If Fauci Were A Scientist

I am not blogging much due to some overwhelming work circumstances in my real life.  However, I cannot believe the reaction of world leaders racing to institute the most onerous of restrictions on citizens based on the reports that a new COVID variant merely exists.

Fauci went on national TV this morning, subject to the usual adoring media attention and softball kid glove treatment, to discuss what has been labelled the Omicron variant (apparently selected because it is not the name of a Chinese leader and because it is an anagram for "moronic").  If Fauci were a real scientist he would have said something like this:

Respiratory viruses mutate all the time -- that is in fact why we have to create a new flu vaccine every year and why those vaccines often suck (because these mutations are hard to predict in advance).  We have known about the Omicron variant for like a week.  We have zero data on its transmissibility or the seriousness of its symptoms.  Since I don't believe anyone has died of it, we of course have no data on death rates, though preliminary reports form the South African virologists who first identified the variant are that most symptoms have been mild.

Our general expectation is that all respiratory viruses will mutate, and in general they mutate towards more transmissibility but less serious symptoms.  The history of COVID has seen a variety of variants, none of which have proven to be any more dangerous than the last.  Upticks recently in cases counts which have been blames on Delta are more likely just reflective of the seasonal pattern of this virus (all respiratory viruses show a seasonal pattern).

Looking back, most of the panic around the Delta variant was misplaced, as the variant appears to be --despite early overwrought fears -- no more deadly than other variants and no more or less transmissible to the vaccinated.  We shall observe Omicron over the coming weeks to see if any new responses are required as we develop actual data (rather than general fears) about the variant, but early hopes are that the virus may have mutated so much that it is less likely to send people to the hospital or to the grave.

Ha ha, as if.  What he actually said was this:

Regarding mandates, Fauci stated that lockdowns and a federal vaccination requirement should be the focus of overcoming the omicron variant.

“Everything is on the table,” responded Fauci during a separate media appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

He added, “This is a clarion call … If you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you’re fully vaccinated, get boosted. Get the children vaccinated also. We now have time. Thank goodness that the South Africans … were completely transparent.”

Fauci also appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation to discuss critics of his expertise dealing with COVID, including Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Apart from dubbing himself the face of science, Fauci diverted the conversation to the January 6 event at the Capitol to questionably stick it to Cruz.

Because most published studies on viral transmissibility and deadliness typically base their findings on one week of anecdotal data, as well as arguments about the political activities of Senators from Texas.  That's clearly science, and all you morons that do not have a house on Martha's Vineyard just need to obey.

One of the interesting things we have seen over the last 2 years is that there are a group of largely apolitical people who are ready on a moments notice to race to the scene of a protest or riot and join in and loot.  Similarly, there are political leaders today who jump at the slightest chance to layer more restrictions on their citizens at the slightest excuse.  This was a headline several days ago, when there was absolutely no way on Earth any of these politicians knew if this new variant was dangerous or not.

Update:  Wow, the NY Times is going soft.  I received this bit of rationality and reasonableness in my Times morning brief this morning, from David Leonhardt:

The public reaction to new Covid-19 variants has followed a familiar cycle. People tend to assume the worst about two different questions — whether the variant leads to faster transmission of the Covid virus and whether it causes more severe illness among infected people.

The first of those worries came true with the Alpha and Delta variants: Alpha was more contagious than the original version of the virus, and Delta was even more contagious than Alpha. But the second of the worries has largely not been borne out: With both Alpha and Delta, the percentage of Covid cases that led to hospitalization or death held fairly steady.

This pattern isn’t surprising, scientists say. Viruses often evolve in ways that help them flourish. Becoming more contagious allows a virus to do so; becoming more severe has the potential to do the opposite, because more of a virus’s hosts can die before they infect others.

It is too soon to know whether the Omicron variant will fit the pattern. But the very early evidence suggests that it may. Unfortunately, Omicron seems likely to be more contagious than Delta, including among vaccinated people. Fortunately, the evidence so far does not indicate that Omicron is causing more severe illness...

Absent new evidence, the rational assumption is that Covid is likely to remain overwhelmingly mild among the vaccinated (unless their health is already precarious). For most vaccinated people, Covid probably presents less risk than some everyday activities.

Good!  Almost two years too late, but it is good to see at least one corner of the media dialing down the panic knob.  Unfortunately, what you do not yet see in the high-profile media is them taking the obvious step -- if they really believe this, then why aren't they calling out political leaders for their rapid over-reactions to Omicron?

A Few Thoughts on Yale Law School

I won't go into all the details (one of many articles on this incident here), but the Yale Law School administration attempted to blackmail and intimidate one of their students over a party invitation he sent out, the main complaint seeming to be the party was sponsored by a right of center legal group (Federalist Society).  The audio, if you have time, is outrageous.  It is a good thing the student recorded it, because I am not sure many people would have believed the b-movie authoritarian dialog coming from the Yale executives.

I had two reactions I don't see written very many places:

  1. The law profession strikes me as a particularly confrontational profession, and with the exception of perhaps law enforcement and first responders, one in which it is almost impossible to shelter oneself from a wide variety of craziness.  So how is Yale Law possibly doing its job to train the next generation's best and brightest attorneys when they actively support the kind of mental and emotional fragility that led to the complaints?  If we take the complainers at their word, they are hiding under their bed because they got an email party invitation sponsored by a group they don't agree with.
  2. Top attorneys frequently find themselves in high stakes negotiations where their opponents try to bluff and bully them.   On this dimension, the student who refused to be blackmailed by Yale appears to be the best prospective attorney of the bunch.  I would certainly hire him.

Of course, a more likely explanation for the over-reactions among a very small number of students to the email is that Progressives have discovered that feigning more extreme fragility than that of a fainting woman in a Victorian novel is a useful tool for exercising power because university authorities (and increasingly a broader range of authorities) will act as the useful idiots who can be manipulated by such claims.

Fixed SSL Issue (I Hope)

After a lot of complicated debugging, of course it was something simple -- the certificate failed to renew automatically.  Hopefully all is working correctly now

Update:  Of course then I screwed something else up.  Some sort of problem with php vs. mysql versions.  Anyway, fixed now, hopefully

Understanding the Difference Between Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism

Who says universities don't teach anything useful?

The difference between mere authoritarianism and totalitarianism is often hard to explain to people, and some want to use the terms interchangeably.  But I think this distinction is particularly important today, as we see the American Progressive Left tilting over from authoritarianism to totalitarianism.  The University of Chicago is actually helping us to learn the difference.

For the long answer on this distinction, I recommend the work of Hannah Arendt.  She has done more than anyone in really defining the terms and nature of totalitarianism.  The history of her reception in this country is an interesting one.  During the 1950s, in the midst of the Cold War and with the Nazi plague still fresh in everyone's mind, her work resonated with a lot of people.  But as we moved into the 60's and Marxists began gaining power in many universities, academia turned against her in large part because they didn't like how she equated Nazism and communism.  Out of favor by the 1980s in colleges that still wanted to whitewash Stalin, something interesting happened.  As the Berlin Wall fell and eastern European intellectuals began looking for a framework to describe their experience under communism, they rediscovered Hannah Arendt as someone whose work resonated with their own observations.

Anyway, shortcutting a lot of complexity, the way I describe the difference simply is that authoritarians just want compliance, while totalitarians want enthusiastic belief -- belief that is ramified down from politics to the smallest elements of daily life.

So in the current context of COVID, authoritarians don't give a crap if you believe in masks or not, they are happy if you wear them when they demand.  But totalitarians....

For the second year in a row, the University of Chicago forced students to sign a “Required COVID-19 Attestation,” a lengthy document that demands students click “I agree” to a number of statements and rules regarding COVID-19.

UChicago, which last year was named America’s “No. 1 free speech campus,” is openly defying its commitment to academic freedom because the attestation goes far beyond forced compliance to inane COVID mandates — it actually thought-polices students.

Failure to sign my university’s attestation by last Monday meant your student ID was deactivated and you were banned from all university facilities, barring you from attending class.

In order to attend class, students are forced to “agree” in writing to the assertion that “COVID-19 poses a serious public health risk.” Students like me must also “agree” to the claim that “my failure to follow the [COVID-19] requirements,” like wearing a cloth over my mouth, “may endanger myself and/or others.”

Similarly, students who receive a religious exemption from UChicago’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate are forced to sign their names below a statement reading, “I acknowledge that I may be placing myself and others at risk of serious illness should I contract a disease that could have been prevented through proper vaccination.”

Authoritarians demand you wear the mask.  Totalitarians demand that you love the mask.

20 Years Ago Today on September 11...

... I was in Manhattan on a business trip from Seattle.  Ironically, I was running an aviation-related startup and in town to try to convince my investors to fund a new round based on improvements in the commercial aviation business.   Perhaps the least important death that day was of my company.

Along with everyone in the country, we watched with horror though via direct line-of-sight from the penthouse hotel balcony of our wealthy investor.  What we did not know, but would learn over the following months, was how many friends we had that died that day, not surprising in retrospect given that my wife and I were both about a decade out of Harvard b-school and many of our college friends worked in the WTC.  Perhaps our closes friend who died was actually just in for a random training session, a dumb class he did not really even want to attend.  I have thought about that often since, and it has made me more likely to resist meetings and trips that are worthless but where there is pressure to show up (do the Germans have a word for that?)

The rest of the day we spent interacting with jittery people on the street who would literally flatten on the ground when a military jet flew low, something that happened a lot that day.  At one point a wall of humanity covered in dust made it to our part of the island, refugees who were in and around the buildings when they collapsed.  The scene that night in Manhattan was weird, like a post-apocalyptic Charlton Heston movie.  Never before or since in my lifetime has Manhattan ever been so quiet at night.  Everyone was leaving the island, and no one was being allowed to enter.  We finally found a place to eat on Broadway near Times Square, where a car would drive by maybe once every 5 minutes.

Fortunately for us we found a friend wandering around Central Park who lived out West too and had the last rent car in Manhattan.  We drove all the way across the country, though the first bit was the hardest.  Out of some weird security concern, we were told that cars were only be allowed to exit the island via one road, but they could not tell us which one it was.  We circumnavigated Manhattan getting this same response at each bridge and tunnel, until someone finally told us the only way out was up north via the GW bridge.  When we got to the Jersey side, it again looked like a zombie movie or something, with miles and miles of cars stopped coming into the city and empty roads going out.

[as a side-note to this, growing up in the 70's I was treated to any number of movies that portrayed Harlem as some kind of blighted no-go zone to be avoided by all white people -- but the Harlem of the 2001 was just another place, certainly not wildly prosperous but not necessarily to be avoided either, certainly better looking than the Robert Moses-destroyed Bronx.  I appreciated the opportunity to have my perceptions changed.  Though to be fair in the 1970's Central Park was portrayed as a no-go zone too and today is is one of my favorite urban spaced in the world].

The Ken Burns series on New York has a good add-on episode entirely dedicated to the WTC -- from conception to construction to destruction, with a high-wire crossing in the middle (if you have not seen the documentary Man on Wire about this, it is well worth the view).  I have spent time in the buildings, and I think they had a mixed legacy architecturally.  I thought the interiors sucked, with long waits for elevators and crappy views via too-small windows (the exception being Windows on the World, for a while the highest-grossing restaurant in the world and a place I was fortunate enough to experience once).  The exteriors worked for me as sculpture, and I thought they were beautiful especially from a boat on the water.

Back When The ACLU Actually Stood Up For Civil Rights, Rather Than Shilling for Totalitarianism

This article by Glenn Greenwald on the ACLU's response to COVID is simply remarkable.  I won't even try to excerpt it.  Suffice it to say that barely a decade ago, the ACLU actually was concerned about individual rights being trashed by coercive government pandemic responses.  Their 2008 position paper can only be called "prescient."   They warned that with a state-sponsored coercive intervention program fanned by media fear porn, "People, rather than the disease, become the enemy."  No kidding.   But the ACLU has unfortunately become an operative of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and as such has reversed its position -- even from as recently as March of 2020 -- presumably because the part in power has changed.

One other thing on a related note -- the ACLU is a long-time strong supporter of abortion rights.  As such, this position in their recent NYT editorial supporting forced vaccination seems counter-productive to their cause in the extreme: "we all have the fundamental right to bodily integrity and to make our own health care decisions. But these rights are not absolute. They do not include the right to inflict harm on others."  In the past, the absolute sanctity of one's body has been the bulwark in protecting abortion rights.  Other people's opinion on whether the fetus is a human life or not were declared irrelevant because "my body is sacred, period."  But if the body is no longer sacred if and when the government declares another human being is being harmed, how is that any different from the typical abortion opponents argument?

Update on The Phoenix Light Rail Fail: @valleymetro FY 2021 Report

The previous annual installment in this series was here.

Well, the Phoenix light rail system has hit new levels of fail that even I could not have projected.  Here are the annual numbers updated for the most recent report:

Yes, I know that supporters will argue that the agency should get a "pass" due to COVID.  I am willing to do so for the bus system, but not for light rail.  Let me explain.

I have always been, perhaps unlikely for a libertarian, comfortable with some base level of public transportation.  Lack of mobility can be a huge barrier to upward mobility and I can support public transit systems in major cities as a sensible anti-poverty program.

What I oppose is the replacement of relatively inexpensive and tremendously flexible bus transit systems with light rail.  Light rail requires orders of magnitude more capital and operating cost per passenger (except perhaps in the absolute largest and densest cities, which does not include Phoenix).  Light rail is limited by time and money and necessity to only a few routes.  In almost no city outside the centers of the few largest cities (think Manhattan) has it ever been possible to develop a complete enough web for citizens to entirely give up a car.  And light rail is absolutely inflexible -- once capacity is added on one route (for literally billions of dollars) it can't be moved where busses can be shifted easily from route to route.  For example, on a days' notice we had bus routes going to the major local vaccination centers -- no way to do that with rail.

It has always seemed to me that light rail is a middle class boondoggle.  White professionals kind of like the trains whereas they won't ride busses.  The few light rail routes tend to follow middle class / professional commuting routes.  Light rail gets professionals from home to office (after which they use their car for other sorts of trips) but does little to provide mobility for the poor to the doctor, to the store, to support services, etc.  Worse, because light rail costs 10x or more per passenger than busses, the advent of light rail generally starves a transit agency of funds and causes them to cut back on busses to save money (because once the rail is laid, you can't really cut back on it).  Look at the chart above, despite years of light rail extensions, total transit ridership in Phoenix stalled after growing for over a decade.  Wealthy university students at ASU got a nice train to the downtown clubs, but the poor who depend on busses for basic mobility lost a lot of service and routes.

I will confess that I didn't anticipate a pandemic in my prior opposition to light rail, but it has been more proof of the light rail fail.  Busses that are not needed are parked, sidelining a modest capital investment.  But light rail is $2+ billion in capital investment lying dormant.  With the middle class eschewing transit during COVID, transit is returned to its core function of providing essential mobility to the poor.  But it can't do this as well as it used to because of the multi-billion dollar light rail capital albatross.

Texas Republicans Want to Be Creepy Totalitarians Just Like Their Blue State Counterparts

Just as Republicans were starting to successfully cast themselves as an alternative to blue state COVID totalitarianism, Republicans in Texas decide to dabble in a bit of creepy statism themselves.  I am going to stay away from the abortion issues involved (a policy that has served me well for decades on this blog), but I do want to address the enforcement mechanisms in the law.  From Zero Hedge:

One provision that makes the law unique is the fact that private citizens will be allowed to sue providers and anyone involved in "facilitating coverage", which could mean people who drive others to the abortion clinic could be found liable in court to losses of at least $10,000. The ACLU says this provision "actively encourages private citizens to act as bounty hunters".

It is good to see the ACLU weighing in on the bad aspects of this enforcement mechanism, though it is telling we have never heard a peep out of them when this same private bounty hunting enforcement mechanism has been used in numerous California laws aimed at leftish goals (eg the dysfunctional ADA lawsuit mess and sue your boss laws, both of which substitute private bounty-hunting litigation for what normally would be state regulatory enforcement actions).

At least in the California laws, the litigant had to actually be a somewhat interested party (eg disabled or an employee of the firm).  Texas has unleashed the equivalent of Cuban block captains on their citizens.

This is a terrible precedent.  Conservatives who are really passionate about abortion may not be able to see it, but I can easily imagine this applied to all sorts of awful rules.  How about lawsuits for $10,000 for any parent that drives a kid to school that is not wearing a mask?  How about a $5,000 lawsuit by any citizen against someone who idles their car too long and thus destroys the planet?   Conservatives are handing the Left a gift with this enforcement precedent and we could all be suffering under it soon.

A Couple of Thoughts on Medical Studies Given Recent Experience

  1.  Here is the iron law of medical -- in fact all scientific -- studies in the modern world: most do not replicate.  This has always been true of studies that supposedly find some link between doing [thing we enjoy] and cancer.  This of course does not stop the media from running with initial study results based on 37 study participants as "fact."  The same is true for studies of new drugs and treatments.  Most don't pan out or are not nearly as efficacious as early studies might indicate.  We have seen that over and over during COVID.
  2. The Feds insist that a drug that is know to be perfectly safe in humans still must be carefully tested in random controlled studies before it can be used for a new application.  Fine, I think they are overly cautious in application of this, but let's run with this standard for a moment.  Why, then, are NPI that have known astronomical human costs (eg lockdowns, business closures, and mask mandates) allowable without any sort of study -- allowable in fact when the existing science on their efficacy is at best ambivalent?

Update:  In case you wonder why they don't replicate

Australia and COVID Zero: What Was The Long-Term Plan?

Five years or so ago I remember it was a popular social media poll question in this country to ask where one would live if they could not live in the US.  I remember that Australia and New Zealand were often near the top of the lists.  Which leads me to ask today -- would anyone, after watching the extraordinarily totalitarian response of these two countries to COVID, answer the same way today?  I certainly would not.  The country of Crocodile Dundee has morphed before our eyes into the country of some weird fascist version of piglet in the 100 acre wood.

I have wondered for a while what Australia was thinking of -- long-term -- with its COVID zero policy.  Let's say they were successful in their country eliminating COVID cases.  Now what?  They would soon be a nation of non-immunes in a world that has largely come out the other side of the pandemic.  This is particularly true now that we have a better sense that existing vaccines are more of a before-the-fact treatment to reduce the severity of the disease than they are absolute immunity to catching the thing, at least in some mild way that triggers an overly-sensitive test.

Were the Australians going to permanently wall themselves off from the rest of the Earth?  Refuse to participate in the world economy?  Because the one thing that is absolutely certain is that reservoirs of the disease would still exist -- heck, there are still small whooping cough outbreaks in the US, and a couple hundreds polio cases around the world each year.  Perhaps they were hoping the disease would morph into something less deadly, as most viruses do (most all parasites will mutate over time to spread more easily but be less likely to kill their hosts).   If this is the case, it is sure strange given that the people most in favor of extreme government interventions are the exact same people who seem unable to recognize the Delta variant as being less rather than more deadly.

Well, the sort of good news is that the Australian government has announced that it is willing to release the citizenry from its hostage status once 80% are vaccinated.  I personally was vaccinated very early on (so early that I may soon not be counted as vaccinated) and would urge most adults without any unusual medical conditions get one as well.  It is not going to stop you from testing positive at some point, but it very likely will keep you off a ventilator if you do get COVID.   If you are in Australia, I certainly would recommend it as a small price to be released from captivity.

Crazy Government Responses to COVID Part 3: The Wrong Metrics

It should not be surprising that any roundup I do of problems with COVID response would include a chapter on metrics -- I am a very strong believer that metrics and incentives live at the very heart of most private and public organizational failures.  I already dealt with incentives in part I, though I will come back to them a bit in this piece.

For the metrics, I want to focus narrowly on the selection and quality of COVID-related tracking metrics.   Perhaps I will cover this in a later chapter, but I will not cover that absolutely awful performance of the media in reporting COVID data and COVID-related science.   Suffice it to say that the media has once again shown itself absolutely incapable of reading a scientific study and assessing the quality of the methodology, or parsing the true results of the study vs those ascribed to the study in the press release.  Inherent problems in the data, such as the time delay for death reporting, have been made an order of magnitude worse by the media's inability (unwillingness?) to explain shortcomings in the data.  Is it really so hard to explain how deaths reported yesterday in such and such state did not actually all occur yesterday and in fact represent data updates sometimes weeks old?  This simple bit of clarity has been a bridge too far for most of the media.

Poor Data Quality

For the last 18 months, we have had to work with absolutely awful data on COVID.  I am willing to believe that in March 2020 we had excuses for not knowing what we were doing.  But now?  Some examples:

  • We are testing for COVID using PCR tests that are far too sensitive.  These tests use a series of cycles to concentrate the virus being searched for.  Many tests are being conducted as high as 40 cycles, which pretty much everyone agrees is way too sensitive and is likely to give false positives.  Given the importance of this cycle number, it is astounding that in 18 months I have never seen -- not once -- a media article that has a statistic on positive COVID tests along with the cycle number at which these tests were conducted.
  • Hospitalization data is skewed by the fact that hospitals have strong financial incentives to report patients as COVID patients.   This means a dude in a car wreck who tests positive for COVID once brought in might be listed as a COVID patient, despite the fact that this person fits no definition any of us have for what should count as a COVID hospitalization.  Retrospective studies have consistently shown huge overcounts of COVID patients, confusing "patients with COVID" with the more important "patients who were hospitalized because of COVID."
  • Most retrospective audits have found that COVID death data suffers from the same over-reporting as hospitalization, as a person testing positive for COVID but dying of a stroke might still be listed as a COVID death
  • I have no idea what is going on in many states with COVID death reporting delays.  We still see COVID deaths being added to counts for dates months in the past.  Why the long long delay?  Is there some sort of reclassification going on, and if so why? If not, given that we literally have spent trillions of dollars on COVID response, why can't we fix these data issues?

Following the Wrong Metric

The metric we should really care about is deaths (or given the fact that COVID deaths skew so old, perhaps total life-years lost to COVID).  After all, if we are to be honest, it is the prospect of death and not getting really sick that has certain elements of our population nearly catatonic in fear.  The problem is that even without the death reporting problems outlined above, deaths are way too much of a lagging indicator to be useful in spotting early trends.

Unfortunately, though, because the vast vast majority of positive tests for COVID are for folks who will never display anything but mild symptoms (and due to the testing issues discussed above), this is not a very good metric either.  But there is another problem -- all positive tests are not created equal.  A positive test of a health 20-year-old is pretty much the occasion for a big yawn.  A positive test for an 86-year-old with heart problems and diabetes is a cause of immense concern.  But the metrics do not differentiate.  We just see case counts on the news.  And note the ratio between these two extremes has not been stable -- early on a lot of the cases were in older folks, while today most of the positive tests are in young and healthy people.  Add to this the fact that we now have positive tests in the vaccinated, who are highly unlikely to die of the disease, and I would argue that 1000 positive tests in August 2021 are FAR less worrisome than 1000 positive tests in March 2020.  But again we treat them the same.

So Coyote, is this just academic?  I don't think so.  Personally I think we have seen several decisions of late that are impossible to justify based on science.  For example:

  • Oregon governor orders that even the vaccinated must mask outdoors
  • Many, Many school districts are demanding that kids as young as 3 must mask in school

Neither of these are supported by any science, and to the extent that the former discourages people from getting out of crowded cities and into the outdoors, and the latter discourages children from getting educated, they likely have net negative consequences.  So why?

I would argue the problem is that we have gotten stuck on cases (from overly sensitive tests) being the key metric.  Kids going back to school will almost certainly increase case counts, but for a disease that is less threatening to them than the ordinary flu, so what?  We are stuck on a stupid metric that no longer reflects actual risk and we have politicians mindlessly (see part 1 on incentives) managing to that metric.

So what metric would be better?

First, a good metric needs to really measure what we care about.  At some level, if we really think about it, we shouldn't really give a sh*t about case counts -- we care about people who die or have serious health complications from the disease.

Second, a good metric needs to be easy to calculate and reach the same figure no matter who does the calculation

Third, a good metric needs to be timely.  It is not helpful to have a collision indicator in the cockpit that only lights up 30 seconds after the plane hits the mountain.

Through the middle part of last year, I tended to look at hospitalization data.  It had its flaws (discussed above) but it struck me as the best balance between being timely (more timely than deaths) and indicating true risk (vs just cases).

I can envision a better metric: risk adjusted cases.  This could be as simple or as complicated as one likes, but I would favor a simple version that did not look at too many metrics -- maybe just 5 or 6 age bands and maybe vaccination status.  How it would work in its simplest form is that each case in the summary statistics would be weighted with a factor based on that person's risk of death.  For a simple version with age bands, this means that a case in the 80+ band might have a multiplier of 10 or greater while a case in the 0-18 age band might have a multiplier of 0.1 or smaller.  This would have been impossible to do last March but certainly by the time of the winter peak last year it would have been very doable.  We could easily do this today and back calculate the 2020 data for comparability.  I think age adjustment would be enough, I wouldn't get more fancy than that because we tend to have the age in the case data but not a lot else.  Perhaps we could add a factor for vaccination status as we measure that too.

This approach give us a much clearer idea of how much we should be worried about rising case counts and would be a better leading indicator of potential stress on health care systems 1-2 weeks out.

Afghanistan Was Always Going to End This Way

I understand that Afghanistan is falling into what is sure to be a heart-breaking mess as the Taliban quickly rolls up the country in a way that is quite reminiscent of South Vietnam falling to the North in the 1970s.   The rapid collapse of the Afghani government after the exit of most American troops will be used by many as evidence that we shouldn't have left, or that we left too soon.  In my mind, it's the opposite.

We have had 20 years to try to build a sustainable non-Taliban regime in Afghanistan and have clearly totally failed.  Again, we have failed to do so in a way that is surprisingly similar to our failures in South Vietnam (though at least without sustained bombing of population centers).  Holding on in Afghanistan has taken on the aspect of holding down a dead-man's switch on a bomb.  We seem unable to defuse it, but as long as we are willing to sit there, the bomb doesn't go off.  In this context, it should surprise no one that the bomb went off when we got up and left.

The silver lining is that given time and space to find their own way without a million foreign troops on their soil, the Vietnamese have steadily improved their country and the lot of their people.  Vietnam sits above Russia, Greece, and South Africa (and probably California) in the recent economic freedom rankings.

This does not mean that the Afghan people are not going to suffer over the next years and decades.  They will.  I feel for them.  But its clear to me at least the the US occupation is a dead end.  If liberty and prosperity ever come to the Afghani people, it will have to come through a different path.

Update:  Well, maybe not exactly this way.  I wrote this referring to the collapse of the Afghan government we had selected and propped up.  Clearly the ridiculous mistakes made on our exit that left Americans and our vulnerable friends without a clear path or plan for exit were not inevitable.

Crazy Government Responses to COVID Part 2: Feelz Before Facts

Part one of this series was on government incentives.  Part two of this series was originally going to be "managing to the wrong metrics," and we will still get to that topic in part 3.  But as I wrote that piece, it occurred to me that perhaps an even larger issue is not just working from the wrong data, but working from no data at all.

While it would be easy to attribute the "feelz before facts" bias to things like post-modernist thought, in actuality it is older than civilization.    I am pretty sure that panicked, emotional stories about Native American attacks on 19th century settlers grossly exceeded actual such events had we had good statistics (just as panicked, emotional stores of barbarian attacks on 4th century Roman settlers probably similarly exceeded actual cases).

More recently, the global warming debate has been home to many good examples of this effect.  Rising global temperatures are fairly easy to show on a chart, and while the compilation of these statistics is fraught with problems, it is generally unassailable that the data trends up.  Where things really go downhill is in the supposed knock-on effects of rising global temperatures (eg hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, etc).

The media coverage of these issues is absolutely dominated with feelz over facts -- a good example being hurricanes.  Media coverage of every hurricane is full of panicked articles that this particular hurricane is a demonstration of climate change.  Beyond being a great example of how the media often tries to claim a trend from a single data point, the amazing part is that long data sets of hurricane frequency and, even better, total cyclonic energy in such storms, are readily available...  and NEVER published.  This data consistently shows no upward long-term trend in hurricane activity or strength, but such data is deprecated in comparison to fear of the individual hurricanes themselves.

We have seen this exact same kind of thing, with fear and anecdote trumping actual data, from the very beginning of COVID.  For example:

  • One single panicked tweet or interview of some random hospital nurse** will create a stampede of stories that hospitals are all full and that if you get sick you will likely get turned away and die.  What these stories never include is either a) real data on hospital bed occupancy in the area being reported on or b) any background how hospitals can and routinely do flex ICU bed capacity or c) any background on how this happens even in many flu seasons and is not a unique COVID marker (eg here, here, here, here).
  • Some person will claim so weird long-COVID reaction without any statistics or background on how a) many respiratory diseases have odd longer-lasting effects or b) at what rates these occur or c) how most of these are eventually debunked a few months later (remember the whole young athlete heart thing?).
  • A story will feature a person dying at 30 to try to scare people that this is not just killing old people without a) any context of pre-existing conditions in that person or b) without any data on the microscopic overall fatality rate for this age group and how unusual this case actually is.

My wife tends to be susceptible to this panic stuff because a) she actually still trusts the media and b) she tends to be one of those people who will always jump to the worst case scenario.   It is just incredibly frustrating to watch the media push her buttons and make her fearful when no rational basis exists to be scared.  And the hard part is that for rational people to bat this stuff down, it is like playing whack-a-mole.  At some point it just becomes tedious and exhausting to keep responding every day to a new batch of fact-free BS (irritatingly wrapped into a self-righteous mantle of "following the science.")

I remember a Teaching Company lecture course on German propaganda in the 1930's.  The professor Thomas Childers (I would recommend any of his courses) compared the messaging to a wheel.  They would try a message, and for those that this message did not work for they would turn the wheel a bit and get a new message.  And they would do this constantly until no opponent could reasonably knock them all down.

** Postscript.  This sort of gets back to the first post in this series on incentives, but one might wonder why some front-line healthcare worker would go to the media with dramatic stories that are untrue.  Various political sites that are skeptical of the stores have assumed these folks are political in some way with a political mission, but that does not have to be true.  Let me tell a story.

Back in the early 1990's I was on a jury in Dallas.  This was at the tail end of the incredible child molestation and day care panic, where Janet Reno and others using her "Miami Method" put scores of people in jail based on absurd, literally unbelievable stories generated by young children at the urging of prosecutors.    Our jury's case was a dad accused by the babysitter of molestation of his daughter.

The facts were absurd.  The molestation event supposedly occurred in a quasi-public place;  there was no physical or other evidence;  the "victim" recanted earlier stories told to aggressive prosecutors and testified for her dad;  no one actually witnessed anything.  We returned a not guilty verdict in barely an hour.

We can guess the prosecutors were motivated both by sincere belief that they were doing God's work as well as desire to emulate other prosecutors who had jump-started their career by recently making headline-grabbing molestation prosecutions (Janet Reno actually having jumped all the way to US AG, as an example).  But why the heck did the baby-sitter start all this?  It turns out that this was actually pretty clear from cross-examination by a very good defense lawyer.  She had seen another baby-sitter get on the Oprah TV show for accusing a father of molestation, and she wanted the same chance to meet Oprah and get her 15 minutes of fame.  Seriously, the whole family's life was shattered for years because she wanted to be on Oprah.  Never over-estimate anyone's motives, I guess.

Crazy Government Responses to COVID Part 1: Understanding Incentives

When I argue with folks about the irrationality of certain COVID NPI mandates, eg masks and lockdowns, their ultimate argument when their backs are up against the wall is this:  the government and/or the "experts" would not have mandated these interventions if they did not make sense.  The purpose of this and several following posts is to explain exactly why  they might, or more particularly, why certain government mandates might make sense for government officials even when they make sense for no one else.

Briefly, the case against masks

There are people I talk to that assume that the entire history of science consists of a march towards more and more certainly that public masking is essential to stopping respiratory disease spread and that the only people who oppose this NPI are doing so because Donald Trump or the Baptist Church told us to oppose them.  But there are actually really good reasons to be skeptical of masks as a mandated NPI for this respiratory disease:

  • The body of public health research prior to 2020, on balance, held that public masking (and large scale lockdowns, btw) were not effective and generally not recommended (at least once the outbreak is past a very small group).  A good roundup of the studies is here.
  • People usually respond to this by saying, well, you wouldn't want your surgeon to operate on you without a mask.  Of course, this use case comparison is absurd, since standing next to someone in line at Walmart for 60 seconds is not really anything like hovering over someone's open incision for 3 hours.   But it turns out that the scientific support for masks even in surgery to reduce post-op infection is surprisingly equivocal.
  • The weave of your mask looks to a COVID virus approximately what a chain link fence looks like to a mosquito.  It is not stopping the virus itself.  And this is even before discussing the total lack of sealing against the face I see on pretty much every mask.  And the fact that many people are reusing the same mask for days.
  • The argument is thus made that the mask is stopping saliva droplets.  But we have known pretty much since last March that droplets don't spread the disease.  Droplets end up on the floor, not floating around for hours.  The disease is spread best by aerosols, and masks are only marginally effective at blocking these aerosols
  • Everything I have said above is EXACTLY what the CDC has said for years.  Here is their info-graphic, still up on their web site.  (Here is a copy I have archived in case they ever take it down: understanddifferenceinfographic-508 )
  • A case can be made that masks can make spread worse.  Imagine being on a plane for 4 hours and you have COVID.  Before you ever even get on the plane, you mask is saturated with COVID virus and moisture.  You then spend the entire flight blowing COVID-laden aerosols out through the mask like bubbles from a bubble wand.

Incentives of Government Agencies

But within weeks of the start of the pandemic in 2020, government agencies like the CDC threw out all this history and decided to mandate masks.  Masks were mandated for people outdoors, even when we knew from the start that transmission risks outdoors were nil.   Officials are still mandating masks for children, who have lower death rates from COVID than the flu and despite a lot of clear research about the importance of facial expressions in childhood development and socialization.  Officials are even starting to mandate masks for the vaccinated who, if they are not effectively immune from the disease, are nearly perfectly immune to hospitalization and death from the disease.  So why?

One needs to remember that the officials of government agencies like the CDC are not active scientists, they are government bureaucrats.  They may have had a degree in science at one time and still receive some scientific journals, but so do I.  Dr. Fauci has seen about the same number of patients over the last 40 years as Dr. Biden.  These are government officials that think like government officials and have the incentives of government officials.

I will take the CDC as an example but the following could apply to any related agency.  Remember that the CDC has been around for decades, consuming billions of dollars of years of tax money.  And as far as the average American is concerned, the CDC has never done much (at least visibly) as we never have had any sort of public health emergency when the CDC had to roll into action.

If you think this unfair, consider that the CDC itself has recognized this problem.  For years they have been trying to expand their mandate to things like gun control and racism, trying to argue that these constitute public health emergencies and thus require their active participation.  The CDC has for years been actively looking for a publicly-visible role (as opposed to research coordination and planning and preparation and such) that would increase their recognition, prestige, and budget.

So that is the backdrop.  And boom - finally! - there is a public health emergency where they can roll into action.  They see this new and potentially scary respiratory virus, they check their plans on the shelf, and those plans basically say -- there is nothing much to be done, at least in the near term.  Ugh!  How are we going to justify our existence?  Tellingly, by the way, these agencies and folks like Fauci did follow a lot of the prior science in the opening weeks -- for example they discouraged mask wearing.  Later Fauci justified his flip flop by claiming he meant the statement as a way to protect mask supply for health care workers, but I actually think that was a lie.  His initial statements on masks were correct, but government agencies decided they did not like the signal of impotence this was sending.

There was actually plenty these agencies should have been doing, but none of those things looked like immediate things to make the public feel safer.  Agencies should have been:

  1. Trying to catalog COVID behavior and characteristics
  2. Developing tests
  3. Identifying and testing treatment protocols
  4. Slashing regulations vis a vis tests and other treatments so they could be approved faster
  5. Developing a vaccine

If we score these things, #1 was sort of done though with a lot of exaggerated messaging (ie they communicated a lot of stuff that was mostly BS, like long covid or heart risk to young athletes).  #2 the CDC and FDA totally screwed up.  #3 barely happened, with promising treatments politicized and ignored.  #4 totally did not happen, no one even tried.  #5 went fabulously, but was an executive project met with mostly skepticism from agencies like the CDC.

Instead, the CDC and other agencies decided they had to do something that seemed like it was immediately affecting safety, so it reversed both years of research and several weeks of their own messaging and came down hard for masks and lockdowns.   And, given the nature of government incentives, they had to stick with it right up to today, because an admission today that these NPI aren't needed risks having all their activity in 2020 questioned.

Incentives for Government Officials

Pretty much all of the above also applies to the incentives of government officials.  Our elected officials of both parties, but particularly the Democrats, have been working to have the average American think of them as super-dad.  Got a problem?  Don't spend too much time trying to solve it yourself because its the government's job to do so.  Against this background, the option to do nothing, at least nothing with immediate and dramatic apparent potency, did not exist.  We have to do "something."

It might have been possible for some officials to resist this temptation of action for action's sake, except for a second incentive.  Once one prominent official requires masks and lockdowns, the media began creating pressure on all other government officials.  New York has locked down, why haven't you?  Does New York care more than you?  We had a cascade, where each official who adopted these NPI added to the pressure on all the others to do so.  Further, as this NPI became the standard government intervention, the media began to blame deaths in states with fewer interventions on that state's leaders.  Florida had far fewer COVID deaths, particularly given their age demographics, than New York but for the media the NY leaders were angels and the Florida ones were butchers.  For a brief time terrible rushed "studies" were created to prove that these interventions were working, generally by the dishonest tactic of cherry-picking a state with NPI mandates that was not in its seasonal disease peak and comparing it to another state without NPI mandates that was in the heart of its seasonal peak.  (We are, by the way, starting to see a similar cascade around the most recent delta-driven mandates -- just today a random Arizona county with no uptick in COVID hospitalizations just required indoor masking for the vaccinated).

And then the whole thing got polarized around party affiliation and any last vestige of scientific thinking got thrown to the curb.   Take Chloroquine as a possible treatment protocol.  Personally, I have not seen much evidence in its favor but early last year we did not know yet one way or another and there were some reasons to think it might be promising.  And then Donald Trump mentioned it.  After that we had the spectacle of the Michigan Governor banning this treatment absolutely without evidence solely because Trump had touted it on pretty limited evidence.  What a freaking mess.  In addition to giving us all a really beautiful view of the hypocrisy of politicians, it also added another great lie to the standard list.  To "The check is in the mail" and "I will respect you in the morning" is now added "We are following the science."

Incentives for the Public

I won't dwell on this too long, but one thing COVID has made clear to me is that a LOT of people are looking for the world to provide them with drama and meaning.  The degree to which many folks (mostly all well-off white professionals and their families) seem to have enthusiastically embraced COVID restrictions and been reluctant to give them up has just been an amazing eye-opener for me.

Incentives for Businesses

Many businesses have been caught up in the politicized virtue-signaling, making a big deal of their support for or opposition to various NPI.  But even without this political element, businesses were always going to be conservative and mandate a lot of this stuff if for no reason than to avoid liability.  If politicians are worried about blame from the media for deaths if they did not mandate every intervention their neighbors required, just think what a corporation worries about.  Any tort lawyer worth their salt can get a jury to blame a customer or employee death, without evidence, on a company that somehow did not follow the CDC advice of the microsecond.

Next Episode

In our next episode, I will discuss the role of poor selection of metrics for crazy government interventions.  Spoiler alert -- focusing on cases via positive readings on an overly sensitive test has led to a LOT of the most recent wave of stupidity.

Your Defense Against Panic

The media and politicians are going to try to panic you over case counts.  Relax.  We have tamed COVID down to flu levels or below in terms of seriousness.  People can still test positive after being vaccinated, but they mostly don't die.  And while half the country has not been vaccinated, the half that has is mostly older folks who are most vulnerable.  Link to article

 

Apparently the Old HydroInfra Scam is Back With a New Name

Years ago I wrote about a scammy company that claimed to be making HydroAtomic Nano Gas (HNG) that they claimed to be the solution to a wide range of environmental problems.  They used pseudo-scientific words strung together at random to try to impress non-scientific environmentalists to invest in their company (it works for Elon Musk, so why not?)  Go read the old article for a good laugh.

A reader sent me a note today that this reader had lost a bit of money in this scam and had friends who "lost their house" investing in this honeytrap.  The reader tells me that apparently HydroInfra is back with another name, at a company called HydroNano Infra Power (same great name, now with even more nano!)  Their science is even harder to critique than the old HydroInfra page, as they have even less detail about the supposed chemistry they are claiming.  But everything that is there is just a word salad of jargon meant to impress the scientifically uneducated.  Here is an example (sorry, no text on the site, only scans from a physical brochure).  Click to enlarge.

By the way, I love the Hollywood-esque equipment, obviously stitched together for this picture from everyday items, nearly as ridiculous-looking as the guy carrying the ice cream freezer through Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back.  I bet if we crowdsourced the effort, we could figure out where each of these pieces came from.

Apparently, according to the reader, it is difficult to get legal action taken against even obviously-fraudulent companies.  I can't confirm that, but it does appear these guys are still going strong.

This is the Kind of Billionaire v. Billionaire Competition We Need More Of

Rising Abuse and Threats of Service Workers

I have never seen anything like the year we are having in the outdoor recreation and camping business, on many fronts.  The problem hiring workers has been discussed before.  But something I have only seen in written up in a few places is what seems to be a growing abusiveness of the public toward service workers.  We have already had a record number of incidents this year of threats by visitors aimed at our employees.  In most cases, the issue seems to be that the employee, usually politely, attempted to enforce a rule or restriction the customer did not want to hear and the customer exploded.

I do not know if this is just an issue in the outdoor business, with a flood of new customers who have never camped before and don't really have clear expectations about what is and is not allowed in a campground.  I don't know if it is some kind of COVID/Lockdown hangover.  I don't know if it is a sign of rising entitlement.  But it is frustrating to have our people treated this way.

I remember a sign I saw in a restaurant years ago, "please be nice to your server, they are harder to get than customers."

My Body My Rights

Variations of "my body my rights" have been a central theme for the Left for decades.  I am all for this (as long as we are applying it to adults wholeheartedly but more restrictively to minors).  But I have argued for years that this represents faux libertarianism -- the Left believes this absolutely when it comes to abortion (and more recently for gender transitions among minors) but not so much when it comes to any other issues.  You want to eat GMO foods?  Sorry, you can't do that.  Smoke?  Sorry, no dice.  Teenage tanning salon visits?  Sorry, not without more parental paperwork than is required for an abortion.

Here is your latest example, from the most progressive city in the country, San Francisco which is requiring vaccinations of all employees:

So these folks who don't think a couple of decades of testing of GMO foods is enough are requiring injection of a vaccine that has been tested for barely a year (I personally consider it safe and was vaccinated but I also consume GMO foods without reservation -- my body my choice).

By the way, this is from the ACLU website:

Being able to make our own decisions about our health, body and sexual life is a basic human right.

Whoever you are, wherever you live, you have the right to make these choices without fear, violence or discrimination.

Yet all over the world, people are bullied, discriminated against and arrested, simply for making choices about their bodies and their lives.

The ACLU, of course, has been completely missing in action throughout COVID, when we have experienced some of the greatest government intrusions of individual rights in our nation's history.  Lockdowns?  Silence.  Mask mandates?  Silence.   Bans on assembly?  Silence.  Censorship of heterodox opinions on the virus (that turn out to be right)? Silence.  Forced vaccinations?  Silence.  All of this is consistent with the ACLU's transition from being a true civil rights organization to yet another progressive political lobbyist.

 

Trying to Be Compliant in California

I usually don't quote other blog posts in their entirety, but this is so classic that I feel the need to.  This is from Holden Law Group, an excellent resource we use to try desperately to remain in compliance with California Labor law when such law can sometimes change many times in a single year, sometimes retroactively.  California has very onerous rules on businesses for COVID occupational health compliance.  This is an update on those rules:

[[ORIGINAL POST]] Cal/OSHA continued its burlesque impersonation of a 6-year-old child at an ice cream shop this past week.  Originally, on May 7th, the state bureaucracy unveiled proposed changes to the COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (“ETS”).  However, shortly thereafter, Cal/OSHA announced that it was tabling its final vote on the revisions; and instead, was scheduling an “emergency” meeting for June 3rd because the proposed changes were not in-line with the guidelines of the California Department of Public Health and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”). Then, last week at this “emergency” meeting, Cal/OSHA initially indicated that it would indeed reject the proposed ETS changes because they were not consistent with the CDC guidance. However, by the end of the meeting, Cal/OSHA unanimously voted in favor of adopting those very same revisions.  Vanilla.  Chocolate. Yes, Chocolate…. Well…. actually Vanilla.  Definitely, Vanilla. Click here to read on – blog posted June 8, 2021….

[[UPDATE]] After this blog was originally posted, Cal/OSHA had yet another “emergency” meeting on June 9, 2021, this time unanimously voting NOT to adopt the proposed new revisions to its regulations.  Mind you, this is the same Cal/OSHA who unanimously voted TO adopt the revisions just a few days ago – and no new guidance from the CDC or public health officials has occurred in the interim – just a letter from the State Health Officer to Cal/OSHA reminding them that their proposed revisions were inconsistent with federal guidance and that the rest of the State would be following that federal guidance starting June 15th.

So where does that leave us, you ask. By voting not to adopt the proposed revisions, the same old Cal/OSHA regulations which have been in effect since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic will remain in effect for the foreseeable future – regulations which are even MORE inconsistent with federal guidance than were the proposed revisions.  So, for now, Cal/OSHA is back to Chocolate ice cream – stale, well past its expiration date, Chocolate ice cream.

 

The Trump Business Skill

Long before he was President, I would tell everyone who listened that one of Trump's two main business skills was to be able to walk out of the (frequent) bankruptcies of his various ventures with far more money/value than one could rightly expect from his position in the capital structure.  I am not sure if this is chutzpuh or negotiating acumen or related to the other skill, one which almost by definition has to be a skill of every Manhattan developer -- he had connections.  You or I could bring as much money to the table as we would like and we could still never get a building built in Manhattan, at least not without a lot of payoffs.

Anyway, it seems that the egregious Adam Neumann of WeWork has the same skill set.

Please President Biden, Hire Some Temps for the IRS

I know most of you (and I as well, most of the time) are perfectly happy to have the IRS just shut down.   Unfortunately, when one runs a business, there are certain things that have to be done through the IRS, particularly when setting up or reorganizing a new business.  One of my companies made a pro forma request (a subchapter S election) in a request to the IRS dated August 4.  Today, on May 27, I received the one page confirmation that it had been processed.  Unfortunately, I requested the IRS do some more critical things in December, and I am now worried that if there is a FIFO queue then I may have to wait another 4+ months for these to be completed.  The worst of these is we changed our name, and we submitted the change to the IRS to update our FEIN records.  Unfortunately, every time we try to open a bank account or a do a state registration they come back and deny our application because right now the IRS computer shows a mismatch with our FEIN and our new name.  It takes hours and scads of paperwork to explain what is going on every time, making even the smallest things really hard to do.

Masks as Virtue Signaling

I want to thank David Hogg for this remarkably honest explanation for why he wears a mask when it is completely unneeded.

While others may not be doing it strictly to avoid looking Conservative, I do think that many young people wear them because they don't want to be mistaken as somehow anti-social or a Neanderthal.

When I am pressured to put a mask on despite having been fully vaccinated 8 weeks ago, I feel like I am signaling as well -- I am signaling that I am a rube who is meekly knuckling under to an irrational state.  It is certainly an eye-opener to see so many of the supposed members of the counter-culture marching in lockstep with state authority.

Business in 2021: Lots of Orders, No Employees, Rising Materials Costs

This is an excerpt from an email from one of my suppliers.  This is happening everywhere:

We are not a company that makes excuses as to quality or service. When things are beyond our control, we will not point fingers and say it's not our fault. However, the climate to conduct business is becoming more difficult daily.

...Employees were allowed to file for financial relief thus finding they could make more money sitting at home than working. The snowball effect started and is getting bigger.

Orders that were placed back in the fall are being filled at this time, 6 months later. Because of the shortage of materials some prices have almost doubled. I cannot tell my customers sorry I know we have an agreement for that however I now have to charge you this. We have honored our prices, we have not been able to honor our time of production to shipping because of circumstances beyond our control.

The list is endless of the domino effect in just about every industry in the country.

It is no accident that today we had a really week payroll report -- we have high unemployment, huge demand for labor, but no one wants to work as long as the government is writing checks to stay home and play Nintendo.  We're experiencing 1970's Swedish socialism, something that turned out to be such a mess that Sweden today is probably more free market in many ways than the US.

When Regulation Hammers Those It is Supposed to Benefit -- A Real Example in California

Regulation can be sortof kindof tolerable in stable, predictable, and unchanging markets.  But what markets act like that?  In the labor regulation world, for example, regulatory authorities are doing everything they can to kill a wave of innovation in labor markets.  As I tell everyone I discuss this with -- regulators picture workers as punching a time clock in a Pittsburg mill with their supervisor right there and present every moment, with an on-site HR department, and a cafeteria with huge walls for posting acres of labor posters.  Try to have any other relationship with your employees, and it will be like pounding a round peg into a square regulatory hole.  Even something as staggeringly beneficial to worker agency like letting remote workers schedule themselves tends to run afoul of the shift scheduling laws that are sweeping through progressive jurisdictions.

Here is a great example of the cost of regulation to consumers that our company is experiencing in the insurance market.  Last year after all the fires in California, the property insurance market was left in disarray.  My landlord, in many cases the US government, requires that I insured the assets I am leasing from them against wildfire (leave aside the question of why the Federal government which is supposed to be self-insured is paying for such insurance in the form of lower rents from me).

Suddenly, wildfire insurance on wilderness assets like the ones we operate became unobtainable.  After a LOT of education, we convinced the US Forest Service to allow a temporary moratorium on the wildfire insurance requirement in our agreements.  Good news, right?   Now we can just go out and get a property insurance policy that covers all damage but excludes wildfire.

Not so fast!  It turns out every single microscopic variation in insurance rates in California have to be approved by the state insurance commissioner in a time-consuming process that begins long before the policy year.  Well, it turns out most insurance companies don't actually have an approved rate that excludes wildfire coverage.  They won't sell us a policy with the coverage (too risky) and they can't sell the policy without the coverage (not approved).

Regulation can always be costly but can be particularly so when markets need to react quickly to changing conditions.