Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Scott Atlas Goes To Washington

During his four month stint in the White House, Scott Atlas learned what many who went to Washington before him experienced.  Logic and evidence are a poor match against entrenched political interests and the network of politicians, career civil servants, and the media, which can be, and was in this case, extremely vicious.


Scott spells it out in his book, A Plague Upon Our House:  My Fight at the Trump White House to Stop COVID from Destroying America.  His account is enthralling, documented throughout with irrefutable evidence.


From the beginning, there were two approaches to coping with COVID at the federal, state, and local levels of government.  Although the federal government could allocate resources and offer advice, the power to implement coping policies was, and remains in, the hands of state and local government officials.  


One approach was to treat every person as a potential victim regardless of risk, and lockdown the country to prevent its spread to anyone.  This entailed closing schools, businesses, offices, and halting social events.  The other approach was to protect the elderly, especially those in nursing homes, the immunocompromised, and essential workers remaining on the job.


The federal government, taking its cue from career civil servants in the federal health agencies, advocated lockdown.  After a brief period, Trump wanted the second approach, protect the vulnerable but otherwise leave the country open.  Atlas was brought in to bring rigorous evidence to the deliberations of the COVID task force and White House messaging.


Despite presenting reams of evidence that the lockdowns were failing and causing great harm to children, the economy, and normal social interaction, he was repeatedly rebuffed in the White House COVID Task Force by those who lacked his medical experience or expertise in broader health policy analysis.  Every chapter tells this story in great detail.


An example of the authority of local control is Sara Cody, the health officer and public health director of Santa Clara County.  She dictated Stanford’s response to COVID, a "shelter-in-place" lockdown.  The evidence Atlas assembled and presented contradicted her instructions to Santa Clara County residents, firms, and institutions.  For this reason and others, 85 percent of the members of the Stanford Faculty Senate in late November 2020 voted to condemn him, only the second instance in Stanford history.  The intervention of the former provost, worried about academic freedom, persuaded the Senate against  recommending that Stanford discipline Atlas.  Only two of his Hoover Institution colleagues publicly defended him. 


Every page in the book is rich in content, facts, and figures.  Read it and judge for yourself.  You won’t go wrong.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Great Drought Of 1962-63: A Lesson For California

The British Colony of Hong Kong suffered a severe drought between May 1962 and early 1964.  Its water supply consisted of 15 small reservoirs constructed between 1863 and 1963, which had storage capacity of 71,217 million cubic meters.  In May 1963, storage stood at one-fifth of capacity.

Lest Hong Kong literally run out of water, the Government took a series of measures to both ration water and increase supply.


On June 2, 1963, the Government reduced water delivery to four hours every four days.  Rationing was lifted on September 1, 1964, after Typhoon Ruby helped fill the reservoirs. 


The Government closed public swimming pools, postponed surgical operations in hospitals for chronic disease, and tried to reduce water wastage.


The Government chartered a fleet of 23 tankers to sail up the Pearl River to where it could load fresh water for transport to Hong Kong.  Between June 23, 1963, and June 14, 1964, the tankers brought 429 million gallons of water to Hong Kong, almost a third of total consumption during this period.


As early as 1957, the Government had begun to connect toilets to seawater in all new houses and in selected districts.  Seawater for flushing is now provided for about 80-85 percent of all households.  


1n 1960, the Government imported 22.7 million cubic meters of water through a pipeline from the Shenzhen Reservoir in Guangdong Province.  But its reservoir was also hit by the 1962-64 drought.


In 1965, The Government arranged with Guangdong Province officials for a  massive system known as the Dongjiang (River) Water Supply to Hong Kong.  Today the system provides 70-80 percent of Hong Kong’s fresh water.


Locally, the Government built three new reservoirs that increased internal storage sevenfold.


Desalination provides up to five percent of local water generation.


Hong Kong showed that it is possible to deal with a severe drought, although at great personal hardship, for a short period of time.  Equally important, the Government took steps to increase supply to prevent a future reoccurrence.


As it happened, I lived through that drought as a Chinese language student in Hong Kong between March 1963 and January 1964.  Summer in Hong Kong is beastly, with temperature and humidity both in the nineties.  My apartment roommate and I were judicious in using water for personal hygiene, cooking, washing kitchenware, and household cleaning.  Hygiene broke down in Hong Kong with an outbreak of cholera on June 28, 1963, which required that I get a booster.


As to California, only one new reservoir, the New Melones Dam, was authorized in 1946 and completed in 1964.  That’s it.  Meanwhile the population has grown, agricultural output has increased, and urban living dramatically expanded.


We are now in a megadrought, with severe cuts in water delivery on the immediate horizon.  It is too late to fix the problem unless the legislature and governor take a lesson from Hong King.  Among their options are diverting some water from rivers that empty into the ocean to farmers and urban residents, authorize construction of new dams, consider importing water from other states, and expand desalination.


So far, California’s water authorities prefer mandatory cutbacks to increasing supply.  Unless the rains come regularly each year, California residents will have to  endure increased rationing.  So long as a strict doctrine of environmental sustainability prevails, there is little chance that government officials in California will consider any of the measures Hong Kong took to provide an abundant supply of water to its residents.