Everyone Gets a Trophy
on the prevalence of elite-class elbow injuries
These are people who would give themselves a gold medal for getting the runs and shitting on the sidewalk.
With apologies for three posts where one would have done the job — “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” — here’s a final thought on the remarkable video of Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer discussing Covid-19 interventions during an event at the USC medical school last month. ("Vaccinated people are very likely to get infected,” she said.)
Ferrer is a relentless and enthusiastic interventionist, one of the highest-profile lockdowners and mask fetishists in the country, and here she is still wearing a mask — in the third year of a pandemic that hasn’t been ended by the widespread mask-wearing that has prevailed, and still largely prevails, in Los Angeles. Do X to cause Y, she says, doing X for a third straight year but still rather obviously not causing Y. Again, here’s Ferrer’s chart showing the effect of her bold public health interventions:
You can really see how that infections trendline came right down as Barbara Ferrer boldly threw herself in front of the virus.
But here’s the part that I find most telling: After Ferrer offers a long presentation on mitigations showing clearly that they haven’t worked as advertised, and after she says repeatedly and explicitly that the available Covid-19 vaccines “don’t work so great at preventing infection,” and that vaccinated people will be infected, Ferrer sits down for a discussion with several members of an expert panel. One of the panelists is Michele Kipke, a psychology PhD who serves as a clinical professor at USC and the vice-chair of research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (and as a school board member in my own small town in the suburbs). Having heard repeated statements about the unmistakably limited effectiveness of the available Covid-19 vaccines, Kipke offers this as a question:
“So, first of all, I just need to say, it is such an honor to be on the same stage with you. Barbara, you are my hero, and I am so glad that you have been our leader through these extremely difficult two years. So thank you.” And then there’s a long round of applause from the panel and the audience. You can just feel the scholarly skepticism and clinical rigor in that auditorium. This, ladies and gentlemen, is obviously the room where the tough questions are asked.
And then she goes on: “And so, as I think about this, I’ve really been asking the questions, what are, just picking up on the, I think, the discussion here, what are those lessons learned? There are, you know, sort of obviously a very difficult couple of years, but we’ve seen some really phenomenal successes that have come out of the last couple years. As Dr. Hu mentioned earlier, I had the good fortune of being a part of leading Vaccinate L.A., where we brought fourteen schools and programmatic units within USC together, and all harmonized our efforts, to get out there and support our communities, and to think about how to support vaccinations. And we engaged local artists. We — it was a community driven initiative, we wanted to listen and learn from the community, and then partner with them…”
And so on, but you get the point. “But through that work we’ve achieved so much,” she eventually says. The video is cued to the start of her “question,” if you want to see it all, but her question, in short, is, Why, in your view, did we do such an amazing job? Pivoting from Ferrer’s extremely open and direct discussion about the obvious limits of the vaccines — again, that actual direct quote is, "Vaccinated people are very likely to get infected” — Kipke asks about the success of the vaccination program.
So the hour and a half of discussion between leading authorities and experts in public health in Los Angeles County can be summarized like this:
Panelist: Fire Chief Smith, did your fire prevention measures prevent fires?
Fire Chief: No, most of the city burned down.
Panelist: I see. And to what do you attribute the extraordinary success of your fire prevention program?
This is the American governing class: Whatever they do, and however it goes, at some point they gather in a room for a period of mutual masturbation, and they take turns asking each other, “Boy. we really nailed that one, didn’t we?” Eventually we’ll see expert panels of defense intellectuals who discuss the extraordinary American military success in Afghanistan. There will be awards banquets.
We’ve developed a policy elite who don’t notice, who start a Q & A period with a round of applause for each other. They do X, and then time passes, and then they declare that X worked perfectly. Cf. Janet Yellen and General Mark Milley, or every panel at Davos. It’s the Hollywood awards season model as an entire political culture, endless rounds of self-congratulation — no matter what preceded it. All policy measures are the very best.
As I stand on this pile of rubble and ash, I think back proudly on the brilliant team of experts who got us to where we are today….