open to newcomers like Soichiro Honda or the Albrecht family (creators of international supermarket giant Aldi), who could work economic magic.

A brief history of commercialising Christmas

Saturday, December 26th, 2020

Tim Harford provides a brief history of commercialising Christmas:

Stephen Nissenbaum, author of The Battle for Christmas, points out that a crucial shift happened when the festival became a domestic occasion, rather than the anarchic street revels the puritans were so desperate to suppress.

When Clement Clarke Moore penned the line, “’Twas the night before Christmas”, nearly 200 years ago, Christmas Eve in his home town of New York was pandemonium — the streets patrolled by noisy gangs of yobs. Moore wanted to evoke a quiet stay-at-home family Christmas with not a creature stirring, not even a mouse. And of course, once Christmas became a family affair, traditional wassailing gifts of food and drink made less sense: people began exchanging shop-bought presents instead.

The commercialism of the Coca-Cola Santa and the Montgomery Ward Rudolph, then, built on a retail revolution of the early to mid-19th century. Advertisements for Christmas presents appeared in the US in the 1820s, and Santa Claus himself was wholeheartedly endorsing products by the 1840s.

In 1867, Macy’s store in Manhattan accommodated last-minute shopping by opening until midnight on Christmas Eve. That was the same year Charles Dickens read A Christmas Carol to thousands of people in Boston, the keeping of Christmas no longer being punishable in Massachusetts by a five shilling fine. (Dickens’s fabulous tale is expansive on the theme of generosity and, when you think about it, rather light on mentions of the baby Jesus.)

The backlash to the retail Christmas was quick to emerge. “The days are close at hand when everybody gives away something to somebody,” complained one letter published in a Boston magazine in 1834, adding, “I…am amazed at the cunning skill with which the most worthless as well as most valuable articles are set forth to tempt and decoy the bewildered purchaser.”

It is a familiar sentiment, as is the author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s complaint, in 1850, that “there are worlds of money wasted, at this time of year, in getting things that nobody wants and nobody cares for after they are got.”

God bless us, every one!

Friday, December 25th, 2020

Please enjoy these posts of Christmas Past:

Its potential as an explosive was not recognized for three decades

Thursday, December 24th, 2020

I recently stumbled across a reference to toluene, and I couldn’t help but think, how hard is it to transform toluene into trinitrotoluene, or TNT? (Which has an interesting history…)

TNT was first prepared in 1863 by German chemist Julius Wilbrand and originally used as a yellow dye. Its potential as an explosive was not recognized for three decades, mainly because it was too difficult to detonate and because it was less powerful than alternatives. Its explosive properties were first discovered by another German chemist, Carl Häussermann, in 1891. TNT can be safely poured when liquid into shell cases, and is so insensitive that it was exempted from the UK’s Explosives Act 1875 and was not considered an explosive for the purposes of manufacture and storage.

The German armed forces adopted it as a filling for artillery shells in 1902. TNT-filled armour-piercing shells would explode after they had penetrated the armour of British capital ships, whereas the British Lyddite-filled shells tended to explode upon striking armour, thus expending much of their energy outside the ship. The British started replacing Lyddite with TNT in 1907.

The process for making TNT is simple, but not easy:

In the laboratory, 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene is produced by a two-step process. A nitrating mixture of concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids is used to nitrate toluene to a mixture of mono- and di-nitrotoluene isomers, with careful cooling to maintain temperature. The nitrated toluenes are then separated, washed with dilute sodium bicarbonate to remove oxides of nitrogen, and then carefully nitrated with a mixture of fuming nitric acid and sulfuric acid.

America had the bomb, but no divisions

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachThe United States, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), had to continue to defend South Korea, while at the same time consolidating the defense of Europe:

The major potential foe was still Soviet Russia, and Europe still the world’s great prize. Any measure that provided relief for the United States forces in Korea, but set back United States support or strength in Europe, would be imprudent. If the United States began a unilateral war with Red China, it stood an excellent chance of fatally rupturing the embryonic North Atlantic Treaty Organization which for some years had been a goal of its policy.

MacArthur was told to hold the frontier so that the tribes of the interior could continue to organize, and to forget about carrying the war to the barbarians.


America had the bomb, but no divisions. There was no barrier in middle Europe that could prevent its being overrun by the massive Red Army.

Until such a barrier could be built, under NATO, Washington would never breathe easy. It would never favor involvement in Asia. It would continue to eye such involvement suspiciously, looking for a Russian trick.

But they continue to want to have things blow up

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

Tyler Cowen found John O. Brennan’s new memoir, Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies, At Home and Abroad, interesting, entertaining, and substantive on every page:

COWEN: It seems that offense should very often be easier than defense when it comes to terrorism. There are just many disruptive, destructive things you can do. I know America has taken many, many, many steps since 9/11 to limit terror attacks, but it still seems to me, just as an outside observer, that we should be observing more attacks than in fact we do, that it should be impossible to stop so many of them.

At the deepest conceptual reason, what do you think are the defects in the attackers that have led to so few major terror attacks in this country since 9/11?

BRENNAN: So, you want me to give the enemies the reasons why they’re not as successful as they would have been?


I think sometimes it’s because they continue to go back to the tried-and-true methods. When I look at terrorist acts, especially those that are international, transnational terrorism directed against the United States — al-Qaida and other types of terrorist organizations continue to go after that which is going to go boom and bang, trying to secret an improvised explosive device onto an airplane, trying to bring down that air carrier over the United States, as opposed to looking at new and ingenious and innovative ways to really cause havoc. But they continue to want to have things blow up.

The defenses that have been put in place really have guarded against and made it much more difficult for the terrorists to surmount the various obstacles and security checks that are in place. But they continue to focus on that. And I’m glad they do in some respects because that’s where we’re best prepared to defeat their efforts.

I still shudder when I think about the availability of weapons in the United States — different types of assault weapons and how much carnage could be created and has been in instances. But rarely has it been as a result of an international terrorist group, transnational terrorist group.

You don’t hear about an al-Qaida member who picks up an assault weapon and just mows people down at a mall. Occasionally, attempts are made, or sometimes it actually happens, but they still go after that IED that is going to blow up something and create the type of footage that they want.

The U.S. should attempt to win, and win big, or get out

Monday, December 21st, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachIn December 1950 MacArthur began to ask for more and more, to prosecute the war in Korea, and, as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the requests were impossible, short of mobilization:

The U.S. Army had one division, the 82nd Airborne, in strategic reserve. NATO was just getting underway in Europe. It was unthinkable that U.S. troops be stripped from that area.


About the only move that could be made was to increase the ROK Army from 200,000 to 300,000 men, armed with rifles, BAR’s, carbines, and submachine guns. About this, MacArthur was not sanguine. He preferred to arm the Japanese.

On 29 December MacArthur sent a message to the Joint Chiefs, as he had before, that he desired permission to blockade the China coast and attack airfields in Manchuria. He stated he did not fear the Chinese would be provoked — MacArthur considered the United States already at war with China. He also stated that if his wishes were not granted, the Korean peninsula should be evacuated.

Summed up, Douglas MacArthur held that the U.S. should attempt to win, and win big, or get out.


Feelers among allies and U.N. had revealed not one government willing to back MacArthur’s course.

A game that plays people

Sunday, December 20th, 2020

A game designer working in the niche of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), LARPs, experience fiction, interactive theater, and “serious games” — fictions designed to feel as real as possible, games that teach you, puzzles that come to life all around the players — immediately recognized QAnon:

I had seen it before. I had almost built it before. It was gaming’s evil twin. A game that plays people. (cue ominous music)


QAnon is like the reflection of a game in a mirror, it looks just like one, but it is inverted.


In one of the very first experience fictions (XF) I ever designed, the players had to explore a creepy basement looking for clues. The object they were looking for was barely hidden and the clue was easy. It was Scooby Doo easy. I definitely expected no trouble in this part of the game.

But there was trouble. I didn’t know it then, but its name was APOPHENIA.

Apophenia is: “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)”

As the participants started searching for the hidden object, on the dirt floor, were little random scraps of wood.

How could that be a problem!?

It was a problem because three of the pieces made the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. It was uncanny. It had to be a clue. The investigators stopped and stared at the wall and were determined to figure out what the clue meant and they were not going one step further until they did. The whole game was derailed. Then, it got worse. Since there obviously was no clue there, the group decided the clue they were looking for was IN the wall. The collection of ordinary tools they found conveniently laying around seemed to enforce their conclusion that this was the correct direction. The arrow was pointing to the clue and the tools were how they would get to it. How obvious could it be?

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical. I had a crude backup plan and I used it quickly before these well-meaning players started tearing apart the basement wall with crowbars looking for clues that did not exist.

These were normal people and their assumptions were normal and logical and completely wrong.

In most ARG-like games apophenia is the plague of designers and players, sometimes leading participants to wander further and further away from the plot and causing designers to scramble to get them back or (better yet) incorporate their ideas. In role-playing games, ARGs, video games, and really anything where the players have agency, apophenia is going to be an issue.

This happens because in real games there are actual solutions to actual puzzles and a real plot created by the designers. It’s easy to get off track because there is a track. A great game runner (often called a puppet-master) can use one or two of these speculations to create an even better game, but only as much as the plot can be adjusted for in real time or planned out before-hand. It can create amazing moments in a game, but it’s not easy. For instance, I wish I could have instantly entombed something into that wall in the basement because it would have worked so well, but I was out of luck!

If you are a designer, and have puzzles, and have a plot, then apophenia is a wild card you always have to be concerned about.

QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. Guided because the puppet masters are directly involved in hinting about the desired conclusions. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.

There is no reality here. No actual solution in the real world. Instead, this is a breadcrumb trail AWAY from reality. Away from actual solutions and towards a dangerous psychological rush. It works very well because when you “figure it out yourself” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of the rabbit hole, the acceptance of a community that loves and respects you. Because you were convinced to “connect the dots yourself” you can see the absolute logic of it. This is the conclusion you arrived at. More about this later.

Everyone on the board agrees with you because it’s highly likely they were the ones that pointed it out to you just for that purpose.


Every cloud has a shape that can look like something else. Everything that flickers is also a jumble of Morse code. The more information that is out there, the easier it is to allow apophenia to guide us into anything. This is about looking up at the sky and someone pointing out constellations.

The difference is that these manufactured connections lead to the desired conclusions Q’s handlers have created. When players arrive at the “correct” answers they are showered with adoration, respect, and social credit. Like a teenage RP, the “correct” answer is the one that the group respects the most and makes the story the most enjoyable. The idea that bolsters the theory. The correct answer is the one that provides the poster with the most credit.

It’s like a Darwinian fiction lab, where the best stories and the most engaging and satisfying misinterpretations rise to the top and are then elaborated upon for the next version.

Was the United States at war or not?

Saturday, December 19th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachWhat the American people at the end of 1950 could not understand was, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), was the United States at war or not?

It had massive forces in the field, killing, being killed, but life went on much as before. Men were being called from factory and field, but there was still “peace.” There was war, obviously, but still there was not war as Americans had come to understand it.

Americans had been brought up to avoid war as the plague, but once in it, to pull all the stops. It had been almost a hundred years since they had fought a war on the far frontier or held the border for civilization, and the taste of those campaigns was still foul in their mouths.

They had been taught for generations that the use of war for reasons of national policy was wrong, and now that their government followed such a course, in the path of imperial Britain, they felt only anguish and frustration.


It is given to the President of the United States, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to conduct the foreign policy of the Republic. From the time of Athens and Republican Rome, no representative parliament has ever had much success with dealings beyond the water; there have been historians who claim that continued involvement of a people beyond its own frontiers inevitably produces Caesarism.

The jury on this question must be reported to be still out. At least, no Caesars were produced by the Korean conflict. Both potential Caesars were, in fact, humbled, one at the hands of his superiors, the other by his people. But first they collided, and the shock was felt around the world.


After what he had seen in the trenches, war could never again be a mere profession to Douglas MacArthur. He would continue to be a professional soldier, but forever afterward war to him would be an awful act, to be entered on only for the most transcendental of purposes.

In this feeling MacArthur was one with most of the nonmilitary intelligent men of his age. He had a profound hatred of war, but any war upon which he embarked must henceforth be a crusade. In no other way could the suffering be justified.

It would occur to few of that generation that wars fought for a higher purpose must always be the most hideous of all. It is desperately hard for men to accept that there is a direct path from the highest ideals to the torture chamber — for no man who accepts with his whole heart can fail equally to reject with his whole being.

In his feeling for war, MacArthur was a typical American of his school. He was one with Woodrow Wilson, whose pronouncements deeply influenced him, and he was one with Franklin Roosevelt. War was to be entered upon with sadness, with regret, but also with ferocity.

War was horrible, and whoever unleashed it must be smitten and destroyed, unto the last generation, so that war should arise no more.

When war is entered upon for the highest moral purpose, there can be no substitute for victory, short of betrayal of that purpose, and of the men who die.


It was no accident that of all American military men, only MacArthur and Eisenhower, untypical of their caste, should be seriously considered for the Presidency, and that of the two only Eisenhower, more in the mainstream of American social tradition, should receive the office.


For now, in early 1951, two points of view concerning war entered collision course. One, MacArthur’s, was that of Wilson, Roosevelt, George Marshall, and most of the older generation. War must never be an extension of politics; it must be jihad.

Such men recoil at the thought of nuclear war, but in general prepare for nothing else. A crusade, by its very nature, cannot be limited.

But in Korea, in 1950–1951, the United States was not fighting a holy war. Momentarily, and at MacArthur’s urging, it had lost sight of its original goal and proceeded into the never-never land.

President Truman and his advisers, wrapped tightly now in the embracing U.N. cloak, would not enter the twilight zone again.

Now troops were being used as a counterpawn on the broader table of diplomacy, for a specific, limited purpose: the holding in check of expansionist Communism. The troops remained, fighting, because State argued that abandonment of Korea would be a political error irredeemable in Asia, even while the Pentagon, concerned for Europe, scraping the bottom of its strategic troop barrel, talked of ways to end the war “with honor.”

To each group, the men about the President, and the men about MacArthur, the viewpoint of the other seem immoral. Collision was inevitable and necessary.


The Supreme Commander, Collins said, saw three possible courses of American action.

One was to continue the war in Korea as before, under limiting restrictions. This meant no large-scale reinforcement of U.N. troops, no retaliatory measures against Red China, such as bombardment of Manchurian bases, naval blockade, or the use of Nationalist Chinese forces.

A second course was to enlarge the conflict by the bombing of the Chinese mainland, blockading the coast, and setting Chiang Kai-shek free, with American support, to fight both in Korea and in South China, giving Communist China more than it had bargained for.

The third course would be to get the CCF to agree to remain north of the 38th parallel, and to make an armistice upon that basis, under U.N. supervision.

MacArthur then told Collins he personally favored the second course. The first course, to him, was identical with surrender. He would, however, agree to the third, if it could be managed.


He recognized that MacArthur, however, had a perfect right to make his own views known to his chief. But the problem soon arose that MacArthur began to make his views known to everyone.

Borders have been out of fashion, but they are very useful in a crisis

Friday, December 18th, 2020

It’s important to note that COVID is a crisis of moderate magnitude:

The problem is that it’s been very hard to come up with a measured, moderate response proportionate to the dangers of an infection that spreads exponentially and thus tends to be either growing or shrinking.

As Tyler Cowen has pointed out, it’s very hard to fight coronavirus to a draw. It’s probably beyond our skill set. Instead, at any point in time, the place where you live is either winning over it or losing to it.


Unfortunately, coronavirus is not like most problems where you can make fine adjustments in your response.


The fundamental problem the USA has faced in winning against COVID is that we are a vast, continent-size country with no effective internal political boundaries for shutting down travel within the landmass. New Zealand could isolate itself from the world, Australia could politically separate its big cities because they are in separate states. And Europe could reactivate its pre-EU national borders. But in the U.S., where numerous metropolitan areas such as New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City sprawl across state lines, it’s been virtually inconceivable to shut down internal travel. Borders have been out of fashion, but they are very useful in a crisis.

So we are now in a third wave.


As you see, the shape of the COVID and non-COVID curves are nearly identical, with both peaking in April and mid-summer. This suggests that many of the excess deaths not attributed to COVID actually were related to COVID.

In the long run, we no doubt will pay a price in deaths due to hunkering down to avoid the virus, such as in cancer screenings canceled. But those would be expected to pile up later in the year. Instead this year’s peak for excess deaths not blamed on COVID came during the early-April COVID crisis that ripped through New York City, suggesting that most of the excess deaths were either undiagnosed COVID or, say, people suffering heart attacks who didn’t dare go to the hospital until too late.

Hence the official count of 300,000 COVID deaths so far is likely an underestimate, with the real number being between 350,000 and 400,000. Moreover, with a lag of roughly 22 days between cases and deaths on average, tens of thousands more people who are presently infected can be expected to die over the next month.


As of late September, the CDC estimated that 53 million Americans, or 16 percent, have been infected. Back then there were about 200,000 confirmed deaths and likely a quarter of a million actual deaths, suggesting an infection fatality rate of almost 0.5 percent.

If achieving herd immunity the hard way requires nearly 250 million natural infections, that would mean about 1.2 million COVID deaths.

That’s a lot.

It had never been anticipated that the great powers at the end of World War II would have no community of interest

Thursday, December 17th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachAfter the Chinese intervened in Korea in November 1950, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), Truman affirmed that the atom bomb remained an option:

Above all else, the world wished to avoid general war, and atomic war in particular.


For the first time the U.N. cloak that the United States Government had so expeditiously woven for its action in Korea became not a support, but a hindrance.


With the entry of Red China into the fighting, the sharp U.S. setback in the north, and the prospect of an enlarged war yawning ominously, the nations composing the U.N. suddenly became restive. American leadership, unfortunately, had lost a great deal of its prestige on the battlefield.


The United Nations had been envisioned — however it was sold to the peoples of the world — not as a parliament of earth but as a controlling body on the question of peace and war. Real power, through the institution of the veto, remained where it was in reality, in the hands of the great powers: America, Britain, China, the Soviet Union. The problem, as well as the tragedy of the United Nations organization, was that it had never been anticipated that the great powers at the end of World War II would have no community of interest.

The first U.N. action utilizing force was, in essence, against itself, for the Soviet Union, sponsor of North Korea, continued in membership. Only the fact that the U.S.S.R. was absent in June 1950 permitted the Security Council to take effective action.


When President Truman made the decision to intervene in Korea — with general support — Dean Acheson said to him that the decision “might not always be so popular as it seemed at the moment.”

Secretary of State Acheson, a much-maligned man, was soon proved to be a prophet, though his status resembled that of most prophets as far as honor in his own land was concerned. Acheson, always intensely anti-Communist, had always to be intensely practical. In the months following Korea, any American Secretary of State in addition to other qualifications needed the abilities of a door-to-door salesman of insurance. Acheson, an aristocrat, a brilliant mind, and a practical man, could never be an effective salesman of policy.

Making hiring more ethnically biased was, of course, the point of Luevano

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

One of the more evil things an outgoing administration can do, Steve Sailer notes, is to intentionally forfeit in court against what ought to be a nuisance lawsuit:

For example, its last day in office in January 1981, the Carter administration did long term damage to the U.S. government by abolishing the venerable civil service examination for hiring federal bureaucrats. The pretext was a consent decree throwing the derisory Luevano suit against the Carter Administration that had been rigged up by Carter’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its allies on the left.

Ironically, civil service exams to reform the spoils system were one of the great causes of 19th century progressives. When President James Garfield was assassinated by a frustrated office-seeker in 1881, public opinion veered decisively toward awarding federal jobs by competitive examination.

During the 1920s, federal testing for job seekers became scientific. By the late 1970s, the federal government had a superb test, the Professional and Administrative Career Examination, which had been validated for 118 different positions.

Of course, blacks and Hispanics did less well on this test than whites and Asians. Therefore the EEOC tacitly sponsored a lawsuit and filed it under the name of a Mexican-American plaintiff who had failed the test, Angel Luevano.

For two years the Carter administration quietly conspired with liberal public interest law firms, the purported opponents in the suit. And as it was packing up, the Carter Justice Department signed a consent decree, approved by a picked judge, junking the civil service examination.


The outgoing Carter Justice officials declared that no exam could replace PACE until a valid one without adverse impact on blacks and Hispanics could be devised. In the 34 years since, this has proven impossible. So, ever since, most federal jobs have been awarded by various temporary makeshift methods involving high degrees of subjectivity. (Making hiring more ethnically biased was, of course, the point of Luevano.)

They could crack a line

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachThe Chinese by prodigally throwing men against fire and steel had wiped out a defending unit, but, as T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), that in itself availed them nothing:

The Chinese now demonstrated what would be proved again and again upon the Korean Field of battle: they could crack a line, but a force lacking mechanization, air power, and rapid communications could not exploit against a force possessing all three.