January 22, 2021

"Fixating on the R number isn’t real science/The pandemic response should be based on judgment, not a figure that’s only an educated guess."

Writes Ed Conway at The London Times. 
Science is a discipline predicated on constant doubt and reassessment and contemplating the evidence through alternate prisms...Taking a number, stripping it of context and uncertainty and using it to justify policy is something else altogether. 
The economist Friedrich Hayek had a word for it, “scientism”, a kind of bastardisation of science which amounted to “the pretence of knowledge”. He was writing in the mid-20th century about socialist governments attempting to engineer economic planning by assuming complex society could be distilled into a few key metrics, but since then scientism has only grown. 
It came of age with Robert McNamara, US secretary of defence under Kennedy, whose data obsession meant the White House paid far more attention to the body count in Vietnam than more subjective questions like: have we any chance of winning this war? But, as the American historian Jerry Muller wrote in The Tyranny of Metrics, McNamara was only bringing to the Oval Office what had long been the mantra at business schools and management consultancies: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”...

Wikipedia has an article, "The McNamara Fallacy." It features this quote from Daniel Yankelovich, "Corporate Priorities: A continuing study of the new demands on business" (1972):

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide. 

That article has a great "See also" list: Allegory of the cave. Goodhart's law, Newton's flaming laser sword, Occam's razor, Streetlight effect, Truth, Verificationism, Verisimilitude. I can't read — or even link — all of that right now, but I am interested in Newton's Flaming Laser Sword:

In its weakest form it says that we should not dispute propositions unless they can be shown by precise logic and/or mathematics to have observable consequences. In its strongest form it demands a list of observable consequences and a formal demonstration that they are indeed consequences of the proposition claimed.
And who even thought about looking up "Truth" in Wikipedia? But that's a subject for a separate post, because it charmingly converges with something else I've been planning to blog about.

Ella Emhoff, the style icon.

I totally approve. The best of the inauguration (Daily Mail).

So grimly fun and playfully in-your-face. I feel resonance with the old hippie movement.

Emhoff is a design student at Parsons so it must be presumed that this is all quite intentionally, not just something she geekily stumbled into. Ah, yes:

Speaking to Vogue, Ella, who is in her final year at the Parsons School of Design in New York, explained how she had the bespoke look made. 'My mood board was very “little girl,” in a sense, a lot of scalloped collars and big silhouette shoulders and small buttons. 'I was going for something girlier, to embrace my feminine side — especially after that suit that I felt so great in — because, like, how many times do you prepare yourself to attend an inauguration? This momentous of an event deserves a momentous outfit,' she said.

She's studying textiles, specifically knitwear, and wants to have her own knitwear business. Great! I wish her big success.

Here's her Instagram page, for lots more pictures. 

The Bidenification of the Oval Office.


And now I have the answer to the question we had when we watched him sign those executive orders on Day 1: Who's that a bust of in the most prominent place right behind the desk, looming amongst the family photographs?

January 21, 2021

At the Sunrise Café...


... you can talk about whatever you want.

"Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like majority leader. We can get shit done around here and we ought to be focused on getting stuff done. If we don’t, the inmates are going to be running this ship."

Said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), quoted in "Democrats rebuff McConnell’s filibuster demands/'Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like majority leader'" (Politico)("McConnell has publicly and privately pressed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to work to keep the 60-vote threshold on most legislation as part of their power-sharing agreement. Democrats have no plans to gut the filibuster further, but argue it would be a mistake to take one of their tools off the table just as they're about to govern"). 

As for "the inmates are going to be running this ship" — the stock phrase is The inmates are running the asylum (or The lunatics are running the asylum). I don't know where Tester got a ship. The ship of state? What's he trying to say, anyway? That you don't want the Senators running the Senate?

A great story on the subject of lunatics running the asylum is Edgar Allan Poe, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether."

As for "get shit done" — well, it's funny to hear that from a fusty old Senator. I'm trying to figure out if "get shit done" is routine in the workplace these days. I can see that there are books on productivity with that in the title and motivational posters and mugs, but it didn't sound right to me. 

I looked up Tester's life story: "Before his election to the Senate, Tester had never lived more than two hours away from his north-central Montana farm.... [H]e butchers and brings his own meat with him to Washington. He said 'Taking meat with us is just something that we do... We like our own meat.'" 

Close to the farm, brings his own meat — I give him a total pass on "get shit done."

At the Moby Dick Café...


... you can pursue your dreams.

"For weeks, QAnon followers had been promoting 20 January as a day of reckoning, when prominent Democrats and other elite 'Satanic paedophiles' would be arrested and executed..."

"... on the orders of President Trump. But, as Mr Biden took his oath and no arrests were made, some in the QAnon community had an uncomfortable meeting with reality.... 'This is a very difficult day for all of us,' said one influencer whose Twitter account with 200,000 followers was recently suspended. 'Today's inauguration makes no sense to the Christian patriots and we thought "the plan" was the way we would take this country back.'... Some said they were waiting for 'Q,' who has been largely silent since election day, to post as they had so many unanswered questions. And some expressed hope that Mr Trump would communicate directly with them soon. However, a considerable chunk of the community remains steadfast in their belief, urging one another to remain patient and keep the faith." — From "Biden inauguration leaves QAnon believers in disarray" (BBC).

From "The QAnon 'Storm' Never Struck. Some Supporters Are Wavering, Others Steadfast" (NPR): "[E]ven late on Wednesday morning, QAnon groups were still hopeful that the mass arrests would materialize. But after noon, 'the mood changed quickly'... with supporters saying they felt fooled by Trump and felt sick. Feeling fooled may not lead to a return to normalcy.... [D]isappointed Q followers could be prime targets for radicalization by other extremist groups, like neo-Nazis.... A multitude of Q predictions has failed to materialize, and that has never stopped the conspiracies from spreading. Like apocalyptic cults that persist despite a noteworthy lack of apocalypse, QAnon may survive...." 

From "Inauguration sows doubt among QAnon conspiracy theorists" (AP): "'We gave it our all... Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.'... Other followers continued to hunt for clues that QAnon prophecies would be fulfilled, with several social media posts noting that Trump’s speech Wednesday was delivered in front of 17 American flags — a significant number to QAnon conspiracy theorists because 'Q' is the 17th letter of the alphabet. 'I believe the game is still being played this is not over!' one QAnon user wrote to his 26,000 Telegram followers moments after Biden took office."

"Orwell never equated technology with progress. On the contrary, he wrote during the war, 'every scientific advance speeds up the trend towards nationalism and dictatorship.'"

"It was in a review of [H.G.] Wells’s scenario for Things to Come that he mocked what he called the author’s false antithesis between the benign scientist and the bellicose reactionary. 'It never occurred to Mr. Wells that his categories might have got mixed, that it might be the reactionary who would make the fullest use of the machine and that the scientist might use his brains chiefly on race-theory and poison gas.' That wasn’t fair at all. The creator of the Invisible Man and Doctor Moreau was no stranger to perverted science."

From "The Ministry of Truth" by Dorian Lynskey.

I was listening to that audiobook on my sunrise run today, and that paragraph jumped out at me.


"If you read his speech and listen to it carefully, much of it is thinly-veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists, calling us every name in the book, calling us people who don't tell the truth."

Said Rand Paul on Fox News last night, quoted in "Power Up: Unity in Washington will be harder than Biden makes it sound" (WaPo)("Some Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) even trashed Biden's speech itself, which was widely-lauded for its appeals for Americans to set aside their political differences and work together for a better country"). 

If I had a little more time at the moment, I'd go through the speech line by line and look for every phrase that can be interpreted as saying that Rand Paul and whoever he thinks of as "us" are white supremacists, racists, liars, or whatever other names might be in that book. 

ADDED: Here's Rand Paul's Fox News segment with the "thinly-veiled innuendo" charge:


Paul cites a particular line in the speech: "And we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured." According to Paul, the "gist" of what Biden was saying there is that his political opponents manufacture and manipulate the truth.

AND: Without yet going through the comments to see your suggestions, I have read the speech to look for what can be characterized as the "thinly-veiled innuendo" Paul was talking about. Here's what I found:

"We must strongly eradicate the ‘puppet words’ and ‘puppet style’ in our society."

Said Kim Jong-un, quoted in "Kim Jong-un outlaws slang from South Korea" (The London Times).
North Korean propaganda refers to South Korea as a puppet of the United States. Despite strict censorship and propaganda North Koreans have been increasingly exposed to South Korean culture in the past decade. People can watch foreign content on mobile phones, and smugglers and activists bring in films, dramas and news programmes in memory cards.

Kim expressed special concern about the words “oppa” and “dong-saeng,” which, the Times tells us "mean older brother and younger sister but which are used of friends, or flirtatiously."

Maybe the reason these Bernie memes are so big is that a lot of us feel like that now.

If you're asking What Bernie memes? then go here (The Verge), where you can see the original picture  — Bernie Sanders, scrunched up and bundled up, sitting in a folding chair, with no one around him, waiting for the inauguration ceremony to get going — and you can also see lots of photoshops putting this Bernie image in various amusing settings. 

If you're asking Feel like what now?, you have reached the topic I want to talk about.

January 20, 2021

I feel distant from the Washington, D.C. doings.

I'm not watching the TV, not thinking about the inauguration. I'm uninterested in hearing analysis of the speeches, the poetry, the song-belting, the executive orders, the race-and-sex firsts. Bored by social media posts about how happy this or that person I follow happens to be about all those things. I want my distance. Trump got my attention — more than he deserved. There's no reason to pay so much attention to Biden. I know he needs monitoring, but that doesn't make it my job.

Talk about anything you want in the comments.

ADDED: The main reason I am averting my eyes is that I don't want exposure to all the favorable, flattering media. The media were so awful to Trump, whatever he did. The sudden shift to bathing Biden in sunlight just feels so wrong to me. It seems sappy and patronizing. But I hope Biden does well, and I'll be giving him a chance. Just don't expect me to blog the details. As ever, I will blog what interests me, and I'll be looking for things that feel fresh and different.

AND: I'll quote this NYT headline because — after what I just wrote — it feels like humor (unintended humor): "For Many Across America, a Sigh of Relief as a New Era Begins/'I feel lighter,' said a woman in Chicago. For many in an exhausted, divided nation, the inauguration was a sea change, not just a transition." I don't know about the "many," but for me, there is no sighing, I'm not exhausted, and I feel exactly the same weight. 

"Sea change" — is it a sea change? The phrase is Shakespeare's — from a description of a dead man, lost at sea:
Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made; 
Those are pearls that were his eyes; 
Nothing of him that doth fade, 
But doth suffer a sea-change 
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.

The inauguration was a sea change? 

President Biden.

 “Politics doesn’t have to be a raging fire.”

"Remember in the Lion King when Scar cheated to win the title as king? And the pride land was overrun with the hyenas? And all of the lions lost everything they had built and maintained? Just asking. No reason."

Tweeted Donald Trump Jr., quoted in "Ivanka praises her own work in farewell message as bitter Don Jr compares Biden to The Lion King’s Uncle Scar/Members of the Trump family signed off after four tumultuous years in the White House" (The Independent).

Don't compare human beings to animals. Don't say "pride land was overrun with the hyenas"! Your father was called a racist for his statements and policies on immigration, and "pride" resonates with white pride and Proud Boys. Why would you do that? Sheer stupidity?

By the way, "The Lion King" is racist on its own. I've said that all along (having taken children to the original Disney cartoon and then to the Broadway show), but here's a 2019 article in Fast Company, "The original ‘Lion King’ had a racist hyena problem"

"The critic Kenneth Tynan divided playwrights into two categories, 'smooth' and 'hairy,' and one could probably make a similar distinction among biographers."

"Smooth biographers offer clean narrative lines, well-underscored themes, and carrots, in the form of cliffhangers, to lure the reader onward. Their books are on best-seller lists. They’re good gifts for Dad. William Feaver, the author of 'The Lives of Lucian Freud'... exists on the opposite extreme. There’s little smoothness in him at all. His biography is hairier than a bonobo.... Lucian and his furious id would have made an interesting case study for his grandfather. The artist was amoral: violent, selfish, vindictive, lecherous.... He had at least 14 offspring he acknowledged as his own. He called himself 'one of the great absentee fathers of the age.' Soon there are grandchildren as well. Freud did not do much hugging, but his progeny could tap him for money. Many got to know him by sitting for portraits. He painted his daughters naked. 'They make it all right for me to paint them,' he said. 'My naked daughters have nothing to be ashamed of.' Freud had a mean word for everyone.... If he didn’t like you, he cut you from his life like cancer. You can always tell a monster: He wears scarves indoors."

The biography is a 2-volume thing, and Volume 2 just came out. In posing this question about whether you could just start with Volume 2, Garner reveals a shocking ignorance of the power of Google: 
When "Clement" suddenly appears in Volume Two, with no surname attached, will every reader know this is Clement Freud, Lucian’s estranged brother? 
Who capable of reading a big hairy biography wouldn't just google the words Lucian Freud Clement? It gets you right to a Wikipedia article on Clement Freud.
The grandson of Sigmund Freud and brother of Lucian Freud, he moved to the United Kingdom from Germany as a child.... He worked at the Nuremberg Trials and in 1947...  He married June Flewett (the inspiration for Lucy Pevensie in C. S. Lewis's children's series The Chronicles of Narnia).... Freud was one of Britain's first "celebrity chefs"... He appeared in a series of dog food advertisements (at first Chunky Meat, later Chunky Minced Morsels) in which he co-starred with a bloodhound called Henry (played by a number of dogs) which shared his trademark "hangdog" expression. 

Too much information, if anything. Bark, and Google scoops it into your bowl. Chunky Meat, later Chunky Minced Morsels indeed! Not only will every reader know this is Clement Freud, Lucian’s estranged brother. Every reader will know that the dogfood Chunky Meat was rechristened Chunky Minced Morsels.

Emotional dawn.


He did it. He left the White House.

AND: "We will be back — in some form.... Have a good life. We will see you soon."

He walked up to that last stage to the tune of "Hail to the Chief" and walked off to "YMCA."