Good Reading -- February 2021

Philip C. Ordway

Original post:

https://philipordway.substack.com/p/good-reading-february-2021


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Facts & Figures

  • “At least 3,000 preliminary daily record cold temperatures, including cold daily highs and cold overnight minimums, were tied or broken at sites that have at least 75 or more years of data during the Feb. 12-16 period, NOAA found. Of these, there were 79 all-time cold records.”

  • Approximately five minutes — the amount of time ERCOT grid operators in Texas had to respond, just before 2:00 AM on Feb. 15th, to avert a total collapse of the system that would have left the entire state without electricity for weeks or months. (Source: ERCOT/ WSJ)

Quoted

One of the core principles of market regulation in the U.S. is transparency—give investors information and let them decide. The GameStop drama was nothing if not transparent.

“You can sell garbage to the public as long as you say to the public, ‘This is garbage and you’d be an idiot to buy it, but would you like to buy it?’” said Harvey Pitt, a former SEC chairman.

What appears to have happened in recent weeks is that a massive wave of retail investors answered, “Yes,” to that question.

The problem, all in all, is not related to disclosure. The problem is related to the question of whether the public can be protected against itself by emphasizing the absurdity of the price level for second- and third-grade stocks which have had enormous advance in price, with very little value behind them in many cases. I don’t know if there is any solution. I don’t know how gamblers, people who call themselves investors but who are really speculators, can be protected against the combination of greed and folly. That is my favorite three-word phrase, “greed and folly.” The S.E.C. is just beginning some hearings to see whether the method of offering new securities could be changed somewhat. I suppose they would have to say in big red letter words, THIS STOCK IS NOT WORTH WHAT IT IS SELLING FOR. I don’t know if that would make any difference, either. They have the ability to sell the stock, and somebody says, “What the hell, it is going up anyway."


I hate this luring of people into engaging in speculative orgies. [Robinhood] may call it investing, but that’s all bullsh*t.

Books


  • Why Does the Pandemic Seem to Be Hitting Some Countries Harder Than Others? — This is an excellent article addressing one of the central mysteries of the Covid-19 pandemic. Importantly, it does not take an arrogant, omniscient angle; just the opposite. The covid-19 pandemic will teach us many lessons—about virological surveillance, immunology, vaccine development, and social policy, among other topics. One of the lessons concerns not just epidemiology but also epistemology: the theory of how we know what we know. Epidemiology isn’t physics. Human bodies are not Newtonian bodies. When it comes to a crisis that combines social and biological forces, we’ll do well to acknowledge the causal patchwork. What’s needed isn’t Ockham’s razor but Ockham’s quilt. Above all, what’s needed is humility in the face of an intricately evolving body of evidence.

  • The Terrifying Warning Lurking in the Earth’s Ancient Rock Record — The author should complain to whoever wrote the atrocious title. There is plenty to argue with here either way, too. But in this long article there are plenty of thought-provoking points.

  • Astronomer Avi Loeb Says Aliens Have Visited, and He’s Not Kidding — Another terrible title for an interesting (if imperfect and somewhat controversial) subject and article. I haven’t read the book in question but this interview is intriguing in good ways and bad. My sources — yes, I have astrophysicist sources! — tell me there is a whole lot more to this on both sides.


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