The no supplementation group was associated with 14.3 times the risk of death compared to those who regularly supplemented with vitamin D

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

Peter Attia wouldn’t claim that vitamin D is a magic pill against infection, given the evidence we have:

While it is easy to fool ourselves, quasi-experimental studies like this one, for example, shouldn’t be overlooked completely. The study reported the 14 day mortality of 77 elderly (mean age 88 years) hospitalized patients comparing those that regularly supplemented vitamin D in the preceding 12 months and those that started supplementing after COVID-19 diagnosis. Both groups were compared to a third group that didn’t supplement with vitamin D at all. Long-time supplementers had a 93.1% survival rate compared to 81.7% survival rate in the more recent supplementers, and there was a 68.7% survival rate in the group that didn’t take vitamin D. Given the hazard ratio 0.07 in the first group, the study reported a 93% reduced associated risk for those that regularly supplemented vitamin D. In other words, the no supplementation group was associated with 14.3 times the risk of death compared to those who regularly supplemented with vitamin D.

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) do, nonetheless, continue to be the gold standard. There is one pilot RCT that looked at the rate of ICU admission and death for 76 people with and without in-hospital vitamin D supplementation. It reported that 98% of the treatment group did not get admitted to the ICU compared to 50% admission in the untreated group, of which 15% (2 people) later died. After adjusting for confounding variables, patients treated with vitamin D had 0.03 times the risk for ICU admission compared to non-treatment. Put another way, patients not treated with vitamin D had 33.3 times the risk of ICU admission compared to patients treated with vitamin D. And if you want further commentary on the importance of RCTs to distinguish signal from noise on issues like this, my conversation with Vinay Prasad gets to the heart of the matter.

The only thing worse than hardly knowing anything was knowing a little bit more

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

Tom Vanderbilt decided to learn to play chess as an adult, when his daughter started learning:

Even as your skills and knowledge progress, there is a potential value to holding on to that beginner’s mind. In what’s come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, the psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger showed that on various cognitive tests the people who did the worst were also the ones who most “grossly overestimated” their actual performance. They were “unskilled and unaware of it”.

This can certainly be a stumbling block for beginners. But additional research later showed that the only thing worse than hardly knowing anything was knowing a little bit more. This pattern appears in the real world: doctors learning a spinal surgery technique committed the most errors not on the first or second try, but on the 15th; pilot errors, meanwhile, seem to peak not in the earliest stages but after about 800 hours of flight time.


In the face of my agonised dithering, they would launch fast, brute-force attacks — sometimes effective, sometimes foolhardy. “Children just kind of go for it,” Daniel King, the English grandmaster and chess commentator, told me. “That kind of confidence can be very disconcerting for the opponent.”

Young children, for example, have been shown to be faster and more accurate at tests involving “probabilistic sequence learning” — the sort in which people must guess which triggers will lead to what events (for example, if you press button A, event X will happen).

After the age of 12, this ability begins to decline. As researchers suggest, people start relying more on “internal models” of cognition and reasoning, instead of what they see right in front of them. In other words, they overthink things. In chess games, where my adult opponents often seemed to battle unseen internal demons, the kids just seemed to twitch out a series of moves.


When I asked our chess coach about what it was like to teach adult chess beginners as opposed to child chess beginners, he thought for a moment and said: “Adults need to explain to themselves why they play what they play.” Kids, he said, “don’t do that”. He compared it to languages: “Beginner adults learn the rules of grammar and pronunciation and use those to put sentences together. Little kids learn languages by talking.”


A study that had adults aged 58 to 86 simultaneously take multiple classes — ranging from Spanish to music composition to painting — found that after just a few months, the learners had improved not only at Spanish or painting, but on a battery of cognitive tests. They’d rolled back the odometers in their brains by some 30 years, doing better on the tests than a control group who took no classes.

Occasionally the guards would find a corpse in the latrine

Saturday, January 30th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachInside the U.S. POW camps, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), Communists and non-Communists jostled for control, so they were separated:

But the screening did have one result. The worst Communists, officers and men alike, were segregated into compounds like the soon-to-be-notorious 76. The segregation did not have the desired result; instead, it concentrated Communist talent.


When the Americans told the prisoners to elect representatives from each compound, Lee and Hong were ready. The campaign was brief, violent, and secretly bloody.


Occasionally, the guards would find a corpse in the latrine, or a body stuffed down the sewer line. Now and then a roll call turned up someone short, and the POW’s would seem to be uneasy, talking and muttering in small groups.


The new chief honchos, or head knockers, met daily with the guards, and began to demand things.

To their delight, they were never disappointed.

They asked for whitewash, and got it. Soon, pretty rock designs of Chinese, Korean, and U.S. flags adorned the compound yards. They asked for record players, paper, ink, mimeograph machines, and work tools.

Because the U.N. Commission felt it was good therapy to let them work, they got everything they asked for, at U.S. expense.

There was no appropriation for extra barbed wire, or for more compounds to case the crucial housing shortage, which made the existing compounds so large as to be almost unmanageable. But there was money for sheet metal, saws, hammers, and nails for the prisoners, who went studiously to work, making things. Some of the items they made they buried underneath the floors of their huts before the Americans had a chance to admire them.


During this period, Major Gregory noticed that the population of Koje-do, aside from the POW’s, was increasing. More and more Koreans showed up, to get jobs as servants, houseboys, laundrymen, barbers. The U.S. payroll, after the manner of such rolls, continued to increase geometrically each month. In Colonel Fitzgerald’s HQ there were more Koreans than GI’s.


The POW press turned out more and more newssheets, flooding the island. Many began to turn up in Pusan, as the paper ration was increased. One evening Major Gregory found one in his quarters. He asked his houseboy what it said.

He was told, “Oh, the Communists are telling the people what fools the Americans are.”

A Plan which doesn’t rely on there being a greater fool to buy at a higher price

Friday, January 29th, 2021

If you’ve been following mainstream media coverage of /r/WallStreetBets and the wildly swinging Gamestop stock, Eliezer Yudkowsky notes, you may not be aware that /r/WallStreetBets has a Plan at all beyond “Let’s all buy the stock to pump it up, making all of us rich”:

But /r/WallStreetBets has a Plan — a Plan which doesn’t rely on there being a greater fool to buy at a higher price. I was quite surprised, when I first looked into the affair yesterday — surprised enough that I ended up writing this article despite having no specialist expertise or credentials. No, I’m not buying or selling Gamestop, and I won’t be recommending that you do so. I’m writing this because a certain feature of the affair is one I find interesting. On my home planet it would be front-page news, but the media here has other priorities; it hasn’t reported at all the interesting part, anywhere that I’ve read.

So what’s this Plan about? Roughly, it’s to engineer a short squeeze on Gamestop, but with a historically unprecedented twist. No, I can’t just tell you the twist right this minute and stop wasting your time. It legitimately takes some background to explain, unless you’re starting out understanding more than I did. In principle, one could deduce it just from having heard “/r/WallStreetBets has a plan to engineer a short squeeze on Gamestop”; but I had to be walked through several steps myself before I realized.

Sometimes, when you think you’re holding a stock in your account — say, GlomCo stock, for the sake of concreteness — your broker isn’t really holding all the shares of that stock. What your broker did instead, was charge somebody else to borrow some of the GlomCo shares it’s theoretically holding on behalf of end-consumers like you; then the borrower sells the GlomCo stock with intent to buy it back later and repay the loan. Key detail: whoever buys this stock may then have their broker quietly loan it out again in turn, behind the scenes.

Or more concretely, Alice buys 100 shares of GlomCo and holds them at Charles Schwab. Charles Schwab quietly loans those 100 shares to Bob, who short-sells them to Carol, who holds her shares at Fidelity, which quietly loans out 100 shares to Dennis, who sells them to Eileen. If you imagine that GlomCo only had 100 shares in the first place, then at the end of this operation there is “200% short interest outstanding” in GlomCo: Bob and Dennis have collectively borrowed-and-sold (and now owe back) 200 shares of GlomCo, or 2X as much as actually exists. That’s without “naked shorting” or selling synthetic copies of a stock.


The last I heard, Gamestop had 130% short interest outstanding. That is, short-sellers have collectively borrowed, and now collectively owe, 130% as much Gamestop stock as exists anywhere.
This happens, from time to time, in stock markets. When it does, it creates an opportunity for hedge funds to make a daring play. If a hedge fund can buy up enough of the company stock themselves, they can hold enough that the short-sellers have to go to the hedge fund to buy back the stock.


Cases surprisingly close to that have actually happened. In one of the legendary cases, Volkswagen was very heavily shorted, and Porsche announced it had bought up over 74% of Volkswagen… while around 55% of Volkswagen shares were held by index funds, effectively unavailable for trading at any price. That these two numbers sum to over 100% is not an error. Prices of Volkswagen shares spiked to where Volkswagen was briefly the most expensive company in the world. Or for another example, Martin Shkreli once engineered a 10,000% price rise via short squeeze on a small company called KalaBios. It’s not just a weird hypothetical theory; it has actually worked and people have collected huge profits on it.

This is what /r/WallStreetBets is trying to do with Gamestop — buy up enough of Gamestop themselves that there’s not enough other Gamestop shares left, on the broader market, to pay back the 130% outstanding shorts. If it works, it forces the short sellers to buy back some shares at whatever price /r/WallStreetBets decides to charge. The stock price is swinging as I revise this; when I wrote the first draft, as of Wednesday’s close the stock price was at $347, for a market cap of $24 billion. Gamestop was under $5 one year ago.

But so far as I know, this scheme has never before been successfully carried out by a large group of retail investors instead of a hedge fund. And there’s a fundamental reason for that! A group of retail investors face a technically interesting coordination problem in trying to engineer a short squeeze, a problem that one monolithic hedge fund does not face. So I will be really interested if /r/WallStreetBets pulls it off successfully, or even mostly successfully.


What most mainstream coverage I’ve seen, tries to insinuate is going on, is that /r/WallStreetBets is just a horde of suckers on the Internet, trying to buy up enough of some random company that the stock price skyrockets, hoping they’ll all get rich. From reading mainstream coverage, I didn’t realize there was a Plan beyond this; until I mentioned the issue on Twitter, and some more knowledgeable people graciously corrected me. But indeed, if that were all that was happening, it would be a classic “pump” scheme; which can’t generate net profits for all of the buyers, because the buyers are playing a zero-sum game among themselves.


If too many of them try to sell all their shares back, when the price goes astronomical— then the very very earliest sellers may make a vast profit. But the share price will start dropping fast, and only the earliest sellers will get Lambos.


If too many people defect and sell 100% right away, the scheme collapses. The stock price may drop precipitously if it looks like that might be starting to happen; and then the scheme is only repairable if that causes enough of /r/WallStreetBets to lock up, hunker down, and wait for the price to go back up again. If instead it panics a large-enough fraction of squeezers into selling 100%, the whole scheme is over.
This is why short squeezes are usually engineered by a monolithic hedge fund — it doesn’t face the same coordination problems internally.

For a hundred thousand people to do the same would be unprecedented! I don’t just mean that the particular scheme of short-squeezing is unprecedented; I mean that I’ve never heard of human beings successfully solving a coordination problem built out of thousands of strangers, with big financial payouts for early defection and zero ability to enforce against defection.

The U.S. Army understood Asians imperfectly, and Communists not at all

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachWhen the Korean War began, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the United States had no experience handling hostile prisoners of war:

It had developed no real doctrine; it had trained no personnel. And worse, the United States Army understood Asians imperfectly, and Communists not at all.

When the thousands began to flow into the POW cages in Korea, U.S. authorities were certain of only one thing: they did not want to bring almost 100,000 Orientals to the homeland for detention. The prisoner-of-war compounds on Koje-do were born of expediency. And like so many measures so adopted in the modern age, the temporary solution became permanent. Once rid of the POW’s, General Ridgway, and his successor, Van Fleet, never wanted them back.


Cold, hungry, and apathetic, the POW’s sat in the fields, and waited. They gave no trouble. They expected to be badly used, after the way of all captives in the Orient. At the best, they expected to wear their lives away in labor battalions, slaving for their captors. At the worst, they expected to be shot.


The inescapable Anglo-Saxon sensitivity to race — all the captives belonged to the colored races — tended toward a certain overcompensation on the part of the American guards. It was not enough to stress that the POW’s were human beings, to which there could be no argument; it must be brought out that they were fully equal human beings, which was debatable.


Nobody asked Colonel Fitzgerald, however, the approved method by which democracy was taught, which was probably just as well. As it turned out, the method seemed to consist in giving the POW’s anything they wanted. As Bill Gregory put it: “We told ’em we’re here to serve you. If you want anything, you let us know, boy. We’re going to show you what democracy means. You’re all damn fools to be Communists — you do the way we do, and you’ll be living on top of the world.”


The POW’s were furnished books on democracy, and copies of the United States Constitution. That took care of the theory, for those who could read.

For the rest of it, tons of athletic equipment, much of it abandoned by U.S. units in Pusan, were shipped in. A new hospital was built, with sick call daily. North Korean and Chinese doctors treated the POW’s; these men were allowed all the drugs and medicines they desired.

Mess halls were constructed. The POW’s own cooks worked in stone and baked clay kitchens, with new Korean utensils. They were given more rice, fish, and vegetables than nine-tenths of them had seen in their lifetime.

They were inspected for cleanliness and health by a special Medical Sanitation Company.

They were given new clothing, some of which, like socks, they didn’t know how to use.

Because most of the U.S. supply of fatigue uniforms had been diverted to surplus sales and relief work around the world and now with a new war were scarce, the POW’s were issued new officers’ pinks and greens, straight from QM depots. Each man received new boots and a clean mattress cover.

Major Gregory saw many men inside the barbed wire walking about in better uniforms than he owned. American officers had to pay for their uniforms, and Bill Gregory had a family in the States.

The faces of liberals and conservatives consistently differ

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Facial recognition technology can expose individuals’ political orientation, as faces of liberals and conservatives consistently differ:

A facial recognition algorithm was applied to naturalistic images of 1,085,795 individuals to predict their political orientation by comparing their similarity to faces of liberal and conservative others. Political orientation was correctly classified in 72% of liberal–conservative face pairs, remarkably better than chance (50%), human accuracy (55%), or one afforded by a 100-item personality questionnaire (66%). Accuracy was similar across countries (the U.S., Canada, and the UK), environments (Facebook and dating websites), and when comparing faces across samples. Accuracy remained high (69%) even when controlling for age, gender, and ethnicity. Given the widespread use of facial recognition, our findings have critical implications for the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

American mothers had given their sons everything in the world, except a belief in themselves

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachThe problem of prisoners of war, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), is one of chemistry, and culture:

Americans who felt, and still feel, that their soldiers taken by a power of different culture and lesser standards of humanity should be, or will be, treated in accordance with decent Western standards are naïve.

They were naïve in 1950, since no American fighting men were prepared in any way to face what they could be expected to face. The Army, as well as government and society, was at fault. All had known for some years of Communist methods of indoctrinating POW’s — the world knew of Colonel General Paulus’ experiences after Stalingrad — and knew what Asian Communist culture was like. But just as they had not prepared their young men to fight, they had not prepared them to go into captivity.


In Andersonville, Americans fought each other for scraps of food, and let each other die. Tough panzer grenadiers of the Wehnnacht, whom no one has accused of being overly fat or soft, went listless in Communist pens, and died “for no reason.” Americans and Britons in Japanese prisons retreated into dream worlds, and some informed on their buddies.

A human being in a prison camp, in the hands of his enemies, is flesh, and shudderingly vulnerable.

A slender Chinese officer addressed American POWs at the mining camp they would come to call Death Valley:

He told them that the People’s Volunteers had decided to treat them, not as war criminals, but under China’s new Lenient Policy. Though the officer did not say it, the average Army POW would be treated much like an average Chinese felon or class enemy. No great pressures would be put on him, other than those of starvation, lack of medical care, and a certain amount of indoctrination.

This was the Lenient Policy. All American POW’s, however, were not subject to it. Airmen, in particular, who were bombing North Korea to rubble, rousing the hatred of both Chinese and Koreans, were criminals from the start. Later, when the typhus carried across the Yalu by the CCF hordes spread to the civil population, airmen would be accused of germ warfare, giving the CCF both an out and a chance at a propaganda coup.

Airmen, and some others, would be put under acute stress to confess alleged war crimes. Some were put in solitary. Some were physically tortured. All were starved and interrogated until their nerves shrieked. They were treated in almost the identical way that political prisoners had been treated by Communists for a generation.

Even under the Lenient Policy, no relief parcels were allowed to be delivered to Communist POW’s, nor were any neutral observers, at any time, allowed to inspect the prison camps.


It has always been customary to separate officers from sergeants, and sergeants from other ranks, in POW camps. It is the most effective way of breaking down possible resistance and cohesion in any group of prisoners, American or Hungarian. But the Chinese tried a new twist.

“No one here has any rank — you are all the same,” the Chinese said. To Sergeant Schlichter’s horror, this had an immediate appeal for many men.

One soldier went up to an officer and slapped him on the back. “Hey, Jack, how the hell are you?” He thought it was very funny.

The Chinese smiled, too.

In this way, and in others, such as putting ranking POW’s on the most degrading jobs, the Chinese broke what little discipline remained in the POW ranks.


Morale, among the captives, was already gone. Now the last shred of discipline went, and with it went many Americans’ hope of surviving.

There was no one to give the POW’s direction, except the Chinese.


The disciplines that hold men together in the face of fear, hunger, and danger are not natural. Stresses equal to, and beyond, the stress of fear and panic must be overlaid on men. Some of these stresses are called civilization. And even the highest of civilizations demands leadership.


The veneer of civilized decency is much thinner than most Americans, even after seeing Auschwitz and Belsen, think.


The food they received daily, in a bucket, was not enough to keep the average American in decent health. Rapidly, they began to starve.

A number had combat wounds that had received only cursory treatment. Infection and dysentery seared them, making the huts even more horrible.


Each day, Shadish and Schlichter, crawling from man to man, had to play God. To the four men who had the best chance to live, they administered the sulfa. The worse off, Schlichter said later, “We committed to God’s care.”


The prisoners continued to receive only a diet of millet and maize, boiled in a pot, delivered in a bucket, supplemented by dog. But the dogs grew more wary, and the prisoners weaker. Without salt, greens, or essential minerals, they sickened.

The sick and those with war wounds died first. Then the men without faith began to die, often, seemingly, of nothing at all.

The youngest men, oddly, died first.


In Charles Schlichter grew a feeling, which he never lost, that some American mothers had given their sons everything in the world, except a belief in themselves, their culture, and their manhood. They had, some of them, sent their sons out into a world with tigers without telling them that there were tigers, and with no moral armament.


There were some Turks and ROK’s with the Americans. To Schlichter’s knowledge, not one Turk had died.


Charles Schlichter closed out the hospital by burning the straw pallets on which the sick had lain. When the straw went into the fire, the floor and shimmering sides of the stoves were black with lice, trying to jump away.


As he left, he stood up in the cart, looking back. The last sight he had of Death Valley was of three starving Korean dogs, snuffling warily in from the hills to feed on the bodies of the young Americans they had left behind.

There are no libertarians in a pandemic

Monday, January 25th, 2021

There are no libertarians in a pandemic,” Atlantic writer Derek Thompson quipped — and then, Jacob Grier notes, the line was taken up by libertarians themselves as a sardonic response to numerous instances of government failure:

In fact, libertarian criticism of the regulatory state has been frequently vindicated. Libertarians have developed ideas for how to compensate those affected by business closures, take better advantage of testing, and develop and distribute vaccines more rapidly. Libertarians can also rightly condemn some of the worst actors in the pandemic, from anti-maskers violating private property rights to the prison system’s oversight of the nation’s largest outbreaks.

There are libertarians in a pandemic, and it turns out they have some good ideas and insightful critiques.


The American pandemic response was beset by government failure from the very beginning. In February of 2020, the most urgent priority in the United States was deploying COVID tests to identify cases, survey the extent of the virus’s spread, and attempt to contain it. Although the World Health Organization had already developed a working test, the Centers for Disease Control designed its own from scratch. The CDC test turned out to be unworkably flawed, reporting false positives even on distilled water.

Around the same time, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency. Ironically, one effect of this declaration was to forbid clinical labs from creating their own tests without first obtaining an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Bureaucratic hurdles — which included pointless requirements to send files by mail and to prove that the tests would not return false positives for MERS and the original SARS virus — slowed development. The early outbreak in Washington was uncovered in part by researchers simply defying the CDC to test samples without permission.


In the healthcare field, states responded by easing licensing requirements to allow medical personnel to practice across state lines and increase access to telehealth. In some states, ride-share companies expanded non-medical transportation and got into pharmaceutical delivery, thanks to waived regulations. The FDA relaxed enforcement of rules to speed the production of respiratory devices and personal protective equipment. The agency also allowed distillers to pivot from spirits to hand sanitizer, albeit with strict denaturing requirements that needlessly raised costs and reduced supply.

As indoor dining plummeted due to mandated closures and the risk of airborne transmission, the hospitality industry benefited immensely from cities allowing more use of outdoor spaces and expanding the legality of outdoor drinking, both of which made urban environments much more livable and fun. All of it went to show how unnecessarily prohibitive the rules had been before COVID. Alcohol has been deregulated in ways that would have been unimaginable a year ago, with states tearing down barriers to home delivery and allowing bars and restaurants to serve cocktails to-go. These changes are nice for consumers, but more importantly, they provide a lifeline to struggling businesses and hospitality workers.

As of August, Isabelle Morales of Americans for Tax Reform had documented more than 800 regulations waived in response to COVID. While some of these will eventually come back into force, the pandemic has revealed how regulations often inhibit flexibility. In many cases — consulting our doctors over the internet, enjoying outdoor spaces, getting cocktails with our takeout — we’re simply better off without them.


The largest COVID outbreaks in the United States are in our prisons and jails. Data collected by the Marshall Project and the Associated Press finds that 275,000 prisoners have been infected and that more than 1,700 have died. One in five prisoners has had the virus, about four times the rate in the general population. In some states more than half of the incarcerated population has been infected. These outbreaks can seed wider spread in surrounding communities.


Governments from New York to California to Florida have instituted and walked back outdoor restrictions such as shutting down beaches and closing parks and playgrounds.

Epidemiologist Julia Marcus noted early this summer that these heavy-handed approaches drive socializing indoors where the risk of transmission is higher and that coercive policing of social distancing disproportionately impacts minorities while undermining trust. A better approach would focus on harm reduction, recognizing humans’ social needs and encouraging the safest ways to meet them.

Relatedly, people will act independently to ignore restrictions when they perceive risk to be low and to mitigate danger when they perceive it to be high.


One of the most astonishing facts of this pandemic is that the Moderna vaccine was designed on January 13, 2020, before most of us had even heard of the then-novel coronavirus and before any American had died from it. Other vaccines followed very soon after. For nearly the entire run of the pandemic, which has taken 400,000 lives in the United States and more than two million globally, the tools were available to stop the disease, if only we’d known how to test, produce, and distribute them more rapidly.

Libertarians, as well as others on the ideological spectrum ranging from Peter Singer to Sally Satel, made the case for using human challenge trials to accelerate the testing of vaccine candidates. The website 1 Day Sooner signed up more than 38,000 volunteers to take part in them. Others, including many bioethicists, objected that volunteers could not give meaningful consent to the potential danger. Yet the risk of participating would likely be comparable to that of donating a kidney, another altruistic medical decision that ethicists discouraged in the recent past. Every day without a vaccine also shifts COVID risks onto healthcare workers and others in the general population, including those more vulnerable than likely trial volunteers. If human challenge trials can accelerate vaccine development, there’s a strong case for respecting the autonomous decisions of volunteers to take part in them.


The dreadfully slow rollout of vaccines embodies the perils of central planning. Despite the scarcity of doses, states are struggling to use their allocations. In some instances, unused doses are ending up in the trash. The most successful states and countries, such as Israel and Connecticut, have emphasized speed and flexibility over rigid adherence to vaccinating people in the “correct” order. Simple rules work better than elaborate plans and doses do more good in bodies than on shelves or in the garbage. Strict compliance with demands to vaccinate only certain groups threatens to undermine the goal of simply getting enough people vaccinated to reduce transmission.

While states struggle to put their vaccines to use, people are also queuing for hours in hope of securing near-expiration doses that would otherwise go to waste. This is a predictable outcome of setting a price ceiling of zero dollars.


Combatting the spread of infectious disease is a legitimate function of government under many libertarian conceptions, and the unprecedented scope of COVID justifies a lot of government activity that libertarians would find unreasonable in other circumstances.

Still, it’s worth contemplating what a more libertarian response to the pandemic would have looked like.

  • We would have had more and better testing available during the earliest outbreaks when that would have helped slow the spread of the disease.
  • We would have more and better testing now and the freedom to test ourselves at home, empowering us to discover when we are asymptomatic and contagious.
  • We would have more vaccines, faster, available to more people.
  • We would have smaller prison clusters, more people freed on compassionate release, and fewer of us imprisoned in the first place.

Americans sometimes forget as quickly as they learn

Sunday, January 24th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachRidgway had no great interest in real estate, T. R. Fehrenbach quips (in This Kind of War):

He did not strike for cities and towns, but to kill Chinese. The Eighth Army killed them, by the thousands, as its infantry drove them from the hills and as its air caught them fleeing in the valleys.

By April 1951, the Eighth Army had again proved Erwin Rommel’s assertion that American troops knew less but learned faster than any fighting men he had opposed. The Chinese seemed not to learn at all, as they repeated Chipyong-ni again and again.

Americans had learned, and learned well. The tragedy of American arms, however, is that having an imperfect sense of history Americans sometimes forget as quickly as they learn.

The news now chased the reader

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

Traditional newspapers never sold news, Martin Gurri reminds us. They sold an audience to advertisers:

To a considerable degree, this commercial imperative determined the journalistic style, with its impersonal voice and pretense of objectivity. The aim was to herd the audience into a passive consumerist mass. Opinion, which divided readers, was treated like a volatile substance and fenced off from “factual” reporting.

The digital age exploded this business model. Advertisers fled to online platforms, never to return.


Led by the New York Times, a few prominent brand names moved to a model that sought to squeeze revenue from digital subscribers lured behind a paywall. This approach carried its own risks. The amount of information in the world was, for practical purposes, infinite. As supply vastly outstripped demand, the news now chased the reader, rather than the other way around.


During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Times stumbled onto a possible answer. It entailed a wrenching pivot from a journalism of fact to a “post-journalism” of opinion — a term coined, in his book of that title, by media scholar Andrey Mir. Rather than news, the paper began to sell what was, in effect, a creed, an agenda, to a congregation of like-minded souls. Post-journalism “mixes open ideological intentions with a hidden business necessity required for the media to survive,” Mir observes. The new business model required a new style of reporting. Its language aimed to commodify polarization and threat: journalists had to “scare the audience to make it donate.” At stake was survival in the digital storm.


In August 2016, as the presidential race ground grimly onward, the New York Times laid down a marker regarding the manner in which it would be covered. The paper declared the prevalence of media opinion to be an irresistible fact, like the weather. Or, as Jim Rutenberg phrased it in a prominent front-page story: “If you view a Trump presidency as something that is potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that.” Objectivity was discarded in favor of an “oppositional” stance. This was not an anti-Trump opinion piece. It was an obituary for the values of a lost era. Rutenberg, who covered the media beat, had authored a factual report about the death of factual reporting — the sort of paradox often encountered among the murky categories of post-journalism.

He was worth a dozen rational, decent men

Friday, January 22nd, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachIn Medic James Mount’s company, T. R. Fehrenbach tells us (in This Kind of War), there was a platoon sergeant named “Gypsy” Martin:

Martin carried a full canteen and bandoleer, but he also wore a bandanna and earring, and he had tiny bells on his boots. Gypsy Martin hated Chinese; he hated gooks, and he didn’t care who knew it.

In anything but war, Martin was the kind of man who is useless.

In combat, as the 24th Division drove north, men could hear Gypsy yell his hatred, as they heard his M-1 bark death. When Gypsy yelled, his men went forward; he was worth a dozen rational, decent men in those bloody valleys. His men followed him, to the death.

When Gypsy Martin finally bought it, they found him lying among a dozen “gooks,” his rifle empty, its stock broken. Other than in battle, Sergeant Martin was no good.


The values composing civilization and the values required to protect it are normally at war. Civilization values sophistication, but in an armed force sophistication is a millstone.


When Greek culture became so sophisticated that its common men would no longer fight to the death, as at Thermopylae, but became devious and clever, a horde of Roman farm boys overran them.

Americans rushed to display their newfound loathing for all things German

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

The current hysteria over “domestic terrorists” is often compared to incidents in Nazi Germany, Steve Sailer notes, but a better analog might be the Wilson administration’s demonization of German-Americans in 1917:

When the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917 (despite Wilson having been reelected five months before on the slogan: “He kept us out of the war”), the Wilson administration launched a propaganda and censorship campaign to castigate antiwar dissent as treason and potential insurrection.

Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917 to imprison Americans for crimes of “insubordination.”

The Sedition Act of 1918 doubled down, proscribing up to twenty years’ imprisonment for publishing disloyal language about the government of the United States. Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs was imprisoned for a speech outlining the anticapitalist critique of war until President Harding pardoned Debs and invited him to the White House.

We didn’t have tech monopolies back then to censor free speech for us for free, so the Postmaster General was instructed to block from the mails any document questioning American involvement.

By June 1917, many Americans remained unenthusiastic about the war, so the Wilson administration switched from promoting the war as a high-minded crusade for democracy and peace (“the war to end all wars”) to stoking anti-German ethnic hatred. Propaganda posters declaring “Destroy This Mad Brute: Enlist” portrayed the German Reich as a mad gorilla raping a lovely American redhead.

This push by the powers-that-be inspired a sudden Teutophobic cultural revolution as Americans rushed to display their newfound loathing for all things German. Sauerkraut was renamed liberty cabbage, dachshunds became liberty hounds, and, strangely, German measles were redubbed liberty measles.

In Cincinnati, pretzels were canceled from bars’ free lunches. Literary works printed in German were discarded by libraries and there was an occasional book burning.

The Goethe statue in Chicago was vandalized and it was debated whether to melt it down for war weapons.

A German-born baker was lynched in Illinois by coal miners and the jury acquitted his murderers.

At the more refined end of society, 29 musicians of the Boston Symphony Orchestra were rounded up and interned at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. Beethoven and Bach disappeared from concert schedules and the German Richard Wagner was replaced by the Frenchman Hector Berlioz.

As in 1939, it was hard to keep up with the rapidly changing political line. For example, a movie mogul who produced a patriotic silent film extolling the American Revolution of 1776 suddenly found his film vilified for being against the King of England.

By the time America finally calmed down under Harding’s “return to normalcy,” German-Americans had learned to keep their heads down. Restrictions on immigration passed in the 1920s helped American society mature. Hence, the challenges of the Depression and WWII were navigated with less of the national nervous breakdown that accompanied Wilson’s second term.

The Wilsonian forced assimilation of Germans proved helpful during World War II when German-Americans were overwhelmingly loyal. But the U.S. probably permanently lost some of the brilliance of German culture.

Looking back, the whole episode seems embarrassing.

They were ordered to remove the skulls, but the mood remained

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachIn discussing the Korean War, T. R. Fehrenbach (in This Kind of War) references the subject of a couple of his other books, Comanches: The History of a People and Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans:

As many years earlier, when the cavalry fighting on the Plains had developed leaders such as Miles, Crook, and Ranald Mackenzie, men who rode hard, made cold camps, threw away their sabers, and moved without bugle calls, putting aside all the things they had learned in the War Between the States — but who had driven the Indians without surcease, hammering them across the snows and mountains until their women sickened and their infants died and they lost their heart for war, so the Army developed men who learned to fight in Asia.

Soldiers learned to travel light, but with full canteen and bandoleer, and to climb the endless hills. They learned to hold fast when the enemy flowed at them, because it was the safest thing to do. They learned to displace in good order when they had to. They learned to listen and obey. They learned all the things Americans have always learned from Appomattox to Berlin.

Above all, they learned to kill.

On the frontier, there is rarely gallantry or glamour to wars, whether they are against red Indians or Red Chinese. There is only killing.

Men of a tank battalion set spikes on the forward sponsons of their tanks, and to these affixed Chinese skulls. This battalion had come back from Kuniri, and the display matched their mood. They were ordered to remove the skulls, but the mood remained.

Instead of realizing its own Sputnik moment, it is triggering one in China

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021

The US responded to the rise of the USSR and Japan by focusing on innovation, Dan Wang says, but so far the US is responding to the technological rise of China by kneecapping its leading firms:

So instead of realizing its own Sputnik moment, it is triggering one in China.

This year, the US doubled down. It produced two rounds of novel restrictions on Huawei, threatened wider restrictions on Tencent and ByteDance, forced the sale of TikTok to a US consortium, and limited technology exports on SMIC, DJI, and dozens of other companies. Aside from Alibaba, it’s hard to name many big Chinese tech firms that have not faced sanctions or the threat of one from the US.

The actual effects of these regulatory actions have been uneven. Designation to the entity list hasn’t always had a major impact on every company’s operations. Federal courts have tied up the bans on Tencent’s WeChat and ByteDance’s TikTok. At the same time, Huawei is trying to work through major difficulties, especially in its smartphone business. TikTok, China’s most successful tech export, still might be sold off. And more generally, Chinese firms are starting to be locked out of developed markets. Lack of access to the richest and most discerning consumers makes it more difficult to make the best products in the world.

The US can revel in Huawei’s pain. But its actions have not been costless to itself. By withholding components that Chinese companies have relied upon, the US government has turned American firms into unreliable suppliers. These restrictions can sometimes block non-American firms from making sales too. In an extraordinary assertion of extraterritoriality, the US declared in August that any company, anywhere in the world, needs to apply for a license to sell a product to Huawei if it is produced on the basis of US technologies.

Nothing can be easier to destroy than trust. Chinese companies have responded by de-Americanizing their supply chains because they have no choice. US politicians can observe the sometimes-devastating impacts of sanctions. What they don’t seem to realize — or want to believe — is that they’re simultaneously pummeling the American brand writ large. I’ve documented for Dragonomics the uncomfortable questions American companies tell me they’re starting to face on whether they can credibly be long-term suppliers. Elsewhere, the Economist has reported that even poultry farmers in China are wondering if they’ll be able to import baby chicks from the US. And there are now multiple reported instances of Japanese companies marketing themselves as more reliable than their American competitors. Moreover, I hear growing unease from companies in the rest of Asia and Europe on buying American. Can everyone really be sure that this denial campaign will be limited to a handful of bad Chinese actors? Or is a better model of the US government that once it has found a fun new toy, it will keep playing with it until it is no longer fun?

With these regulations, the US has initiated one of the greatest and strangest antitrust actions ever, against potentially all American exporters. The US Treasury has for years expressed worry about the potential decline of the dollar’s dominance following excessive use of blocking sanctions. This fear is turning into reality for the real economy. One might expect alarm bells to be going off in DC, but it doesn’t appear that there’s much pushback against these regulations, except for murmurs from trade associations. It’s possible to defend these moves as correct — for example by justifying that the costs on American firms are worth it for the chance to slow Huawei down right now — but the government does not appear to have had a vigorous debate about the tradeoffs. Instead, the strategy seems to be a result of bureaucratic kludges, pushed forward by whichever faction has the upper hand, made mostly because the financial sanctions office has resisted dealing a serious blow to Huawei in a single stroke.

For the most part, the control hawks faction of the government has had a run of the table, shown by the fact that US agencies have been more focused on taking down Chinese firms than extending US strengths. At a time when it’s more important than ever to advance its semiconductor companies, the government is crippling their sales to their largest or fastest-growing market. When research capabilities at US universities need to grow, the government is denying them students. And when the US should be attracting more talent to its shores, the government has made it more difficult for people to immigrate. Thus the US looks committed to a strategy to destroy the scientific and industrial establishment in order to save it.

Meanwhile in China, these actions have triggered a surge of interest in mastering technology. For the first time arguably since the industrial rise of Japan in the 1950s, a major country is committed to thinking deeply about the invention of its own tooling. A whole generation of scientists and engineers must examine foundational problems like to build leading tools (like lithography machines) and create the best materials (like wafers and chemicals). And the state is fully behind that effort. After steady calls from Xi throughout the year to master technology, the Central Economic Work Conference announced in December that science and technology work will be the top priority in 2021; the conference has never broken science and technology out as an independent item, never mind give it top spot.

In open battle no amount of savage cunning could substitute for firepower

Monday, January 18th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachMore than once, T. R. Fehrenbach notes (in This Kind of War), the world has seen an American army rise from its own ashes, reorient itself, and grow hard, bitter, knowledgeable, disciplined, and tough:

They had learned the Chinese could be cunning, but also stupid. Failing to meet quick success, he could not change his plan. Often he continued an operation long after it had turned into disaster, wasting thousands of his troops. Lacking air cover, artillery, and armor, his hordes of riflemen could be — and were — slaughtered, as the Eighth Army learned to roll with the punches and to strike back hard.

Again and again, with the prodigal use of men, he could crack the U.N. line at a given point. But the men at the point had learned to hold, inflicting terrible losses, and even if the line gave, the Chinese could not exploit, while U.N. reinforcements, mechanized, rushed to deploy in front of them and to their flanks.

In the terrain of South Korea, battle was more open, and in open battle no amount of savage cunning could substitute for firepower.