State v Federal response

I am disappointed that the state of California has not taken the initiative and stepped up to lead the response in the US to the coronavirus epidemic.

It’s been clear for weeks that citizens of CA (and WA, and OR, and …) will need support while we all weather this pandemic. Hospitals will need to ramp up. There’ll be a need for testing, for contact following, for basic support including food and shelter while people are unable to work. There will need to be scientific work on vaccine development, and development of testing methodologies that return results quickly.

It’s also been clear for years that the Federal administration has been steadily destroying the ability of federal departments, including those responsible for these things, to do their jobs. From the fabulist in charge, through the suck-ups whose entire function is to kowtow to the fabulist, through the heads of departments whose publicly-stated function is to shut down or make ineffectual the departments they are put in place to lead, including the NIH and CDC, it’s been clear that expecting a well-planned and well-executed response to a national or international emergency from the Federal government is no longer reasonable.

Given these facts, the states have chosen to carp at the Feds about what they’re not doing, rather than stepping up and doing the work themselves. California in particular has financial and academic resources equal or greater than most countries on the planet, and could have, weeks ago, instigated a program to ensure that every UC campus medical center be ready to function as a regional pandemic control facility, with all the resources needed to test, quarantine and treat the general population, funded by the state government. They could then have shared that knowledge and those resources with WA, OR and any other state that needed them.

The Federal government is broken. It is simply not capable of responding well to a national emergency with anything other than rhetoric, misinformation and finger-pointing. Rather than participate in those games, state governments have an obligation and an opportunity to take the reins.

Dear Governor Inslee

I just heard on the radio that you’d asked people to “self-quarantine” in the event that they exhibit symptoms of CoVid-19. I’d like to suggest that this is impractical for those of us who are not salaried, nor have paid sick leave included in their terms of employment.

If you’d like us to perform the service of not infecting our fellow citizens, perhaps you might urge the legislature to make cash grants to those of us who find themselves in this situation, so that we don’t compound the problem of contracting a life-threatening illness with that of going bankrupt.

Regards, etc.

Update: of course, within a week or so the state was gearing up to do exactly this. Strange times, but in a lot of respects things that used to be problems with government just … aren’t … any more. Our governor, our bureaucracy and our legislature is handling things exceptionally well, IMHO, so I apologize for the irritation in the above post. We’ve all moved past the finger-pointing to the what-can-I-help-with phase, which is great.

Living expenses

I’ve been seeing this chart around a few places recently. A succinct explanation of the disconnect between the official figures showing a robust economy, and the reality that most people are feeling.

For those who can get through the paywall, the latest discussion is at

The Electoral College and the popular vote

An article about the statistics of the Electoral College as opposed to the popular vote. The graphic showing the relative unimportance of most states in the Presidential elections is particularly illuminating, as is the conclusion, that it is only those states that have any incentive to change the system. Come on, Coastal states, time to assert ourselves.

More disinformation

Just saw JoJo Rabbit. One of the main things I see is the way the some of the adult characters believe all sorts of bullshit, about Jews, about Russians and Americans, and how the 10-year-old kid who’s the main character absorbs all that. And how some of the characters of course don’t believe any of it, but profess to because of the power it gives them, or because it keeps them safe. Part of the reason the movie works is because these ludicrous ideas are treated seriously by the children. Why wouldn’t they think Jews had horns when all the serious adults are telling them so? And when you could be killed for not believing it?

Bad UI design

Started Quicken this morning, and it

  • fired up a dialog saying “searching for updates”
  • fired up a second dialog upon completion, with the message “no updates found, you’re up-to-date, make sure you check frequently” and an “OK” button

This is the “normal” case: I’m going to check for you to see if something needs to be done. One would hope that, in the normal case where nothing needs to be done, no further information needs to be imparted and no further action required on the part of the user. It would all seamlessly happen behind the scenes, and a dialog would only be shown if the user needed something or needed to tell the system something. I suspect the “make sure you check frequently” was just added to the text as a rationalization for having the dialog box in the first place.

I don’t consider myself much of an expert on UI, but I know what I don’t like …
update: … and then it didn’t bother to open the program (!)

Trump and disinformation

The political theorist Hannah Arendt once wrote that the most successful totalitarian leaders of the 20th century instilled in their followers “a mixture of gullibility and cynicism.” When they were lied to, they chose to believe it. When a lie was debunked, they claimed they’d known all along—and would then “admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Over time, Arendt wrote, the onslaught of propaganda conditioned people to “believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.”

I read the article “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President” in The Atlantic this morning (of which the above quote forms part of the conclusion) and it struck a chord. A campaign of uncertainty and lies, whispered into people’s ears. If the truth-checkers are themselves discredited, as the article points out, appeals to correctness won’t work. According to the article, some in the opposition think that using the same techniques is the answer, but to me that just opens them up to justified charges of dirty tricks which’ll be exploited by the administration and it’s representatives.

I’m not sure what the remedy is. Worth a read, and a think. One thing for sure, though: invalidating our tools for coming to grips with reality is a negative-sum game – reality will always bite you in the ass.

Brexit happened

Take a road trip from Greece to Sweden, from Portugal to Hungary. Leave your passport behind. What a rich, teeming bundle of civilisations – in food, manners, architecture, language, and each nation state profoundly and proudly different from its neighbours. No evidence of being under the boot-heel of Brussels. Nothing here of continental USA’s dreary commercial sameness. Summon everything you’ve learned of the ruinous, desperate state of Europe in 1945, then contemplate a stupendous economic, political and cultural achievement: peace, open borders, relative prosperity, and the encouragement of individual rights, tolerance and freedom of expression. Until Friday this was where our grown-up children went at will to live and work.

Ian McEwan, in The Guardian,