What to Learn to Code


COBOL.

Yep, there’s still a substantial market for COBOL programming, and the Wuhan pandemic has resulted in a spike in the need. Of course, the State of New Jersey thinks they should be bailed out of their programming problem for free (by “volunteers”). Joseph Steinberg reports—

That’s what the State’s Governor, Phil Murphy, apparently meant today, when he said at a press conference that the State needed volunteers who with “Cobalt” computer skills to help fix 40-year-old-plus unemployment insurance systems that are currently overwhelmed as a result of COVID-19-related job losses.

Uh, no, Governor, your state shouldn’t get away with having its obsolete IT infrastructure saved by volunteers. “Winter is coming,” is not just a warning from a cable TV show. It’s also a part of Aesop’s The Ant and the Grasshopper. Winter is here.

Time Constants, Half-Lives, and Modeling


My podcasting partner Stacy McCain has a post up, MSNBC’s Doomsday Crisis Theme, that looks at the actual rate of increase in Wuhan virus infections and deaths in North Carolina and notes that they are increasing more slowly than the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model predicted.

Well, as someone who uses modeling as one of his principal professional tools, I’m not surprised. Mathematical models work well when they accurately describe the Real World system under study and they’re fed with data that represents the Real World system’s actual parameters. They’re like sewer pipes in that if you put garbage in, you’ll get garbage out.

Radioactive decay is a statistical process which is well described for every isotope of every element. Physicists speak of the half-life of an isotope meaning the time it takes for half of the atoms in a given sample of an isotope to undergo radioactive decay. Half-life doesn’t vary between two samples of the dame isotope.

Now, consider the discharge of an electrical capacitor. The voltage across a discharging capacitor will drop at an exponential rate, and the value of that exponent is determined by the reciprocal of the product of the capacitance in farads and resistance in ohms. Because farad X ohm = second, engineers refer to that exponent as the circuit’s time constant. If I’m analyzing an electrical network that might have widely varying values of capacitance and resistance, my model will give me a broad range of possible time constants. Knowing the possible range of part tolerances (and how they might vary over time, temperature, phase of the moon, or whatever) is important in predicting how a circuit will perform.

While the models used to predict the spread of viral disease are relatively straightforward and perform reasonably well when driven with good data, the Covid-19 pandemic is too new for sufficiently good data to have been acquired.

Here’s what we do know—1.) The disease is spread by person-to-person contact. 2.) Taking little or no protective measures produced disastrous results in China, Iran, Italy, and Spain. 3.) Thus far, it appears that several protective schemes work well. See, e.g., Taiwan and South Korea. 4.) In the U. S., densely populated areas with more opportunities for person-to-person contact have seen the majority of cases.

So, here’s what I’m doing—I have complicating factors (age and coronary artery disease) that make me high risk. I live in a state (Maryland) that’s under a mandatory stay-at-home order, but I’ve been telecommuting since it became an option. My son does my shopping for me, and if I do go out, it’s at odd hours when I’m likely to see fewer people.

Do I think the lockdown is necessary? I don’t know. There isn’t enough data yet.

Several people have spoken of the response to the Wuhan virus pandemic as if it were a war. It isn’t, but there is one bit of wartime ethics which may be applicable. When we are at war, we know that some people will suffer and some will die in order to save other lives. At some point, shutting down the economy will cause ongoing problems that will weaken our ability to maintain and improve our agricultural, transportation, medical, and other business and infrastructural systems. That impoverishment, in turn, may sentence more people to misery and possible death (in the long term) than might be saved by continuing economic disruption. That will be a difficult choice if it comes.

I hope and pray that the pandemic will not be so severe that we have to face that sort of ethical dilemma. It appears that drugs are being found for treatment, and a vaccine is possible.

Meanwhile, I’m being careful.

Good Advice—From China


My training as a military officer included reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The most famous quote from that ancient Chinese classic is probably

是故勝兵先勝而後求戰,敗兵先戰而後求勝。Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

Patricia McCarthy has a post over at The American Thinker titled The unbearable pettiness of the Washington press corps which looks at the disrespectful manner in which the press treats Donald Trump at the manner in which the President turns their futile behavior back on them, especially during the Wuhan virus pandemic briefings. Throughout her piece, she quotes Sun Tzu.

What makes these briefings so entertaining is when the president calls them out for their dishonesty.  He has a steel-trap mind and remembers what he has said.  When they twist or edit his words, he knows it and humiliates them.  But they seem not to realize they are being humiliated.

President Trump has been teaching us all.  It is only the men and women of the media who fail to learn.  Donald Trump, as John Perazzo has written, is a superb and unappreciated president.

“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” —Sun Tzu

This is that moment.

Read the whole thing. I’ll add this—

上兵伐謀 What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.

The Art of War is available from Amazon.

A First World Problem


There’s a post over at National Review by Itxu Diaz about Europe’s response to the Wuhan virus pandemic. It catalogs a list of “important” crises that various countries were dealing with instead of the disease until Reality became too noisy to ignore.

In just ten days, we discovered that neither the tampon issue, nor the participation of transsexuals in the Olympic Games, nor the climate emergency were real problems, nor emergencies, nor anything of the sort. They were just fictitious problems, the pastimes of a generation that hadn’t known tragedy.

Read the whole thing.

Indeed, those “important” issues are really luxuries, problems that most people in the world cannot afford. Europe and Blue State America have enjoyed enough surplus income from previous generations’ capital investment that, on the whole, they haven’t had to worry about food or shelter or the other necessities of life. Or at least, they didn’t think they had to worry in “normal” times. They believed they could afford to live in Pretendyland.

They’re now being forced into the Real World, the place where generations of people learned the hard way about what is actually important.

Keeping Red Tape Cut


Various politicians are receiving praise for using their executive power to waive or otherwise ignore laws and regulations that are getting in the way of an effective response to the Wuhan virus pandemic. Now, some of those laws and regulations might make sense in normal times but might be unnecessary in the current unusual circumstances. For example, New York City has waived restrictions on e-scooters. They are useful in delivering carry-out food orders, and they’re less of a hazard in the current very light traffic. It may be that sort of regulation should come back eventually.

OTOH, Texas has insurance regulations which prevent physicians from being paid the same fee for a telemedicine consultation with a patient than for a face-to-face examination. That regulation is now being waived, and it’s the sort of regulation that should be throughly scrutinized before it is reimposed after the pandemic crisis.

Each law and regulation that has been suspended in order to promote public safety during the Wuhan virus response should be careful reexamined. Some may be worth restoring, but others, I’ll bet most, never had anything to do with public safety. At best, they were the result of nanny state busybodies bullying the public. Often, they were the result of rent-seeking by favored businesses and individuals, In many cases, they provided opportunities for graft. They should not come back.

Optimizing Student Debt Relief


One of the pieces of lard that the Democrats have gummed up the passage of a pandemic relief bill with is $10,000 in debt relief for student loans. People have been asking what relationship exists between student loan debt and the Wuhan virus panic.

I think I see their angle. They’re trying to optimize the amount of debt to be forgiven.

You see, while student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, they don’t usually survive the death of the debtor. Thus, dying results in 100% debt relief.

Now, if the nation’s response to the pandemic can be delayed enough to increase the number of excess deaths, it’s possible that the total amount of student debt relief could exceed a mere $10k per debtor.

At least, that theory makes as much sense as anything the Democrats have said in public.