The Mezunian

Die Positivität ist das Opium des Volkes, aber der Spott ist das Opium der Verrückten

¡SPOOKY! The Atlantic, 1 o’ the Shittiest Newspapers in the US, Celebrated Halloween, the Greatest Holiday in the World, with Some Sweet COVID Denial from a Nutjob Economist

I still fret that I didn’t make optimal use o’ my most recent Halloween Break, including wasting a day working on that weird Voter’s Pamphlet post that wasn’t that clever; but I can a’least feel better that I didn’t waste the most important day, Halloween itself, publishing the most revolting form o’ COVID-denial apologetics from 1 o’ the most deranged economists — & we’re talking ’bout economists, the realm that gave us such serious ideas as that forcing woman to let incels rape them ( or giving incels sexbots ) is the same as income redistribution — in the world.

That article is “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty”, written by some economist named Emily Oster, who I will ’ventually show you has o’erthrown Noah Smith as emperor o’ troll economists.

In April 2020, with nothing else to do, my family took an enormous number of hikes.

I want to remind you that this is s’posedly an “economist”. I spent COVIDtime reading books, which you can do very easily inside, ’cause that’s how you learn ’bout things, something this “economist” should have tried.

We all wore cloth masks that I had made myself.

Which are much less effective than masks made by actual professionals, which was as shocking for me to find out as that time I found out that professional doctors are much better @ treating diseases than some rando next door who “read some things online”.

We had a family hand signal, which the person in the front would use if someone was approaching on the trail and we needed to put on our masks.

¿So this person’s family are such idiot-savants when it comes to visual abilities that they can see a tiny hand signal before them, but not full-sized humans approaching them?

¿What relevance does this ridiculously contrived fable have to do with anything?

Once, when another child got too close to my then-4-year-old son on a bridge, he yelled at her “SOCIAL DISTANCING!”

Check off on the bingo card, “Makes up bullshit exaggerated story wherein the protagonist runs into Jack-Chick-worthy strawmen who want to disembowel anyone who doesn’t obey the tribal ways o’ The Mask”. I live round Seattle, 1 o’ the most leftwing places in the US, & people didn’t say shit if they encountered someone without a mask ­— probably ’cause they presumed they were right-wing extremists & didn’t want to hear them start ranting ’bout the Illuminati. E’en if most people round you do think you’re assholes for not wearing masks, they were probably smart ’nough to realize that yelling @ you wasn’t going to magically make you not assholes anymo’, but would probably make you dig your heels in further — as the existence o’ this article proves.

These precautions were totally misguided. In April 2020, no one got the coronavirus from passing someone else hiking.

I’m going to need a big, fat, fucking citation needed for that. ( Fun fact: if you compare newspapers like The Atlantic to my stoner blog you will find to your shock & horror that I oft cite sources mo’ than they do, ’cause newspapers oft like to just coast on their pretend authority than follow basic academic standards ).

Our cloth masks made out of old bandanas wouldn’t have done anything, anyway.

Yes, that’s ’cause you weren’t wearing real masks, you fuckface.

But the thing is: We didn’t know.

“¡It’s Fauci’s fault my family were all hopeless dumbasses!”.

I have been reflecting on this lack of knowledge thanks to a class I’m co-teaching at Brown University on COVID.

If she had any self-awareness, such reflection would have been, “Wow, it sure is impressive that they hired me to teach a class on a subject I know absolutely nothing about. The US sure is a meritocracy”.

We’ve spent several lectures reliving the first year of the pandemic, discussing the many important choices we had to make under conditions of tremendous uncertainty.

Read: “I wasted my class’s time & money talking ’bout shit that has nothing to do with science”.

To take an example close to my own work, there is an emerging (if not universal) consensus that schools in the U.S. were closed for too long: The health risks of in-school spread were relatively low, whereas the costs to students’ well-being and educational progress were high.

This writer shows herself to be just as ignorant o’ linguistics as biology: a consensus is universal — it’s an inherent part o’ its definition. If it’s not universal, it’s mere majority, not consensus.

2nd, e’en a fervent supporter o’ democracy like me has the awareness to realize the unfortunate truth that objective, materialist science isn’t based on fucking elections. The fact that the average slackjawed moron, fed junkfood misinformation like The Atlantic, thinks children have magic COVID immunity doesn’t make it true, anymo’ than the fact that 81% o’ Americans believe there’s an invisible man in the sky who runs e’erything makes it true. Americans are dumb: their opinion is worth less than a coin flip.

Nowhere does this “economist” e’en try to look into alternatives that could serve both problems, which would’ve been real compromise, ’cause that would require some semblance o’ curiosity & independent thought, which almost all economists lack. People ( read: right-wing hacks ) assume that falling education came from children not being physically next to each other, & not the lack o’ preparedness or lack o’ resources from skinflint governments drugged up on the religion o’ “Fuck the Poor” capitalism. Hell, the psychological trauma o’ COVID could’ve by itself caused the decline; there’s no proof that the decline wouldn’t have happened if schools didn’t close, or that it wouldn’t have been worsened by children’s fears — whether based on realistic facts or exaggerated — o’ getting COVID themselves. Indeed, the fact that schools that stayed closed longer didn’t have worse effects than those that didn’t & the Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics’s own conclusion on the data imply this. This is specially since the worst effect was on math, which is the subject that should need physical presence the least & can most easily be handled with computers. Also, Americans have always been hopeless @ math — which is amazing when you consider what a STEMlord country it is & that Americans are e’en worse @ liberal arts like sociology, philosophy ( I can’t name a single good American philosopher ), &, as seen here, economists ( also no good American economists — all the English greats, like Adam Smith, Keynes, & Joan Robinson, are from the UK, while we’re stuck with Paul Samuelson, Milton Fucking Friedman, & Paul Krugman, which is like comparing bands like Nirvana & Alice in Chains to Nickelback & Creed ).

But, yeah, it would have made mo’ sense to cost mo’ lives so Americans can become slightly less terrible @ math.

Another example: When the vaccines came out, we lacked definitive data on the relative efficacies of the Johnson & Johnson shot versus the mRNA options from Pfizer and Moderna. The mRNA vaccines have won out. But at the time, many people in public health were either neutral or expressed a J&J preference. This misstep wasn’t nefarious. It was the result of uncertainty.

This is the lamest o’ Appeal to Perfection fallacies e’er. Either way people were @ risk, so this was a case o’ the “least bad scenario”. The FDA themselves continued recommending the J&J vaccine as better than nothing. Only a mental child would think that during a deadly pandemic nobody should e’er have risks or make mistakes when rushing e’er.

Misinformation was, and remains, a huge problem. But most errors were made by people who were working in earnest for the good of society.

Also an unproven claim & irrelevant: people who are “working in earnest” but know they know nothing o’ biology are still dangerously irresponsible. If I hijacked a a tank “for the good o’ society”, nobody’s going to give a shit how earnest I am, other than whether or not to have me sent to an asylum.

Given the amount of uncertainty, almost every position was taken on every topic. And on every topic, someone was eventually proved right, and someone else was proved wrong. In some instances, the right people were right for the wrong reasons. In other instances, they had a prescient understanding of the available information.

This is straight-up my parody o’ centrists, O’Beefe: “Look, 1 side says that murder is necessary, the other side says that it is merely sometimes useful” ( who, relevantly, would later turn out to be the equivalent o’ the alt-right ). I swear to you that US-brand centrism is the biggest mental cancer in the world.

The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat.

I can’t fucking believe this tremendous misunderstanding o’ how both objective reality & humans work. That’s right, all ideas are a guessing game: people who used their knowledge o’ biology, which is based on peer-reviewed studies & centuries o’ information, just “guessed right”. When I make a website @ work, it’s not ’cause I studied programming for years & know how the web works; I just happened to be lucky that day & can maybe feel the reason to gloat for my good gut instinct. This is the kind o’ idea only someone with no knowledge or skill in anything could think — pathetic & spiteful. The idea that this smug asshole trying to manufacture a “truce” when her side is clearly the wrong side o’ history is accusing people who were trying to prevent deaths o’ just wanting to gloat is colossal projection.

Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts.

“Me, for instance”.

All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet.

Yes, policies that are life & death for millions is just culture war bullshit, but empty civility & decorum are vital.

& you yourself are writing on the internet. But sure, it’s e’eryone else who’s a crybaby.

These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive.

You’re right, but you decided to write this article &, e’en mo’ perplexing, The Atlantic decided to publish it, so here we are.

And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing.

No, but it is a mental failing, &, mo’ importantly, insisting you’re right with whate’er disarray o’ propaganda articles you wrote or whate’er inklings you made up in your head when you know you have less knowledge than experts who spent decades studying this subject is a moral failing, as you’re putting your pride as a “free thinker” ’bove actually helping society.

Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.

This is completely contradictory: by this writer’s own perspective, all decisions are based on luck, there is no free will, & therefore whether or not we move forward is out of our control, just as whether or not taking a vaccine was apparently a coin flip. In these times o’ uncertainty, whether or not “treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others” prevents us from moving forward could be right or could be wrong, & those o’ us who think that insulting idiots like this writer will help us “move forward” could be right, & if we’re not, well, we’re not to blame, ¿’cause how could we know? ¡There’s too much uncertainty! I love this implication that complex sociopolitical philosophical issues are far simpler than hard, materialist sciences like biology. Yes, this idiot’s simplistic, trite moralizing is rock solid, but how viruses & vaccines work is pure witchcraft.

We have to put these fights aside and declare a pandemic amnesty.

¿Why not? ¿Is officially pardoning an insentient disease any worse than Roger Stone? No, ’course not — they’re the same thing.

We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation [—]

As we will see, this writer is not 1 o’ them.

[—] while forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge.

Nope, ’cause they had a very easy choice: listen to the people who did have knowledge. Their preference for listening to charlatans o’er actual scientists is a social failing, & the kind o’ person who makes this mistake is going to make the same mistake ’gain & ’gain & will continue to be a burden on society, evident by the fact that this idiot, having not been content to cause harm in the world by their idiocy, is still writing articles.

Los Angeles County closed its beaches in summer 2020. Ex post facto, this makes no more sense than my family’s masked hiking trips.

¿What? That’s a very hard accomplishment, since your family’s hiking tricks made no sense other than that you were bored & couldn’t be bothered to read real science.

But we need to learn from our mistakes and then let them go.

Keep in mind, e’en if we accept the assertion that the spread o’ COVID outside is mitigated by wind ( which is not the same as impossible ), we’re comparing the mistake o’ killing people to the mistake o’ not letting people enjoy the beach. The latter is sad, but hardly criminal. The fact that this writer thinks people who might have cost people time in the rays might have just as much to apologize for as people who helped people die is deranged & I’m amazed that this writer can have such lack o’ sense o’ shame that she can show her face in public, much less write for a newspaper, without having to wear a paper bag o’er her face. ( ¿But are paper bags truly effective @ protecting disgraceful people from their deep shame? There’s a lot o’ uncertainty ).

Because I thought schools should reopen and argued that kids as a group were not at high risk, I was called a “teacher killer” and a “génocidaire.”

Note that she only argued that kids were not @ high risk, so she made this recommendation with the full consciousness that she was putting teachers, specially ol’ teachers, @ risk o’ dying, & therefore, it is, in fact, accurate to call her a “teacher killer”, since she admits right here to knowingly recommending a scenario that would lead to mo’ deaths o’ teachers. But, ’gain, since COVID-deniers have no free will due to all that magical postmodern uncertainty, she can’t be a teacher killer, or anything, truly, since e’erything is in our minds.

It wasn’t pleasant, but feelings were high.

It is much mo’ important that we pay our respects to the dead feelings o’ this rich, spoiled fauxeconomist who has no place writing ’bout biology @ all than the people who died, declares virulent narcissist.

And I certainly don’t need to dissect and rehash that time for the rest of my days.

Then maybe you shouldn’t have written this article.

Student test scores have shown historic declines, more so in math than in reading, and more so for students who were disadvantaged at the start. We need to collect data, experiment, and invest. Is high-dosage tutoring more or less cost-effective than extended school years? Why have some states recovered faster than others? We should focus on questions like these, because answering them is how we will help our children recover.

“Anyway, fuck the millions who died & the millions mo’ with lifelong health problems. Let’s focus on my personal bugbear”. I specially love how irrelevant high-dosage tutoring vs. extended school years is & how it’s focused on “cost-effectiveness”, rather than efficacy. Any halfway knowledgeable economist should know that the US wastes their money on the stupidest shit right & left & that any talk o’ “cost-effectiveness” is futile.

Notably, routine vaccination rates for children (for measles, pertussis, etc.) are way down. Rather than debating the role that messaging about COVID vaccines had in this decline, we need to put all our energy into bringing these rates back up.

Yes, let’s try to solve a problem by deliberately refusing to examine the roots o’ said problem. To be fair, that is how economists typically try to solve economic problems, which is why they suck @ that, too.

Pediatricians and public-health officials will need to work together on community outreach[.]

They can start by recommending all their patients to stay ’way from The Atlantic & only read actually informative news sources.

The standard saying is that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But dwelling on the mistakes of history can lead to a repetitive doom loop as well.

There’s a reason this 2nd sentence isn’t a standard saying: it’s complete nonsense. It’s only doom for the jackasses who made these “mistakes”. After all, ostracizing these people & news sources will create disincentives from fostering misinformation in the future, thereby making it less likely to happen in the future. You’d think an economist would know that, but as we’ve discussed many times, economists only understand personal responsibility when it comes to lowerclass people. Normal people should, ’course, be fired for bad results, but when an economist makes “mistakes”, we shouldn’t fire that economist from e’er writing for our paper, but continue giving them opportunities ( & thereby taking that opportunity from others ), despite doing nothing to merit it. This is the kind o’ meritocratic capitalist system that economists like this, who benefit quite well from it, strangely support a lot.

This writer has been very vague & evasive ’bout the “mistakes” that some nebulous people made. Let’s turn to Abigail Cartus, Ph.D, MPH & Justin Feldman, Sc.D, MPH @ Protean for background:

But despite its prominence, Oster’s work on COVID in schools has attracted little scrutiny—even though it has been funded since last summer by organizations that, without exception, have explicit commitments to opposing teacher’s unions, supporting charter schools, and expanding corporate freedom. In addition to grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Walton Family Foundation, and Arnold Ventures, Oster has received funding from far-right billionaire Peter Thiel. The Thiel grant awarded to Oster was administered by the Mercatus Center, the think tank founded and financed by the Koch family.

¡Le shock! ¡An economist accepting bribes awards for their studied work from rich, “libertarian” organizations — which, in their hate for government involvement, obsessively spend their money on influencing government; “laissez-faire” isn’t French for “rich people control people like dictators” for no reason — to give false authority to pseudoscience that benefits them! ¡But Volcker told me that the only asset economists had was their credibility! Well, Oster sold hers for a quick quid.

Note that liberal fascist The Atlantic ’gain gives a voice to someone under the patronage o’ the far-right — “liberal” media @ its finest.

Still, that’s hardly the worst thing one could —

But the headline statement in the new AAP report is the oft-repeated mantra that “no amount of alcohol should be considered safe in pregnancy.” Media reports have seized on this statement to renew a debate about the dangers of light drinking during pregnancy. Rather than acknowledging the obvious dangers of heavier drinking and working to address the circumstances that lead to it, we are back to discussing whether pregnant women should be shamed for having a half a glass of wine on their anniversary—or any old night.

To me, this highlights the very real downside of recommendations like this one, which do not involve any nuance. The bottom line is that while there is clear evidence of the dangers of heavy drinking—especially binge drinking—in pregnancy, the same cannot be said for low levels of alcohol consumption. As even the AAP report acknowledges, there is consensus on this issue. A large share of OBs in the U.S. report telling their pregnant patients that some alcohol is fine.

That is from Time magazine, by the way, which is, coincidentally, also 1 o’ the worst newspapers in the US. Unsurprisingly, the only academic source I could see who bothered to comment on this obvious troll had strong disagreements.

OK, that was a weird opinion to die on her sword for, but —

Emily Oster re-examines the stats on AIDS in Africa from an economic perspective and reaches a stunning conclusion: Everything we know about the spread of HIV on the continent is wrong.

O… O, dear god, no…

[T]to understand this you need to think about health the way than an economist does — as an investment. So if you’re a software engineer and you’re trying to think about whether to add some new functionality to your program, it’s important to think about how much it costs. It’s also important to think about what the benefit is. And one part of that benefit is how much longer you think this program is going to be active. If version 10 is coming out next week, there’s no point in adding more functionality into version nine.

I want to note that she isn’t e’en right ’bout software versioning here: for most software, version 9 would continue to receive updates, mainly security updates, for plenty o’ time after version 10 comes out, ’cause people don’t all update to the next version right ’way. Some can’t ’cause new versions usually introduce incompatibilities with other software. Considering the newsworthy controversies o’er decades-ol’ Windows operating systems finally having their support ended e’ery time it happens, I’m surprised she didn’t know this.

But your health decisions are the same. Every time you have a carrot instead of a cookie, every time you go to the gym instead of going to the movies, that’s a costly investment in your health.

I wish I were surprised, but, yes, this truly is how many economists think. This is what happens when economists think economics is nothing but math & whate’er gut instincts they come up with, ignoring all other sciences. Yes, eating a cookie ’stead o’ a carrot is just like having sex with someone who might have AIDS, ’cept all the many biological ways it’s completely different.

Actually, despite what many online have been gossiping ’bout, this talk isn’t ’bout how spending money on AIDS treatment is a waste o’ money, but spending money on AIDS education is a waste o’ money compared to… decreasing trade — which is, admittedly, a shocking admission from a mainstream economist, who usually consider trade to be the best thing e’er fore’er. There seems to be no talk o’ decreasing spending on the general problem o’ AIDS in Africa. TED Talks probably demand far higher taste than vulgar The Atlantic & Time, so she couldn’t go full mask-off ( pun not intended ).

That said, the talk does end rather tastelessly:

But more than anything, you know, I’m an academic. And when I leave here, I’m going to go back and sit in my tiny office, and my computer, and my data. And the thing that’s most exciting about that is every time I think about research, there are more questions. There are more things that I think that I want to do. And what’s really, really great about being here is I’m sure that the questions that you guys have are very, very different than the questions that I think up myself. And I can’t wait to hear about what they are. So thank you very much.

I have ne’er seen someone so excited & eager ’bout people dying o’ AIDS.

Anyway, her arguments are debatable, considering the simplistic assumptions in this admittedly short talk —

O, ¿what’s that, Forbes?

This shift in focus raises the question: Is treatment the right solution? In my work I have assumed that our goal in the face of the epidemic is to maximize life. In other words, to save the most years of life with the funding available. Once I decided this, the cost-benefit calculations that economists are so familiar with told me how.

As cold and callous as this may sound, after comparing the number of years saved by antiretrovirals with years saved by other interventions like education, I found that treatment is not an effective way to combat the epidemic. It may be that my conclusions are best laid aside in the name of morality and compassion. But in making the tough decisions about how to spend limited resources, we should understand the economic consequences of our choices.

Ah, here we go. Now, Forbes, they allow you to go full sociopath. There can be no nobler death than to sacrifice yourself to capitalist efficiency, specially if you’re poor.

That’s obviously a wrenching question. But if we choose treatment, we must know what we are giving up. The tradeoffs are there whether we want to face them or not. What economics can do is tell us–in numbers, in black and white–what we give up and what we gain.

We recently developed a simple, easy solution: give up dumbass loser Elon Musk throwing his money down the drain on Twitter so he can shitpost Bill Gates pregnant memes, pour Twitter down the drain like rancid milk, & give that $44 billion to AIDS treatment. I love how economists try to contrive these imaginary tough decisions as if the world doesn’t waste 99% o’ its resources on the dumbest shit. Economists would make their jobs a lot easier if they just recommended giving up shit like Elon Musk — hell, that’s a win-win.

Anyway, I’m intrigued by this new development o’ 4chan Science, clearly meant purely to troll & bolster itself on its clickbaiting audacity rather than any serious thought ’hind them. I thought the era o’ edgelordism might’ve been o’er, but I was wrong. ¡There was just too much uncertainty! Hopefully we can agree to an amnesty toward those who mistakenly believed that the era o’ edgelordism was o’er & that ’twas safe for us to leave our homes without being subjected to cringe.

Posted in No News Is Good News, Politics