Culture

Streaming the Performing Arts through COVID Spring

The Metropolitan Opera House is pictured at Lincoln Center in N.Y., July 30, 2014. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Spare a thought for people who work in the performing arts, here in New York and elsewhere. Theater, dance, and opera are all shut down. Thousands of amazingly talented people work in the industry in my city, and unlike the more fortunate among us, hardly any of them can work from home.

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal is more upbeat than I am about the notion of substituting streaming performances; to me, the experience of watching a play or opera through a screen is not comparable to seeing it in person. But Teachout has been diligent about tracking the various performances that have moved over to the streaming space and has some recommendations. Toni Stone, for instance, Lydia R. Diamond’s play about baseball’s Negro Leagues, captivated him. (I haven’t seen it yet.) Needless to say, when theater is streaming, any region’s performances become available to you. Toni Stone, which played at the Roundabout in New York last year, is now at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Or would be, if the theater were open. Teachout also recommends a raucous new high-school version of Richard III called Teenage Dick from Chicago.

As for classical music performances, Elizabeth Lyon of the Hudson Review takes a look at some concerts and operas available for streaming, including the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly offerings.

Politics & Policy

It’s Best to Avoid Creating Unnecessary National Crises Because You Never Know When a Real One Might Arise

That’s one of the lessons of impeachment. It’s hard to believe, but the end of the trial was only last month, early last month, but last month. It already feels like an eon ago, and feels very small compared with our national challenge now.

Just imagine if the trial had dragged on and truly intersected with this crisis (it did overlap with the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, only no one paid much attention when Tom Cotton used breaks in the Senate trial to warn of the dangers of what was brewing in China).

Of course the Senate would have dropped the trial as soon as possible to focus on something that looms so much larger and is a true threat to the nation.

Science & Tech

No, a COVID Scientist Didn’t Walk Back His Prediction

A narrative rocketed around social media earlier today: An Imperial College study said that COVID-19 could kill 500,000 Brits, but in recent testimony, Neil Ferguson, the head of the group behind the study, put the number below 20,000. Clearly the lying alarmist was walking back his ridiculous predictions!

Well, no. The paper actually offered simulations of numerous scenarios. The one resulting in 500,000 deaths was one where Great Britain just carried on life as before. Other scenarios, where the country locked down whenever it was necessary to stop the disease’s spread, put death totals below 20,000. (See the rightmost death columns of Tables 4 and 5.)

Since the paper came out, Great Britain has adopted a strategy of aggressively containing the virus and expanded its intensive-care capacity, so a prediction of a much lower death toll and less stress on ICUs hardly seems surprising.

Models like this will always turn out to be wrong in some way or other, because they rely on very strong assumptions about aspects of the disease we haven’t thoroughly studied yet. If nothing else, the original Imperial model will be obsolete soon, because it didn’t predict what could happen with extensive testing and contact tracing, which is likely the next step once the spread is contained and we have enough tests to go around. But it hasn’t been walked back just yet.

Update: Ferguson himself explains all this in a Twitter thread:

Update 2: A variation on this argument people keep throwing at me is that if the death toll hasn’t been walked back, the original study’s claim that we need to quarantine until a vaccine is developed a year or more from now has been. This doesn’t really work either.

The model says that you can’t lock things down for a while and then just lift the lockdown, because the virus will come back. You need some kind of continuing containment efforts. The original study modeled an idea where lockdowns are lifted and go back into effect repeatedly — that’s where the sub-20,000 death estimates come from — and the text of the report explicitly noted the possibility that strategies could change over time to include test and trace. (As I say above, though, not actually modeling this type of effort is a big limit of the study, because that’s where things seem headed.) In his testimony Ferguson did not advocate a brief lockdown that was later simply lifted; he said the lockdown would be effective until new methods could come online. Which is completely consistent with the original report.

U.S.

The Universal Truth of Coronavirus

Social media is doing a terrific job of explaining a universal truth about the coronavirus.

Anyone who is less worried than you are about they or their loved ones catching the coronavirus is naive, reckless, uninformed, oblivious, and/or only cares about the economy, money, and profit, and not human lives.

Anyone who is more worried than you are about they or their loved ones catching the coronavirus is paranoid, obsessive, neurotic, cannot understand risk or statistics, and/or only cares about abstract statistics “bending the curve,” and doesn’t care about lost jobs, lost businesses, and all of the misery and menaces to public health that come from the sudden onset of economic hard times.

Apparently there’s a really narrow window that is just the right amount of concern about the coronavirus.

Elections

An Accusation against Joe Biden

Biden, who has said that women who come forward with accusations of sexual assault should be presumed to be telling the truth, has now been accused of sexual assault himself.

White House

The Trump Uptick

The president’s approval rating trades in a pretty narrow band but has definitely been on the upswing. A couple of reputable polls have had him a little above water or even, which is unheard of, and his standing in the RCP poll average is the best it has been. Clearly, he’s benefiting from the fact that people like action in a crisis, and after his initial sense of complacency, Trump has been announcing new measures almost every day at his briefings. Miles to go before we are through the crisis and know how it’s played politically, but in sheer political terms, Trump has found his footing.

 

 

Elections

The Presidential Candidate As Cipher 

I wrote about Joe Biden for Politico today:

What William McKinley was to the front porch campaign, Joe Biden is to the basement campaign.

Sidelined and confined to his house by the dictates of coronavirus social distancing, the former vice president has been limited to intermittent appearances from a makeshift studio in his basement. They have been awkward and low energy, but that doesn’t really set them apart from most other Biden appearances.

If there’s any candidate who could thrive by having very limited public exposure and existing mostly as a line on a ballot, it’s the longtime presidential aspirant who hadn’t won a primary until a couple of weeks ago.

Biden is winning the Democratic nomination on the basis of not being Bernie Sanders and wants to get elected president on the basis of not being Donald Trump. He’s as purely a negative candidate as we’ve seen in a very long time, running largely on who he isn’t and what he won’t do.

Culture

Woody Allen and Affirmative Action

Director Woody Allen at the premiere Magic in the Moonlight in New York City in 2014. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

In his recently published memoir, Woody Allen writes:

I’ve taken some criticism over the years that I didn’t use African-Americans in my movies. And while affirmative action can be a fine solution in many instances, it does not work when it comes to casting. I always cast the person who fits the part most believably in my mind’s eye.

He’s strictly meritocratic, in other words. As he has said elsewhere: “I cast only what’s right for the part. Race, friendship means nothing to me except who is right for the part.”

In light of Mr. Allen’s insistence that, nonetheless, “affirmative action can be a fine solution in many instances,” here is today’s multiple-choice question:

For which of the following positions is it least important to select the person who will do the best job?

(a) Medical personnel during a coronavirus pandemic;

(b) Policemen, firefighters, schoolteachers, and other public employment in which a lack of “diversity” is a frequent complaint;

(c) A position in your company that will affect its success and your paycheck;

(d) A job for which you are the most qualified and for which you have applied; or

(e) A minor role in a pretentious art-house movie that no one will see.

Economy & Business

A Waste of Metal

Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) thinks the government could help the economy by minting two platinum coins, each worth one trillion dollars. George Selgin explains why it’s a bad idea.

Economy & Business

Quarantines Aren’t Socialism

Writing in the Washington Post, Gary Abernathy complains that overreaction to the coronavirus has made us all socialists. “When the smoke clears, what’s left will be a feeble relic of the United States we once knew.” We’re a socialist country, on his argument, because governments have imposed lockdowns and then partially compensated people and businesses for the costs. The virus, he notes, “has a case mortality rate of 0.2 to 0.4 percent for people age 10-49.” He thinks we should have explored less intrusive ways of protecting vulnerable populations.

I think the lockdowns are largely warranted, but leave that aside. Presumably nearly everyone thinks that at a certain level of risk the government would have a duty to impose such measures. The fact that Abernathy stresses the low mortality risks for young people — which, we should remember, means that he is ignoring cases in which the virus merely causes young people severe and possibly lifelong damage — suggests that he may think so, too. If the case mortality rate for ages 10–49 were 2 percent, perhaps that would be enough to change his mind? Or if it were 4 percent?

One possibility is that everyone who thinks that at some point the government would have to intervene massively (again, presumably including Abernathy) is a socialist, and so the term doesn’t have a great deal of meaning. A second one is that a socialist is anyone who would favor such intervention at a lower risk level than Abernathy would think wise. A third is that governments’ use of their powers, many of them traditional ones, to fight contagion does not constitute socialism. I think that last view is the most reasonable one.

Media

Poll: News Media Are the Least Trusted Institutions in Handling the Coronavirus Crisis

(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

In a poll released yesterday, Gallup asked Americans whether they approve or disapprove of the way a number of U.S. leaders and institutions have responded to the coronavirus outbreak.

Every single group or individual listed in the poll had a higher approval than disapproval rating, save one: the news media. A mere 44 percent of respondents said they approve of the way media have handled the COVID-19 crisis, while 55 percent disapprove.

Contrast that with what the poll found public opinion was on President Trump: Sixty percent approve of his response, and 38 percent disapprove. Vice President Pence had even higher ratings, with 61 percent approval compared to 32 percent disapproval.

Several institutions included in the survey had extremely favorable ratings. Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they approve of the job that hospitals in the U.S. are doing, for instance, and only 10 percent disapprove. More than 80 percent approve of the response from their state government, their employer, and their child’s school or day care.

Even Congress is above water with the American public, with 59 percent approval and 37 percent disapproval. Only the news media was under water, and that’s not terribly surprising.

It’s worth noting, though, that when Gallup posed the same questions to respondents broken down by party affiliation, it’s clear where much of the disapproval of the media is coming from: Sixty-one percent of Democrats said they approve of the media’s job, while just 25 percent of Republicans said the same.

Religion

What If You Could Spend Your Quarantine with Thomas Aquinas?

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) stained glass window. Cathedral of Saint-Rombouts, Mechelen (Belgium). April 2008 (Eddy Van 3000/Wikimedia via Flickr)

I have some high hopes for the Thomistic Institute’s Quarantine Lectures, which start at 7 p.m. D.C. time tonight — “Grace and Anxiety: Spiritual Growth in a Time of Turmoil.” (Washington is where they are based out of. The Dominicans have been a mainstay in my life, so I confess some bias.) So I asked Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., assistant director of Campus Outreach for the Thomistic Institute, a few preview questions for those who might be intrigued. (Sign up at the link above if interested. RSVP includes the delivery of a free prayer-book PDF for these times.)

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why on earth would someone want to listen to a lecture at a time like this? Many people may be in crowded apartments and homes thinking they are hearing too much as is.

Fr. Gregory Pine: With everyone anxious about getting sick themselves, and, heaven forbid, transmitting the disease to those who are more vulnerable, we feel paralyzed. It’s as if our normal lives are on hold. Places of worship, places of work, places of enjoyment — many have been closed to us. With events like this, we’re hoping to create a new meeting place for students of the faith to encounter the riches of the tradition in its proper setting of living communion to reinvigorate our pursuit of evangelical life.

KJL: Whom do you hope to reach?

GP: The Quarantine Lectures are especially addressed to students who have been sent home from their campuses. Many have ended study-abroad semesters early or have had their senior years cut short. The Thomistic Institute is especially invested in programming on secular campuses, but seeing as it’s now impossible to reach these fora, we’ve changed the playing field.

KJL: What do you want to accomplish?

Continue reading “What If You Could Spend Your Quarantine with Thomas Aquinas?”

Politics & Policy

Planned Parenthood Sues Texas for Designating Abortion ‘Non-Essential’

Sign at a protest against a Senate Republican health-care bill on Capitol Hill in 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Several abortion-advocacy groups including Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project, are suing Texas governor Greg Abbott after the state designated surgical abortion as a non-essential procedure that must be suspended until the coronavirus crisis has passed.

This decision was made in conjunction with the governor’s announcement that all health-care facilities in the state should postpone any procedures that are not medically necessary, so that health-care professionals can handle a surge in COVID-19 cases. In Ohio, lawmakers made a similar decision, and abortion-rights activists have vowed to present a legal challenge there, too.

“While doctors and nurses in Texas work around the clock to care for patients suffering from COVID-19, Governor Abbott is interfering with the personal medical decisions of Texans by using this pandemic to advance his political, anti-abortion agenda,” the Center for Reproductive Rights lawsuit said yesterday evening.

In contrast to these decisions in Texas and Ohio, officials in some states such as Washington and Massachusetts have explicitly declared that elective abortion will be classified as an essential service, even as limits are placed on other medical procedures.

In a fundraising email yesterday evening, Planned Parenthood acting president Alexis McGill Johnson wrote, “Planned Parenthood doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, counselors, and administrators do so much, from reassuring a scared patient to providing expert care without judgment. And right now, they’re putting their health and lives at risk to ensure patients get the information and care they need.”

Evidently, Planned Parenthood would like us all to believe that its centers across the country are providing some kind of vital care to Americans that requires its doors to remain open. A quick review of the websites of the group’s affiliates across the country reveal that Planned Parenthood is fighting to keep performing abortions, but little else. Here’s a small sampling of their sites’ messages about COVID-19:

  • Planned Parenthood of Central California Coast: “Before your appointment with us: If you have a fever and cough, please remain at home or see your primary care provider.”
  • Planned Parenthood of Arizona: “We are monitoring the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak and all of our health centers remain open for sexual and reproductive health care.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Planned Parenthood of Michigan: “Symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) include: fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath. For the safety of our patients, staff, and community, ANYONE WITH THESE SYMPTOMS WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO ENTER THE HEALTH CENTER.”
  • Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York: “If you are experiencing a fever, a cough or shortness of breath, please do not come to one of our health centers for your appointment or walk-in. Call your health care provider.”
  • Planned Parenthood of New York City: “If you are experiencing a fever OR cough OR shortness of breath OR sore throat, please do not come to one of our health centers for your appointment. . . . We do not offer Coronavirus testing in any of our health centers at this time.”
  • Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania: “COVID-19 UPDATE: Our Abortion Centers are open! Effective March 25, 2020, we have temporarily closed our Health Centers to ensure the health and safety of our patients, staff, and community.” (In other words, any clinic that doesn’t perform abortions is now closed.)
  • Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest: “We are accepting new appointments for essential services only, including birth control and abortion.”

Again and again, the message from Planned Parenthood’s affiliates is clear: If there’s any chance you might have COVID-19, stay away, but we’ll still be here performing abortions!

If Planned Parenthood really were an essential health-care organization, as its executives and supporters so often claim, wouldn’t its affiliates be suspending elective procedures such as abortion to focus on helping with the health-care crisis ravaging the country? Instead, the group is wasting valuable time and resources suing lawmakers who are trying to reduce unnecessary instances in which the virus could spread.

There are shortages of personal protective equipment across the country, making it difficult for doctors and nurses to care for COVID-19 patients safely. More and more health-care providers are succumbing to sickness themselves, and thousands of retired medical professionals are volunteering to come out of retirement to help manage the crisis. Aren’t there better ways for Planned Parenthood to contribute to this battle than by fighting tooth and nail to profit from abortion?

One of Planned Parenthood’s favorite slogans is “Care, no matter what.” As the coronavirus strikes the U.S., the group has revealed once again that its real priority is “Abortion, no matter what.”

Health Care

Why Are We Responding Slower Today Than during the Last Pandemic?

A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Wash., March 20, 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

A few days ago, Tyler Cowen posted this at Marginal Revolution:

“In 1957, when flu swept through Hong Kong, Mr [Maurice] Hilleman identified the virus as a new form to which people had no natural immunity and passed on his findings to vaccine-makers. When the virus reached the United States a few months later 40m doses of vaccine were ready to limit its damage.”

Here is more from The Economist, circa 2005, via Brian LaRocca.

So basically, when it comes to producing vaccines, we were much better and faster at responding to pandemics in 1957 than we are now. That’s not right, especially since creating vaccines should be much easier now than it was back then.

At the Mercatus Center, Eli Dourado, who is now at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University, writes about the way the FDA is impeding this process, and what to do about i:

Unfortunately, the FDA approval process is not likely to result in a marketable vaccine until sometime next year. To resolve this mismatch in timelines, Congress should create an expedited process to allow patients, via a process of informed consent, to use vaccine candidates that have not yet completed the full FDA approval process. . . .  

“The traditional vaccine timeline is 15 to 20 years,” says Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Given the urgency of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is moving faster: For example, researchers have skipped the usual animal testing of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine candidate and have already begun human clinical trials in Seattle. Even so, experts say it will take between a year and 18 months to get an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine on the market. This means that even if society “flattens the curve” and gets some respite via warm summer weather, the population will still be unprotected in the fall, when colder weather could drive an increase in the COVID-19 contagion again.

As to what Congress should do, Dourado writes:

To make this possibility viable, Congress should instruct the FDA to publish vaccine trial data in real time. . . .

In addition, Congress should extend liability protections to COVID-19 vaccine candidate manufacturers. Sections 300aa–22 and 300aa–23 of title 42 of the US Code provide some liability protection for vaccine manufacturers, but only for those products that have complied with all requirements of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, including the requirement to have received an approval from FDA….

Finally, Congress will need to create the mechanism by which patients can opt to forgo the protections of vaccine approval based on informed consent. . . . 

The whole thing is here.

The same problem exists in the development of drugs. At the Wall Street Journal, David Henderson and Charles Hopper report on how the FDA’s current process is dramatically decreasing the supply of life-saving drugs:

The federal government requires pharmaceutical companies to prove that their drugs are both safe and effective before putting them on the market. Before 1962, companies needed to prove only safety. While there is some appeal to this two-hurdle approach, evidence suggests that there is only a slight benefit and a tremendous cost . . .

Further, the Kefauver-Harris Amendments dramatically increased the time and cost of getting new drugs approved. Evidence provided by University of Chicago economist Sam Peltzman suggests that the number of new drugs approved dropped by 60% in the decade following the law change. We have fewer ineffective drugs, but also far fewer effective ones than we could have had.

The whole thing is excellent.

Also, it is no secret that the government, and the FDA in particular, botched the coronavirus testing. For more on that, you can read this and this. This isn’t new, of course. Back in 2011, George Mason University’s Alex Tabarrok wrote about the role the FDA plays in the shortage of 246 drugs. Tabarrok writes today about how the FDA’s precautionary principle continues to affect us during this crisis.

It is time for us to learn and finally reform the FDA. This is a good point by Nobel Prize Economist, Vernon Smith, and Bartley Madden:

Today’s world of accelerating medical advancements is ushering in an age of personalized medicine in which patients’ unique genetic makeup and biomarkers will increasingly lead to customized therapies in which samples are inherently small. This calls for a fast-learning, adaptable FTCM environment for generating new data. In sharp contrast, the status quo FDA environment provides a yes/no approval decision based on statistical tests for an average patient, i.e., a one-size-fits-all drug approval process.

 

U.S.

Justice Department Weighs in on Trans Athletes

On Tuesday, attorney general William Barr signed a statement of interest disagreeing with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s (CIAC) decision to allow student-athletes to compete against the gender they identify with, in sporting events and competitions. By extending the category of women to include men, Barr explained, “CIAC deprives those women of the single-sex athletic competitions that are one of the marquee accomplishments of Title IX.”

Most Popular

The Political Media Are Failing America

Here are some of the public figures and institutions that Americans hold in higher esteem than the media according to Gallup: Hospitals Their child's school and daycare centers State governments Their employer CDC and NIH Mike Pence Donald Trump Congress Only one institution that Gallup ... Read More

The Political Media Are Failing America

Here are some of the public figures and institutions that Americans hold in higher esteem than the media according to Gallup: Hospitals Their child's school and daycare centers State governments Their employer CDC and NIH Mike Pence Donald Trump Congress Only one institution that Gallup ... Read More