27 February, 2021

Inside the Chaotic, Cutthroat Gray Market for N95 Masks


Artenstein, the chief physician executive at Baystate Health, emailed me in October. “There still does not appear to be a coherent, organized and effective (or even potentially effective) plan by this administration to address ongoing P.P.E. shortages,” he wrote. “Trust me, these are ongoing and will only worsen.” Indeed, the shortages have already returned as the virus runs rampant through the country once again. And though President-elect Biden has promised to federalize the P.P.E. response, he won’t take office until January 20 — and the current administration’s obstruction of the transfer of power may further delay his ability to act quickly.

The primary wisdom that Artenstein was providing to other health care systems asking for his advice was to not expect substantial help from the federal government. In a sense, the Trump administration had achieved one of its goals: It had trained Americans not to rely on it. Everyone was on his or her own in this pandemic, Artenstein warned. That was the American way.

Let's Not Dumb Down the History of Computer Science


All we get nowadays is dumbed-down. Thank goodness historians of mathematics have not entirely abandoned writing articles that contain formulas or explain scientific ideas.

"I am sure that business histories are as difficult to write as technical histories, and they are no doubt also as valuable to businessmen as technical histories are valuable to technicians. But you seem to be celebrating the fact that nobody writes technical CS history at all anymore!

"When you speak of 'obvious holes', you are thinking of obvious holes in business history ... the video game industry, for example. But how about the people who write video games: They invent marvelous breakthroughs in techniques about how to render scenes and pack data and do things in parallel and coordinate thousands of online users. The lack of anything even close to describing these techniques and how they were discovered and under what constraints seems to me a much more obvious hole; yet you show no inclination to admit its existence much less to suggest plugging it."

5 Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Repeating


This pessimism is sapping people of energy to get through the winter, and the rest of this pandemic. Anti-vaccination groups and those opposing the current public-health measures have been vigorously amplifying the pessimistic messages—especially the idea that getting vaccinated doesn’t mean being able to do more—telling their audiences that there is no point in compliance, or in eventual vaccination, because it will not lead to any positive changes. They are using the moment and the messaging to deepen mistrust of public-health authorities, accusing them of moving the goalposts and implying that we’re being conned. Either the vaccines aren’t as good as claimed, they suggest, or the real goal of pandemic-safety measures is to control the public, not the virus.

Five key fallacies and pitfalls have affected public-health messaging, as well as media coverage, and have played an outsize role in derailing an effective pandemic response. These problems were deepened by the ways that we—the public—developed to cope with a dreadful situation under great uncertainty. And now, even as vaccines offer brilliant hope, and even though, at least in the United States, we no longer have to deal with the problem of a misinformer in chief, some officials and media outlets are repeating many of the same mistakes in handling the vaccine rollout.

The Road From Serfdom - How Americans can become citizens again


The kinds of economists involved most intimately with government and financial institutions by and large don’t notice real people in real places—people who may be losing jobs and falling into despondency, addiction, and suicide. They tend not to see as relevant to their domains of expertise the millions of people on the move and the impact of mass migration on cultural cohesion. In recent years, they overlooked the warning signs indicating limits to the acceptance of their worldview, notably in the very communities suffering because of their economic policies. Elites on both the left and the right, with their well-thumbed passports and multicultural outlook, were no less blind. They did not see the pressures rising. In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I more than once heard an economist friend say something like the following: “We knew globalization would force transformations, but we never thought they would be localized in a specific subset of communities.” And: “We knew that globalization would cause disruption over a 20-year period, but I never thought about what 20 years is like in the life of a specific person or community.” The very language conveys remoteness—the sheer size of the chasm between the World Economic Forum and the actual world. This is what happens when the messy, mediating business of popular politics no longer functions properly—when it no longer serves as the membrane through which ideas must pass before they turn into action.

Venezuela's Story: Democratic Paths to Authoritarianism


The depressing reality of the Venezuela crisis is that democracy was and is abused and twisted for authoritarian ends. Leaders can come to power legitimately and undermine the rule of law and other key democratic tenets. Venezuela stands as proof that democracy, once attained, is not guaranteed any permanence. This poses unique challenges to democracies globally. If the world’s democracies are unable to come to a consensus on how to respond to democratic backsliding, the risk of additional countries adopting authoritarian tendencies will increase. Without the ability to insulate democratic institutions against authoritarian attacks and abuses, the United States and other democracies could suffer similar assaults and setbacks on their institutions and democracy. 

Seeking the True Story of the Comfort Women


How a Harvard professor’s dubious scholarship reignited a history of mistrust between South Korea and Japan.


25 February, 2021

Death, Through a Nurse’s Eyes


A short film offering a firsthand perspective of the brutality of the pandemic inside a Covid-19 I.C.U.

24 February, 2021

Looking at Yesterday, Today


Leslie Brown: A history of slavery needs to be done at Williams, too. We know Ephraim Williams had a slave or two.

Beschloss: How much more do we know about this dimension of Eph Williams?

Dew: Not much. He was a prominent New Englander of his place and time, which meant he had a handful of slaves. The study of the history of the institution that comes from this sort of awareness can be incredibly valuable. What happened with Ephraim Williams’ slaves when he died? Were they sold as part of his estate, and did those resources go into the founding of the college?

Brown: Or did his slaves create the wealth Eph already had?

Beschloss: In the past, people haven’t always paid close attention to information about where the money comes from. [...]

Brown: One thing that should come to us in these conversations about historical representation is that these were not up/ down decisions that were made, or yes/no, positive/negative. So, yes, there’s the money from the slave trade. Meanwhile, Williams had the first abolition society on any campus.

Dew: An alumnus recently acquired and gave to the Chapin Library a pamphlet that came out of a Williams abolition society from the mid-1820s. That’s well before William Lloyd Garrison started The Liberator [a weekly newspaper denouncing slavery]. It’s important to be aware of the religious and moral heritage of the school and to understand how evangelical this place was in the 19th century.

Brown: Southern students might have brought their slaves with them to campus. But this area was also an Underground Railroad site. The fact that the abolitionist society was having public debates means there was an exchange of ideas, a discourse. Students in that era dealt with these issues among themselves and developed their own politics. When you move into the Civil War era, you note the number of students who left the college to go to war and who did Freedmen’s Bureau work after that. The founder of the Hampton Institute was a Williams graduate.

20 February, 2021

fietsvrouw on how to carry on through learning something


I have been teaching guitar for 41 years. The biggest predictor, bar none, for who will carry on and who will drop out is the capacity to enjoy and celebrate every gain.

A student who comes in, wants to sound like Eric Clapton, and then expresses constant frustration at how long it is going to take, how far from that he or she is, etc. will probably last no more than 6 weeks.

A student who feels like - omg, I am playing the guitar!! when they learn 3 chords, ion the other hand, and who makes the effort to notice what they can do today that they could not do last week is usually a student who is in it for the long haul. They learn faster, they have more fun, and they stick with it.

this is something you have control of. Cultivate that sense of "look at me go!!!!" and enjoy every tiny step and victory. The process has to be fun because you never really "arrive" - you just keep improving and widening your skill set.

17 February, 2021



I thought creating a COVID “Immunity Bubble” for a small group in a TV studio setting was possible. I was wrong.

This is the story of what happened, what went wrong, and what we learned.

Just as importantly, it is a story of what questions remain to be answered about the accuracy of testing before we can safely return to work, travel, relax in small groups, or see our kids off to school. If any of you have ever experienced a new confidence or an impulse to lower your vigilance with masks and social distancing after receiving a negative PCR test, you need to read this.

The story is presented in detail below, but the bottom line is as follows: Despite a total of 452 (PCR & Rapid Antigen) tests and four physicians on-staff during a highly contained small gathering, 24 people in our "Immunity Bubble" (~ 25%) tested positive for the coronavirus - including me.

I’m humbled and pained by what I learned.  

13 February, 2021

This Is Why Your Holiday Travel Is Awful


Trying to make sense of the swirl, I built a timeline on a spreadsheet, which grew to nearly 600 entries. After years of research, a picture began to emerge—one that, beyond the scope of any given anecdote, told a dispiriting story about the futility of present-day American government, and reshaped my view of progressive politics.

The story of Penn Station’s halting redevelopment comes in three separate waves of effort that rose up to replace the current squalor—and then, in the first two cases, crumbled into nothing. Pundits and editorials have tended to blame a rotating cast of characters for the rot—the railroad that owns the station, the state bureaucracies that have neglected it, the private real estate interests that have hemmed it in. But Penn Station has actually languished at the hands of another simple reality: No one has the leverage to fix it. The sad state of America’s most important train station stems more from a failure of power than a failure of leadership. And shockingly enough, that’s not by mistake—it’s by design.

The Anti-Reactionary FAQ


This is the Anti-Reactionary FAQ. It is meant to rebut some common beliefs held by the political movement called Reaction or Neoreaction.


How Our Brutal Science System Almost Cost Us A Pioneer Of mRNA Vaccines


Still, Karikó was struggling. Her science was fantastic, but she was less adept at the competitive game of science. She tried again and again to win grants, and each time, her applications were rejected.

Eventually, in the mid-1990s, she suffered the academic indignity of demotion, meaning she was taken off the academic ladder that leads to becoming a professor. We never discussed it personally because by the time I joined the lab, Karik√≥’s history was still only discussed in hushed tones as a cautionary tale for young scientists.

I learned that while universities pay the salaries of many of their professors in English or anthropology, they expect faculty in the medical schools to pay their own way with either clinical work or external research funding. This puts tremendous financial pressure on eager young medical researchers, sometimes leading them not to the projects that are most needed or that they are most passionate about, but to the projects that will get them funding.

Still Alive


In the New York Times' worldview, they start with the right to dox me, and I had to earn the right to remain anonymous by proving I'm the perfect sympathetic victim who satisfies all their criteria of victimhood. But in my worldview, I start with the right to anonymity, and they need to make an affirmative case for doxxing me. I admit I am not the perfect victim. The death threats against me are all by losers who probably don't know which side of a gun you shoot someone with. If anything happened at work, it would probably inconvenience me and my patients, but probably wouldn't literally kill either of us.