Be Prepared

I was rather disappointed by James Holmes’s piece at The National Interest, “China and Taiwan Could Be Headed Towards a Showdown. What Should America Do?”. Like many such articles these days it asks a question it refrains from answering. Or perhaps it assumes the answer. Most of the article is devoted to what Taiwan should do to encourage the United States to defend it.

Unlike Mr. Holmes I’ll give a brief answer. Fools rush in, etc. The very first thing we should do is bolster our own domestic semiconductor production. Forty years ago we made nearly all of our own memories and all of the various chips used in the electronics on which we are so dependent right here in the United States. Now we make very few of them. A good start would be requiring domestic production of every chip in every piece of equipment purchased by the U. S. military. IMO it is unconscionable that we do not already do that.

The second thing we should do is butt out. Unless the Chinese should be so foolish as to use nuclear weapons. In the unlikely event that should happen, we should encourage the Russians to join us in eliminating the Chinese government as a threat to anyone.


The Anthem Before the Anthem

Before we leave the 2020 July 4th holiday for good has you ever wondered what was used by the new United States as an anthem before The Star-Spangled Bannner? That wasn’t composed until the War of 1812 and not adopted as the official national anthem until 1931.

Prior to 1931 several songs were used. On official occasions Hail, Columbia! was used while many considered My Country ‘Tis of Thee as our de facto national anthem although sharing a melody with God Save the Queen was a defect in that regard.

However, during the War of the American Revolution itself there are a couple of candidates. One is Yankee Doodle, words written to mock the motley, undisciplined Colonial soldiers during the French-Indian War but, characteristically, adopted as our own. In New England the leading candidate would be Chester. Written by America’s first composer, William Billings, for his 1770 hymn book, you can listen to its melody here. Here’s its first verse:

Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And Slav’ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.

Not precisely to modern tastes, is it?

Speaking of anthems, one of my earliest posts here was on that subject. If you’re not aware of it, cancel culture is out after The Star-Spangled Banner, too. Francis Scott Key owned slaves and the third stanza makes what is deemed a disparaging mention of black slaves. The Star-Spangled Banner was made the national anthem by Executive Order of Woodrow Wilson before that was done by Congressional resolution.


Our Walk

As I think I’ve mentioned before every morning I take a walk with Kara. During the week our walks are typically about an hour long, roughly two miles but over the weekend they’re frequently longer. Yesterday, for example, we walked for an hour and a half, nearly four miles.

Part of our walk this morning was along an old railroad bed from which the rails and ties had long been removed. For nearly a half mile our path was bordered with wild roses, reaching as much as twenty feet high and filling the air with their perfume. The picture above doesn’t really capture how beautiful it was. I was reminded of the old English hymn:

What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Java’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile…

About a quarter mile from there was a spot littered with trash, remains of what must have been several hundred dollars of (illegal) fireworks. Last night was the noisiest of my recollection. Fireworks being set off in all directions, starting at around 8:00pm and, my wife tells me, continuing all night. I guess that’s a shortcoming of cancelling the big municipal fireworks displays—people provide their own, at some risk to themselves and their neighbors.


They Say It’s the Same But It Isn’t the Same

There’s more evidence that the strain of SARS-CoV-19 that was faced in China, Japan, and South Korea (and possibly Germany) was different from the one we’re trying to deal with. From the University of Sheffield (the actual study seems to be here):

  • Researchers tracking the spread of Covid-19 around the world have discovered that viruses with a new variant have now overtaken the original strain
  • Analysis of the virus’s genome sequence found a mutation called ‘D614G’ made the virus more infectious than the original strain, but did not cause more severe disease
  • The global research team, including scientists from the University of Sheffield, had previously noted the rapidly increasing prevalence of viruses with D614G throughout the world

The study, published today in the journal Cell, shows the variation is more infectious in cell cultures under laboratory conditions. The variant, named ‘D614G’, makes a small but effective change in the ‘spike’ glycoprotein that protrudes from the surface of the virus, which it uses to enter and infect human cells.

The D614G variant of Covid-19 quickly took over as the dominant strain soon after it first appeared, with geographic samples showing a significant shift in viral population from the original, to the new strain of the virus.

IMO that lends a bit of weight to something about which I’ve speculating for some time—that there are limitations to how much of different countries’ or states’ outcomes in dealing with COVID-19 can be attributed to policy rather than just dumb luck. I guess the open question is how much immunity contracting one strain of the virus conveys against contracting other strains.


Bill of Indictment

In a piece in New York Magazine Andrew Sullivan produces a lengthy bill of indictment against the People’s Republic of China. I encourage you to read it in full.

He concludes with a plea to defeat Donald Trump’s re-election bid so Joe Biden can tell us what to do. Okay, I’ll bite. What do you think that President Biden would do? Recently his rhetoric has been if anything harsher than Donald Trump’s. On the other hand the foreign policy establishment is undoubtedly longing for a return to the neoliberal fantasies that have dominated U. S. foreign policy with respect to China for the last 40 years. On the third hand the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as exemplified by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders tends to be generally disinterested in foreign policy and, to the extent that it is interested, is inclined to lean on international institutions.

My guess is that will be the policy of a hypothetical Biden Administration. He’ll speak loudly and wield no stick, preferring to hope that “like-minded democracies” (are there any like-minded democracies?) will do the heavy lifting for us. That has never been true in the past but hope springs eternal.

My own view is that a China ruled by the Chinese Communist Party cannot be trusted as a trading partner or on anything else and will be focused, as Bill Clinton might have said, like a laser on holding on to power while extending China’s influence. Their zero sum view of trade and foreign policy more generally means to them that victory means our losing.


The Count

So far this Fourth of July weekend 13 people have been murdered and another 54 injured. We’re on track to exceed the largest number killed as well as the largest number wounded for a Fourth of July weekend here.

Chicago isn’t the only city experiencing an increase in violence. So are New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Baltimore, just to name a few. I attribute the increases to stress.



There are a few glimmers of hope but few and weak. This morning I took a six mile walk with Kara. On our walk every single individual who wished me a happy Fourth of July was an immigrant. Clearly, some immigrants are grateful to be here.

In this piece at RealClearPolitics recent immigrant Irshad Manji relates an account of construction of the Statue of Liberty you may never have heard before:

Lady Liberty’s back story has uncanny parallels with that of my Muslim grandmother. Both women came from Egyptian stock. Both spent years in Europe. Both settled into their final homes after crossing the Atlantic. Above all, both taught me the power of wonder.

Conventional history has it that France presented the Statue of Liberty as a gift to a fellow lover of Enlightenment values, the United States. Well, yes and no. It’s true that a French sculptor, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, carved the statue. But he conceived of her in Egypt, at the opening of the Suez Canal. Awed by ancient Egyptian architecture and inspired by the canal as a passage to possibility, Bartholdi let loose his imagination. He envisioned a monument, taller than the Sphinx and radiating noor—Arabic for “light”—as ships entered the Suez en route to Asia.

Bartholdi thus knew his mission: to erect “the likeness of an Egyptian peasant woman holding aloft a torch of freedom,” as historian and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren puts it.

Read the whole thing.

And while you’re at it read this piece by Charles Love at RealClearPolitics:

I want to address my fellow black Americans: This country is as much ours as it is anyone else’s—and it has been since the beginning. Too many blacks believe that America is racist, that it does not foster equality, and that its founding principles do not include all citizens. This is evident in the common reply from some blacks to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” which was, “When was America ever great?”

The answer to this question depends on one’s definition of “great.” If “great” means “perfect,” then former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s judgment that our Constitution was “defective from the start” seems true. Yet when measured against other countries—all very far from perfect themselves—America was clearly unique. In the late 18th century, most of the world was ruled by tribal leaders who gained power through conquest or monarchs who inherited power through family lineage and treated citizens as subjects.

The Declaration of Independence was special in how it stated the requirement of a new form of government. It, and the Constitution that followed, turned history on its head. Before the Declaration, leaders created laws to guide how people should act and live. The Declaration argued, by contrast, that man was governed by natural law that comes from “nature’s God.” The primary goal of government should be to protect these natural rights, granted to man by God. The document further stated that the government’s power should be derived from the consent of the governed.

Again, read the whole thing.


Fourth of July, 2020

This year the Fourth of July finds me disheartened. None of our customary Fourth of July practices are being observed. There is no Sauganash Fourth of July parade. Our neighbors aren’t hosting their annual post-parade brunch. Chicago has cancelled its fireworks display on the lakeshore.

People are afraid of COVID-19. Many have lost their jobs due to the lockdowns or due to the self-quarantines or both. Many who haven’t lost their jobs are afraid of losing their jobs.

People are afraid of the violence in the streets. Businesses just struggling to re-open following the lockdowns were destroyed in the riots and looting.

People are tearing down statues. I will shed no tears for Confederate officers or politicians but those tearing down or defacing statues are casting a wider net. In addition to Confederate generals and politicians statues of Columbus, Junipero Serra, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln have been targeted.

I don’t see a spirit of reform abroad in the land or even a spirit of Marxism as some have claimed. What I see is nihilism.

The murders on Chicago’s South and West Sides are proceeding on schedule. So far 8 have been killed and 25 wounded.


A Solution Only an Economist Could Love

In an op-ed in the New York Times economist Laurence Kotlikoff and epidemiologist Michael Mina propose what they characterize as a “cheap, simple way to control the coronavirus”:

Simple at-home tests for the coronavirus, some that involve spitting into a small tube of solution, could be the key to expanding testing and impeding the spread of the pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration should encourage their development and then fast track approval.

One variety, paper-strip tests, are inexpensive and easy enough to make that Americans could test themselves every day. You’ would simply spit into a tube of saline solution and insert a small piece of paper embedded with a strip of protein. If you are infected with enough of the virus, the strip will change color within 15 minutes.

Your next step would be to self-quarantine, notify your doctor and confirm the result with a standard swab test — the polymerase chain reaction nasal swab. Confirmation would give public health officials key information on the virus’s spread and confirm that you should remain in quarantine until your daily test turned negative.

Perhaps we should acquaint the learned gentlemen with Von Moltke’s famous dictum: “No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force”. We can’t even get people to obey laws against drunk driving or illegal drug use. We can’t get people to wear facemasks or observe social distancing voluntarily. The key word in “cost effective” is “effective” and such a plan requires 100% compliance to be effective.

Accepting their estimate of $1/day the cost of such a plan would cost $120 billion per year. That’s $120 billion that wouldn’t be spent on education, highways, or other health care and in the absence of 100% compliance it would be useless.

I could come up with plans to improve compliance but every single one would be so costly whether in money or time as to be impractical.

That’s why I have been perseverating on the need for rigorous epidemiological testing. Regular mandatory testing of a sample of people rather than testing everybody every day. We should apply resources where they are needed rather than dreaming about 100% compliance.

1 comment


The Fourth of July weekend tends to be one of the most violent of the year in Chicago. In 2019 7 were killed and 69 wounded over the Fourth of July Weekend. So far this weekend one has been killed and three wounded. In 2017 the tally was 15 killed, 89 wounded. Does anyone are to bet that this weekend will break 2017’s record?