Education

College Education versus Curiosity

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American colleges used to boast about how they open up minds and expand intellectual horizons. To a large extent, they did, at least for students who were so inclined.

Over the last several decades, however, aggressive leftist ideology has taken over many schools. More and more courses are about instilling a particular point of view rather than teaching a body of knowledge. Students know that they can land in trouble just for challenging a professor or merely asking the wrong question. Research into many topics is now taboo.

Law professor Frank Buckley has just published a new book entitled Curiosity and Its Twelve Rules for Life and, in today’s Martin Center commentary, he looks at the bad impact higher education is now having on curiosity.

Buckley writes, “There’s a single way of looking at things today, and we’re teaching America’s young that it’s dangerous to go anywhere else. That’s a crime against humanity, because we live in a world of wonders that offers opportunities for enjoyment and delight, and all we have to do is reach out and grab them.

“We need to create, to struggle and not to yield, to be curious about the world and what we owe other people. Every leap of knowledge was created by a person who was curious. If we won’t see much of this from today’s students, you can thank our educational system.”

Absolutely right. A politicized education system strives for conformity and that’s the enemy of curiosity.

World

Proportionality

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Current events have brought the concept of “proportionality in war” to the lips of journalists and analysts. Often they seem not to know what it has meant. In “just war theory,” the requirement for “proportionate means” is not a synonym for “equivalent damage or casualties.” It simply means using means proportionate to the just end you are seeking.

If an aggressor fires on you, stopping the aggression may require military means that inflict significantly more casualties than those you sustain.

I can do no better than quoting the same 20th century ethicist, Paul Ramsey, quoted by Keith Pavlischek at The New Atlantis a decade ago when conflict between Israelis and Palestinians occasioned this same debate.

One does not calculate a prudent number of babies to be murdered (directly killed) for the sake of any good consequences (such as getting at the government); but one may and must calculate the prudent number that will and may be killed as an unavoidable side or collateral effect of military operations targeted upon the force to be repelled and whose goal and other consequence is expected to be the saving of many more from slaughter or from an oppressive tyranny, or in order to preserve in the international system accepted patterns in the actions of states on which grave consequences depend. Direct attacks on a civil population can never be justified; but unfortunately — in this world to date — a good many incidental deaths and extensive collateral damage to civil society may still be knowingly done lest worse befall.

World

How the Science Letter on COVID Lab-Leak Theory Disarms Racism Accusations

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Security personnel keep watch outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The publication of a letter in Science calling the COVID lab-leak theory “viable” has already shifted the conversation about the disease’s origins. I reported on it here, but there’s an additional aspect to the groundbreaking nature of this event that can’t be overlooked.

The letter disarms the cynical instrumentalization of the fight against anti-Asian racism offered by those who called the lab-origin hypothesis a conspiracy theory.

“Finally, in this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost,” write the 18 authors of the Science letter. “We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue.”

That statement sounds like a pro forma paean to those who were on the front lines of the battle against the virus last year. It also reads like a rebuttal of a point raised by a February 2020 letter in The Lancet condemning “rumours and misinformation” about the virus’s origin.

“We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” wrote the authors of the Lancet letter. After citing studies to argue that the coronavirus originated in the wild, they argued that saying anything to the contrary would inflame racism.

“Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardize our global collaboration in the fight against this virus. We support the call from the Director-General of WHO to promote scientific evidence and unity over misinformation and conjecture.”

These assertions were risible then, and they’ve only become more evidently misleading over time. Just over a year after that letter ran in the Lancet, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that a potential lab-leak origin warranted “further investigation,” following the widely criticized joint WHO-China report on COVID’s origins. Peter Daszak, the president of research nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance who orchestrated the Lancet letter, was part of the WHO team that went to Wuhan and co-authored the resulting report, despite his involvement in coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

A look back at the Lancet letter is illustrative of how certain self-appointed tribunes of the scientific community quickly steered the debate away from legitimate questions about the research that went on at the WIV. In addition to falsely claiming that calls for greater scrutiny of that activity were conspiracy theories, they said that lab-leak proponents fostered racism, to boot.

Now, a group of prominent scientists, including the world’s leading expert on coronaviruses, has called for a closer look at the lab-leak hypothesis, and they’ve done so in a top scientific journal, implicitly refuting ridiculous accusations of racism and paying homage to those in China who paid the ultimate price for an authoritarian party-state’s malfeasance.

The Squad Is Rooting for Hamas

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From left: Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., July 15, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Ocasio-Cortez, usually a font of half-baked socialist economic ideas, now regularly offers thoughts on the Israeli–Palestinian situation to her 12 million Twitter followers.

Here is one:

First of all, there are no “expulsions of Palestinians.” Six Palestinian families may be evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in a property dispute — and the Israeli supreme court has delayed a decision — over land that was seized from Jewish families by the Jordanian Army after 1948. It’s a complicated case, brought to the judicial system by private citizens and adjudicated in an independent court. The case has been litigated for

Media

We Shouldn’t Need the ‘Riot Squad’ — But We Do. A Response to The Intercept

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Rioters in Portland, Ore., July 26, 2020. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

If you were lucky enough to get off the Internet for any extended period of time early last summer, you probably would have had no idea that cities across the country were being consumed by political violence on a scale unseen since the 1960s.

If, in May and June, you limited your media diet to the major newspapers, CNN and MSNBC, you would have been unaware that intense property damage and physical violence was being perpetrated by rioters each and every night in Kenosha, Wis., Portland, Ore., and just about every other major American city.

Extremist agitators, many of whom traveled from city to city looking for trouble, assaulted bystanders, destroyed businesses, and torched buildings. The only reason we know who was responsible and how they managed to run wild in formerly sleepy downtowns is because of journalists like the Daily Caller‘s Richie McGinnis, Shelby Talcott, and Jorge Ventura, and Townhall‘s Julio Rosas.

After New York Times reporters and cable news talking heads left the scenes of daytime protests, McGinnis, Talcott, Ventura, and Rosas stayed on the street to document the destruction that reliably followed.

McGinnis got so close to the action in Kenosha that he rendered first aid to the man whom Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot in the head outside of a car dealership. His interview with Rittenhouse, conducted before the violence broke out, was widely cited by major outlets, including the New York Times, which didn’t have personnel on the scene but used video taken by independent and conservative journalists to play catch up weeks later.

Now, a year later, The Intercept‘s Robert Mackey seems upset that the reporting done by The Daily Caller and Townhall is inconvenient to his political agenda. In a transparent attempt at the sort of guilt-by-association that activists posing as reporters just love, Mackey lumps Talcott and McGinnis in with fabulists who posted deceptively edited clips of rioting on social media to stir up outrage, labeling the lot of them “the riot squad.”

In an overwrought 25-minute video, Mackey accuses the so-called riot-squad of “misleading” their millions of online viewers by focusing exclusively on violence and destruction rather than placing the looting and beating “in context” — as a responsible journalist like Mackey would have done if he weren’t in bed.

Since he can’t accuse them of deceptively editing videos, Mackey complains that McGinnis and Co. didn’t devote equal time to the peaceful protesters because it didn’t fit their agenda. He points out that the majority of BLM protests were peaceful and casts the violence and destruction as a fringe activity, never mind that an estimated $1–2 billion in property damage was done across 20 states in a matter of a few weeks. The small town of Kenosha alone suffered $2 million in property damage.

The violence and property destruction was much more prevalent than Mackey suggests, but there’s also a simpler and more likely explanation for why the riot squad focused on the mayhem: They’re reporters, so they looked for a compelling story that wasn’t being covered.

Newspaper reporters and cable anchors captured the moms who showed up with their kids to advocate racial justice. Then, as soon as the sun went down, they retired to their expensed hotel rooms, presenting an opportunity for ambitious young journalists eager to document the largest conflagration of domestic American political violence in decades.

How can you tell that Talcott and McGinnis were just chasing the story and not simply acting in service of their nefarious right-wing commitments? Because, as Mackey shows in his video, they documented the Capitol riot, which made their supposed allies look . . . not great. But, Mackey points out, McGinnis was nice to those protesters, asking them questions in a casual tone — but that’s the same tone he uses in every video interview.

Having failed to show that McGinnis, Talcott, and Rosas did anything other than focus on a compelling and underreported story, Mackey proceeds to accuse McGinnis of hiding video evidence of the Rittenhouse shooting from authorities. So, what does a responsible journalist like Mackey cite as proof that McGinnis committed a felony by hiding evidence? The random musings of an unknown Twitter user with 75 followers — and remember, this is the guy giving tips on responsible journalism.

Of course the great irony in all of this is that McGinnis and Co. were performing the exact function that The Intercept was founded to perform, reporting the stories that are ignored — or distorted — by corporate media because they don’t fit the preferred narrative. Perhaps it’s forgivable that The Intercept, a leftist outlet, failed to devote resources to a story that might tarnish their allies, but it’s humiliating for one of their reporters to lash out at those who stepped up to cover an incredibly important story that they slept through.

Elections

Elise Stefanik’s Claim That 140,000 Illegitimate Votes Were Cast in a Single Georgia County

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Rep. Elise Stefanik, November 19, 2019 (Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters)

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy indicated that Liz Cheney had to be removed from House GOP leadership because she was “relitigating the past.” Yesterday, McCarthy said: “I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election.”

In the Capitol on Wednesday, I asked Elise Stefanik — the congresswoman virtually certain to succeed Cheney as GOP Conference chair — about her statement on January 6 that 140,000 illegitimate ballots were cast in a single Georgia county in 2020:

On January 6, [Stefanik] joined a majority of House Republicans in rejecting certification of the Electoral College results.

“Today, I will respectfully object to contested electors from the states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin,” Stefanik said in a statement issued that morning.

Like Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, Stefanik pointed to the doubts on the part of some Americans about the election’s legitimacy as a reason to reject certification of the results. But then she went a step further to assert as fact that widespread voter fraud had actually occurred.

In a written statement, Stefanik said that in Georgia “more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased, and otherwise unauthorized voters — in Fulton County alone.”

If Stefanik’s statement were correct, that would mean that more than 25 percent of all ballots cast in Fulton County, home to Atlanta, were illegitimate. Last week, the Georgia secretary of state’s office called Stefanik’s claim “ludicrous.”

“The Georgia Secretary of State’s office knows the age of everyone who voted because they had to be registered in order to vote, and there were no underage voters,” a spokesman for Brad Raffensperger, the Republican who holds that office, said in an email to CNN. “Across the state, we found only 2 votes credited to dead voters. The suggestion that one fourth of all ballots cast in Fulton County in November were illegal is ludicrous.”

In the Capitol on Wednesday, I asked Stefanik if she stood by her claim that 140,000 votes cast in Fulton County were illegitimate.

“I stand by my statement on the House floor in January, and I stand by my statement that there are serious issues related to election irregularities in the state of Georgia, as well as Pennsylvania, Michigan, [and] Wisconsin,” she replied.

What’s the basis for Stefanik’s claim that 140,000 votes were illegitimate? “The basis for that is that was filed in a court case.”

Does she still think 140,000 votes in Georgia were illegitimate? “I think there are questions that are important for the American people to hear answers to,” Stefanik replied.

But again, Stefanik did not present the wild claim of widespread voter fraud in Georgia as a question in January — she asserted it as a fact, and gave it as a reason that she opposed certification of Georgia’s electoral votes. Now she says she both “stand[s] by” her January statement while suggesting she’s just asking questions.

You can read the whole story on the homepage.

Health Care

Now CDC Should Liberate Children

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CDC director Rochelle Walensky on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021 (Greg Nash/Reuters)

The CDC has finally caught up with with basic science in issuing guidance that vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks either indoors or outdoors, whether or not they’ll be exposed to other unvaccinated people.

The announcement in effect declares that once a person is vaccinated, the pandemic is over for them.

Though this is an important and long overdue development, because the guidance only refers to vaccinated people, and the vaccine has only been authorized for those 12 and older, it means that children will still be subjected to scientifically unnecessary rules.

Children are at extremely low risk of getting severe COVID-19 or spreading it. The only rationale for ever having them wear masks was to limit the possibility of spreading to older and more vulnerable populations. But with those populations now protected, that rationale has gone away.

What’s especially cruel is current CDC guidance for summer camps, which says that children will have to wear masks outdoors despite the negligible risk of transmission and the brutal heat in many parts of the country.

Saying that vaccinated people do not need masks is the bare minimum obvious thing that CDC should acknowledge. But it’s time for CDC to go further in catching up to science, and liberate children.

Politics & Policy

Meet the 100 Republicans Threatening to Form a Third Party

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Bill Weld speaks at a Johnson-Weld campaign rally in N.Y., 2016. (Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported, “over 100 Republicans, including former officials, threaten to split from the G.O.P.

We can now see the list of 100 Republicans who “believe in pushing for the Republican Party to rededicate itself to founding ideals—or else hasten the creation of an alternative.” The list includes some well-known names like Anthony Scaramucci, Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh and Evan McMullin, and quite a few names that will not ring bells to most of the public. Connie Morella last served in Congress in 2003, and served as an ambassador until 2007. Arne Carlson was governor of Minnesota back in the 1990s. Christopher Bayley was the King County, Washington prosecuting attorney from 1971 to 1979.

It is far from clear that a warning from, say, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld that he’s thinking of leaving the GOP will sway the thinking of other Republicans; the man was the Libertarian Party nominee for vice president in 2016. In other words, the last time Weld left the GOP, the party thrived without him.

I asked Wednesday what form this group would take, as “successfully building a lasting and significant third party will require a gargantuan commitment of resources and a sustained Herculean effort.”

As of now, it appears this group is truly starting from scratch, with an open letter and a request for e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and zip codes.

Economy & Business

Biden, Gas Prices, and ‘Gouging’

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President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic National Committee’s “Back on Track” drive-in car rally to celebrate the president’s 100th day in office at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Ga., April 29, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

It is no news that Joe Biden’s understanding of how markets work (and the good that they can do) is not the strongest, but it would be nice if the president didn’t feel the need to remind everyone else of that fact on such a regular basis. But politicians are what they are, and if there are votes to be won (or at least not lost), well . . .

U.S. News & World Report:

President Joe Biden warned gasoline stations not to engage in any price gouging as motorists wait for fuel to start flowing reliably through the Colonial Pipeline, which reopened on Wednesday after falling victim to a cyberattack.

“Do not, I repeat, do not try to take advantage of consumers during this time,” Biden said Thursday in remarks at the White House. “Nobody should be using this situation for financial gain. That’s what the hackers are trying to do. That’s what they’re about, not us. That’s not who we are.”

In almost all cases, shortages such as the shortfalls in the gas supply that we now seeing in parts of the east coast, are made worse by panic buying, and in almost all such cases, putting a price on panic can defuse it, and reduce the extent to which a bad situation is made worse by (in essence) stockpiling.

Kyle Smith had something to say about price gouging during the toilet paper crisis of 2020.

Here’s an extract:

You, sir! You whose shopping cart squeals beneath the weight of half a dozen 48-packs of toilet tissue! Come now, be reasonable. How many rolls do you really need to get you through the next week or so? A four-pack, you say? Wonderful. Bless you for your civic-mindedness. You may now put 284 rolls of TP back on the shelves so that a dozen fellow citizens who really need it can get it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone trustworthy and courteous and concerned with the common good could stand in front of the registers at Costco calming people’s fears and successfully urging them to buy only what they actually need? Someone as folksy and good-hearted as, say, Jimmy Stewart during the scene in which there’s a run on the Building and Loan (i.e. bank) in It’s a Wonderful Life?

Good news, friends! We already have Jimmy Stewart. He’s right here among us. Only his name is “market pricing.”

My colleague John Hirschauer has looked at worrisome remarks made by politicians about interfering with pricing signals and explained the academic research on the wisdom of setting price controls during a crisis. Now let’s consider the matter from the point of view of community and common sense. Free enterprise — sometimes called capitalism — is a wonderful thing in normal times because during every non-coercive transaction, the buyer would rather have the thing he’s buying than the money, and the seller would rather have the money. Each freely entered-upon transaction increases global well-being.

But capitalism is especially useful in a crisis, when there is market disruption. When times turn dark, capitalism is, more than ever, your friend. Let’s say stores run out of toilet paper or hand sanitizer or diesel fuel because of panic buying during the age of COVID-19, and no one can find these items in stores. Why people are punching each other over the Charmin while leaving the Robitussin and Tylenol alone is a mystery, but that is of no moment. What matters is that toilet paper is suddenly more valuable simply because demand has surged. That means people are bidding up the price. Or they would be, if the stores allowed this. If Costco quadrupled the price of whatever item is selling out, there wouldn’t be any shortages of anything. Market pricing would restore normal functioning.

Costco doesn’t do this because of what economists call “good will,” which essentially means “fear of bad publicity propagated by economic illiterates.” . . .

Economic illiterates, eh?

Drawing on an article in The Economist, we also touched on this question in a Capital Note back in October.

Here’s an extract:

From The Economist:

“Unscrupulous traders use a crisis to charge exorbitant prices. Politicians, wanting to protect consumers, crack down on profiteers. But how to work out what price is too high, and what redress is appropriate?”

The answer (almost always) is that this is not something in which politicians — particularly from a command-and-control place such as New York City — should get involved.

But, back to The Economist (my emphasis added), where its correspondent tells the story of his or her local corner shop:

“This type of shop was once familiar in New York, but has largely been squeezed out by chains and bank branches. The owner is an immigrant who opens early and closes late. In crises the shop stocks the products that customers need. When flooding from Hurricane Sandy caused a blackout in 2012, it sold batteries, torches, candles and board games. During the pandemic it has been piled high with boxes of sanitiser, bleach, masks and gloves.

Stocking up comes with risks. Acquiring inventory is costly. Demand drops off when normality returns—unwanted board games linger in the back of the shop. And this time, the rules changed. In March a woman bought a box of masks (each mask costing $2), and then said she was from the city’s office of consumer affairs, and charged the shopkeeper for violating new price-gouging rules. Two days later, says the shopkeeper, another inspector charged the shop again, this time offering guidance on the right prices. Masks should cost no more than $1; gloves selling at $19.95 should sell for only $14.95. Each package marked above the permitted price would be fined $500. There were many packages.

Most economists oppose restrictions on price gouging not because they like fat profits, but because higher prices lead to more supply. Indeed, in many places sanitiser and face-masks are now ubiquitous and cheap. Then there is the tricky question of what counts as price gouging—in a pandemic. New York City banned price rises of more than 10% from pre-pandemic levels. But what if the shop had not sold the items before? And why 10%? Price increases “in excess of an amount reflecting normal market fluctuations” were banned. But what, in March, was normal?”

Read the rest of the piece and it becomes obvious that if anyone was gouging (there were a lot of fines), it was the city, not the shopkeepers.

What was it that someone once noted?

Oh yes, this.

White House

So Can Joe Biden Take His Mask Off in the Oval Office Now?

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President Biden waves before boarding the Marine One in Washington, D.C., May 7, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

For several weeks – months? – people have questioned why fully-vaccinated people were expected to wear masks – certainly outdoors, and indoors as well. Once you’re fully vaccinated, your body’s antibodies are much more effective line of defense than a piece of cloth. The piece of cloth or N95 mask are a great idea if you’re not fully vaccinated yet; until you know your body can produce the antibodies to fight it off, you would rather the virus not get inside your body. But once you’re vaccinated, wearing a mask as superfluous as wearing kneepads while riding inside an armored tank. As the president should say, come on, man, you’re already protected.

Today Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said what’s been obvious for a while now:  “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” Dr. Walensky told reporters. “If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected, and you can start doing the things that you stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

I do think it’s perfect that less than 24 hours after I asked why the fully-vaccianted Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell were wearing masks for a photo op in the Oval Office – and got a giant pile of grief on social media, and repeated insistence that “Biden is just showing a good example for others” and “he’s just following the CDC guidance!” — the CDC guidance changes.

Science Letter Breaks ‘Chokehold’ on COVID-Origin Narrative, Says Lab-Leak Theory ‘Viable’

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Outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, February 3, 2021 (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

For well over a year, a certain clique of researchers tarred the idea that COVID-19 initially escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan as a conspiracy theory. Now, their grip on that narrative within the scientific community is loosening, as a growing chorus of experts calls for a closer look at this lab-leak hypothesis.

In a letter published this afternoon at Science, 18 scientists call for an investigation into the pandemic’s origins that does not discount the possibility of a lab leak. “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable,” they write. “Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is

Politics & Policy

Democrats Finally Find Something They Don’t Want to Blame on Putin

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President Biden delivers remarks in Norfolk, Va., May 3, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Here is Joe Biden on the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial pipeline:

Now, I suppose the president’s statement is an improvement from the administration’s contention yesterday that a ransomware attack emanating from a foreign actor is merely a “private sector” matter. Though, if our last president had claimed that a pipeline disruption that caused gas lines and skyrocketing prices had nothing to do with the Russian government — even though the group behind the attack, DarkSide, seemingly operates freely in that country — there would be a thermonuclear media meltdown. Biden provided no evidence for his assertion. For five years, there was virtually nothing the panic-mongering press and Democrats wouldn’t blame on the nefarious Russians. The administration, for example, is still defending the debunked Russian bounty story. The media spilled millions of hysterical words convincing Americans that a few Twitter bots and a $200,000 Facebook ad buy was tantamount to Pearl Harbor. At one point, 67 percent of Democrats believed that Russians hacked into machines and changed their votes. Yet, after this, one of most expensive cyberattacks in history, the president simply says Putin — a man he rightly called a “killer” only recently — is innocent. And, so far, everyone seems fine with it. That’s quite the turnaround.

Health Care

A Better Way to Run a COVID-Vaccine Lottery

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A man receives his coronavirus vaccine at the Bradfield Community Center in Lima, Ohio, March 29, 2021. (Megan Jelinger/Reuters)

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is drawing headlines for his idea of using federal stimulus money to hold five weekly $1 million lotteries only open to adults who have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Putting aside this question of whether this is a good idea, I confess that it is fascinating as an experiment in human behavior. Yet were I given a pool of $5 million and tasked with designing a vaccine lottery, I would de-prioritize the value of the prize and instead split the money into many smaller prizes that provide greater odds that somebody would win.

So, as an example, let’s say that instead of having one weekly winner of $1 million, Ohio had 1,000 weekly winners of $1,000?

Given that the adult population of Ohio is about 9 million people, only 1 out of every 1.8 million Ohio adults will be winners in the $1 million lottery. Yet were the state to pursue my approach, there would be a total of 5,000 winners, or about one in every 1,800 adults.

While that may still seem like long odds, one in 1,800 means that a lot of people in Ohio are going to know somebody who won the lottery, or at least have heard of somebody who won the lottery. It’s conceivable that one of your Facebook friends would have won, or would have posted about a friend or family member who won. And thousands of winners, spread across the state, would probably generate a lot of local news coverage.

Though a $1,000 prize doesn’t have the pizazz of a cool million, a recent Morning Consult poll found of unvaccinated adults found that 57 percent would “probably” or “definitely” get a shot in exchange for a $1,000 savings bond. So, if any other state is considering going the lottery route, it’s worth considering doing smaller, more numerous, prizes.

Health Care

The COVID-Obesity Trap Has Claimed Children, Too

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(adrian825/Getty Images)

Last month, I wrote about how imperative it was for us to escape the COVID-obesity trap: Lockdowns, and the general discouragement of physical activity (even outdoors) that they encouraged, had led to serious weight gain among many; meanwhile, obesity is a coronavirus comorbidity, making infection likelier and worse.

In that piece, I did not think much specifically about children. But a Wall Street Journal report from earlier this week revealed that they, too, have notched serious weight gain over the past year:

Doctors say they are seeing normal-weight children become overweight or even obese, overweight children become obese, and obese children add more weight. Doctors also report increases in weight-related health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease. And some children with prediabetes are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes . . .

A May study in the journal Pediatrics found that the percentage of children ages 2 to 17 who are obese increased to 15.4% in June to December 2020 compared with 13.7% in the year-earlier period. Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia analyzed pre-pandemic and pandemic body mass index calculations from more than 500,000 visits to doctors’ offices in 2019 and 2020.

This is, unfortunately, unsurprising. The report assigns blame to the disruption of routines of eating and socializing that school lockdowns wrought. Children have also certainly been affected by the same general discouragement of outdoor and indoor physical activity that became the primary public-health message for much of the pandemic period, even though outdoor activity has always been extremely safe.

A rise in the childhood-obesity rate is looking likely to become one of the many effects of the coronavirus period that will linger in society once we have left the pandemic behind. To the extent that ends up true, I feel for the children, who are not really to blame here. Over the past year, they have undoubtedly suffered tremendously. You sometimes hear it said that they’ll be fine because they are “resilient,” but that is a horrid excuse to have inflicted, or allowed to be inflicted, the level of social anomie on them that they have experienced during this time.

Over the past year, when I have seen children out and about, I console myself by hoping that the younger ones will simply forget that this ever happened and their lives will proceed as normal. But I fear that for many, the effects will linger, and manifest in unpredictable ways in the years to come. If that’s true, then an increase in childhood obesity — which we should still work to correct forthwith — might end up the least of our problems.

Politics & Policy

Rebekah Jones’s Trail of Deception

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Florida’s COVID-19 ‘Data and Surveillance Dashboard’ (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

My magazine piece in this issue is on Rebekah Jones, the disgraced Floridian dashboard manager who has been almost single-handedly responsible for the widespread — and entirely false — belief that Florida has been “fudging” its COVID numbers. As I note, having combed through hundreds of pages of official documents (and Jones’s own “manifesto”):

Jones isn’t a martyr; she’s a myth-peddler. She isn’t a scientist; she’s a fabulist. She’s not a whistleblower; she’s a good old-fashioned confidence trickster. And, like any confidence trickster, she understands her marks better than they understand themselves. On Twitter, on cable news, in Cosmopolitan, and beyond, Jones knows exactly which buttons to push in order to rally the gullible and get out her message. Sober Democrats have tried to inform their party about her: “You may see a conspiracy theory and you want it to be true and you believe it to be true and you forward it to try to make it be true, but that doesn’t make it true,” warns Jared Moskowitz, the progressive Democrat who has led Florida’s fight against COVID. But his warnings have fallen on deaf ears.

Jones is seriously bad news. Far from being an exception, her firing by the Florida Department of Health was the norm. This is a person who has accused the African-American epidemiologist who is currently serving as Florida’s deputy secretary of health of being a “murderer.” This is a person who has called the Florida Department of Law Enforcement the “Gestapo.” Worst of all, this is a person who has been either dismissed or charged with a crime pretty much wherever she has gone. In Louisiana, she was charged with assaulting a police officer, and she avoided a felony conviction only by entering into a pre-trial intervention program. In Florida, she was fired from FSU for having sex with a student in her class. She also was fired from the Department of Health for insubordination. And she is currently awaiting two trials — one on a felony charge for illegally accessing government systems and downloading private personnel data, the other on a misdemeanor stalking charge that was initially subject to deferred prosecution but is now live again as a result of her other behavior.

That Jones was so widely promoted — including by gubernatorial hopefuls Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist — is a scandal. It’s the only scandal here, in fact.