Life In A Global Pandemic, Part 12

I received the Moderrna COVID-19 vaccine.

Instead of selling it on the open market, the world's largest capitalist economy has decided to use central planning to distribute the vaccines. I wish I could say I didn't see that coming, but the global response to this virus has been a disaster of central planning from the very beginning. It stands to reason that the "end" (?) of the pandemic should unfold the same way.

Tarrant County provided a website, distributed mainly by word-of-mouth as far as I can tell, through which residents could register to receive the vaccine. It is not first come, first served. Instead, patients were linked to an electronic form, in which we disclosed our age, race, sex, and so on, along with any "preexisting conditions" we might have. This is to ensure that the vaccine goes first to the sick and the weak, rather than to the young, strong, socially active people who are probably responsible for transmitting the virus so widely. That said, I do think the old and the at-risk ought to have first crack at the vaccine.

"Luckily" for me, I acquired type 1 diabetes more than a decade ago. (Tempus fugit!) The county's electronic form doesn't differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and of course it is only type 2 diabetes that is listed as the kind of "preexisting condition" that puts one at risk of death from COVID-19. Since I can't go on the open market and buy myself a shot, though, I didn't feel too badly about answering truthfully that I have "diabetes" and letting the health department sort out the details. Within a week, I had my appointment for receiving the vaccine scheduled.

The health department called me three times on Friday. I didn't recognize the number, so I let it go to voicemail. In any case, it was an automated call all three times. They also sent me three identical emails the text of which was verbatim to the phone calls I received. The emails contained a link to confirm my appointment, and so I did. The appointment was scheduled for the following day "between 9 AM and 11 AM."

I showed up at about 8:45 AM, and there was already a long lineup of cars waiting to park. Police split traffic up into four separate queues, which eventually merged back into two separate lines. Once we found a parking space, we lined up again inside the building - two separate lines this time. I waited in line for perhaps 40 minutes, during which time volunteers checked my paperwork no less than five times. Finally, I arrived at a registration table, where my paperwork was checked again, my driver's license and insurance information were taken down, and then I was directed into an all-new queue. This queue happened to split into two lines for about 20 yards, before merging back into one queue again. Central planning is wonderful, isn't it?

At last, I was allowed inside a conference room, where I sat at a table and someone administered the vaccine. I was then directed to a second person who gave me my "vaccine card," along with a memorized set of instructions that I will never be able to remember. The gist of it was that I needed my "vaccine card" to get my second vaccine dose, which I will be able to receive in four weeks' time. She also told me, despite CDC information to the contrary, that I cannot mix vaccines, meaning that since I received the Moderna vaccine, I should only get the Moderna vaccine for my second dose, otherwise it won't work. Finally, she gave me a sticky-note with a time written on it: 10:14 AM, the time when I would be allowed to leave the building. Apparently they make people wait in the conference room for 20 minutes to ensure that nobody has an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Then I went home.

My sister had received the Moderna vaccine a few weeks before I did. By her account, the vaccine causes muscle cramps, tiredness, feverishness, and so on. I expected to have a similar experience, so I quickly went for a nice, hard run when I got home. I figured that if I was going to be out of commission for a day or two, I should get a good workout in before I started feeling down.

None of those adverse reactions happened for me. The injection site became about as sore as it would be for a tetanus or DTAP vaccine. I did not experience tiredness, pain, fever, or anything else. I feel perfectly fine.

I would recommend the vaccine to others. Hopefully, most everyone will eventually receive an effective vaccine, and the spread of this disease can be minimized as much as possible. I understand that this is one of the first widely used mRNA vaccines ever made. I was curious about it for that reason. This is a new mechanism of action, one that has not previously received widespread federal approval. (According to a handout I received when I was given my vaccine, the Moderna vaccine is "not FDA-approved." They want everyone to know that they are getting an unapproved vaccine, presumably so that no one will ever think to blame the FDA if something goes wrong. Nothing says "accountability" quite like government.) I think now that the concept has essentially been proven, we can expect to see more mRNA vaccines in the future. This could mean a cure for the common cold, to say nothing about all the other, more serious, diseases we might be able to cure with new vaccine technology. 

If there is anything positive about any of this, that's it. It's exciting to be a part of medical history. I'll let you know if I grow a demonic hand or something, but at this point I am expecting it to be smooth-sailing from here.


3-D Chess And The Federal Minimum Wage

MSN.com reports that President Joe Biden is signing an executive order to set the wage minimum paid to federal employees and contractors at $15 per hour.

Note that this is not actually "an increase in the federal minimum wage." Biden's executive order is about the wage that the federal government pays to its own employees. It is not an executive order about setting a national minimum wage. If I'm not mistaken, the latter requires Congress and could never be achieved by an executive order. 

Biden has always been popular among federal employee unions, school unions, and the like, because he has always been quite favorable to their policy preferences in the past. So it will not be surprising if we hear members of these unions reacting quite happily to Biden's executive order on federal wages. That's a political win for Biden.

Interestingly enough, though, it might also be an example of 3-D chess. Why? Because increases in the minimum wage are well-understood to decrease employment. When you make something more expensive - in this case, labor costs - you get less of that something - in this case, labor. This is one of the most empirically robust findings in economics. It's not even worth debating anymore. Increases in the minimum wage decrease employment. 

Thanks to both the covid-19 pandemic and the various government lockdowns attendant thereto, the economy is in quite a pickle. The federal government is spending money like a drunken sailor, money it doesn't actually have. So the government's debt is increasing, and its budget deficit is increasing, and the US economy is not very healthy. One solution proposed by those who favor "austerity measures" is a reduction in federal spending. 

So the question is, how would a Democrat who wants to make unions happy choose to reduce federal spending while still pleasing his union supporters? One way might be to raise the wage standard such that the federal government hires fewer employees, reducing costs. Of course, this can only happen if the workforce reduction (or its growth rate) is reduced by more than the cost of the wage increase. Well, the federal government is now free to reduce the size of its workforce as much as it wants, since the unions are happy and US citizens in general have received the signal that Biden is "good for labor."

It will be interesting to watch and see what happens to the size of the federal workforce.


Quick! Do Something! Anything!

It's often been said that "haste makes waste." I happen to agree. Unfortunately, most people do not.

In a stunning admission over the weekend, one of my far-left friends said that free speech absolutism was a conservative position. I call this "stunning," of course, because free speech absolutism has been, for the majority of my lifetime and that of my parents and grandparents, the liberal position. If anything, it has been a left wing position, held only by the most ardent of leftists. 

While I'm pleased that the right has discovered a newfound appreciation for freedom of speech, I'm disturbed by how quickly the left has shrugged it off completely. They now accept without question that there should always be some restrictions on the freedom of speech.

Before I continue, let's get the obvious out of the way: In this blog post, I'll be focusing mainly on the ethical principle of free speech and open dialog, the belief that society is freer and better off when all viewpoints are expressed than it would be if certain kinds of ideas were banished from conversation, even informally. I will not be referring to the merely legal concept of a constitutionally protected freedom from a government's legally denying people speech rights. The reason I'm making this differentiation is because it's possible to shut down a conversation without violating any law or civil right. 

The impulse is understandable on some level. When one encounters very abhorrent views, it's natural to want to get the hell away from them. In our personal lives, we can manage to do so very easily, by walking away. If someone decides to follow us around with a megaphone and scream abhorrent views at us no matter where we go, we have a tort to deal with that kind of harassment, and there is really no issue of free and open dialog at play.

But when a cadre of very powerful media moguls decide to collude against a particular strain of free expression, severely limiting society's access to that strain of thought, even if they're within their rights to do it, free and open dialog has been abridged. Not legally abridged, mind you, but abridged.

This, in turn narrows the available array of ideas. In the moment, that might achieve a given end. You might temporarily stamp-out a particular strain of thought, at least until the people who believe that strain of thought figure out a more reliable way to broadcast their beliefs. (I understand that Ham radio is still an option...)

The next time society encounters a strain of thought that it thinks is abhorrent, they will have that much easier a time squashing it out. The problem arises when the thought they're squashing out isn't truly abhorrent with respect to the arc of history. For example, interracial marriage used to be considered abhorrent, and those advocating it used to be reviled. In the long run, though, interracial marriage is good for humanity, and most of us now fully recognize that it's not an abhorrent thing at all.

How did society go from reviling interracial marriage to tolerating it, and then to appreciating it? I think society accomplished this through free and open dialog about interracial marriage. We started by talking about it and making people mad; then we talked about it and made people bored; now we talk about it and make people happy. That's evolution, for you.

Notice that the people who reviled interracial marriage did not know at the time that they were reviling something that was actually not a problem at all. Instead, they thought they were standing up for what was right! Sticking to you own!, they thought. That's how it's supposed to be!

They were wrong, and needed convincing. That's what free speech does for us.

Free speech does something else for us: It lays bare the arguments for bad ideas, and enables smart people to defeat those arguments. Imagine a bad idea that everyone knows about, but that no one is allowed to discuss. Take teenage sexual intercourse, for example. Many teens are unable to discuss sex with their parents, because their parents forbid such discussions from being had. So those teens often grow up either sexually repressed or they get themselves into a kind of trouble that they could have avoided if they had had better information from a trusted source. Talking about teenage sexual activity doesn't lead to teenage sexual activity. The data on that are all pretty clear, and they state that teens who are able to have supportive and informative conversations about sex with their parents grow up to be better adjusted and to avoid more of the pitfalls of sex, such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. That's because having conversations out in the open about bad ideas enables us to respond to all bad arguments with good counterarguments.

The critic may here respond, "But some of these people don't care about or won't listen to counterarguments!" No, they won't. You can't control how other people respond to your arguments, however. Preventing them from being able to speak at all -  on whatever platform we happen to be talking about - is the authoritarian impulse. It won't work. 

The left used to understand this quite well. I am sad that they no longer do.


The Left Can Meme - At Last

For years, the trope on social media has been "the left can't meme." The right, especially the alt-right and the 4-chan right, have been a relentless band of merry pranksters on the internet for ten years or more, mercilessly lampooning every aspect of the left. Meanwhile, the left, for its part, has been unable to counter the attacks because the left's memes are lame

The typical right-leaning meme shows some sort of pop culture artifact which, when combined with a real and actual position held by left-leaning people, combines to make a funny joke that is universally understood. The typical left-leaning meme, by contrast, usually shows a picture of someone who is angry, accompanied by some words about how dumb or infuriating the right is. It's not clear that the latter example really is a joke. It's just a photo attached to a short rant. It's lame. That's why the left can't meme.

Or, at least, that's why I thought the left couldn't meme. I thought the people creating these memes basically had such bad senses of humor that they couldn't make an effective joke at the right's expense. And perhaps that is still true of many left-leaning memers. 

In the last 48 hours, however, the left's ability to meme has blossomed in the wake of the weird thing that happened at the Capitol building. For the first time in my life, I'm seeing some genuinely funny left-leaning memes lampooning the right quite effectively. 

What changed? Here's a theory:

For decades, the left have been staging protests and attendant photo ops, and these events have been full of, well, clowns. Leftist protests for many, many years have been filled with fringe characters sporting weird clothes, dreadlocks, piercings, and costumes. The events have been attended by people doing drugs and playing with juggling sticks. It's been close to a literal circus every time the left has shown up to protest something. Any photo from such an event is a meme in the making. It's impossible to take such people seriously because it is almost as if they don't take themselves seriously. 

Right-leaning protests, by contrast, have been full of people wearing either leather or blue jeans and sporting American flags, but beyond that, they look pretty much like the people you see at the local gas station. We might criticize their ideas, their grammar, or etc., but a photograph of these people hasn't in the past been an easy laugh

So, there has always been that difference between the left and the right. 

But not anymore. 

When Trump's clown circus stormed the capitol building, they looked every bit as ridiculous as the left has looked whenever they showed up to protest. Wearing face paint and buffalo skins, grinning like fools, and prancing around like circus performers, these rightist protestors made absolute idiots of themselves, and everybody knows it. 

That fact is now well-established in leftist memes. The left can finally use actual photos of actual rightist idiots to refer to commonly understood cultural events, and the left can give it to the right good and hard. Best of all, the right brought all this upon themselves, and they deserve it.

Truthfully, I don't know what the future holds for conservatism or Republicanism in America. I honestly don't see how the Republicans can recover from such a total self-destruction. What serious person is going to continue to stand behind such a clown show? 


Is There Racial Disparity In Coup Attempts?

There are a lot of Twitter screenshots floating around out there about how 52 people got arrested for yesterday's crazy quasi-coup attempt at the Capitol building, versus 14,000 arrests during the George Floyd protests. This disparity, according to those who point it out, proves "white privilege" and "structural racism."

Has the world gone mad? The US government was possibly attempted to have been taken over by a furry yesterday, and people want to argue about how bad it would have been if the furry had been black. 

For perspective, imagine that you're walking through Times Square, when suddenly a flying saucer descends from the skies, lands right in the middle, the door pops open, and out walk three greys and Jesus Christ, all wearing polka-dot space suits, and when the crowd falls silent, they all yell in unison, "Whassup, my n-words!!!" Then, the next day, everyone on Twitter starts arguing about whether it was racist for them to have used the n-word. Not a peep about proof of extraterrestrial life or the second coming of the Messiah, no, it's all about racism.

I am sensitive to the plight of the marginalized, but our present predicament desperately needs to remain fully contextualized. The outgoing president of the United States of America may or may not have committed incitement or treason or sedition or whatever, using a deranged army of furries. Maybe now is not the time to remark that black lives matter.

They do matter. But what the flying fish just happened yesterday???