Ebola Demands Science First, not Politics

Nassim Taleb: What People Don’t Understand About Ebola”
Shane Ferro

Business Insider
October 17, 2014

One of the reasons that it is unconscionable to take a gratuitously partisan position on the current Ebola outbreak is that genuine dialogue is obscured by politically-motivated posturing. Let’s be blunt: anyone taking a position on Ebola to either attack or defend the current administration is taking away from our ability to address the problem, and you would be advised to shut up. You’re not helping.

And let’s be clear: some of the rhetoric being tossed about in an effort to calm the hype has shot into logically-indefensible territory. Shane Ferro quotes Nassim Taleb, he of The Black Swan, in the latter’s effort to shut down the “nothing to see here” crowd.

The argument that the US should be more worried about a disease like cancer — which has more stable rates of infection than Ebola does currently — is a logic that Taleb calls “the empiricism of the idiots.”

The basic idea: The growth rate of Ebola infection is nonlinear, so the number of people catching it doubles every 20 days. Because of this, you have to act quickly at the source of infections, he says. “The closer you are to the source, the more effective you are at slowing it down … it is much more rational to prevent it now than later.”

Isolate the source of the disease, address it there. The longer we wait to do these things, the more pain we are buying the planet.

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San Francisco Legalizes, Regulates Airbnb With 7-4 Vote, Lots of Amendments

David Wolf:

A victory for the nanny state otherwise known as the City of San Francisco. Let’s be honest: the biggest beneficiaries of this regulatory effort will be the government and the major hotel chains. The little guy, the average homeowner, is getting screwed.

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

After six years of operating in San Francisco, Airbnb will finally become legal on its own home turf.

The city’s board of supervisors voted to legalize and regulate short-term stays through a controversial piece of legislation that has been two years in the making and comes in the midst of one of the city’s most acute housing shortages in history. David Chiu, who is the president of the board of supervisors and is running to represent San Francisco in the state assembly this November, has been the one leading the legislative process.

I wrote a piece earlier today describing some the law’s changes and some of its more controversial points. The key changes include a limit on non-hosted rentals for up to 90 days per year. That’s on the concern that Airbnb will eat into the city’s limited housing stock.

Another key point is the creation of a public registry, where hosts will have to pay a $50…

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Bacon, Islam, and the the Failure of the Politically Correct Society

Winooski, Vermont and the Dismantling of America’s Values – The Dennis Prager Show

Dennis and I don’t always agree, and he gets himself whipped into quite a lather on this one, but he makes a superb point: in the name of political correctness we are surrendering our freedoms, and no more so than in the speed of our retreat in the face of Sharia law.

There is a line between the tact that comes with common decency on the one hand and being hypersensitive about offending the hypersensitive on the other. Winooski, Vermont has stepped over that line. It is no more correct to take down the bacon sign than it is to demand that a nativity scene be removed from a Church law, that crosses be removed, and that Jews be prohibited from wearing religious garb.

On the other hand, if that makes sense to you, I understand that there are many parts of France that can be quite lovely…

Natural Beauty and National Pride

Driving across the United States this summer with my family, we were offered countless vistas of natural beauty that went from the sublime to the majestic. From the carpet of trees that seemed to spread from our hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina to the deep red buttes of the New Mexico rockies, we were confronted by natural beauty at every turn that just took our Asia-jaded breaths away.

“I love America,” said my twelve year-old son, and often, after we drank our visual fill of one of these wonders.

Indeed. As do his mother and I.

But is it right for us to be proud of America, a political entity, for the natural wonders bestowed on the continent long before modern man set foot on her shores, much less sat down to write a constitution? Should we tell ourselves that we are a great nation because we are endowed with an inheritance for which we can only thank G-d?

I think not. The natural grace shed upon the land by the Almighty was not the result of some favorable judgement of our people or our deeds.

On the other hand, what we can take pride in is our response to that bounty. We have approached each of these blessings with varying degress of two noble urges: the urge to protect, and the urge to learn. Often driven by enlightened self interest (tourism, logging, the desire to preserve a favorite campsite), we have learned to make preservation a part of a national bi-partisan dialogue. Preservation is no longer the question: the question is how, and how much?

And study of nature has been a part of the national idiom since Thomas Jefferson, whose remove on his beloved hilltop on Monticello was taken up more with the study of the natural world than with politics. The names of explorers grace our history and name our streets, mountains, and lakes. And Theodore Roosevelt was more than any other individual (with the possible exception of John Muir) responsible for making the study of nature synonymous with what it is to be an American. So much is this the case that by the time the Baby Boomers began to take positions of responsibility in American society, most Americans took for granted our urges to preserve and study. In this, we can take justifiable pride.

In the processs, unfortunately, we have forgotten the stormy debates that have surrounded each governmental act of preservation throughout history. We have disregarded the arguments, however sincere and reasonable, made against each act of government acquisition for the purpose of preservation. This selective amnesia is a problem: If we are to understand the role and limit of government, we must remember the debates that sought to curb the influence of the state, even in such an obvious place like the conservation of nature. And if we are to truly appreciate our inheritance, we must acknowledge the sacrifices that individuals have made to bring them to us – even if they started out on the wrong side of history. The real credit for conservation goes to those who have given up the economic benefit of something that is rightfully theirs in deference to the interests of the nation, of mankind, and of the planet. In the acts of these Americans, we can also take pride.

Finally, we must recongize that our urge to study and preserve is not universal, and that for all of our faults, we can look around the world and be justifiably proud at what we have accomplished as a people.

These thoughts were with me as we drove down through the winding vistas of the Virgin River Canyon, a Grand Canyon in miniature at the extreme Northwest corner of Arizona that offers some of the most remarkable vistas in the Southwest. The Canyon and the river that formed it are a gift. We can take no pride in the gifts we receive, I told my son, only in what we do with them.


Research: White suspects get shot quicker than black suspects

A fascinating article in Reason. You may not want to accept the findings at face value, but it does suggest a counter-narrative that is worth further study.

The money quote in the article is this:

Participants in an innovative Washington State University study of deadly force were more likely to feel threatened in scenarios involving black people. But when it came time to shoot, participants were biased in favor of black suspects, taking longer to pull the trigger against them than against armed white or Hispanic suspects…

What is at work here? Reverse racism? Or is it the trigger puller giving the black perp the benefit of the doubt? Again, hard to tell, but a phenomenon that is worth understanding.