Belmont Club

Saving the Past at the Expense of the Future

AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Dec 11 2020 17:45@

Supreme Court Rejects Texas Challenge to Biden’s Victory in Presidential Election — WSJ

In a brief order, the court said Texas lacked legal standing to bring the case. “Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections,” the unsigned order said.

Two justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, said they believed the court was required to hear the case but expressed no position on Texas’s claim.

In other news, Covid in Europe: Death tolls soar and hospitals struggle as containment unravels.

Russia and Germany reported record daily Covid-19 deaths on Friday, and October was Russia’s deadliest month in a decade. Stockholm’s intensive care units hit 99% capacity as Sweden proposed a spring “pandemic law” to potentially force closures of certain public spaces. And France said its lockdown would not be eased as planned on Tuesday after daily case numbers rose on Thursday compared with last week.

When what used to work doesn’t work any longer it means there is something about the virus the health officials don’t completely understand.

The institutions are responding to the crises with the ‘same old, same old’.  What else can they do? But will the former repertoires still work?

In more news those won’t recognize Biden are rebels says Congressman.

Bill Pascrell, a House Democrat, called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren to sanction and exclude seating any Congress member or Congress member-elect who joined a Texas lawsuit aiming to nullify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in four states. Pascrell cited the 14th Amendment, which states no person who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the US should hold any civil or military office.

Dec 11 2020 14:35@

We often learn the truth but learn it too late. It emerges that the formula for the newly deployed vaccines were known at Moderna as early as January, 2020. But tests and trials take so long the process to release has taken till now.

Could things have moved faster from design to deployment? Given the grim prospects for winter, it is tempting to wonder. Perhaps, in the future, we will. But given existing vaccine infrastructure, probably not. Already, as Baylor’s Peter Hotez pointed out to me, “Operation Warp Speed” meant running clinical trials simultaneously rather than sequentially, manufacturing the vaccine at the same time, and authorizing the vaccine under “emergency use” in December based only on preliminary data that doesn’t track the long-term durability of protection or even measure the vaccine’s effect on transmission (only how much it protects against disease). And as Georgetown virologist Angela Rasmussen told me, the name itself may have needlessly risked the trust of Americans already concerned about the safety of this, or any, vaccine. Indeed, it would have been difficult in May to find a single credentialed epidemiologist, vaccine researcher, or public-health official recommending a rapid vaccine rollout — though, it’s worth noting, as early as July the MIT Technology Review reported that a group of 70 scientists in the orbit of Harvard and MIT, including “celebrity geneticist” George Church, were taking a totally DIY nasal-spray vaccine, never even intended to be tested, and developed by a personal genomics entrepreneur named Preston Estep (also the author of a self-help-slash-life-extension book called The Mindspan Diet).

Interestingly China and Russia were bigger risk takers than the US health bureaucracy.

China began administering a vaccine to its military in June. Russia approved its version in August. And while most American scientists worried about the speed of those rollouts, and the risks they implied, our approach to the pandemic here raises questions, too, about the strange, complicated, often contradictory ways we approach matters of risk and uncertainty during a pandemic — and how, perhaps, we might think about doing things differently next time. That a vaccine was available for the entire brutal duration may be, to future generations trying to draw lessons from our death and suffering, the most tragic, and ironic, feature of this plague.

There will be lessons learned.

For all of modern medical history, Christakis writes in Apollo’s Arrow, vaccines and cures for infectious disease have typically arrived, if they arrive, only in the end stage of the disease, once most of the damage had already been done and the death rate had dramatically declined. For measles, for scarlet fever, for tuberculosis, for typhoid, the miracle drugs didn’t bring rampant disease to a sudden end — they shut the door for good on outbreaks that had largely died out already.

It’s probably fortunate the disease was not more deadly and US health facilities so ample. If Covid-19 had been 90% fatal, would the bureaucrats have taken the chance?

BooksApollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live

Dec 10 2020 14:00@

The most disturbing aspect of foreign involvement in a deeply divided American political scene is that it makes outside intervention in a burgeoning cold civil war a virtual certainty. Civil wars, cold or otherwise, always attract outside powers. America is the greatest strategic prize on earth.

No great power can afford to see Washington under the control of a rival. If one outside power threatens to win their opponents will be supported by others. Unless Washington can find a new center with a substantial mandate, division and decline will be its fate for years if not decades to come.

The reckoning for identity politics and the spoils system is coming due.

Dec 9 2020 14:30@

George Friedman writes:

In “The Storm Before the Calm,” I wrote of two crises coming to a head in the 2020s: a socio-economic crisis and an institutional crisis. The latter has hit us like a hurricane.

There is a distrust of American institutions that crosses ideological lines. A quarter of voters, including half of Republican voters, believe the election was stolen from Donald Trump. In 2016, there was a widespread belief that Russian meddling helped Trump win the election. Other parts of the theory held that Trump had made a deal with the Russians or was being blackmailed by them. This seems to derive from claims by the losers and so was dismissed by the other side. But they argue the same thing: that democratic institutions are corrupt and are not to be trusted.

Most interesting is the symmetry. The claims regarding Trump and the Russians had their origins in the Democratic National Committee hack and the Steele dossier, and then expanded outward. Many Democrats still think that the claims are true. The current claims regarding the stolen 2020 election originated with Trump himself and will likely be accepted by Republicans for a long time. For all I know, one or both claims are correct. What is certain is that the public finds it possible to readily believe the most extreme claims.

Nothing will be like it was.

BooksWhat It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics by O. Carter Snead

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Dec 7 2020 14:00@

As the JFK quote goes “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” Clearly China sees the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity as the Guardian explains:

The high infection rates across many developed, democratic countries have helped divert the narrative away from China and its supposed “Chernobyl moment” to one of why democracies have performed so badly with the pandemic. It is a message that falls on fertile ground in many parts of the world. For example, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news station remarked that “China is the only country that has performed well in dealing with this crisis”. Solidarity in Europe “does not exist”, said Aleksandar Vučić, the president of Serbia, in an angry statement about import restrictions imposed by the European Union. “The only country that can help us is China,” he said.

The Chinese may think they can win a Cold War of Attrition and bankrupt or paralyze societies that attempt to maintain a pre-crisis standard. Because maintaining order is harder than disrupting Chinese plan to achieve dominance in 5 years.

I promise you this: I will spare no effort — or commitment — to end this pandemic. — Joe Biden

Beijing hopes to provoke the Western elite into squandering its resources on virtue signaling gestures and returning to some magic moment in the past. The way it used to be. But the actual opportunities are different now.

Instead of adapting faster than Beijing, which was the historical Western strong suit, they are gathering the relics of the aristocracy to revive the old glories of the royal court. China is of course happy to play that game.

Had it not been for the development of candidate vaccines, an economic activity undertaken primarily by industry, purely defensive government regulatory measures would have had limited success in altering the natural course of the pandemic.

Given the relative incentives it is in Beijing’s interest to keep the pot boiling because there is little that is unexpected or innovative in the West’s strategic response.

BooksThe Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe by Jay Richards. The human cost of the emergency response to COVID-19 has far outweighed the benefits. That’s the sobering verdict of a trio of scholars—a biologist, a statistician, and a philosopher.