Monday, August 31, 2020

If I can't handle you at your worst …

… then your worst is probably terrible.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

What's so great about Andrew Sullivan

Yes to Matthew Yglesias's response to Kate Antonova's smear, which misspells Yglesias. [UPDATE: The tweet has been deleted, but Antonova essentially said that Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, David Brooks, and Steven Pinker shouldn't be published because their writing adds nothing of value.]

My old post about Andrew Sullivan.

Sullivan, Yglesias, Brooks, and Pinker are all great. I've disagreed with all of them at times, but their writing does add value to the world. For instance, I blogged this and this by Brooks, this and this by Yglesias, and this and this by Pinker.

Also, lol at the hair-splitting of: I don't want these writers to be canceled — I just want them to be stopped from getting published anywhere ever again! Reminds me of that old joke: "We're not lost — we just don't know where we are!"

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Charlie Parker would have turned 100 today

Jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker was born 100 years ago today, on August 29, 1920. He died at age 34 in 1955.

A birthday message by Jon Batiste, the bandleader of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

Wikipedia says:

Parker was a highly influential soloist and leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique, and advanced harmonies. Parker was a blazingly fast virtuoso and introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas into jazz, including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. Primarily a player of the alto saxophone, Bird's tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber.…

Parker was an icon for the hipster subculture and later the Beat Generation, personifying the jazz musician as an uncompromising artist and intellectual rather than just an entertainer.

Here's bassist Christian McBride:

Jeff Goldblum, who's an accomplished jazz pianist in addition to being an actor:

President Bill Clinton: "When I was young, I listened over and over to his solos — breaking old patterns, building something new. 60 years later, I'm still in awe of him."

(Photo of Parker, with Miles Davis in the background in 1947, by William P. Gottlieb, in the public domain, via Wikipedia.)

Friday, August 28, 2020

Trump lies

President Donald Trump told some lies in his convention speech last night. Here are some of them, from the Washington Post's Fact Checker:

“America has tested more [for the coronavirus] than every country in Europe put together, and more than every nation in the Western Hemisphere combined. We have conducted 40 million more tests than the next closest nation.”

— Trump

Trump is talking about raw numbers, which is misleading. (And if you believe China, Beijing actually exceeds the numbers of tests, 90 million to 79 million for the United States.)

The key indicator is tests per capita, which gives a read on the share of the population that has contracted the novel coronavirus that causes covid-19. The United States still lags major countries such as Russia and is tied with Britain in terms of number of tests per million people.

Another problem is test results are slow in the United States. “Test results for the novel coronavirus are taking so long to come back that experts say the results across the United States are often proving useless in the campaign to control the deadly disease,” The Washingon Post reported in July. “The long testing turnaround times are making it impossible for the United States to replicate the central strategy used by other countries to effectively contain the virus — test, trace and isolate.”


“When I took bold action to issue a travel ban on China, very early indeed, Joe Biden called it hysterical and xenophobic. And then I introduced a ban on Europe, very early again. If we had listened to Joe, hundreds of thousands more Americans would have died.”

— Trump

Trump oversells in the impact of his so-called “travel ban” — and on Biden’s criticism.

On Jan. 31, the president announced that effective Feb. 2, non-U. S. citizens were barred from traveling from China, but there were 11 exceptions. Meanwhile, U.S. citizens and permanent residents could still travel from China but were subject to screening and a possible 14-day quarantine.…

Any criticism was scattered and relatively muted. Trump points to a comment by former vice president Joe Biden — “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia … and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science” — but Biden says that did not refer to the travel restrictions.…


“The United States has among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country in the world.”

— Trump

This is false. Case fatality measures how many people known to have gotten covid-19 eventually die of covid-19, and the U.S. rate is currently 3.1 percent. Johns Hopkins University says that puts the United States 11th among the 20 countries most affected by the disease; the United States ranks fourth for deaths per 100,000 population.

Trump’s phrasing appears to turn on the phrase “major country." Among members of the [OECD], for instance, the U.S. rate is lower than the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain but higher than Australia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Latvia, Czechia and Israel, among others.


"The Biden-Bernie manifesto calls for abolishing cash bail, immediately releasing 400,000 criminals onto the streets and into your neighborhoods.”


This is all wrong. Defendants awaiting trial have not been released in states that have moved to abolish cash bail. For example, in New Jersey, former governor Chris Christie, a Republican allied with Trump, led a coalition to abolish cash bail and replace it with a point-based system that assesses risk based on the nature of the charges, the defendant’s prior record and the risk to the public.

The Biden-Sanders unity task force simply says, “Poverty is not a crime, and it should not be treated as one. Democrats support eliminating the use of cash bail and believe no one should be imprisoned merely for failing to pay fines or fees.” That’s the same argument Christie would make.


“Our NATO partners … were far behind in their defense payments. But at my strong urging, they agreed to pay $130 billion more a year, the first time in over 20 years that they upped their payments. And this $130 billion dollars will ultimately go to $400 billion. Secretary General [Jens] Stoltenberg, who heads NATO, was amazed, and said that President Trump did what no one else was able to do.”

— Trump …

Trump’s $130 billion figure comes from a NATO estimate that its European members and Canada will spend $130 billion additionally on defense over the four years between 2016 and 2020. (The $130 billion is an estimate for cumulative defense spending through 2020, in 2015 dollars, as an increase over 2016 spending.)

Trump falsely claims this is $130 billion a year, rather than over four years.

The $400 billion figure is for eight years.

But NATO figures show that the defense expenditures for NATO countries other than the United States have been going up — in a consistent slope — since 2014.


“The Biden plan … he’s even talking about taking the wall down. How about that?”


False. Biden has stated in no uncertain terms that he would not take down the portions of the border fencing system Trump has built, though he would stop further construction. "There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration,” Biden told NPR this month.


“Biden has promised to abolish the production of American oil, coal, shale and natural gas, laying waste to the economies of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.”


False. Biden would not abolish fossil fuels. His plan on energy and the environment calls for “net-zero [carbon] emissions no later than 2050.” That’s 30 years from now. In the interim, Biden’s plan says, “we must look at all low- and zero-carbon technologies,” leaving the door open to carbon capture and other fossil-fuel-based sources. The “net-zero” language is a term of art, meaning that some fossil fuels would continue to be used so long as their emissions are offset by other means. Biden also says he would allow existing fracking operations to continue but would not grant new permits on federal lands.

(Photo by Saul Loeb, AFP, Getty Images.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Why Trump will lose

Megan McArdle writes in the Washington Post:

Republican convention segments … strenuously implied that President Trump had taken the virus more seriously than Democrats … that he’d cut through bureaucratic red tape and PC nonsense to take bold action … that his resolve, plus a hefty dose of American greatness, have put the country in an enviable position, covid-wise.

The moments were exceptionally well-produced, even stirring, if you didn’t know that Trump’s response to covid-19 has been well below average for the leader of a developed country.

Comparing Trump to the Pacific Rim, where the experience of SARS prepared countries for another viral outbreak, is perhaps not fair. Let’s compare him to Europe, where most governments made catastrophic errors.

Still, Trump managed to underperform.

Most European heads of government were slow to recognize the threat from covid; Trump was even slower, and only acted when the plummeting stock market left him no choice.

Many countries struggled to ramp up testing regimens; Trump placidly ignored bureaucratic infighting that left America functionally without testing capacity well into March, while the virus spread undetected and unhindered.

Most of those countries struggled to get their citizens to comply with social distancing measures; Trump actively encouraged Americans to defy them.

Most countries waited too long to tell citizens to mask up outside their homes; as late as Memorial Day, Trump ridiculed reporters for wearing masks.

Trump was not the only culprit here; plenty of mistakes were made by public health officials, and by Democratic mayors and governors. But a great Republican president would have worked to overcome those lower-level failings. Instead, our Republican president exacerbated the shortcomings at every juncture with denial, indecision and belligerence. Even his most touted “accomplishment,” the travel bans, were executed late and ineptly. [Link is to a Washington Post article from May 23.]

A truthful assessment of the U.S. performance against covid-19, even one that aimed for maximum charity toward Trump, would not tout “American greatness.” It would say, “Well, at least we’re not the absolute worst in the industrialized world.” At least four developed countries have lost a higher fraction of their population to covid-19: Sweden, Italy, Spain and Britain. The gap between worst-in-class Britain and the United States is modest but significant: The United States has lost about 1 in 1,900 citizens to covid, while the United Kingdom has lost about 1 in 1,600.

But the UK death rate peaked in April and has fallen to roughly 16 per day. The U.S. daily death rate also peaked in April — and then plateaued near 1,000.

That cumulative difference is steadily closing our gap with other countries we outperformed in the spring. U.S. deaths per 100,000 residents have already overtaken those of France and Switzerland, and unless something changes by Election Day, we will be, by far, the worst-afflicted country in the rich world. Economically as well as physically.

Trump’s machine can spin all sorts of explanations as to why that isn’t Trump’s fault, much as predecessors came up with all sorts of arguments why George W. Bush wasn’t to blame for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina or the financial crisis. Many of those arguments were even valid, but all of them were irrelevant come election time. When things go badly wrong on your watch, the public won’t risk more of the same.

10 weeks

Just think: in 10 weeks, we’ll be arguing about who really won last night.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Kamala Harris is Biden's running mate

Politico reports:
Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate, elevating a charismatic blue-state senator, former prosecutor and onetime 2020 primary rival who has built a reputation as an unyielding antagonist of the Trump administration.

Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, was the wire-to-wire frontrunner for Biden’s No. 2 job. Her experience as a battle-tested presidential contender, her efforts leading major law enforcement offices and her political track record of three election wins in California helped her overcome a crowded list of contenders.
If Harris becomes vice president, she'll be the first woman, the first black person, and the first Asian American to hold the position. Wikipedia says she grew up going to a black church and a Hindu temple.

President Trump immediately released an ad framing Biden/Harris 2020 by saying:
Biden … is handing over the reins to Kamala while they jointly embrace the radical left.

So, if everyone’s hearing “Kamala’s a radical leftist” but also “Kamala’s a cop,” what will most voters take away from those mixed messages? Will she end up sounding like a moderate?

(Official Senate photo from the public domain.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Is the New York Times right that NYC stands alone in reopening schools?

The New York Times says:

Public school students in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest district, will begin the academic year remotely in September, leaving New York City as the only major school system in the country that will try to offer in-person classes when schools start this fall.…

Of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, only five now plan to open the school year with any form of in-person learning. Six of the seven largest will be online.
Wait, how can the New York Times say that NYC has "the only major school system in the country that will try to offer in-person classes," if 5 of "the nation’s 25 largest school districts" are going to have "in-person learning"? Don't the 25 largest school districts in the US all count as "major"? According to Wikipedia, each one has more than 100,000 students, and that list doesn't even include school districts as big as Denver, Austin, or Seattle.

More from the Times:
New York City schools, the nation’s largest district, are scheduled to reopen in about a month, with students having the option of attending in-person classes one to three days a week. But the city is confronting a torrent of logistical issues and political problems that could upend Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to bring students back to classrooms.

Among them: There are not yet enough nurses to staff all city school buildings, and ventilation systems in aging buildings are in urgent need of upgrades. There may not even be enough teachers available to offer in-person instruction. Some teachers are threatening to stage a sickout.…

In other parts of the country where schools have already opened, they have quickly encountered positive cases, with some having to quarantine students and staff members and even close down schools temporarily to contain possible outbreaks.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

John McWhorter and Matthew Yglesias on the "class skew" of frequently updating identity language

Matthew Yglesias interviews John McWhorter about language, race, police, etc.

Listen to the whole thing, but here's a sample:

Yglesias: A lot of what people are doing in this reckoning is actually linguistic in its nature.… I feel like a lot of what happens these days is a strong assumption that changing the way people talk about things is going to beat the racism out of them, or otherwise construct the world, and that we should really judge people based on theirmastery of up-to-date verbal formulas, rather than their actions in the world. And then there comes to be a kind of a weird class skewing to it. Because, I'm very current [with] whatever activists are saying, because, like, this is my job! So I can use "BIPOC" currently, I can do all the things. But just because somebody is, like, 60 and didn't go to college, that's going to really manifest in how they talk, right? And, like, is that really the most important thing?

McWhorter: Yeah, I think we have a problem, in that there is a sense that you can change thought by changing the terms that people use for things. And it's not that changing the terms can't help get a conversation going. But the truth is that if you don't change the thoughts underneath with good old-fashioned suasion, then the labels end up really just kind of floating along, and whatever label you come up with is going to become accreted with whatever negative associations you were worried about before. And then also what you're referring to is the fact that this idea of changing the names of things on a regular basis, and also being often rather condemnatory to people who aren't using the new labels — there is a class skew, there is an education skew.

And so, for example, with "Latinx," … I completely understand the impulse to get past old-fashioned ideas of gender, and to make a space for transgender identification, etc. But the simple truth of "Latinx" is that it's a term used by people, basically, in college towns and maybe a 5-mile radius around them.… For example, I live in a neighborhood where Latinos are, I'm pretty sure, the majority. So I am around Latinos every day. I have never once heard a single person in this neighborhood — Colombians, Ecuadorians, Venezuelans, not to mention many, many, many Dominicans — never heard anybody use the term "Latinx." And I'm listening, and my Spanish is not bad. And it's because it's an elite thing: I hear that at Columbia, I don't hear it among ordinary people.…

This is something that people should think about: "African-American" is something that came down in '89, '90. No one would've expected it. It happened very quickly. For a very long time, "black" was the term, then all of a sudden it was "African-American." And the idea was that "black" had certain negative associations, partly because of the nature of the color and its symbolism, and also because of what many people unfortunately think about black people. So "African-American" was thought of as more positive. It was thought of as something generated from within black people themselves.… Now, say what you want about that — it happened, it really caught on. Look at us now. 30 years later, "African-American" has accreted, for better or worse, all the associations that "black" used to have, such that now some people seem to be moving back towards "black." And some people used to explore, for a while, "person of color," but now apparently that's a narrower definition. The thing is, changing the name can only do so much; it's the thought that really counts.