Saturday 14 March, 2020

Quote of the Day

”Everything is relative; and only that is absolute”

  • Auguste Comte

The Trump presidency is over

Really? The pessimist in me (plus the ghost of HL Mencken sitting on my shoulder) says that nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. But maybe this time is different. At any rate, that’s what one Republican — Peter Wehner — says in a blast in The Atlantic. Here’s how it ends:

The coronavirus is quite likely to be the Trump presidency’s inflection point, when everything changed, when the bluster and ignorance and shallowness of America’s 45th president became undeniable, an empirical reality, as indisputable as the laws of science or a mathematical equation.

It has taken a good deal longer than it should have, but Americans have now seen the con man behind the curtain. The president, enraged for having been unmasked, will become more desperate, more embittered, more unhinged. He knows nothing will be the same. His administration may stagger on, but it will be only a hollow shell. The Trump presidency is over.

Here’s hoping.


The remarkable Dr Fauci

Jame Fallows has a fascinating piece about Dr Anthony Fauci, who has been head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the National Institutes of Health, since Ronald Reagan’s first term, in 1984. Although nothing in his look or bearing would suggest it, Fauci is older than either Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden. He recently turned 79. And what’s really interesting about him is that he has been the only official to contradict Trump in public and keep his job. (Remember Jim Mattis, for example?).

“There is no precedent”, writes Fallows,

from Mattis or anyone else, for what we have seen these past few weeks from Fauci at the podium. Is the coronavirus problem just going to go away (as Trump had claimed)? No, from Fauci. It is serious, and it is going to get worse. Is the testing system “perfect” (as Trump had claimed)? No, it is not working as it should. Is the U.S. once again the greatest of all nations in its response to the threat? No, it is behind in crucial aspects, and has much to learn from others.

Fauci is saying all these things politely and respectfully. As an experienced Washington operator he knows that there is no reason to begin an answer with, “The president is wrong.” You just skip to the next sentence, “The reality is…” But his meaning—“the president is wrong”—is unmistakable.

Anthony Fauci has earned the presumption-of-credibility for his comments. Donald Trump has earned the presumption that he is lying or confused. A year ago that standoff—the realities, versus Trump-world obeisance—worked out against James Mattis. Will the balance of forces be different for Fauci? As of this writing, no one can know.

Fascinating: someone whom Trump can’t sack because he needs Fauci now more than Fauci needs him. And if he did sack him, imagine what would happen to the markets.


Thursday 12 March, 2020

Quote of the Day

“The cliche about Trump’s presidency is that it is malevolence tempered by incompetence. His haplessness would undermine his corruption and authoritarianism. But now, finally, the country faces a crisis in which Trump’s incompetence will not save us from him. His wholesale unfitness was on bright display from the Oval Office. It may be the most unsettling moment yet of this bleak era.”


Things companies might learn from this crisis

  1. They will need to figure out how to reconfigure their operations so more employees can work productively at a distance. In other words, how to rethink the office. It’s been a mystery to me for years why so many organisations use such primitive telephone-conferencing kit, for example. So it’s no wonder that shares in Zoom) went up 24% in the first day that the immensity of the crisis began to dawn on people.
  2. Surely the penny about the fragility of complex supply-chains will now drop. Surely?

(Thoughts stimulated by an excellent Economist piece).


So the ‘administrative state’ has its uses after all

One of the most pernicious delusions fostered by the rise of tech within a neoliberal mindset was its contempt for the state. This predated the rise of Silicon Valley, of course — remember Ronald Reagan’s tropes about how the state was always the problem, not the solution? But it really took off once the Web 2.0 boom started.

Well, one of the most interesting aspects of our current predicament is the discovery that we really need the state after all. It’s the only thing that stands between us and a biological Armageddon, it seems. Looks like the hapless citizens of the US are about to discover this, given that they have a president who has for three years been trying to dismantle the administrative state or sell it off to his cronies.

Actually, the state has been essential in lots of fairly-recent crises too. It was that self-same administrative state that provided the heroic first-responders in 9/11, for example; the same state that organised TARP and the recapitalisation of banks in 2008; and the state that is now busily trying to protect populations from the havoc that COVID-19 will wreak.

And of course, most of the fortunes made in Silicon Valley are built on the Internet — an infrastructure that was paid for by US taxpayers.

People have such short memories. Sigh.


No computer required

Spotted in the ‘i’ newspaper. Don’t you just love the “No computer required” advice. And the price — £199.


Quote of the Day

“Anything we say in advance of a pandemic happening is alarmist; anything we say afterwards is inadequate.”

  • US health secretary Michael Leavitt, speaking in 2006.

Quote of the Day

“There are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen”.

  • V.I. Lenin

So how would you describe the current moment?

Quote of the Day

“For most of my adult life, “going viral” has been a good thing. Coronavirus has ruined the metaphor. It has reminded us that the world is not as controllable as it appeared.”

  • Henry Mance, Financial Times, 7/8 March, 2020.

Quote of the Day

Some mathematicians are birds, others are frogs. Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas of mathematics out to the far horizon. They delight in concepts that unify our thinking and bring together diverse problems from different parts of the landscape. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one at a time. I happen to be a frog, but many of my best friends are birds. The main theme of my talk tonight is this. Mathematics needs both birds and frogs.

Quote of the Day

“COVID-19 is like a denial-of-service attack on health care infrastructure; the risk is in hospitals being overwhelmed with cases that, in a vacuum, could be overcome.”

Quote of the Day

“As big tech’s scope expands, more non-tech firms will find their profits dented and more workers will see their livelihoods disrupted, creating angry constituencies. One crude measure of scale is to look at global profits relative to American gdp. By this yardstick, Apple, which is expanding into services, is already roughly as big as Standard Oil and US Steel were in 1910, at the height of their powers. Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft are set to reach the threshold within the next ten years.”

  • This week’s Economist.