August 2014 Archives
The ongoing Ebola outbreak may be connected to infected bats.
The genomic sequencing also offers hints as to how the Ebola "Zaire" strain at the heart of the current outbreak -- one of five types of Ebola virus known to infect humans -- likely ended up in West Africa in the first place. Researchers said the data suggests that the virus spread from an animal host, possibly bats, and that diverged around 2004 from an Ebola strain in central Africa, where previous outbreaks have occurred.
One of the easiest ways to weaponize the virus wouldn't require any sophisticated technology: simply gather bodily fluids from Ebola victims, bring it to your target area, and scatter it on some native mammals. Some of the animals might die from Ebola, but other species might be resistant and might carry the virus as easily as the bats did.
Dogs in one community in Liberia are reportedly eating the remains of dead Ebola victims lying on the streets. ...
Dr. Stephen Korsman of the University of Cape Town's medical virology division tells News 24 that dogs can be infected with the Ebola virus but that "infections appear to be asymptomatic."
"This means that dogs won't get sick, but they still could carry a potential risk through licking or biting," Korsman explained to News 24.
Now you've created a native reservoir of Ebola in your target area that will periodically break out and infect humans and might be impossible to eradicate.
The UN is now saying that the Ebola outbreak could hit 20,000 people, but if it hits that many how could it possibly hit so few?
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The U.N. health agency unveiled a new road map for containing the virus, and scientists are fast-tracking efforts to find a treatment or vaccine.
Ebola has menaced Africa for 40 years, but previously struck in remote villages and was contained fairly quickly. This time, it has spread to major cities in four countries, provoking unrest as whole neighborhoods and towns have been sealed to the outside.
Absent a vaccine (which is being worked on) I don't see how a highly contagious virus could be contained among 20,000 people. With that large a population of infected people the security perimeter just seems too big.
Furthermore, many of the infected Africans are Muslim, and the Hajj is in October this year. If there are thousands of known infections -- and many more unknown -- how likely is it that Ebola won't be carried to Mecca? The Hajj could very well be an inflection point for the outbreak, allowing Ebola to spread rapidly around the world.
This probably won't be a surprise to readers of this blog, but crime rates in Illinois have been plunging since the state began issuing permits to carry concealed weapons.
Since Illinois started granting concealed carry permits this year, the number of robberies that have led to arrests in Chicago has declined 20 percent from last year, according to police department statistics. Reports of burglary and motor vehicle theft are down 20 percent and 26 percent, respectively. In the first quarter, the city's homicide rate was at a 56-year low.
"Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal."
Two Ferguson-related stories this morning. First up, the officer who shot Michael Brown was beaten by Brown before the shooting.
Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer whose fatal shooting of Michael Brown touched off more than a week of demonstrations, suffered severe facial injuries, including an orbital (eye socket) fracture, and was nearly beaten unconscious by Brown moments before firing his gun, a source close to the department's top brass told FoxNews.com.
"The Assistant (Police) Chief took him to the hospital, his face all swollen on one side," said the insider. "He was beaten very severely."
Second, it looks like Ferguson authorities routinely hassle citizens for minor infringements.
You don't get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant "low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay."
As usual, the situation is more complex than it first appears.
It seems like it will be impossible to sell a home or business in Ferguson for a decade or more. The city has become a national disgrace thanks to the shooting, the riots, the militarized police response, and the unending media coverage. Who in their right mind would move in to the city?
Ezra Klein spends two paragraphs describing how President Obama divides America but candidate Obama didn't, but why is this true?
This all speaks to a point that the White House never forgets: President Obama's speeches polarize in a way candidate Obama's didn't. Obama's supporters often want to see their president "leading," but the White House knows that when Obama leads, his critics become even less likely to follow. The evidence political scientists have gathered documenting this dynamic is overwhelming, and Frances Lee lays it out well here:
If Obama's speeches aren't as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems.
So why is the country "riven by political polarization"? 10 possible explanations:
- Racial prejudice: lots of people either love or hate President Obama because of his skin color. Since the President's skin color has remained the same these feelings have intensified over time, leading to polarization.
- Reaction to performance: Americans had only a vague sense of candidate Obama's agenda/competence, but now that we've seen him in action for 6+ years you either love him or hate him.
- Bandwagon bias: we're each surrounded by like-minded people who reinforce and magnify our otherwise moderate opinions.
- Choice-supportive bias: we all tend to interpret evidence in a way that vindicates our past actions. However, it seems that there are a lot of people who voted for Obama once or twice in the past and aren't too fond of him now.
- Distrust: people perceive that President Obama's words and actions don't match, so when he gives a speech it highlights a new position of his to distrust. If he keeps his mouth shut the distrust is less focused and specific.
- Divide and conquer: people and groups of people have been intentionally manipulated into conflict with each other to serve some hidden purpose. But now we're too divided to accomplish anything?
- Limitations of the presidency: candidate Obama could please listeners with his speeches because he could say anything he wanted, but President Obama is constrained by the realities of the office he now holds. E.g., Obama can't go to Ferguson to give a speech because then people will expect him, as President, to solve their problems, which he can't do.
- New speechwriters: maybe President Obama's speechwriters just aren't as proficient as the ones who worked on his campaign.
- Degradation of capability: maybe President Obama has lost some of the ability that he possessed six years ago.
- Apathy: maybe candidate Obama cared more about winning the presidency than President Obama cares about executing the office. He just isn't trying that hard.
Glenn Reynolds has been on a roll quoting brilliant commenters recently, and here's another: libertarians should go to Ferguson to make their case.
A friend writes on Facebook: "This presents such a great opportunity for libertarians to flip a significant fraction of blacks from big government to limited government. If Rand Paul wants to do outreach to the black community, get there now. Preferably with some other libertarians. Talk about drug war, killing men for cigarette taxes, drones, NSA spying, out of control cops, and how the problem that the government is making up dumb reasons to abuse its authority, not that this abuse would be better if applied in a more evenhanded way. Then sponsor national reform and try to mobilize these non traditional allies. Big opportunity just sitting there."
Esther Inglis-Arkell gives a good definition of scope neglect (or scope insensitivity) but relies on a study that conflates the issue so badly as to be nearly meaningless. That's not her fault... almost every link I've found about scope neglect mentions the same study. So what does the study show?
How much would you pay to save 2,000 sad, oily birds from death? How much would you pay to save 20,000 birds of equal sadness and oleaginousness? How about 200,000? According to one study, your preferred amounts are $80, $78, and $88 respectively. (Perhaps more if you saw pictures of the birds while a Sarah McLachlan song was playing.)
You'll notice something strange there. First of all, people will only pay about $8 more to save 198,000 more birds. More importantly, judging by the $80 and the $78, it looks like people are actually willing to pay money to kill 18,000 birds. We wouldn't pay as much to save many birds as we would to save a few.
First, the difference between $80 and $78 is certainly insignificant, and the difference between $80 and $88 is pretty small as well. It's completely fallacious to infer from these numbers that people (on average) want to spend $2 to kill 18,000 birds.
Second, I think it's hard to infer anything about scope neglect from the thought experiment this study is based on. The amount that people are willing to spend is probably based more on their wealth than on the number of birds. Even though the number of birds changes, the wealth reference point of each respondent stays the same. An average person is willing to donate about $80 to clean up oily birds, and if you've got more birds then you need to find more donors.
Third, to illustrate the absurdity of the thought experiment, how much would a person give to save two billion birds? Or two quadrillion? Obviously at some point the limiting factor will be the resources available to the giver. My contention is that the donation level is resource-limited way below the 2,000-bird level. I personally wouldn't use this bird thought experiment at all, but if the researchers wanted to stick with birds they should have tried much smaller numbers. I doubt the answers for two, 20, or 200 birds would all have been $80.
My first thought was that the story was about Mario Kart, but it's still amazingly cool that this son could race against his dad's ghost and have such a powerful experience. Video games have been ascendant for over a decade now, but they haven't peaked yet.
For me and my dad the experience isn't video games... he was never that into them. For me it's Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and old science fiction books.
"Well, when i was 4, my dad bought a trusty XBox. you know, the first, ruggedy, blocky one from 2001. we had tons and tons and tons of fun playing all kinds of games together - until he died, when i was just 6.
i couldnt touch that console for 10 years.
but once i did, i noticed something.
we used to play a racing game, Rally Sports Challenge. actually pretty awesome for the time it came.
and once i started meddling around... i found a GHOST.
you know, when a time race happens, that the fastest lap so far gets recorded as a ghost driver? yep, you guessed it - his ghost still rolls around the track today.
and so i played and played, and played, untill i was almost able to beat the ghost. until one day i got ahead of it, i surpassed it, and...
i stopped right in front of the finish line, just to ensure i wouldnt delete it.
Megan McArdle discusses the unreliability of memory and how this applies to the ongoing suit about subsidies for participants of the federal Obamacare exchanges. But the parts about memory specifically:
People don't remember things that happened a while ago; they remember the stories that they have told themselves about it. I vividly remember sticking a key into an electric socket when I was (I am told) about 18 months old. Do I remember it? Or do I remember being told about it? It feels like a real memory, but all the research indicates that that tells you precisely nothing.
Conversely, I am told that when I was a teenager, a horse reared up and pawed around my ears, miraculously not kicking me in the head. Multiple people agreed that this had happened, but I have no memory of it. Either I've forgotten something I certainly ought to remember -- or they are misremembering something that happened to someone else. No way to tell, because we don't have contemporaneous documentation.
As for Obamacare... we need to go by what's written, not by what people supposedly remember or intended.
Mark Biller at Sound Mind Investing has an interesting observation about the unending dire predictions for the ongoing bull market (subscription required):
While it's completely anecdotal, it's hard for me to believe this bull market is going to end while so many financial journalists are calling for its demise so loudly and frequently. That's not how long-term bull markets usually end. Rather, it's usually the opposite: when nobody seems to have much bad to say about the stock market, that's the time to be nervously looking over your shoulder.
This bull market has been hated from the day it first started rising over five years ago. Many investors -- both pros and amateurs -- have never gotten over their fear from the 2008-2009 financial crisis and never got reinvested. For an individual, that's terribly disappointing. For a pro, it's potentially devastating. Some of those pros have been writing why the bull market is about to keel over ever since. They've got so much invested in their calls that the bull market can't last, it definitely does make one wonder if they can be objective at this point.
The fascinating thing that most people forget about the stock market is that in every transaction there are two participants: a buyer and a seller. The buyer thinks the price is going up, and the seller thinks that price is going down. No matter what you read or see on television, half the money in the market is betting on it going up, and half the money is betting on it going down.
So why have so many talking heads been predicting the end of the bull market for so long, while other investors continue to drive it up? Are the talking heads, as a class, smarter than everyone else? I think it's more likely that their incentives to not align with those of other investors.