Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Defamation Law vs Censorship

Mac Isaac, the laptop repairman with whom Hunter Biden apparently left a laptop, has sued Twitter. His complaint is not that Twitter locked the New York Post account of the contents of the laptop's hard drive. It is that their explanation for locking it was the claim that the account was in violation of Twitter's hacked material rules, and that Twitter, in explaining that policy, defines a hack as

an intrusion or access of a computer, network, or electronic device that was unauthorized or exceeded authorized access.

By Isaac's account of what happened, his access to a laptop that had been dropped off at his shop for repair and then abandoned was authorized, hence not a hack. It followed that Twitter was making false statements which, according to Isaac, have had large negative effects on him. On the face of it, it looks like a legitimate case.

What made the story of particular interest to me was that Isaac is doing something I had thought about doing, decided not to do, and suggested to a law firm that they might do in similar cases — with regard to Facebook, not Twitter. 

About a year ago, I discovered that Facebook was blocking all links to my web page. Anyone who attempted to put up such a link got a message saying that the page violated Facebook's community standards. I went through the procedures on Facebook to object, never got any response. Eventually they stopped blocking it, still with no explanation.

Facebook is a private firm, and as such has a legal right to decide what messages they will or will not publish. They do not have a legal right to defame me, which, assuming that nothing on my page actually violated their community standards, they were doing. The problem had been solved when they stopped blocking the page, and in any case was never a large enough problem to justify the trouble of a court case. But it occurred to me that it might justify a class action by someone else, so I emailed a law firm that seemed appropriate with the suggestion.

Mac Isaac, or his attorney, apparently had the same idea in a much larger case, and has now acted on it. I wish him well.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

How to Waste Vaccine

The CDC estimates that, as of the end of September, there had been 53 million Covid infections in the U.S., 7.7 times the number of reported cases. The current figure is 16.2 million cases, so if the ratio holds, total number of infections is about 125 million. That is probably too high, since the ratio of infections to cases goes down as the amount of testing goes up, so I will guess a current figure of 100 million.

The U.S. has contracted for enough vaccine from the two sources that have been or almost certainly will be approved to vaccinate another 100 million over the next few months. Combine those numbers and we should have 200 million people who either have had the disease and so are very nearly immune or have been vaccinated and so are very nearly immune, getting us at least close to the level required for herd immunity. Add in the number who will have gotten the infection by then and we should probably be over that level, which means the number of infections should start falling.

There is one problem with this optimistic story. As best I can tell from online discussions, the current plan for allocating the vaccine does not include any attempt to avoid giving it to people who have already had the disease, not even to those who have been diagnosed with it. If so, about a third of the first hundred million doses will be wasted on people who don't need them.

One possible argument for doing it that way is that having Covid does not create perfect immunity, there having been a few cases reported of someone who got the disease, recovered, and was later reinfected. But the vaccine does not create perfect immunity either — reported effectiveness for the first two is about 95%. If as many as five percent of those who had had the disease and recovered were still vulnerable to it, we should have had a lot more than a few cases of reinfections.

To make that argument more precise, consider that, as of the end of September, there had been about seven million reported cases. If infection gave only 95% immunity, about 350,000 of them should have still been vulnerable, a little more than one thousandth of the population. Since the end of September there have been another nine million cases, so more than nine thousand of them should have been known reinfections, individuals who were diagnosed with the disease, recovered, and were then diagnosed again. That did not happen. It follows that, while infection may not give complete immunity, it gives considerably better immunity than the vaccines.

Another possible argument is that tests for whether someone has already had the disease have a significant false positive rate. Checking online, it looks as though the false positive rate for most such tests is below ten percent (specificity>.9). At ten percent, that means that if you skip the people who test positive you are vaccinating an additional ten people for every false positive you are not vaccinating, which sounds like a substantial positive. If we had enough vaccine for everybody it might be better for everyone to get vaccinated, but we don't.

If my analysis is correct, current policy is lethally stupid. 

People who know more about this than I do are invited to correct either my interpretation of what is currently being done or my argument for what ought to be.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Why Not Add Gluten?

I'm currently on a low glycemic index diet, following advice from Bredesen's book The End of Alzheimer's. So far as I know I don't have Alzheimer's, but I do have one copy of the genetic variant that makes it more likely and I have observed what I think is age-related cognitive decline, most notably the fact that I can no longer easily memorize poems. Given the theory behind Bredesen's book, I think his approach has a reasonable chance of helping even if the cause is normal aging rather than Alzheimer's.

Being on such a diet raises an interesting set of problems — how to replace high glycemic foods I like, which include wheat, rice, potatoes, and things made from them such as bread and pasta, with low glycemic substitutes. I have found some solutions to that, including a southern Indian pancake made from mung bean flour, which we happened to have some of, that works for enchilada-like dishes, crepe wrapped around a filling. Also barley as a substitute for rice, barley being apparently the one grain with a really low glycemic index.

The challenge is bread. Looking around the web, I find multiple recipes using almond flour or coconut flour. But, as some of the recipes concede and my limited experience confirms, the result is not very much like a wheat bread. To quote one such recipe: 

When making this paleo and keto almond flour bread, it is important to adjust our expectations. The yeasty aroma and gluten-induced fluffiness that we love about traditional bread cannot be achieved without yeast and gluten.

So this is more of a quick bread that fills the need (if you still have it) to make a sandwich or to have a slice of bread for breakfast.

This raises an obvious question. Almond flour or coconut flour or mung bean flour doesn't have gluten. Wheat flour does. Why not add some of the gluten from wheat flour to one of the other flours and then make an ordinary raised bread, using yeast or sourdough?

One reason is that some people are, or at least believe they are, allergic to gluten — the webbed recipes routinely describe the bread as low-carb and gluten-free, and obviously regard the latter as a plus. I am not, to the best of my knowledge, allergic to gluten. Gluten has some carbohydrate as well as a good deal of protein, so adding it probably raises the glycemic index of bread, but as best I can tell it should only take about ten percent of the flour being straight gluten to produce something that will rise like wheat flour, which shouldn't raise it by much. 

My one experiment along these lines so far, an attempt at a sourdough bread made mostly from mung bean flour, was a flop, with an off taste that neither I nor other members of my family were willing to eat, but it doesn't follow that there is no way of doing it. Almond flour seems to be the preferred ingredient for the quick breads that I have found recipes for, so I may get some of that and continue my experiments, probably using yeast instead of sourdough.

The question is, why isn't this already being done — or is it? There are a lot of people out there who are diabetic or near-diabetic and are looking for low carb/low glycemic index foods. There are a lot of foods out there advertised as fitting that requirement. Are there raised yeast breads made from one of the nut or bean based flours with added gluten? If not, is the reason that it isn't doable, in which case I am wasting my time trying to make one?

Anyone know?

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

The Audiobook of my novel Salamander is Out

I have a bunch of promo codes, which can be used to get a free copy in exchange for agreeing that, if you like it, you will post a favorable review somewhere, most likely although not necessarily on Amazon. If you want one, email me for it. 

So far as I can tell, Audible is providing me promo codes for the U.S. but not for the U.K., which may mean that the ones for the U.K. went to Robert Power, who narrated the book. If you are in the U.K. and want one I can forward your request to him.

My email is

I also have promo codes, U.S. and U.K., for the audio versions of The Machinery of Freedom and Future Imperfect, both narrated by me.