Archive for November 2018

New Scam Received Today -- Your Social Security Number is Being Cancelled Due To Suspicious Activity

This is a new one on me, but very similar to the IRS call scams of the last year or two (right down to the odd colloquial language which is entirely inconsistent with how the government speaks in official pronouncements).  Apparently there is suspicious activity on my social security number and it has been suspended and may soon be cancelled along with all my assets unless I call them right away and give them all sorts of private information (starting with my social security number, of course).  Consistent with past observations here that the entire US caller ID system is totally f*cked, the caller ID said it was from a US Government Office in my local area code but the number I was supposed to call was somewhere else entirely.  I forgot to take it down and check it out.

As always, beware.

I Have Totally Lost the Thread Here -- Based on What We Know Now, Someone Please Make the Case for Me on Trump-Russia Election Collusion

Readers know that as far as the Trump-Russia collusion story goes, my position generally has been:

  • I am skeptical there is anything there (aside from a really stupid Trump tweet in the campaign inviting Russia to send him Hillary's emails).  At this point, I don't even know what "collusion"means in this context.  Was it sourcing oppo research (perhaps via Wikileaks) from Russia?  Is that illegal, or just really sleazy and unsavory?
  • I don't understand why Clinton's funding of the Trump dossier which was filled with material from Russia wasn't a similar level of Clinton-Russia collusion (though more intelligently done, through multiple cutouts of law firms and consulting firms)
  • Trump's other business and personal dealings seem to be far more fertile ground for seeking out damning facts about him -- in other words, I am pretty sure there is dirt and sleaze here but if I were in charge of finding it, I sure wouldn't start at Russia

However, intelligent people who I respect and who are more in touch with all things inside-the-beltway still take the Trump-Russia collusion story seriously seriously.  So, in the comments or in an email, I invite someone to change my mind.  As a minimum, your response must define what you mean, exactly, by collusion -- what form it took and collusion to do what exactly.

Knowledge and Certainty "Laundering" Via Computer Models

Today I want to come back to a topic I have not covered for a while, which is what I call knowledge or certainty "laundering" via computer models.  I will explain this term more in a moment, but I use it to describe the use of computer models (by scientists and economists but with strong media/government/activist collusion) to magically convert an imperfect understanding of a complex process into apparently certain results and predictions to two-decimal place precision.

The initial impetus to revisit this topic was reading "Chameleons: The Misuse of Theoretical Models in Finance and Economics" by Paul Pfleiderer of Stanford University (which I found referenced in a paper by Anat R. Admati on dangers in the banking system).  I will except this paper in a moment, and though he is talking more generically about theoretical models (whether embodied in code or not), I think a lot of his paper is relevant to this topic.

Before we dig into it, let's look at the other impetus for this post, which was my seeing this chart in the "Southwest" section of the recent Fourth National Climate Assessment.

The labelling of the chart actually understates the heroic feat the authors achieved as their conclusion actually models wildfire with and without anthropogenic climate change.  This means that first they had to model the counterfactual of what the climate could have been like without the 30ppm (0.003% of the atmosphere) CO2 added in the period.  Then, they had to model the counterfactual of what the wildfire burn acreage would have been under the counter-factual climate vs. what actually occurred.   All while teasing out the effects of climate change from other variables like forest management and fuel reduction policy (which --oddly enough -- despite substantial changes in this period apparently goes entirely unmentioned in the underlying study and does not seem to be a variable in their model).  And they do all this for every year back to the mid-1980's.

Don't get me wrong -- this is a perfectly reasonable analysis to attempt, even if I believe they did it poorly and am skeptical you can get good results in any case (and even given the obvious fact that the conclusions are absolutely not testable in any way).  But any critique I might have is a normal part of the scientific process.  I critique, then if folks think it is valid they redo the analysis fixing the critique, and the findings might hold or be changed.  The problem comes further down the food chain:

  1. When the media, and in this case the US government, uses this analysis completely uncritically and without any error bars to pretend at certainty -- in this case that half of the recent wildfire damage is due to climate change -- that simply does not exist
  2. And when anything that supports the general theory that man-made climate change is catastrophic immediately becomes -- without challenge or further analysis -- part of the "consensus" and therefore immune from criticism.

I like to compare climate models to economic models, because economics is the one other major field of study where I think the underlying system is as nearly complex as the climate.  Readers know I accept that man is causing some warming via CO2 -- I am a lukewarmer who has proposed a carbon tax.  However, as an engineer whose undergraduate work focused on the dynamics of complex systems, I go nuts with anti-scientific statements like "Co2 is the control knob for the Earth's climate."  It is simply absurd to say that an entire complex system like climate is controlled by a single variable, particularly one that is 0.04% of the atmosphere.  If a sugar farmer looking for a higher tariff told you that sugar production was the single control knob for the US climate, you would call BS on them in a second (sugar being just 0.015% by dollars of a tremendously complex economy).

But in fact, economists play at these same sorts of counterfactuals.  I wrote about economic analysis of the effects of the stimulus way back in 2010.  It is very similar to the wildfire analysis above in that it posits a counter-factual and then asserts the difference between the modeled counterfactual and reality is due to one variable.

Last week the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) released its congressionally commissioned study on the effects of the 2009 stimulus. The panel concluded that the stimulus had created as many as 3.6 million jobs, an odd result given the economy as a whole actually lost something like 1.5 million jobs in the same period. To reach its conclusions, the panel ran a series of complex macroeconomic models to estimate economic growth assuming the stimulus had not been passed. Their results showed employment falling by over 5 million jobs in this hypothetical scenario, an eyebrow-raising result that is impossible to verify with actual observations.

Most of us are familiar with using computer models to predict the future, but this use of complex models to write history is relatively new. Researchers have begun to use computer models for this sort of retrospective analysis because they struggle to isolate the effect of a single variable (like stimulus spending) in their observational data. Unless we are willing to, say, give stimulus to South Dakota but not North Dakota, controlled experiments are difficult in the macro-economic realm.

But the efficacy of conducting experiments within computer models, rather than with real-world observation, is open to debate. After all, anyone can mine data and tweak coefficients to create a model that accurately depicts history. One is reminded of algorithms based on skirt lengths that correlated with stock market performance, or on Washington Redskins victories that predicted past presidential election results.

But the real test of such models is to accurately predict future events, and the same complex economic models that are being used to demonstrate the supposed potency of the stimulus program perform miserably on this critical test. We only have to remember that the Obama administration originally used these same models barely a year ago to predict that unemployment would remain under 8% with the stimulus, when in reality it peaked over 10%. As it turns out, the experts' hugely imperfect understanding of our complex economy is not improved merely by coding it into a computer model. Garbage in, garbage out.

Thus we get to my concept I call knowledge laundering or certainty laundering.  I described what I mean by this back in the blogging dinosaur days (note this is from 2007 so my thoughts on climate have likely evolved since then).

Remember what I said earlier: The models produce the result that there will be a lot of anthropogenic global warming in the future because they are programmed to reach this result. In the media, the models are used as a sort of scientific money laundering scheme. In money laundering, cash from illegal origins (such as smuggling narcotics) is fed into a business that then repays the money back to the criminal as a salary or consulting fee or some other type of seemingly legitimate transaction. The money he gets
back is exactly the same money, but instead of just appearing out of nowhere, it now has a paper-trail and appears more legitimate. The money has been laundered.

In the same way, assumptions of dubious quality or certainty that presuppose AGW beyond the bounds of anything we have see historically are plugged into the models, and, shazam, the models say that there will be a lot of anthropogenic global warming. These dubious assumptions, which are pulled out of thin air, are laundered by being passed through these complex black boxes we call climate models and suddenly the results are somehow scientific proof of AGW. The quality hasn't changed, but the paper trail looks better, at least in the press. The assumptions begin as guesses of dubious quality and come out laundered at "settled science."

Back in 2011, I highlighted a climate study that virtually admitted to this laundering via model by saying:

These question cannot be answered using observations alone, as the available time series are too short and the data not accurate enough. We therefore used climate model output generated in the ESSENCE project, a collaboration of KNMI and Utrecht University that generated 17 simulations of the climate with the ECHAM5/MPI-OM model to sample the natural variability of the climate system. When compared to the available observations, the model describes the ocean temperature rise and variability well.”

I wrote in response:

[Note the first and last sentences of this paragraph]  First, that there is not sufficiently extensive and accurate observational data to test a hypothesis. BUT, then we will create a model, and this model is validated against this same observational data. Then the model is used to draw all kinds of conclusions about the problem being studied.

This is the clearest, simplest example of certainty laundering I have ever seen. If there is not sufficient data to draw conclusions about how a system operates, then how can there be enough data to validate a computer model which, in code, just embodies a series of hypotheses about how a system operates?

A model is no different than a hypothesis embodied in code. If I have a hypothesis that the average width of neckties in this year’s Armani collection drives stock market prices, creating a computer program that predicts stock market prices falling as ties get thinner does nothing to increase my certainty of this hypothesis (though it may be enough to get me media attention). The model is merely a software implementation of my original hypothesis. In fact, the model likely has to embody even more unproven assumptions than my hypothesis, because in addition to assuming a causal relationship, it also has to be programmed with specific values for this correlation.

This brings me to the paper by Paul Pfleiderer of Stanford University.  I don't want to overstate the congruence between his paper and my thoughts on this, but it is the first work I have seen to discuss this kind of certainty laundering (there may be a ton of literature on this but if so I am not familiar with it).  His abstract begins:

In this essay I discuss how theoretical models in finance and economics are used in ways that make them “chameleons” and how chameleons devalue the intellectual currency and muddy policy debates. A model becomes a chameleon when it is built on assumptions with dubious connections to the real world but nevertheless has conclusions that are uncritically (or not critically enough) applied to understanding our economy.

The paper is long and nuanced but let me try to summarize his thinking:

In this essay I discuss how theoretical models in finance and economics are used in ways that make them “chameleons” and how chameleons devalue the intellectual currency and muddy policy debates. A model becomes a chameleon when it is built on assumptions with dubious connections to the real world but nevertheless has conclusions that are uncritically (or not critically enough) applied to understanding our economy....

My reason for introducing the notion of theoretical cherry picking is to emphasize that since a given result can almost always be supported by a theoretical model, the existence of a theoretical model that leads to a given result in and of itself tells us nothing definitive about the real world. Though this is obvious when stated baldly like this, in practice various claims are often given credence — certainly more than they deserve — simply because there are theoretical models in the literature that “back up” these claims. In other words, the results of theoretical models are given an ontological status they do not deserve. In my view this occurs because models and specifically their assumptions are not always subjected to the critical evaluation necessary to see whether and how they apply to the real world...

As discussed above one can develop theoretical models supporting all kinds of results, but many of these models will be based on dubious assumptions. This means that when we take a bookshelf model off of the bookshelf and consider applying it to the real world, we need to pass it through a filter, asking straightforward questions about the reasonableness of the assumptions and whether the model ignores or fails to capture forces that we know or have good reason to believe are important.

I know we see a lot of this in climate:

A chameleon model asserts that it has implications for policy, but when challenged about the reasonableness of its assumptions and its connection with the real world, it changes its color and retreats to being a simply a theoretical (bookshelf) model that has diplomatic immunity when it comes to questioning its assumptions....

Chameleons arise and are often nurtured by the following dynamic. First a bookshelf model is constructed that involves terms and elements that seem to have some relation to the real world and assumptions that are not so unrealistic that they would be dismissed out of hand. The intention of the author, let’s call him or her “Q,” in developing the model may be to say something about the real world or the goal may simply be to explore the implications of making a certain set of assumptions. Once Q’s model and results become known, references are made to it, with statements such as “Q shows that X.” This should be taken as short-hand way of saying “Q shows that under a certain set of assumptions it follows (deductively) that X,” but some people start taking X as a plausible statement about the real world. If someone skeptical about X challenges the assumptions made by Q, some will say that a model shouldn’t be judged by the realism of its assumptions, since all models have assumptions that are unrealistic. Another rejoinder made by those supporting X as something plausibly applying to the real world might be that the truth or falsity of X is an empirical matter and until the appropriate empirical tests or analyses have been conducted and have rejected X, X must be taken seriously. In other words, X is innocent until proven guilty. Now these statements may not be made in quite the stark manner that I have made them here, but the underlying notion still prevails that because there is a model for X, because questioning the assumptions behind X is not appropriate, and because the testable implications of the model supporting X have not been empirically rejected, we must take X seriously. Q’s model (with X as a result) becomes a chameleon that avoids the real world filters.

Check it out if you are interested.  I seldom trust a computer model I did not build and I NEVER trust a model I did build (because I know the flaws and assumptions and plug variables all too well).

By the way, the mention of plug variables reminds me of one of the most interesting studies I have seen on climate modeling, by Kiel in 2007.  It was so damning that I haven't seen anyone do it since (at least get published doing it).  I wrote about it in 2011 at Forbes:

My skepticism was increased when several skeptics pointed out a problem that should have been obvious. The ten or twelve IPCC climate models all had very different climate sensitivities -- how, if they have different climate sensitivities, do they all nearly exactly model past temperatures? If each embodies a correct model of the climate, and each has a different climate sensitivity, only one (at most) should replicate observed data. But they all do. It is like someone saying she has ten clocks all showing a different time but asserting that all are correct (or worse, as the IPCC does, claiming that the average must be the right time).

The answer to this paradox came in a 2007 study by climate modeler Jeffrey Kiehl. To understand his findings, we need to understand a bit of background on aerosols. Aerosols are man-made pollutants, mainly combustion products, that are thought to have the effect of cooling the Earth's climate.

What Kiehl demonstrated was that these aerosols are likely the answer to my old question about how models with high sensitivities are able to accurately model historic temperatures. When simulating history, scientists add aerosols to their high-sensitivity models in sufficient quantities to cool them to match historic temperatures. Then, since such aerosols are much easier to eliminate as combustion products than is CO2, they assume these aerosols go away in the future, allowing their models to produce enormous amounts of future warming.

Specifically, when he looked at the climate models used by the IPCC, Kiehl found they all used very different assumptions for aerosol cooling and, most significantly, he found that each of these varying assumptions were exactly what was required to combine with that model's unique sensitivity assumptions to reproduce historical temperatures. In my terminology, aerosol cooling was the plug variable.

When I was active doing computer models for markets and economics, we used the term "plug variable."  Now, I think "goal-seeking" is the hip word, but it is all the same phenomenon.

Postscript, An example with the partisans reversed:  It strikes me that in our tribalized political culture my having criticised models by a) climate alarmists and b) the Obama Administration might cause the point to be lost on the more defensive members of the Left side of the political spectrum.  So let's discuss a hypothetical with the parties reversed.  Let's say that a group of economists working for the Trump Administration came out and said that half of the 4% economic growth we were experiencing (or whatever the exact number was) was due to actions taken by the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress.  I can assure you they would have a sophisticated computer model that would spit out this result -- there would be a counterfactual model of "with Hillary" that had 2% growth compared to the actual 4% actual under Trump.

Would you believe this?  After all, its science.  There is a model.  Made by experts ("top men" as they say in Raiders of the Lost Ark).  Do would you buy it?  NO!  I sure would not.  No way.  For the same reasons that we shouldn't uncritically buy into any of the other model results discussed -- they are building counterfactuals of a complex process we do not fully understand and which cannot be tested or verified in any way.  Just because someone has embodied their imperfect understanding, or worse their pre-existing pet answer, into code does not make it science.  But I guarantee you have nodded your head or even quoted the results from models that likely were not a bit better than the imaginary Trump model above.

Coyote Makes Tentative Steps Onto Instagram

I have resisted Instagram for years because a) they only really allow photo uploads from your phone (not your pc) and b) none of my good photos are on my phone.  It is just really difficult to take a photography platform seriously that only really supports the crappiest end of the camera spectrum (i.e. phones).

However, a couple of things have changed.  One, Instagram is now a powerful social media platform and useful to my business given that I am trying to get young people to go to outdoors locations that are photogenic.  And two, I have gotten comfortable with a couple of hacks to be able to use instagram from my pc (more in a second).

So if you are into Instagram, you can follow me now.  My business instagram for our campgrounds and parks is @camprrm.   My personal instagram mainly to be filled with travel photography is @coyoteblog.   Actually the other reason I have come around on Instagram is that I wanted to follow my daughter Amelia who is a student artist, and instagram is THE way to advertise one's portfolio.  She is at @meliameyer (see what she did there, millenials are much more clever with integrating symbols into an extended alphabet).

The two hacks I use are:  1)  Convert the instagram account to a business account and then use the free version of hootsuite to post to it.  Even works with scheduled posts.  This works well for one account but is hard to make work for two.  2) Open and log into instagram via chrome.  Right click on the white space of the web page somewhere and choose inspect.  I think there is also a keyboard shortcut to do this, maybe cntl-shift-i.  Once the inspect window pops up, click on the little icon in the upper left that looks like a cell phone.  Poof, your browser is in cell phone sim mode and instagram should suddenly give you the + button (refresh page if it doesn't) that will allow you to post pictures right from your computer hard drive.

Relocation Subsidies, Short-Term Thinking, And Why Bezos is Smarter than Musk

I will begin by saying that few things in government aggravate me more than corporate relocation subsidies.  They are an entirely negative sum game.  I believe that subsidies are misguided and lead to a misallocation of capital, but at least things like EV subsidies create an EV industry, even if it is uneconomic.  But relocation subsidies are payments to create nothing -- their entire purpose is to move economic activity that would happen anyway across some imaginary line on a map.  Locally, we had a $100 million subsidy to a developer to move a mall approximately 1 mile.  Pure insanity.

However, it is hard for me to blame the managers of public companies who seek these subsidies.  I own my own company and can easily eschew such pork (if it were ever offered to me) but the CEO of a public company would be failing in their fiduciary duty to their shareholders to not accept government money that the drunken sailors in government are so gleefully trying to stuff in corporate g-strings.

With this money so available, it is important that corporate management make location decisions considering these subsidies but not solely focused on them.  The contrast between Amazon and Tesla (including the former SolarCity) helps explain my point.

In finding new headquarters locations, Amazon's most important considerations were likely

  • Ability to attract great management and developer talent who seem to be more attracted to hipster areas with lots of Starbucks and sushi more than to areas with low cost housing.
  • As they incur regulatory scrutiny, closeness to national government
  • Access to domestic and international partners
  • Access to capital

Note these criteria do not include access to low cost labor and real estate.  These do not really matter much for its headquarters offices.  These DO matter for distribution centers and warehouses, which is why these are located not in the center of high cost cities but in low cost suburban or rural areas.  In this context, then, splitting its headquarters between New York and Washington DC make a ton of sense.

Now let's think about Tesla.  Tesla was looking for manufacturing locations for solar panels and cars.  This is in an era when few even consider anywhere in the US a viable long-term option, but Tesla selected New York state and southern California.  I can tell you from sad personal experience that both these places are among the most expensive and hardest places to do business in the country.  Seriously, in SoCal Tesla took over a facility that Toyota couldn't make work.  These make absolutely no sense as long-term locations for manufacturing, but Tesla came here none-the-less in part for big fat subsidies and in part to ingratiate two powerful sets of state governments (in addition to subsidies, California reciprocated by giving Tesla a special sweetheart deal upping its zero emission vehicle credits).

I am reminded of this because Bloomberg has the whole, sad tale of Tesla in New York here.

I am not much on memes but I thought I would try my hand just this once...

 

Site Issues Fixed, I Hope

We had a problem with the website that folks going to www.coyoteblog.com were getting the correct content but folks going to coyoteblog.com without the www were getting dated and/or unformatted content.  This seemed super odd to me.  I checked all my DNS records, particularly the A and CNAME and they looked fine.  I searched for the issue but no one's issues matched mine precisely.  I suspected that it was an issue with caching but turning off the cache did not fix it.

In the end the fix was simple.  In WordPress Settings - General I had set the domain name as http://www.coyoteblog.com.  It had been that way forever.  Somehow, something on the server or in wordpress or most likely in one of my plugins changed so that calls to coyoteblog.com confused it.  The simple fix was to change the setting for the wordpress site to http://coyoteblog.com.  Now everything seems to resolve normally. I hope.

The Rise and Fall of The ACLU -- Conservatives Start to Lament the Downfall of an Organization They Have Loved to Hate

David Bernstein has a great article on the abandonment by the ACLU of many of its traditional core principles.

Readers know I grew up a traditional Texas Conservative through high school, and then migrated to the libertarian-ish camp through college and beyond.  One of my early disconnects with the Conservatives was their demonization of the ACLU.  I didn't agree with everything the ACLU did (particularly related to economic regulation because then the group's quasi-Stalinist origins showed through), but I did think it did a lot of great work.  It was defending the Bill of Rights in unpopular cases with unsympathetic victims (e.g. Nazis and obvious criminals) in situations no one else would touch.  They were frequently a backstop against bad facts creating bad law.

Ironically, though, just as Conservatives really need the ACLU now they they are targets of things like speech and due process limitations, the ACLU is migrating away from defense of these things.

First, the ACLU ran an anti-Brett Kavanaugh video ad that relied entirely on something that no committed civil libertarian would countenance, guilt by association. And not just guilt by association, but guilt by association with individuals that Kavanaugh wasn't actually associated with in any way, except that they were all men who like Kavanaugh had been accused of serious sexual misconduct. The literal point of the ad is that Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby were accused of sexual misconduct, they denied it but were actually guilty; therefore, Brett Kavanaugh, also having been accused of sexual misconduct, and also having denied it, is likely guilty too.

Can you imagine back in the 1950s the ACLU running an ad with the theme, "Earl Warren has been accused of being a Communist. He denies it. But Alger Hiss and and Julius Rosenberg were also accused of being Communists, they denied it, but they were lying. So Earl Warren is likely lying, too?"

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Department of Education released a proposed new Title IX regulation that provides for due process rights for accused students that had been prohibited by Obama-era guidance. Shockingly, even to those of us who have followed the ACLU's long, slow decline, the ACLU tweeted in reponse that the proposed regulation "promotes an unfair process, inappropriately favoring the accused." Even longtime ACLU critics are choking on the ACLU, of all organizations, claiming that due proess protections "inappropriately favor the accuse."

The ACLU had a clear choice between the identitarian politics of the feminist hard left, and retaining some semblance of its traditional commitment to fair process. It chose the former. And that along with the Kavanaugh ad signals the final end of the ACLU as we knew it. RIP.

The 5 Worst Supreme Court Rulings of the Past 50 Years

I am not an expert, but each and every one of these seem pretty bad.

For example:

1. Smith v. Maryland (1979)

The Fourth Amendment guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." But according to the Supreme Court's 1979 decision in Smith v. Maryland, "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties."

Lawyers call this the third-party doctrine. Prosecutors and police call it the gift that keeps on giving. Let's say the cops want to know what websites you've been reading. The third party doctrine lets them get that information from your internet service provider without obtaining a search warrant first. So much for that pesky Fourth Amendment and the privacy rights it was designed to protect.

Coyote on the Air -- Listen to Me (eek, a whole hour?) on The Soul of Enterprise Podcast

I really like the Soul of Enterprise podcast, and was thrilled that they had me on for a full hour last week.  You can listen to the whole thing here.  We covered a lot of ground, from private management of public recreation to climate to health care and even to Elon Musk a bit.  Fair warning though, I am not sure that this sort of interview is really my best milieu, which is why I write most of the time.  These guys get some amazing guests and also cover some interesting topics.  I really liked the bit they did on the subscription model a week or so ago.

Kimbal Musk Imitates an NPC in a Broken Quest That You Frustratingly Can't Complete

Nutty interview on Fox Business.

Stuart Varney is trying to complete a quest in which he must find information about Tesla's new board chairman.  He seeks out and starts questioning NPC Kimbal Musk, but the quest is apparently broken and the NPC only gives him information on some unrelated quest about planting a seed.

“Hi, and thank you for having me here,” Musk said after a perfunctory introduction from Varney. “I’m so excited about plant a seed day.”

Plant a seed day, you see, was the only thing that Kimbal Musk wanted to talk about Thursday morning on Fox Business. Varney, of course, had no interest in plant a seed day, what with him hosting a business show and all. He tried his level best to get Musk to talk about new Tesla chair Robyn Denholm.

“You are on the board at Tesla,” Varney said. “And you’ve got a new chair. Have you heard anything from her? Is she laying down law?”

“I am so happy for the future of Tesla,” Musk said. “On March 20, 2019 we’re going to do a plant a seed day…”

Varney interjected.

“Come on!” Varney said. “You are on board of Tesla — which is very much in the news. You’ve got a new chair to replace your brother, Elon Musk. You’ve got to tell me. Is she laying down law? have you had contact with her? What she’s saying? What she’s doing on the board?”

“I am very happy about the future of Tesla,” Musk said. “Let me tell you about a story…”

Varney interjected again, as it was clear that Kimbal Musk was about to pivot back to plant a seed day.

“I want to know what’s going on at Tesla with the new board chair, and you are on the board,” Varney said. “Can you answer the question? What is she doing? What do you know that she’s doing so far? I don’t need to know you’re happy about future of Tesla I want to know what your new chair is doing at Tesla on the board.”

“What I’d like to share I’m so happy about the future of Tesla,” Musk “And plant a seed day in 2019 will be a way for companies across America to participate.”

Varney, at that point, decided he’d had it.

“You think my viewers want to learn about PLANT A SEED DAY?!” Varney said. “THEY DON’T CARE!”

Musk tried one more time to get a plug in for plant a seed day. Varney gave up, and decided to shut down the interview.

Awesome NASA Space Living Concept Art from the 1970's

Via Atlas Oscura.  Example:

 

Dungeons & Dragons Porn -- Amazing Homemade Maps

At Atlas Oscura.

By the way, if you are tired of killing time (or your kids killing time) on airplanes watching movies, this is a solitaire pen and paper take on D&D.  Every time you open a door there are 36 possible rooms/corridors beyond that you resolve with a die rolls, then more rolls to determine encounters.  Requires a sheet of graph paper for the dungeon to get mapped and to track character skills/etc.

More on Matte Paintings in Movies

Matte paintings from the pre-CGI movie era are total catnip for me, and are probably my favorite topic in film.  I remember first learning about matte painting after being blown away with the the huge hanger scenes and infinite drops on the Death Star in Star Wars.

The Matte Shot blog has another great post up about the golden age of matte paining,  This blog does not produce a lot of posts but when it does, they are long and fascinating.

Transpartisan Plan #2: A Better Approach to Government Health Care: Focus the Government on the One Thing It Does Best

So this is my second in a series of transpartisan proposals, the unintended consequence of which is likely to have me ostracized not just by the two major parties but by the libertarian community as well.  My first such proposal, on climate, helped get me ostracized from the climate skeptic community.  Much of this article is based on a proposal I first made in 2015.

I want to say at the top that unlike my climate plan, this is not a plan so much as a concept for a plan.  As in climate, tribalism and muddled thinking about goals has made it hard to make forward progress on the role of government in health care.  The Democrats in 2008 and 2018 and the Republicans in 2010 arguably won a lot of Congressional seats stirring up fears about health care, so it is a vital issue with the public.  For those who want to just dig in their heals and wait until it all goes away, I don't think this will happen.  And I think the logic I outline is superior to the typical political process described by Megan McArdle as 

  1. Something must be done.
  2. This is something.
  3. Therefore, this must be done.

I think the key to creating a viable program for health care depends on being very clear on the goals that one is trying to achieve and matching those goals well with the capabilities of government.  Obamacare was a huge mess in this regard, weaving all over the place in terms of goals (increasing insurance coverage, lowering costs, improving care effectiveness) and assigning roles to the government that were laughably poorly matched to its skills.

Take increasing the percentage of Americans with health insurance, probably the number one goal of Obamacare and the metric most cited to evaluate its success.  Is the core need of Americans really to have health insurance, or it something else?  Is mandating that people buy insurance they don't value in order to improve this metric really improving individual well-being?  Does increased coverage really translate to increased health? (spoiler -- any causal link here is really tenuous in the data).  All these questions and more exist because increasing insurance coverage was the wrong goal.  So is anything having to do with "pre-existing conditions" as Democrats framed it (fairly successfully) in the recent election.

The #1 Consumer Need and Fear in Health Care

Here is my main assumption:  The real, core need of individuals is that a) when they or a family member get dreadfully sick, lack of money will not be a barrier to getting them the needed care and b) even if they can get the care, they would really prefer not to be bankrupted by it.  All these other things -- percent covered by insurance, mandates to accept pre-existing conditions, insurance mandates and subsidies -- are all imperfect proxies for this core need.

This is exactly the kind of need that we buy catastrophic insurance to cover.  I would be bankrupted and homeless if my house burned down and I was still responsible for the mortgage but relatively inexpensive fire insurance covers that.  Losses are not usually correlated (ie one loss does not make it more likely I have a second loss, except in flood insurance which is why there is no private flood insurance any more) so I don't worry about non-renewal even after a major fire.

But obviously health care is different.  Health problems this year greatly raise the probability of health problems in future years.  There is every incentive for an insurer to bail on you after one bad year.   This is the major fear that then follows the need - that catastrophic insurance will no longer be available after the first claim.  Had health insurance developed differently (e.g. with policies that covered more than just one year, more like term life) we might be in a different situation, but here we are.

Government is Good at Having Lots of Money on Call

And the good news is that the one thing the government is really, really good at is being an insurer of last resort -- they have the deep pockets and the fiat money power to do this better than anyone else -- that is why they are the insurer of last resort of bank deposits and for flood insurance (I am not saying that there are not moral hazards in these or unintended consequences, but the insurance works).  So there is the clear opportunity -- what people need most is catastrophic insurance even when the private market won't provide it and the government does really well is provide catastrophic insurance as a last resort.

Before we get into the plan itself, let's discuss a few things that the government does NOT do well:

Government is Bad at Cost control.

I feel like arguing that government is bad at cost control should be about as necessary as arguing that socialism always fails, but I guess it just needs to be repeated over and over.  A large part of the PPACA (Obamacare) was adding provisions meant to reap cost savings in health care.  None of it has worked.  The problem is that any real markets for health care have been disappearing for decades as more and more health care expenses get paid by third parties rather than individuals making price/value trade-offs (as they do with pretty much everything else -- the prosaic word for this is "shopping").

Now, Democrats are increasingly seeking "single payer" health care, arguing that aggregating all purchases in one entity will result in huge negotiating leverage.  But this never has been true.  It is impossible to have a real price negotiation without a market, and market price, to reference.   Look at another area of government spending where the government does 100% of the industry purchasing:  military hardware.  Do you really have the sense that the military is getting great pricing due to their purchasing power?  Supporters will site discounts that Medicare gets over other buyers for certain services and pharmaceuticals.  But note again that this is all in reference to a market price benchmark, that will disappear with single payer.  Further, many of the savings Medicare gets are not real savings, but cross subsidies where other customers end up paying more so Medicare can get something below cost.  When the government is buying everything, this cross-subsidy goes away.  And can you even imagine the lobbying and cronyism and opportunities for graft that will exist once government pricing is untethered from any market price?  Just think again about military procurement.

I suppose that the government could turn all health care suppliers into a huge regulated utility, for example paying pharmaceutical companies a utility-like cost plus a fixed return on drugs.  If this occurs, I hope you are satisfied with the range of treatments you have today because you won't get many others -- if you don't believe me, name the three most recent innovations that have come out of your local regulated utility.  Typically all they do is fight innovation (e.g. rooftop solar and co-generation).Finally, the government has a lot of regulations that Congress did not touch in the PPACA that restrict supply and greatly increase costs.  For example, many states and municipalities have certificate of need processes that prevent new entrants from adding hospitals or even new equipment without the permission of existing competitors.  The same is true in occupational licensing, which protects the most skilled (and expensive) health care workers from competition on simple procedures (e.g. why is someone required to go through a decade of medical training to put stitches in my kid's elbow?)

I will say that the PPACA has perhaps had an accidental effect on costs but not through any intended mechanism.  As deductibles in the gold/silver/bronze exchange plans have gone up to try to keep a lid on premiums, individuals previously used to first dollar health care now find themselves responsible for making spending choices.  This is a good thing, maybe the best part of the whole program.

Government is Bad at Service Effectiveness. 

The PPACA also sought to increase the effectiveness of health care providers.  The problem is that it is impossible for a small group of people in Washington to do this.  We are 300 million consumers who each make trade-offs in different ways and define effectiveness differently.  Take an example from another field:  Hair care.  In the state of AZ, hair cutters must go through 2000 hours of training to be licensed to cut hair -- they must demonstrate proficiency in all sorts of hair styles.  I personally don't give a cr*p about that -- I tend to choose the fastest, cheapest person who does a reasonable job.  But no one in government has anticipated that as a valid consumer need.

The PPACA was larded with expensive provisions that reflected the vision of a few elites about how they personally wanted health care performed.  A great example is the whole electronic medical records requirement, likely stuck in their based on a lot of intensive lobbying by makers of this software.  I have yet to meet a doctor who likes this software, or who feels that their patient service is improved by it, but everyone has to do it none-the-less.Perhaps even more than the cost issue, it is amazing to me that anyone believes that government involvement will make some service more effective.  If you think it can, I urge you to take two identical copies of documents, and go through the process of sending and tracking one by Fedex and sending and tracking one via the post office

Outlines of A Plan

I am not sure how you actually do this, but I think being clear on the goal and the useful (and not useful) roles of government in the process are good.  Rather than a plan, I offer some design goals for a plan

  1. Make the government the insurer of last resort to make sure that all Americans are protected against catastrophic health care costs in a year.  One approach, though probably not the most compact, is to make the government responsible for all non-discretionary individual health care expenditures in a year above a certain percentage of that person's adjusted gross income for that year.   I am thinking personal responsibility numbers that start at 15% of AGI and could increase in higher income brackets. Yes, if you are a person making $50,000 a year, then $7,500 of out of pocket health care expenses will be difficult -- but likely not bankrupting and not a barrier to getting needed care.   Perhaps we exclude social security from AGI and apply this to seniors as well, effectively eliminating medicare and phasing out government benefits for wealthy seniors.I am open to a more compact way of doing this. Perhaps guaranteed-entry government subsidized high-risk pools for health insurance.  The problem is that insurance companies will just dump all their expensive customers into those pools and we will end up with a system as costly to the taxpayers as the one above but less rationally organized.
  2. Shift as many of the individual spending price / value tradeoffs as possible into individual hands.  The step outlined above in #1 is a good start, at least for more routine purchases.  As a design goal, at every turn, try to build in ways for consumers to get money back or get rewarded for choices to use less or more inexpensive care.I do not think there is anything with more potential leverage for improving the health care world than bringing back individual shopping for medical care.  My kid used to injure himself a lot in sports and we had a high deductible on our insurance, so we found a sports medicine guy who charged us only $50 a visit if we paid cash.  Then he told us that when we went downstairs to the radiology company, to tell them we were paying cash.  Sure enough, the lady there pulled out a special book from behind the counter and the $300+ they charge to the insurance companies became $40 to us.  On the other hand, we have spent weeks talking to doctors and hospitals about  heart surgery my mother-in-law (who is covered by Medicare) needs.  You know what has not come up a single time?  Price.  I have zero idea how much it will cost -- but let's say it is $100,000.  Can you imagine buying anything else that expensive without discussing the price once?
  3. Any medical benefits paid by the employer become fully taxable
  4. Price transparency mandates -- every provider must disclose the best price it sells a product and service at, as well as your price.  For all but emergency procedures, a cost estimate must be given in advance (My dog had to have surgery and even in an emergency condition they gave me a detailed cost estimate in advance).
  5. Systematic review of supply restrictions and rethinking of licensing arrangements. Banning of state and local certificate of need processes.
  6. Accelerated and streamlined drug approval process.  Really what I would like to see is that there is a government led testing process that leads not to an approval/refusal but to the publication of safety/effectiveness data that doctors and patients can then use to make their own decisions.

Hat tip to Megan McArdle who has been suggesting something like this for years, probably long before I started thinking about it.

Looking At Causes of Recent Wildfires and Resultant Property Damage, It's Hard To Point The Finger Solely or Even Mostly at CO2

Today I want to talk a bit about trends in wildfires in the US.  And as regular readers know, I have a real pet peeve about declaring a trend without actual, you know, trend data.  The media may be willing to jump from "most devastating fire in California history" to a trend just based on this one data point, but I am not going to play.

It turns out, though, that we don't have to play the one data point extrapolation game because there actually does seem to be a trend in wildfire.  Here is the national chart:

You might be saying:  Hey Coyote, you are cherry picking -- I have seen this same data but with a huge hump in the early part of the century.  Here is the chart you saw:

(source for both)  The problem with this chart is a huge definitional change in the data between the first and second half of the century.  In short, the early half of the century included controlled burns and other purposeful manmade actions (mostly in the southeast) and the latter half does not.  I described this here -- skeptics who use this chart are in serious danger of committing the same sloppy data errors we accuse warmists of (confession:  I made this mistake for a number of years).

To complete our proof there is indeed a trend in wildfire and not just in wildfire news stories, here is the chart for California, though I cannot vet the source.  I will say its not a slam dunk trend but I will take it on faith, at least for now, that the recent years would be high and make the trend more obvious

OK, so there seems to be a wildfire trend in the West.  I will focus on California because that has been the area in the news.  Let's consider 4 possible causes:

  1. Temperature.  The state of California has seen a 0.02C per decade, or 0.2C per century increase in temperatures.  This is a very tiny increase and well below the increase thought to have occurred in other parts of the world.  The rise has been faster over the last 10 years or so but it is unclear if this is a long-term trend or a near-term weather effect (e.g. tied to the PDO)
  2. Precipitation.   Total precipitation has decreased by ever so slightly over the last 100 years.  A half inch per century is about a 2% reduction
  3. Forest management.  The amount of wood harvested, and thus fuel removed, from forests has dropped by 80% since the 1950s
  4. Urbanization.  This does not necessarily increase fire acreage but it does substantially increase the probability a given fire will impinge on man-made structures.  Also, given the enormous almost exponential increase in total CA real estate value, the likely cost of fires of the same size and intensity has risen dramatically.  Much of the developed area affected by fires the last several years have been in the red and purple parts of the map that were developed most recently.  Fifty years ago they would have just burned trees (source).  More CA urbanization trends here.

So, what is causing the large fires?  Well, probably a lot of things.  I am a big believer that changes in outputs from complex systems can have complex causes (which is why I think the whole meme that "CO2 is the Earth's thermostat" is an embarrassing joke).  But given that over the last 50 years temperatures have risen by a fraction of a degree, precipitation has dropped by a fraction of an inch, but fuel removal has dropped by 80% and urbanization has skyrocketed, it is really hard for me to pin all or even most of the blame on manmade CO2.

Postscript:  One other point -- California is less than 0.1% of the total land area of the Earth.  I have a hard time extrapolating global climate trends from a few big events in 1/1000th of the world.

Postscript #2:  I missed this, that hotbed of climate denial called Mother Jones had an article a year ago blaming California fires on forest management policy, specifically preventing lots of little fires leading to one big fire.

Be Especially Careful When Media and Pundits "Teach" You the History of Nazi Germany

I once was taking a course on the history of the Roman Empire (Garrett Fagan via the Teaching Company) in which the lecturer at the end of the course engaged the ever-popular topic of "why did the Roman Empire fall?**"  He made an interesting observation that could equally well be applied to many of the great questions of history -- that many explanations said more about the time the explanations were made in than they necessarily said about the historical period being studied.  Edward Gibbon was part of an 18th century anti-religious enlightenment movement and thus concluded the Roman Empire was brought down by Christianity, which made the Romans too docile to fight back against the barbarians.  Similarly Victorians found the Romans fell due to moral dissipation, Marxists discovered it was due to class warfare, and modern academics steeped in environmental sustainability have found that the Empire collapsed due to various man-made environmental disasters (e.g. lead drinking water pipes).

I have found that a lot of what is said about Nazi Germany follows much the same rule.  Because Nazi Germany represents for most the single greatest national embodiment of evil in history, people are always looking to associate what they don't like with Nazi German and Hitler.  I am reminded of this from Tyler Cowen's article this morning about Tim Wu attempting to draw a straight line from monopolies to Hitler.  In an era where many of our public intellectuals consider Trump the reincarnation of Hitler, it is fashionable to try to find ways to connect the dots.  It is a bit odd in this case, since the monopolies that seem to have the most political power in this country (Google, Facebook) are actually arrayed pretty strongly against Trump.  Cowen does not mention it, but if one is worried about economic concentration that is closely linked to government and has long-term stability, one should look at modern France and Germany long before they look at the US.

Cowen links to a great article by Thomas Childers exploding common myths about Nazi Germany that folks like Tim Wu are working from.  I have taken all of Childers' courses at the Teaching Company, including his 12 lecture course focused narrowly on the rise of Nazi Germany and his longer course on the history of WWII, and I recommend him highly.  I have taken 75+ courses at the Teaching company and he is one of my 3-4 favorite lecturers.

If you want to avoid the inter-mediation of historians, I have read two primary source books that really tell a FAR different story about the Nazi's than is commonly understood.  The first is Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich.  While Speer seems to spare himself a lot, he spares no one else in the Nazi hierarchy and tells an interesting insider's story about a Nazi government that was astonishingly dysfunctional and inefficient.  The other is Gunter Reimann's The Vampire Economy about the insane regulation in the Nazi economy that makes even California look libertarian.  It was written before the war and the Holocaust, so it predates our current biases to project whatever economic system we don't like onto the Nazis.

The Vampire Economy is a study of the actual workings of business under National Socialism. Written in 1939, Günter Reimann's work discusses the effects of heavy regulation, inflation, price controls, trade interference, national economic planning, and attacks on private property, and their impact on human rights and economic development.

I would add that an entire book could be written on the seemingly simple question of "were the Nazi's socialist?"  Because the civics textbooks we had as kids included that stupid "heads I win, tails you lose" political spectrum from communism on the Left to Nazis on the Right, many folks think of the Nazis as "conservative."  And while they received some conservative support for their nationalism and militarism, the Nazis were not conservative -- they were revolutionaries and thought of themselves that way.  They were absolutely against the status quo.    The problem was figuring out what they were revolutionaries FOR.  One Nazi once answered that question as "we're for the opposite."  Which made sense to Germans who had lived through economic hell, but it is not very specific.

There were many socialists in the upper ranks of the Nazis.  It can be said that Hitler seemed less enthusiastic about socialism but in general Hitler was surprisingly indolent about being more specific or making decisions on any policy details.  He preferred that his folks just fight it out (again, see Speer's book).  Folks often assume Hitler hated socialism because he was outwardly so anti-communist.  But I get the impression that he hated socialists and communists, but maybe did not hate their policies -- a bit like a Republican voter might vehemently hate Obamacare but in a poll support most of its individual prescriptions.   To illustrate this, he did not rant against communism but something called judeo-bolshevism, which sounds more like a made up enemy than a description of a set of specific policies.

 

** Including arguments that it did not fall -- eg that it continued for another 1000 years as the Byzantine Empire (who called themselves Romans right to the end) or that it continued through Visigothic and Ostrogothic culture that looked a lot like Roman culture.

Your Government Outrage of the Week -- The Feds Try To Collect a Retroactive Rent Increase

Years ago the Forest Service wanted to eliminate car traffic in popular Sabino Canyon near Tucson, AZ, so they closed the road and asked companies for proposals to run a tram service to various stops in the canyon.  While a bit unusual at the time this service started, this is now a very common response to overcrowding in popular natural areas.  These services are typically leased as concessions, with the operator charging some sort of fee or fare from passengers, paying all expenses, and then paying the government an agreed rent in the form of a percentage-of-revenue concession fee.

In my world of campground operations, these concession fees are typically competitively bid and thus variable, but in the world of services like this one, there is a fixed list in the regulations of services and the percentage to be paid.  The problem here started because there is no item on the list for "tram operator".  So the government, in this case the local Forest Service, picked a logical equivalent from the table and told the tram operator what the percentage would be.  The tram operator set his fares based on this and his other costs and went on with business.

Flash forward many years.  The tour operator does a good job and has great reviews but the owner is a crusty guy who sometimes rubs the Forest Service staff the wrong way.  The Forest Service decides at the end of his term to compete the contract (called a permit by the FS) and give it to a non-profit.  Its not clear by the rules the FS can do this -- there are supposed to be protections built in for good-performing concessionaires who have invested a lot in the operation -- so the old permit-holder sued but the courts backed the Forest Service.

That is all back story.  This is what happened next though:

The Forest Service recently and retroactively imposed a 150% increase in a permittee’s fees for the period 2011-2015.  The Forest Service decision was based on the views of outside third party auditors it had hired to audit the agency’s fee assessments during that period.  The permit involved shuttle operations and fees were established under the Graduated Rate Fee Structure (GRFS) which sets fees based on the type of operations.  Because GRFS does not contain a classification for shuttle operations, the agency had previously categorized the operations as “Outfitting/Guiding.”  When the third party auditors reviewed the agency’s prior fees, they believed that the shuttle operations should have been classified as “Rental and Services” by the agency.

In 2016, the auditors completed their review of the prior five years of fee assessments and issued their final audit.  The permittee had paid fees totaling $99,231 for the period 2011-2015.  After changing the classification of the operations under GRFS, the auditors asserted that the permittee owed an additional $148,305 for that period.

This is really outrageous.  The mistake made was by the government -- the private operator logically trusted the numbers on his signed contract and assumed that those were the numbers he was operating under.  To retroactively charge this poor guy an enormous amount of money for a government mistake he had nothing to do with and couldn't even know about is just absurd.  Had he known the government wanted a higher fee before he actually started operations, he could have charged a higher fare to make up for it but now he can do nothing because it is all retroactive.  Its all the worse because this decision has a whiff of retribution about it given that this concessionaire took the government to court earlier over the loss of his permit.

This penalizing of a private company for a government mistake is not atypical in a government audit.  Years ago I had the Forest Service tell our company to do X and Y maintenance projects for them and that they would reimburse us for the costs (it was their responsibility but we were closer and and cheaper so it made sense).  Years later an auditor said that the FS should not have asked us to do the project that way, and that the FS had violated their internal rules.  So instead of just fixing their internal procedures or punishing those guilty in their agency they ... judged I was at fault and told me I had to refund all the money we were reimbursed for the project.  I obviously cried foul -- I told them I was authorized in writing, that I could not un-spend the money, that I had no responsibility for their internal compliance to their internal procedures, and that the error was theirs and I should not be the one punished for it.  As logical as this seems, it took me a surprisingly long time to get them to stop demanding this money back.

Does the Zero-Sum Nature of Academic Success Contribute to the Left-wards Bias of Academia?

For a while now, I have  had a theory that the zero-sum nature of academic success (competition for a fixed and perhaps shrinking number of tenured positions) affects the larger world-view of academia. (This article that compares academia to a harmful cult demonstrates this zero-sum thinking pretty well.)

It is pretty well-established that the American academic community is disproportionately of the Left, and in fact tilts pretty strongly in many cases to the far Left / progressive side.  People debate a lot about why this should be, but I think one contributing factor (but certainly not the only one) that I have never heard anyone discuss is the zer0-sum game these academics must play in their own careers.  I think that many of them incorrectly assume that all professions, and all of the economy and capitalism, is dominated by this same dog-eat-dog zero sum game -- remember, for most, academia is the only industry they have ever experienced from the inside.  And once you assume that the whole economy is zero-sum, it is small step from there to overly-narrow focus on distribution of wealth and income.

One of the mistakes folks on the Left make about capitalism is to describe capitalism as mostly about competition.  In fact, capitalism is mostly about cooperation, its a self-organizing process where people who don't even know each other cooperate to deliver products and services, facilitated by markets and the magic of prices.  Sure, competition exists but it is not the fundamental feature, but an enabler that makes sure the cooperation occurs as efficiently as possible.  Capitalism in fact is about zillions of voluntary trades and transactions every day that each make both parties better off -- or else both sides would not have agreed to it.  Capitalism in fact is a giant positive sum game, a fact that many on the Left simply do not grasp.

Never in my business life have I thought any company I worked for was playing in a zero-sum game.  Sure, individual sales to an individual customer might be zero sum -- UPS is going to order its bearings from Rockwell or Emerson and winning and losing that one order is zero sum.  But as a whole no business I have been in has ever felt zero sum.  In my business running campgrounds, I want our campgrounds to be the best but our growth is generally not at the expense of some other campground -- it is about attracting more people for more days to camping and offering those who do camp more value-added services.

Postscript on Metrics:  As an aside, it struck me that one improvement to the dysfunctional academic experience described in the Washington Post article linked above might be to an a measurement of the professoriate that went beyond just counting published articles and their citations.  Start counting the number of advisees each professor has that lands teaching and tenured positions and you could change some behavior.

Incredible Evidence of P Hacking in Research Studies, Demonstrated with One Chart

Hat tip to Kevin Drum for finding this:

I will let him explain the chart, it is worth understanding:

The authors collected every significant clinical study of drugs and dietary supplements for the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular disease between 1974 and 2012. Then they displayed them on a scatterplot.

Prior to 2000, researchers could do just about anything they wanted. All they had to do was run the study, collect the data, and then look to see if they could pull something positive out of it. And they did! Out of 22 studies, 13 showed significant benefits. That’s 59 percent of all studies. Pretty good!

Then, in 2000, the rules changed. Researchers were required before the study started to say what they were looking for. They couldn’t just mine the data afterward looking for anything that happened to be positive. They had to report the results they said they were going to report.

And guess what? Out of 21 studies, only two showed significant benefits. That’s 10 percent of all studies. Ugh. And one of the studies even demonstrated harm, something that had never happened before 2000

Reports for all-cause mortality were similar. Before 2000, 5 out of 24 trials showed reductions in mortality. After 2000, not a single study showed a reduction in mortality.

Note that these sensible rules for conducting a study do NOT exist for pretty much any study in any field that you see in the media.  Peer review generally does not address it.  Links to the full study in Drum's article.

I Think I Have Lost the Plot -- When Did AG Jeff Sessions Become a Liberal Icon?

I simply cannot believe that the same folks on the Left who loathed Jeff Sessions a few months ago are now protesting in the street because Trump has fired him.  This is just bizarre beyond words.  I celebrate his firing.  Sessions has been as illiberal an AG as I can remember.  He has been hostile to the fourth amendment, particularly on asset seizures, and is an old-school drug warrior even on marijuana.  The Left has become incredibly near-sighted in defending this guy solely because they fear his firing might slow down a generally useless investigation on Russia.  There are probably 20 fertile areas in which to investigate Trump and the Left wants to focus on the one area where there is probably nothing (in fact the one area I suspect Ms. Clinton may well be at least or more guilty than Trump).

Hotels: For the Love Of God, I Just Want to Turn the Lights On

Well, in a now familiar experience, I had to search around yet another darkened hotel room tonight with my cell phone in flashlight mode trying to just turn on the freaking lights.  The Lutron sales folks have been busy again, selling yet another hotel on some sort of complex mood lighting control center with 7 or 8 different mood settings but no obvious way just to turn on the lights.  This system would be bitchin if I was going to have a cocktail party in the room or try to seduce some woman I met in the bar but I just want to be able to see to fire up my computer and unpack.  Tonight I actually had to stand outside the room while maintenance came up and had to reboot the sytem.

Tesla Is A Finely Crafted Machine for Sucking Money Out of Taxpayers' Pockets

I have ranted about this before, but the numbers for Tesla subsidies in the third quarter were simply staggering:

Tesla's Main Product Isn't Cars, It's Subsidies

Tesla received $713 million in U.S. subsidies in Q3, compared to its $312 million profit.

That's a pace of $2.8 billion a year.   More than half of this starts going away January 1 with the phased expiration of the $7,500 per car subsidy to buyers.   I predict that high on the list of Tesla's post-election to-do list will be to lobby what they hope is a Democratic Congress for extension of the expiring subsidies.

Capitalism and Sexual Assault

Point (via the International Socialist Review)

This article examines the phenomenon of sexual assault from a Marxist perspective—that is, analyzed in the context of capitalist social relations. Like imperialism and war, oppression is a necessary byproduct of the rule of capital. Exploitation is the method by which the ruling class robs workers of surplus value; the various forms of oppression (such as sexism, racism, and homophobia) play a primary role in maintaining the rule of a tiny minority over the vast majority, on a global scale. This approach allows Marxists to understand not only the root causes of oppression but also which strategies can most effectively combat it.

To be sure, sexual assault is not inflicted by “the system” as a whole, but by individual people. Nevertheless, women’s oppression does not originate with individual people—it stems from institutional inequality that is organized from above, in the traditional family structure, the legal system, and other social structures that define women as second-class citizens. It therefore can be ended at the individual or personal level only if we do away with the capitalist system.

Counterpoint (via CNN)

Harrowing accounts of widespread sexual abuse allegedly carried out by North Korean officials against ordinary women have been laid out in a new report, that details evidence of a culture where officials commit acts with near total impunity.

The extensive 98-page report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which was released Thursday and took more than two years to compile, is based on dozens of interviews with sexual abuse victims who have fled from North Korea. It reveals an oppressive world where officials -- from police officers and prison guards to market supervisors -- faced virtually no consequences for their routine abuse of women.

"Unwanted sexual contact and violence that is so common in North Korea it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life," the report alleges....

"On the days they felt like it, market guards or police officials could ask me to follow them to an empty room outside the market, or some other place they'd pick," the report quoted a former trader in her 40s who fled North Korea in 2014 (HRW uses an alias). She says she had been sexually assaulted many times.
"They consider us (sex) toys. We are at the mercy of men." She said that the climate of sexual abuse was so pervasive that it had been normalized -- both by the perpetrators and their victims, but nonetheless, "sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don't know why."
Medical professionals who fled the repressive country said that "there are no protocols for medical treatment and examination of victims of sexual violence to provide therapeutic care or secure medical evidence," the report adds.

How I Am Getting Driven Towards Being A Single Issue Voter

I confess that historically, I have always had a bit of disdain for folks who say they are single issue voters.  "Really?" I would ask, "You are going to ignore everything else going on and only vote based on X?"  I thought it was a narrow-minded and shallow way to vote.

My apologies.  I may have become a single issue voter myself.  Here is why:

Two years ago, when the Republicans manage to elect Trump, I was sure I was going to vote straight-ticket Democrat in reaction.  I find Trump's entire style distasteful in the extreme.  And while I think there has been some good news on the regulatory front in various Departments under him, on his signature issues of immigration and trade I am 100% opposed to his goals and his approach.  And while I have always believed Trump is probably a social liberal himself, he has a lot of advisors and cabinet members who are pretty hard-core opposed to a variety of freedoms, from gay marriage to marijuana use.

But that was two years ago, before the Democrats decided that their future was in a hard left turn into Marxism.   I am not sure how a serious person can really entertain socialism  given its pathetic history, but it seems to be a product of several cardinal sins of the modern generation (e.g. ignorance of history, evaluating policy based on its intentions rather than its logical consequences, and categorizing all perceived problems as resulting from white male European hetereosexual priviledge).  At first I thought perhaps people were just using "democratic socialism" as a synonym for more redistributive taxes and greater welfare spending within an otherwise capitalist society.  But over time I see proposals like one in Congress with fully 100+ Democratic sponsors calling for banning health care companies of all sorts from making a profit.  This is straight-on socialism and ignorant in the extreme of any consequences beyond good intentions.  By the way, I actually don't think we will end up with socialism under the Democrats but a form of European-style corporatism.  This will mean that large companies like Google and Amazon with political influence will be ok, maybe even better.  But small companies like mine with no hope of political access will get hammered.

So here is my voting problem.  Republicans suck on many issues -- gay rights, drug law liberalization, immigration, trade -- that I am extremely passionate about (I briefly ran an Arizona initiative to legalize gay marriage) but that don't directly affect me.  Yes, they affect many of my friends -- I have friends with potential immigration issues, I have friends with businesses getting hammered by tariffs, I have friends who are gay and married, I have friends that smoke rope and would rather not go to jail for it -- but not me directly.  On the other hand, Democrats suck on most business regulatory issues, trying in the near term to turn the US into California and in the long-term into Venezuela.  These are issues that DO affect me directly and greatly as a business owner.   Already I have had to red line states such as California, Oregon, Illinois, New York, and Rhode Island where I formerly did business but backed out because the business climate was impossible.  If this spreads to more states, I will be wiped out.

All of this is being made worse as both parties have started to get worse in the areas where they were traditionally more sensible.  Republicans have abandoned whatever free market credentials they had by pursuing trade protectionism and increased restrictions on companies trying to hire foreign workers.  Democrats are in the process of turning against free speech and have started sticking their nose in the bedroom (for example, by shifting the discussion of sex work to "trafficking," Republicans have successfully gotten Democrats to turn against a number of sorts of sexual freedom).

For years I have voted against my personal interests in elections, because my interests did not seem as weighty as other issues in play.  Folks are being denied basic civil rights, so am I really going to vote for the folks enabling that just to avoid (admittedly costly and loony) California meal break laws to be applied in Arizona? Now, though, I am starting to rethink this position.  In part because threats to businesses like me are more existential, and part because I am exhausted spending time defending other people's rights who in turn actively work to take away mine.  For certain offices like sheriff, that don't affect my business, I will still be voting as I always have -- which person is least likely to harass the sh*t out of certain marginalized groups.  But for others, and particularly the national offices, I am thinking about voting a straight "it's all about me" ticket (I am reminded, ironically, of the old "Me, Al Franken" SNL news bit he used to do.)

By the way, you might ask, "Coyote, you are a libertarian, why not just vote for the Libertarian candidate."  Good question.  Well, it turns out that the Arizona state legislature changed the rules for third parties explicitly to get the libertarian party off the ballot and prevent libertarians from "taking" votes from Republicans.  Seriously, they were not even subtle about it.  Instead of having to get a certain percentage of libertarians to sign a petition to get on the ballot, libertarian candidates now have to get a certain percentage of all independents to sign a petitions to get on the ballot.  This is an very high bar and one that most libertarians could not clear this year (cynically, somehow the rules allowed green candidates to get on easier as Republicans want them on the ballot to "steal" votes from Democrats.)  This is the #1 reason I may not vote tomorrow at all -- I cannot vote for our Marxist Democratic candidate for Senator, but I refuse to be forced to vote for the Republican.  Ugh.