(Last) Weekly Roundup: Hemingway In A 3-Way Quarantine Edition

Thank God we didn’t have the Internet during the Black Plague, or the Spanish Flu. I don’t think we would have survived. This relatively mild (by historical, not personal, standards) pandemic is exposing every fault line in our society. The notion of Two Americas has never been more explicit to me than now. We have the odd schism of Non-Essential People, who “work from home” and have Zoom Conference Happy Hours, and Essential People, for whom life is exactly the same except now it completely sucks. In-between we have the millions of people who are now unemployed with no end in sight. Other divisions: New Mexico is using this as an opportunity to close all gun stores, while Colorado is insisting that they remain open. You can infer a lot about what the rulers of these individual states think is going to happen in the near future by this difference in action.

The Uniparty knows this is Trump’s fault — they just haven’t settled on the cohesive narrative yet. You can watch it coming together in real time, like some sort of congealing grease. Trump’s China travel ban was widely panned as racist, criticism that is now being argued in retrospect with a lawyerly approach to reasonable doubt. as to what Biden et al. meant at the time.

(If you want to truly understand how our media works to skew public perception, compare the “fine people” situation with the a kid-gloves treatment given to Elizabeth Warren’s self-identification as Native American.)

It’s not just Trump’s fault, of course: it is also the fault of “Trumptards”. The Atlantic released a breathless piece eight days ago about how red-state types were ignoring the obvious threat of COVID-19 while the decent blue-state people were sheltering in place. Not discussed: the fact that people with guaranteed government, union, and investment income lean overwhelmingly blue, while self-employed people tend to be red. Also not discussed: the fact that the current Ground Zero for COVID-19 infection is the delightfully diverse and progressive city formerly known as New Amsterdam.

The plain fact is this: Paid quarantine is a luxury, one that much of the chattering class (including your occasionally left-of-center author) enjoys. Therefore we are being browbeaten with what amounts to Wuhan Porn. One wonders what Hemingway would do in a situation like this. Wait a minute: turns out we know what he would do. He’d go three ways with it.

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Weekly Roundup: Not Max Mosley’s Kind Of Nazi Pornography Edition

We have a shortage of everything in this country right now, apparently — the gun stores are sold out, the pharmacies aren’t picking up the phone, and the toilet-paper shelves are empty — but most of all, there appears to be a desperate shortage of… Nazis. You wouldn’t think this is the case, given the rate at which the definition of “Nazi” is being ratcheted down. In 1932, it meant someone who was a member of the NSDAP. By 1941 it meant “pretty much any German”. By 2016 it meant voting for Trump. A year later, it meant making the highly offensive and racist suggestion that it was okay to be white. In 2020, “Nazi” has been expanded to mean “would vote for Biden over Sanders”.

At this point, by my count, at least 65% of the country might be Nazis. Possibly more than that. Some of them are, apparently, black. You could be a Nazi right now and not even know it — until you are called out as such, which is one of those accusations which cannot be effectively refuted, even if you’re related to someone who actually tried to kill Hitler.

As many Nazis as we currently have in America, however, the demand is still exceeding the supply. How else can you explain the recent, and profoundly, disturbing fetish the mainstream media has developed for Nazi pornography?

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Plural Of Trash Anecdote Is Garbage Data Edition

The Internet got pretty excited last week about a piece entitled COVID-19: Evidence Over Hysteria, written by former Mitt Romney staffer and “Silicon Valley growth hacker” Aaron Ginn. The article went, ahem, viral because it said a lot of things that people desperately wanted to hear, whether they are true or not. The ensuing backlash was fairly weapons-grade and it came from a lot of people with letters after their names so the article was unpersoned by Medium and banished to the Internet ghetto of ZeroHedge, which is where you can read it at the above link.

I don’t know enough to say whether or not Ginn is right — but I am also fairly sure that Ginn also doesn’t know enough to say whether he is right. My purpose here isn’t to discuss the article, but rather to suggest that much of the world is being run into the ground by people like Ginn thanks to what I can only characterize as a shared and immensely powerful delusion. Let’s call it the fake law of isomorphic data, or “Ginn’s Law” for the moment.

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Weekly Roundup: Strategic Control Over Medical Products Edition

It is sobering to realize that the coronavirus will likely kill my mother, who has very little lung function left after years of sarcoidosis. It may well kill my grandmother, who would otherwise probably clear the 100-year mark with ease. But the worst part of this is having a conversation with my father in which he rather wistfully says, “At least there was a moment or two of national unity after 9/11,” and realizing just how right he is about that. There won’t be any national unity during the “Wuhan flu” (discussing the origins of which is now considered to be racist) or in the long tail of its aftereffects.

This virus seems tailor made to divide us along every possible fault line. The left wing literally wants to use it as a bioweapon against their political opponents. Young people call it the “boomer remover” and cheer on the idea that it might affect the election in their favor by killing older voters en masse. Secure in the knowledge that they were unlikely to themselves die from the virus they would pass on to others, a group of young women I know decided to take a week-long trip to Amsterdam for a non-stop indulgence in drugs and, ahem, party behavior: presumably whatever strain they bring back could be called COVID-69. Students are being forcibly ejected from their dorms by police, and some of them are copying the riot techniques they’ve learned from watching Antifa on YouTube.

Meanwhile, many of my more, ah, militant friends are going full Cormac McCarthy. I’m hearing stories of people loading a few dozen AR-15 magazines, doing home bullet casting “just in case”, and making plans for an armed response against the first group of “looters” to appear in their (literal) sights. I’ve watched the value of that palladium coin I was looking to sell here a few weeks ago jump to north of three grand then sink to south of two — in a twelve-hour period. A friend made a million dollars in a single day shorting resource stocks, starting with a new Accord’s worth of seed cash.

We’ve come to believe that nothing truly bad can happen on a large scale in what I think of as the Long Now Of Late Stage Capitalism — but it could. What form the chaos will take (Dow 5,000? New York and San Francisco burning to the ground? Citizen militias being raised in every suburb to throw lead against anyone trying to find food outside the city?) is beyond the scope of my crystal ball. There is, however, one very important, even critical, benefit to society which will come as a result of this catastrophe. Unfortunately, that benefit is going to cost us more than a few innocent lives in the process of being realized.

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(Double) Weekly Roundup: Goodbye, Mister Hill Edition

“I contain multitudes,” boasted Whitman in his Song Of Myself. Charles G. Hill, ur-blogger and proprietor of Dustbury.com, contained multitudes as well, perhaps more so than Whitman. He was a frequent commenter here, leaving about 160 different notes and linking to here from Dustbury a dozen or so times. His own blog offered perspectives on NBA basketball, women’s fashion, My Little Pony fanfic, the music of Rebecca “Friday” Black, and other topics seemingly without political, or moral, limit. He had an adult son, and he had once had a family, but in his seventh decade he conceived a tremendous fondness for TTAC’s (and, occasionally, Hagerty’s) transgender contributor Cameron Aubernon.

On September 3, 2019, Hill was involved in an auto accident which paralyzed him from the neck down. He died a few days later. In recent years he had been laid low — by financial troubles, by advanced spinal stenosis, by power outages and other freak occurrences. His output on Twitter and in his own blog more and more frequently referenced the debilitating pain in which he found himself. We’d had a conversation a few years back in which he expressed a lack of conviction that things could possibly improve. He wasn’t self-pitying; rather, he simply understood the facts of the matter well enough not to delude himself with further hope.

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Weekly Roundup: Correlation And Causation Edition

. Although the graph seems to be telling us that the more Mexican lemons there are in the US the fewer road deaths there are, the inescapable conclusion is that MEXICAN LEMONS KILL AMERICANS! What should we do about it? Should we import more Mexican lemons (the correlation tells us that this is what we should do)? Or should we ban Mexican lemons altogether? After all, if there are no Mexican lemons on the streets then they can’t kill any more Americans.

That’s just one of the hilarious conclusions in this look at ridiculous correlations. There’s a bit of irony here in the sense that while Mexican lemons certainly don’t kill people, “undocumented” Mexican visitors can, and do, kill people with no penalty for having done so. There’s also the fact that Thomas Friedman’s “flat world” of globalism, having warmed up by killing my trees, is likely to kill quite a few Americans in the near future via the Wuhan coronavirus.

We could absolutely have stopped the coronavirus by closing our borders to Chinese people and products — at least for a while, anyway — but the World Health Organization takes its cues from China and therefore we’ve missed our chance. The spice must flow — in this case, of course, “spice” is Apple products and Chinese consumer trash. It’s also medicine. We globalized our supply of medicine away. There is no penicillin production in the United States anymore. Our heparin comes from China; a while ago, their prioritization of profit over quality killed 81 people and severely damaged 780 more. My advice for 2020: Don’t get sick.

Back to this correlation/causation business. We’ve been eviscerating the value of an American university education nearly as fast as we’ve been closing American pharmaceutical plants — and as a result, we now have at least twenty years’ worth of college graduates who are literally unable to perform the most basic of logical or rational analysis on the statistics in front of them. Would you like an utterly horrifying example? I have one, of course.

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Weekly Roundup: Thank G-d! Now You Can Buy Watches And Precious Metals Right Here At Riverside Green Edition

When the nice people at Hodinkee changed their business model from “selling ads on a website that writes about watches” to “selling watches on a website which writes about watches”, I have to confess that I wasn’t totally sold on the wisdom of that idea. Retail is a tough business — much tougher than “influencing”, and much more unforgiving when it comes to evaluating the balance sheet. I’ve seen firsthand lately how much money some of the influencer/promoter parasites want for their attention. A lot of these proposed contracts are in the six-figure range. It’s tough to make that kind of money selling special-edition Swatches on your website.

Or is it? Maybe I should find out for myself. I have a few things I’d like to sell over the next months; the nice people at Guerilla Gravity are finishing my MegaTrail much earlier than I’d expected and I’d like to make some room for it in the basement. (I also have to pay for the thing.) Before I list these items elsewhere, I will throw them up here. Unlike Hodinkee, most of what you see here will be cheaper than it would be elsewhere. What’s coming up? Uh, I have no idea offhand, but it could include:

  • Some precious-metal proof and bullion coins;
  • Various rare guitars in the $3k-12k range;
  • “Doubles” of my Japanese guitar collection;
  • A variety of new-with-tag clothing and shoes from Borrelli, Allen Edmonds, Turnbull&Asser, Brioni, and others;
  • Quite a few vintage issues of Panorama, Roundel, R&T, CAR, and other magazines;
  • Press materials and dealership brochures for various exotic and non-exotic vehicles of the Nineties and Oughts;
  • And… watches! Of course watches!

We’ll start the party with a very expensive coin and a very cheap watch. I should point out right up front that these shameless exercises in hucksterism will be limited to about one per fortnight. Other than that, the site will continue as before.

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Weekly Roundup: How Do You Describe An Odor Like Harvey’s Edition

I can’t say that I have a lot of interest in the Harvey Weinstein affair, so to speak. Like most folks out here in flyover country, I’ve always assumed that Hollywood is filled with broken people doing terribly broken things to each other. Which is not to say that I don’t have any sympathy for the women involved. None of them deserved to be abused or raped. But there is also some evidence that many of them considered it a hugely miserable but nonetheless unavoidable part of the job, the same way that wearing the yellow jersey of a Tour de France leader likely means you’ve been exposed to the kind of drug, training, and behavior regimes that aren’t even approved for use on farm animals. Presumably there are plenty of would-be actresses (and actors, this isn’t just something that happens to women) who see their first casting couch and run screaming back to Minnesota — but you’ve never heard any of their names, for the same reason that you’ll never hear the name of those first-rate road cyclists who have an unconquerable fear of large-bore needles.

There was, however, something in Jessica Mann’s testimony which caught my eye — and it wasn’t her remarkable assertions that Weinstein had no visible testicles and a male organ which needed to be drawn out using another kind of large-bore needle. I think the “deformity” is just a case of Weinstein being grossly obese. All the stuff’s in there, it’s just hidden by six or seven inches of “FUPA”. It’s true that society is generally more accepting of men who wander outside the MetLife height/weight charts (thank G-d) but there’s a point at which you’re not really fit for service, so to speak. There is something fascinating about the fact that Weinstein apparently had sex with nearly every major leading lady in Hollywood but he couldn’t be bothered to stay healthy enough to do it with some kind of needle. Maybe that’s the ultimate expression of power: to make something as unpleasant as humanly possible for your victim. Like O’Brien making Winston see five fingers instead of four.

But I digress. The truly interesting part of Ms. Mann’s statement to the court is a matter of language, not lingam.

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Weekly Roundup: He Doesn’t Know Why, And “He” Means “It”

This is the story of an ethical dilemma. In the summer of 2018 I took a gig with JPMorgan Chase on the team that designed automated teller machine software. There’s been a fundamental change in the way ATMs work over the past few years. The original ATMs were simply video terminals with an ability to dispense cash; all of your interactions with the machine were actually with a mainframe located on the other end of a dedicated phone line. By the Nineties, ATMs were “real-time” computers which could do a little bit of thinking on their own in-between those mainframe queries. Those worked very well for a very long time.

About half a decade ago, the ATM was reimagined as — ugh — a Web browser with the ability to perform a few mechanical interactions on-site. This is also the way that the VitalPath oncology dispensing system at Cardinal Health, for which I developed the server-side infrastructure and Arduino-based electro-magnetic cabinet locking, works. The advantage of this method is that you can make things look very nice in a hurry, using low-skill developers and established methods. That’s about the only advantage, but it’s a very important one in the modern inverted-pyramid software development lifecycle in which there are multiple “app owners” and “project managers” and “scrum leaders” for every coder who actually does anything.

The disadvantages, on the other hand, are readily apparent to everyone: the machines don’t work reliably, they don’t work quickly, and they are prone to all sorts of unpredictable behavior. It perhaps has not escaped your notice that ATMs don’t work as well as they used to. It certainly hasn’t escaped mine, and I took the Chase gig with an intent to help address this situation.

Which is where the ethical situation comes in. My manager asked me to develop some machine-learning routines to predict ATM failures before they happened. The idea was that the ATMs would often throw various combinations of errors prior to closing up shop. He offered to free up some serious computing power and to give me carte blanche on the project for as long as I needed. This was hugely attractive to me — and did I mention that this particular Chase office had free motorcycle parking? There was just one problem: We didn’t need a machine-learning environment to accomplish this task. There were a few pre-existing log analysis tools which could do the trick. At least two of them were actively licensed and used by our department for other purposes.

So: Should I let my manager know about this, set up the solution, and return to the pool of sysadmins who were wrestling with a monstrously ill-advised project to move much of our banking infrastructure to the Amazon Clown? Or should I spent six months or even a year enjoying solitary time designing an overly-complex system and enjoying a rare chance to do some actual computer science?

Luckily for me, this Gordian knot was neatly cut by the Pirelli World Challenge series. I needed to participate in a Friday practice at Watkins Glen, and my manager said I was absolutely not permitted to take the day off. Goodbye machine learning opportunity, hello Optima Battery Best Start award! But I picked up quite a bit of machine-learning knowledge on the run-up to that fateful weekend, and that’s why I’m not surprised at the fact that a machine can play halfway decent chess without actually being programmed to do so.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: The World’s Tiniest Violin Edition

“One feels nothing but anguish and sympathy for the poor child.” Our musical contributor, John Marks, sent this to me a few hours ago with an acerbic note on “child labor for the benefit of parents’ egos.” He has a point. The near-complete command this seven-year-old girl has over her violin is the sort of thing which does not happen by chance. The memorization of an eight-minute piece cannot be accomplished by, let’s say, an hour or two of daily practice. What you are seeing here is what I call child as machine. Children are plastic by nature. This one’s been forced into the shape of a concertmaster.

I would never do anything like this to my son, so I feel completely confident posting the video with a critical note — except that Mr. Marks also mentioned “youth motorsports” in his email. Which leads me to a pair of questions, one for those of us who are parents and one for all of us:

0. What is the value of being a prodigy?
1. What is the value of being exceptional at anything?

And this is where things get a bit unpleasant.

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