Saturday, November 21, 2020

Evidence that Aging Can Be Reversed

There is a recent report out on an Israeli experiment which seems to have reversed two of the cellular processes associated with aging — shortening of telomeres and cellular senescence. It used hyperbaric oxygen, given daily over a period of months, and the effects appear to be large.

It's possible that the result will turn out to be mistaken — the confidence intervals for the various effects include zero, although most of them are significantly positive. It is also possible that the experiment is changing the cellular markers and not whatever underlying biology they are associated with.

The obvious next things to do are to repeat the experiment, ideally with more subjects and varying the procedure, and to observe the subjects of the first experiment to see whether physical effects of aging are being reduced.

But if it's real, it's huge, since the experimental results are for humans, not mice, the procedure should be easy to duplicate at relatively low cost, and we ought to have much clearer results in only a few more years. I've been saying for a long time that the cure for aging will probably come in time for my children but not for me, but perhaps I was wrong.

I would be interested in comments from anyone here with relevant expertise.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Is the governor of California a Liar or a Hypocrite?

Gavin Newsom, who has supported a variety of restrictions in order to slow the spread of Covid, was caught blatantly violating his own rules, attending a dinner with a large number of unrelated people, sitting close together, not wearing masks. He claimed it was outdoors, but that turned out to mean a room that had glass doors to the outside which were closed because the dinner party was a noisy one. He has been suitably apologetic, conceded that it was something he ought not to have done.

There are two possible interpretations of his behavior, depending on whether one regards the primary function of masks as protecting the wearer or protecting everyone else. If it is protecting the wearer, than his behavior is strong evidence that he doesn't believe in the claim on which his rules are based, since he was willing to do without that protection for himself. At least, he doesn't believe in it for men in their late fifties — and there has been no suggestion in the rules he imposed that they only apply to those of us sixty-five and over.

If one believes, perhaps more plausibly, that the primary function is protecting other people, than his behavior is evidence that he is a hypocrite, willing to impose on other people risks that he forbids them from imposing on each other, but not that he does not believe the claim those rules are based on.

A third possibility is that he is merely a snob, someone who believes in his heart, although he would never say, that pandemic diseases only infect his social inferiors.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

What I Find Depressing About the Election Outcome

From a short term standpoint, the outcome was about as good as I could reasonably hope for, assuming that the Republicans will win at least one of the two Georgia Senate runoffs. I was mostly worried that one party, more probably the Democrats, would end up with control of both houses and the White House. Since I expect either party to do mostly bad things, divided government is the least bad alternative.

In the longer run, the situation is depressing. Trump did well enough so that, whether or not he tries to run again, the coalition he created will survive. That means that we will have, for the foreseeable future, two parties neither of which has even a rhetorical commitment to the free market. The Republicans are against free trade and immigration, and the Democrats are against practically everything else.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Did the FDA Deliberately Help Biden Win?

 If so, do you approve?

The FDA and Pfizer arranged to have the tests that ended up showing their vaccine more than 90% effective done last Wednesday, the day after the election. It's clear from the account of what happened that there were multiple decisions that could have been made a little differently and would have produced the information a little sooner.

The obvious conjecture is that the timing was deliberate, that they expected a positive result and thought that announcing it before the election would help Trump. The alternative is that this is just another example of the FDA being (I think over) cautious, making absolutely certain the vaccine works, at a cost of about a thousand lives for every day of delay.

The more interesting question, for me, is whether Biden supporters believe that if it did happen, they approve. Would such a decision count as indefensibly using powers given to the FDA for entirely different purposes to meddle in the election, or as a responsible decision to save America from another four years of Trump? How deeply is "The end does/doesn't justify the means" embedded in the value system of commenters here and on FB, where I also posted a version of this?

Also of interest is whether there are any Trump supporters who believe that, if it happened, it was a defensible, if unfortunate, decision, that they would approve if something similar had been done by someone on their side.

You can find my view of the ends/means question in the relevant chapter at:…/Ideas%20I_%20A%20Book%20fro…

That's a collection of draft chapters for the book I'm currently writing.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Designing Trump Mark Two

Trump lost this time, but it's clear that, politically speaking, he was doing something right as well as some things wrong, pulled into his coalition quite a lot of new people while pushing other people out. Suppose another politician wanted to copy the successful parts of his strategy while avoiding, so far as possible, the unsuccessful parts. How would he do it?

Part of what worked was coming across as someone who could not be pushed around, who responded to attacks by counter attacking. Would it work to tone that down a little, only attack people who are very clearly attacking him rather than anyone who says anything critical? Or would that just lose him opportunities to show what a he-man he is?

I suspect that the rhetorical exaggeration, the sort of thing that comes across to many as deliberate lying — "we'll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it" — also helped him with his supporters, not because they believed him but because they automatically discount that sort of bluster and the discounted version was something they could believe in. 

The Mark Two version would have to keep Trump's major positions, including hostility to immigration and trade, unfortunate from my point of view but pretty clearly part of what worked. It didn't cost him the Hispanic vote, as many seem to have expected — he did better there than any Republican candidate since Eisenhower. I'm not sure if he has to maintain Trump's policy of outsourcing judicial choice to the Federalist Society, one of the two features of his term that I on the whole approved of. He has to be willing to appoint judges conservatives will like, but that isn't necessarily the same thing. He probably does have to maintain Trump's hostility to foreign military intervention, the other thing I approved of — unless there is some incident such as 9/11 that makes a hawkish response briefly popular with almost everyone. 

One thing I'm not sure of is how much, if any, of Trump's crude, rude, abrasive presentation produces a net gain in votes, how much a net loss.

I haven't been distinguishing between what the candidate has to do to get elected, which Trump did, and what he has to do to get re-elected, which pretty clearly at this point Trump is not doing. And these are preliminary thoughts. Do others have ideas? I am more or less assuming that Trump Mark Two would be another Republican, but he might not have to be.

Friday, November 06, 2020

What the Polls Got Most Wrong

I've just been reading a very perceptive piece by Andrew Sullivan, a left of center writer generally skeptical of left-wing orthodoxy. One part of it struck me as especially interesting:

Eric Kaufmann, one of the most astute political scientists writing today, notes that the segment of the Trump vote the polling missed was educated white voters. He suspects they were afraid to say out loud to pollsters how they were really going to vote. After all, “45% of Republicans with degrees, compared to 23% of Democrats with degrees, said they feared that their careers could be at risk if their views became known.”

So the polling got the less inhibited white non-college-educated Trump voters right, but the graduates very wrong: “The exit polls show that Trump ran even among white college graduates 49-49, and even had an edge among white female graduates of 50-49! This puts pre-election surveys out by a whopping 26-31 points among white graduates.” The threat of wokeness both alienated educated white voters — and caused more of them to vote Trump than anyone expected. The problem with woke media is that they mislead Democrats who then misread the country.

Another part of the Sullivan post that I liked:

And this is where I think I have been wrong about Trump’s appeal, and where I think I’ve misunderstood why otherwise decent people could support such a foul disrupter of democratic norms. Many of them simply didn’t take Trump’s threat to our system seriously. They took all his assaults on democracy as so much bluster from the kind of car salesman he is. They deal with this kind of bullshit all the time, took liberal democracy for granted and saw little reason to fret about its future. The writer Jamie Kirchick says that everything Trump says makes sense if it is preceded by the following words: “And now, Donnie from Queens, you’re on the air.” Many people heard Trump exactly that way, and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.

The one thing I think Sullivan, along with a good many people I'm seeing on FB, gets wrong, is concluding that the fact Trump has apparently lost says something important about the American people. Trump losing has important implications for the next four years. But in an election this close, where the result would have been reversed if one percent of the votes switched from Biden to Trump,  which side of the win line the outcome came out on says very little about the electorate.

Sullivan provides parts of his output free by email, which is how I am getting it, a larger amount, along with reader comments, for subscribers on Substack. I considered subscribing, as a substitute for Slate Star Codex until it reappears, possibly also on Substack. But unlike SSC, Sullivan's The Weekly Dish posts only a selection of reader's comments, and I don't feel entirely comfortable participating in a conversation where whether my comments appear is up to someone else. 

But I may change my mind. Certainly this post was worth reading. 

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Capitalist vs Socialist

 I had a debate today with Richard Wolff, a socialist economist, and it has been webbed.