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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Monday, June 14, 2021

On judging risks

 Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue University, had some powerful words in his commencement speech for 2021 Purdue graduates.

The risk of failure, of a hit to one’s reputation, or just that the gains don’t outweigh the costs,  all these can deter or even paralyze a person out of fulfilling the responsibility someone has entrusted to them. Should I make this investment, or husband my cash? Take that job offer, or stay where I’m comfortable? Engage in this debate, or sit silently?  Choose this life partner, or play it safe?

This last year, many of your elders failed this fundamental test of leadership. They let their understandable human fear of uncertainty overcome their duty to balance all the interests for which they were responsible. They hid behind the advice of experts in one field but ignored the warnings of experts in other realms that they might do harm beyond the good they hoped to accomplish. 

Sometimes they let what might be termed the mad pursuit of zero, in this case zero risk of anyone contracting the virus, block out other competing concerns, like the protection of mental health, the educational needs of small children, or the survival of small businesses. Pursuing one goal to the utter exclusion of all others is not to make a choice but to run from it. It’s not leadership; it’s abdication. I feel confident your Purdue preparation won’t let you fall prey to it.

People are bad at judging risks, especially a risk that is loudly blared across newspapers, television, and social media.  Today, I'm hearing from friends that they are afraid of going into large gatherings, even if everyone present is vaccinated and wearing masks.  My response, a likely futile attempt to get people to weigh competing priorities and uncertainties in the way Daniels suggests, is as follows.

"If your risk of death or serious injury from viral infection is determined to be less than your risk of death or serious injury from driving to the gathering, would that be enough for you to deem the risk acceptable?"

The actual ability to get to zero deaths is nonexistent.  One only needs to look at the protections around those with compromised immune systems, such as those who have had bone marrow transplants.  It is important to note that we didn't close down stores and restaurants to protect these people; we protected them directly.

There is an unfortunate level of classism in the response to the virus, with powerful people acting to try to get to zero risk... for people like themselves.  Anyone who transitioned to working from home, continuing to receive a full paycheck, fills the role of the wolf in the joke "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."  Perhaps the most egregious example came from schoolteachers.  Faced with returning to in person instruction, facing the same group of students, from a demographic with some of the lowest virus risks, they still said no.  The line of thinking is clear:

"I am a professional.  I have a college degree, maybe even an advanced degree.  I should not have to risk my own health.  That risk should fall to the grocery store clerks and delivery drivers.  You know, the lesser folk."

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Some uncomfortable thoughts as the election approaches.

There are some people who will look at the polls, forget 2016 ever happened, and be confident their candidate will win. I have some thoughts that should make them uncomfortable. 

Imagine you are a person familiar with American elections. You fell into a coma on November 1, 2013 and wake up November 1, 2020. You don't know who's running, but you are asked to predict the results of the election. You're told there's a Republican incumbent and a Democratic challenger. 

You're not told any poll numbers, but you are given some other information: 
·The Dow Jones Industrial Average today and four years ago 
·The results of a survey showing how people feel they're doing compared to four years ago 
·Images of the last ten rallies for each candidate, only revealing the party of each 
·A summary of on both campaigns' ground games 
·Shifts in voter identification from state to state over the last four years 
·The Republican incumbent's favorable ratings among blacks and Hispanics 

The politically knowledgeable person would see these and predict a victory for the Republican candidate. And if those numbers on black and Hispanic voters translate into votes, the prediction would be a landslide of a magnitude not seen since 1984.

Friday, July 17, 2020

On masks

I recently saw masks (cloth, washable, reusable, not medical grade) for sale at the grocery store for the first time, four months after we shut things down "for fifteen days". Should have appeared much faster than that.

Now, there's a lot of debate about the use of masks, and it's become just another political football.

There was an opportunity for masks to not be a political issue. It simply required an unbiased, science-driven response at all stages in the process.

Instead of March messages telling us to not buy masks, imagine if we had instead gotten this:
"There are no studies about the effectiveness of masks at stopping the transmission of COVID-19, though they're not likely to make matters worse. Feel free to use a simple cloth mask or repurposed bandanna. However, please preserve the N95 and medical masks for medical professionals and first responders until supply is expanded."

Imagine if, in May, the same people who criticized "open the economy" protesters responded to anti-police protesters with the same fervor.

Imagine if we heard that all state prisoners were required to wear masks. Instead, we got officials in Democratic states saying we had to release prisoners to protect them from COVID-19, and then they threatened people who wanted to open barber shops with prison.

Because this wasn't an unbiased, science-driven response, it became a political issue, one of control. And people react predictably to government attempts at control.

In reality, there is no way to get a scientific answer to the question about how effective masks are at stopping virus transmission, because you can't design an ethical experiment to test it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

An open letter to protesters

Dear protesters,

On Thursday, May 28, you had won.

The police officer responsible for the death was arrested and charged. The entire world was in agreement that the treatment the apprehended victim received was wrong.

If you had accepted that you won, you could have moved on to trying to make changes that would actually help matters. You could have focused on passing laws to address the judicial doctrine of qualified immunity, or worked to reform the unions that fight to keep bad cops employed.

Instead, you rioted. You looted. You destroyed property, people's livelihoods.

A lot of people were willing to excuse police brutality because it happens in the heat of the moment, with the risk to the police officer's life being of a level unknown, but very real. On Thursday, you made most of these people change their mind.

Today, after hearing chants of "All cops are bastards" and seeing police officers injured and killed in the line of duty, they're back to giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Great job, guys.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Blood on their hands

Andrew Cuomo, Phil Murphy, and Gavin Newsom.

All politicians whose states mandated that nursing homes had to admit patients recovering from the coronavirus.

I can't fault politicians in general for getting things wrong. There were a lot of unknowns. But some facts were clear.

When the virus was still in China, it was known for being especially harmful to the elderly and infirm. And the first outbreak in America was in a nursing home in Washington.

So while no one knew for sure how to respond, the number two most important item on any governor's list, after "How do we stop the virus from overwhelming the health care system?", should have been "How do we keep the virus out of our nursing homes?"

Some ideas that could have been implemented would be screenings for nursing home employees, making sure nursing homes had PPE, and the like.

By the time politicians were shutting things down, it was well understood that the virus was communicable for an unusually long period of time. So the logical thought is, people who recover from the virus need to be quarantined for the safety of others.

They set up emergency field hospitals, but didn't create protocols for people who would need skilled nursing care after recovery. Maybe, I don't know, these field hospitals could have been employed?

So not only did these governors not plan to keep their elderly citizen safe, they made a deliberate policy choice that harmed them.

This decision is a consequence of the far left living in a world of fantasy. To them, thoughts and feelings are real, and decisions should only be made by people with multiple degrees and the right social background. People seeing things on the ground can be safely ignored.

The proclamations from these states show the danger of leftist policies. What's most important is how people feel. They don't want patients to feel discriminated against because of their viral status. And they want their elite peers to know that. Any number of deaths is okay in pursuit of their woke goals.

Andrew Cuomo, Phil Murphy, and Gavin Newsom have blood on their hands.


A conspiracy theorist might point out that each nursing home patient who dies is potentially less of a burden on the state's Medicaid budget and pensions.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The chump theory of politics

I believe in a theory of politics that doesn't consider any political affiliation. It looks only at a policy proposal, not who made the proposal.

It's simple: if this policy is enacted, who's going to feel like a chump?

No one wants to be the chump. It's a terrible feeling. And when someone feels like a chump, they're going to hate you, they're going to vote against you, and they're not going to cooperate with you.

Look to popular policies, and you won't see many people left feeling like chumps.

  • Unemployment insurance: "My neighbor got laid off, but unemployment insurance helped him bridge the gap to his next job.  I'm glad it didn't happen to me, and it's good that this program exists if I had ended up in the same position."
  • Medicare: "My neighbor got care after his heart attack, while all I got out of Medicare was my prescriptions and routine care.  But I'm glad to be healthy, and I'm happy this program would pay for my care in the same situation."
Now consider a proposal that's popular with the American left, student loan forgiveness.
  • "I went to community college for two years to earn college credits, and transferred to my college of choice.  It took me another semester to graduate as a result, but I did it to reduce costs.  But with student loan forgiveness, I guess I should have gotten more loans.  Now I feel like a chump."
  • "I went to a second-tier college because tuition was cheaper and I could live at home.  I'm sure my opportunities would have been better with a better college, but I did it to save money.  But with student loan forgiveness, I guess I should have gone to my first choice college.  Now I feel like a chump."
  • "I saved aggressively to fund my children's college education, so that they could graduate with minimal student loans.  As a result, my children grew up with fewer material possessions, and didn't have the experiences their friends did, like trips to Europe.  But with student loan forgiveness, I guess I shouldn't have saved; my children would have been in the same position.  Now I feel like a chump."
  • "I lived in a tiny apartment after college, rarely went out on the town, and never took a vacation, all so I could pay off my student loans.  I missed out on the fun my peers had while they were making minimum payments.  But with student loan forgiveness, I guess I should have not bothered trying to pay off my loans.  Now I feel like a chump."
The right thing, as we're commonly taught, involves some amount of sacrifice.  Don't punish those who do make these sacrifices.

The chump theory of politics goes beyond policies.  It explains why it's important to enforce laws and regulations evenly.  If you get a large fine for your one rental property while some rich and powerful guy gets away with much worse behavior, you feel like a chump.  If you have to pay back taxes to the IRS while a prominent public figure gets away with owing a ton of money, you feel like a chump.

The chump theory of politics explains why it's important to fight against fraud, even if it's a relatively small problem.  When you're trudging to work, dealing with all the pains of your sixty year-old body, while your neighbor on disability is healthy enough to spend his time golfing and fishing, you feel like a chump.  When your well-off neighbor makes use of a food bank without facing any social consequences while you buy your food at the grocery store, you feel like a chump.

The greatest risk to the United States of America is not a political party or particular politician.  It's a breakdown of social mores that say doing the right thing will be, if not necessarily rewarded, recognized and honored.  If the citizens of the USA develop the same attitude towards paying taxes and obeying regulations as the people of, say, Greece, we are well and truly screwed.

Read more »

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The casting couch and the Swiss bank account

Say the words "casting couch", and you know what that means. Hollywood's greatest trick was convincing people that this sort of thing only happened on the fringes of the industry, with seedy producers and questionable films. But Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, and others like that demonstrated that sexual abuse of the powerless by the powerful was a very real thing in Hollywood.

Say the words "Swiss bank account", and you know what that means. A place for the wealthy to hide money, most likely illegally attained. One of the stereotypical holders of a Swiss bank account is a third world kleptocrat, who siphons tax and foreign aid money and transfers it to an account that only benefits himself.

Now, most people are convinced this kind of thing only happens in the third world. But what if that is wrong, just like the impression of the casting couch was wrong? A recent focus has been on relatives of powerful politicians getting suspiciously well-compensated jobs within foreign nations. And we see, as a rule, that politicians who spend their whole lives as public servants seem to grow their net worth far faster than private citizens with a similar income, and this despite needing to maintain two residences as part of their job.

Just how certain are you that first world politicians aren't getting bribes and kickbacks?