Saturday, May 30, 2020

In Honour of MAGA NIGHT

Sultan Man Bad

Previously in this series.

No wonder Angela Merkel doesn't want to come to Maryland

Photo illustration from Bild of what's possible under Germany Coronavirus restrictions.

Bobos in Limbo

Wall Street Journal, Weekend Edition

Monday, May 25, 2020

Resistance is futile

That man in Ankara

Unpopular opinion: Turkey is currently (1) the only hope for an external criminal investigation of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, (2) the only government willing to put its force where everyone's mouth is in terms of defending the internationally recognized government of Libya, and (3) the only thing standing between Bashar al-Assad and a mass casualty all-out offensive in northern Syria. 

But OK, Sultan Man Bad. 

For future reference

There is a lot of excellent journalism lately. Too much to absorb in one go.Two articles, among many, that will be worth a repeated read. 

First, the Financial Times (free link) on the missing weeks for Chinese President Xi Jinping: there are some indications that he should have known from 14 January, or even from 7 January, that the coronavirus was already a pandemic. What exactly he knew, when he knew it, and his actions throughout the 2nd half of January and early February are extremely murky.

Then there's this stellar Washington Post article on Trump's European travel ban -- introduced far too late, and so botched in its announcement and  implementation that it may have made things worse than not having a ban. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Strict Rules of Golf

New York Times

A Terrorist Horror, Then Golf: Incongruity Fuels Obama Critics 
By Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis Aug. 21, 2014

Of course, Trump's tweets from that era now serve almost as a taunt of what a President Trump would get away with.

But what's the excuse of the political reporters who entertained these lines of criticism?

The Grand Unified Theory of Nate Silver

Nate Silver has a circular definition of "news."

What causes an indicator to move? News. How do we know it was News? Because an indicator moved. 

This issue had seemed to be confined to his political analysis.

But now he's doing the same thing on the Coronavirus. There was one example a few weeks ago where he stepped right up to the edge of the Regression to the Mean fallacy, to explain a group of states outcomes that were "stuck in the middle," with an associated epidemiological concept of "partial herd immunity."  In other words, states where not much "seemed" to be happening -- no News. 

Now here is again talking about a "plateau" which can arise if R (the reproduction rate) is approximately equal to 1.

Here's the problem. If R=0.99, infections decline. And R=1.01, infections grow. And these are exponential processes. There is no plateau. 

So why does he do this? Because if R is approximately equal to 1, according to the "media," there's no clear "news" to explain the variation in levels, so he cobbles together a story about levels and changes -- which is the road back to the Regression to the Mean fallacy. Hair of the average dog that bit him, many times.  

UPDATE 25 MAY: He keeps doing it. This thread is textbook example of Regression to the Mean fallacy. He's selecting states based on high deaths, and claiming that they will head to a "plateau" based on some theory about reactions to R. And if it doesn't happen -- he'll say that there was "News!"

Friday, May 22, 2020

Those Ikea furniture names are getting more annoying

BBC News website

Mr Nasty, Mr Nice

Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, offers a "moderate" interpretation of wild statements coming from Tehran --

in the context of the conflict with the entity of Israel, with our indication that we are not asking to throw anyone at sea, but we demand the return of those who came from the countries of the world and occupied Palestine to return to their countries.

The times that are in it

End of Ramadan prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, with social distancing. There would normally be thousands of people in this area at all times of day and night.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Phoenician Farce

Reuters on the Boston arrests related to the Carlos Ghosn flight from Japan to Lebanon --

U.S. law enforcement learned Peter Taylor had booked a flight from Boston to Beirut departing Wednesday with a layover in London and he was arrested by U.S. marshals as was Michael Taylor.

Among the many questions: how can it be that jetting off to Beirut via London in the middle of a pandemic is still a thing?

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Monday, May 18, 2020

Song of the Day


Sure, we're in some kind of partial Apocalypse, but this is always great.

There is always a Tweet

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Cairo constraints

From Mike Pompeo's 2019 Cairo speech --

And as we seek an even stronger partnership with Egypt, we encourage President Sisi to unleash the creative energy of Egypt’s people, unfetter the economy, and promote a free and open exchange of ideas. The progress made to date can continue. I also applaud President Sisi’s efforts to promote religious freedom, which stands as an example for all leaders and all peoples of the Middle East. I was happy to see our citizens, wrongly convicted of improperly operating NGOs here, finally be acquitted. And we strongly support President Sisi’s initiative to amend Egyptian law so that this does not happen again. More work certainly needs to be done to maximize the potential of the Egyptian nation and its people. I’m glad that America will be a partner in those efforts.

Lina Attalah would like to avail of these words. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The New York City coronavirus disaster in one sentence

Gail Collins, New York Times --

Banning flights from Naples doesn’t really have the same appeal as cracking down on Wuhan.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Crossover appeal

Care packages distributed by the Gente Nueva drug cartel in northern Mexico, which bear an image of Osama bin Laden.

Photo via Omnia


Flatten the truth

Chris Giles in the Financial Times is a must-read on how flatten the curve to "protect the NHS" became: if you're going to die, make sure you do it at home, or in a nursing home -- just not in a hospital.

That story is broader than the UK, and the emerging protests against shutdowns are better seen in that light than in the antics of a few media-baiting protestors. 

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Weekend film recommendation

The FT's Robert Shrimsley on how we're back to the 1970s is great. He mentions everything being shades of browns and greys. This is something that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy conveyed perfectly. The film is also a great depiction of how a bureaucracy could tear itself apart on the basis of a Russian intelligence operation, but that kind of thing can't happen anymore. 

Smaller might be better

Financial Times interview with  Antonella Mei-Pochtler, the businesswoman leading Austria's pandemic recovery strategy:

 “We’re a small country, but we can learn from everybody and we do not think that we know everything ... There is an inborn arrogance of large countries who think no other country is like them . . . small countries tend to learn much more from each other. We are much more open, to looking right, left, up and down,”

Friday, May 08, 2020

Best Coronavirus I ever had

People Magazine, October 2016 --

In an unearthed interview from 1997, Donald Trump claimed he was a “brave soldier” for avoiding STDs during his single years in the late ’90s. “It’s amazing, I can’t even believe it. I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world, it is a dangerous world out there. It’s like Vietnam, sort of. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave solider,” Trump said in the interview when Howard Stern asked how he handled making sure he wasn’t contracting STDs from the women he was sleeping with.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Regression to the mean

This tweet and the associated thread is such a perfect variation of the famous statistical fallacy. Silver looks at a change in cases and relates them to the initial level, inserts some semi-causal views about why the levels vary, and then declares that there is a group in the middle that's "stuck." Once average, always average.

The problem is randomness. Random things (e.g. superspreaders, accidents, things we still don't know) will move states around these categories over time. And with each of those moves, people will come along with new ex post rationalizations for why a particular state is low or high -- and again to seek explain a group "stuck in the middle." It's also the road to leads to inventing epidemiological terms like "partial herd immunity."

It's easy to be fooled by randomness when you forget it's there. 

Monday, May 04, 2020



They were an issue in Ireland up to the early 1980s. In some houses, they probably still are an issue.

Anyway, Ireland (thankfully) has several cohorts that have never had to think about chilblains. Until now.

They are a mysterious Coronavirus symptom in some cases (New York Times). 

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Rorschach meets Luhmann

What does this photograph show?

If your lens on the world is social media in western Europe or North America -- also known as the Valley of the Squinting Tweeters -- it shows too many people and too large groups in a park on a sunny Coronavirus-era day.

What it actually shows in people in Jamwon Hangang Park in the megacity of Seoul. And as the associated Yonhap story comments, they are complying with social distancing. Koreans -- with major success in mitigating Coronavirus and a tradition of messaging about responsible behavior (Robocar Poli!) see an orderly scene in the photograph. But change the caption to a western city, and someone will be along soon enough to declare evidence that no one is complying with social distancing. The reality of social media.

Saturday, May 02, 2020


Al Qaeda in the Upper Peninsula. 

UPDATE 10 October: They are back in the news with the Gretchen Whitmer plot.