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.

This is The Best Idea I Have Seen Related to Equity

There are lots of ways to learn and grow skills and college is just one -- historically, most Americans have gained skills and improved their lives through learning and development in the workplace.  Stop the crazy over-credentialism of work.  Stop demanding a $100,000 education expenditure to qualify for a job where zero of the relevant jobs skills were taught in college.   I understand that college is used as a proxy for being long-term focused and goal oriented, but those can be demonstrated at least as well through work.  This is term would (hopefully) ease the pressure to dumb down education for the truly gifted.

 

Postscript:  I will add that a good portion of my executive team and field managers never went to college.  Has zero effect on their performance, except it gives some of them an inferiority complex I have to keep trying to overcome.

Our Personal Liberties Are Now Hostage to the Least Common Denominator of Mental Health

It is unbelievable we are allowing these people to rule us

Here are just some of the restrictions:

  • Everyone at the camp—including staff and every kid over the age of two—must wear masks at all times, unless they are eating or swimming. They should wear two layers of masks, especially when social distancing is difficult, regardless of "whether activities are indoors or outdoors."
  • Campers should be placed in "cohorts," and their interaction with people outside the cohort must be limited.
  • There should always be at least three feet between campers of the same cohort, and six feet between campers of different cohorts. Staff should keep six feet away from campers at all times, whether inside or outside. Distance should be maintained while eating, napping, or riding the bus: The CDC suggests seating kids in alternating rows.
  • The use of physical objects that might be shared among kids—toys, art supplies, electronics—should be limited wherever possible.
  • Camps should not permit close-contact sports and indoor sports, and should require masks regardless.

 

Why Must I Change My Behavior To Protect Those Who Choose Not To Vaccinate?

We are rapidly approaching the point where people who are unvaccinated are that way because they choose to eschew the vaccine.  Here in AZ, which has had a pretty solid vaccination program, tens of thousands of appointments for *free* vaccinations are going unused.  Vaccination rates are falling because people don't want them.

But states like Michigan still require that every citizen's freedoms be restricted until more people are vaccinated.  What if those folks choose never to get the shot?  Are we doomed to the same east-german-style regime forever?

And why should we?  People are making the individual choice that they perceive the risks and costs of vaccination to be higher than that from COVID.  OK, fine.  I disagree with them, but am happy to respect their right to make that decision.  But why do the rest of us still have to tiptoe around them?  They have made their risk choice, why don't we let them live with it and get on with our lives?

The answer is two-fold, and comes back to political incentives.  First, politicians fear they will be blamed for outbreaks of disease among the unvaccinated that raise their state's numbers -- we have lost the ability to talk in terms of individual responsibility and so somehow even when an individual explicitly makes a risk choice, we still want to blame politicians if this choice goes bad.  The other reason is that politicians really don't want to give up the power they have -- they have gained powers unprecedented in American history through declarations of health emergencies and fanning the flames of irrational fears, and they don't want to give those back.  Any excuse to extend the emergency will be grasped.

Well, It Worked For Bypassing the First Amendment

CNN: Biden Admin Wants to Outsource Spying on Americans to Private Firms to Bypass Fourth Amendment

The Biden administration is considering using private firms to track the online activity of American citizens in order to get around the Fourth Amendment and other laws that protect Americans from unreasonable searches and seizures and surveillance. The report says that the Biden administration wants to monitor “extremist chatter by Americans online” but can’t do so without a warrant, and thinks private firms can get around the legal restrictions.

Biden Proposes Paying More People Not to Worki

I sit on a lot of boards of trade groups and business roundtables of various sorts.  And the #1 exclusive topic -- seriously, we talk about nothing else right now -- is the inability to hire people because the government is still paying millions or people to not work.  In restaurants, campgrounds, stores, manufacturers and scores of other industries, companies are ready right now to put more people to work but cannot because the government is paying people too much money to stay home and they can't get the workers they need.  Bounties, higher salaries, and incentives are all futile when candidate after candidate says that they won't look for work until the government payments stop.

So of course, the Biden Administration is proposing to pay more people not to work:

According to a White House fact sheet, the AFP would create a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program, funded through tax increases, and paying workers up to $4,000 a month. Under that cap, it would replace a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages, rising to 80 percent for the lowest-wage workers.

The proposal does not define "lowest-wage workers," however, and left out details about whether eligibility would differ from current FMLA. Those specifics will be addressed when Congress drafts an actual bill.

Biden proposed that the program be phased in over a 10-year period, guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid parental, family illness, personal illness or safety-related leave by year 10. Workers would receive three days of bereavement leave per year starting in year one.

This is one of those bait and switch programs that are sold on the most extreme forms of eligibility -- ie they talk about leave to help a dying child but in the FMLA there are so many random and poorly defined leave rules that pretty much everyone qualifies.  We had a woman in California who worked for us that liked the job but hated the busy summer season and so scheduled elective surgery every year around Memorial Day to get out of working the summer -- and that was when it was unpaid!  I can't even imagine the abuse of a leave program paying up to $48,000 a year for not working.

Why Most of the Pro-Mask Science Quoted in the Media is Absurd

I have been close to writing this post off and on for almost a full year.  Starting back in the early days of COVID when the media used graphics about droplet spray patterns with and without masks as "proof" that masks work to slow the spread of COVID.

I was going to write about how dumb this was, but I assumed that other scientific voices would soon skewer these studies and thus it would be a waste of my time.  But lo and behold, while many careful scientific minds did recognize the flaws in these studies, the large news and social media companies have been pretty diligent about preventing any heterodox opinions on masks from getting wide circulation.

And so it stood until the other day when someone once again threw these droplet studies at me as proof that masks reduce the spread of seasonal viruses like COVID.  OK, here is the problem:

It is best to think first in terms of an analogy.  You have a car and want to prove that at any time of day, you could drive 60 miles across Los Angeles in an hour.  So to "prove" that, you take the car our to a test track and show that yes indeed, your car can sustain 60 miles an hour for extended periods of time.

Hopefully the flaws with this are obvious.  Proving a car can go 60 miles an hour is not the same as proving a car can drive 60 miles in an hour in real world conditions, particularly in LA at, say, 5 in the afternoon.

In the same way, showing that a clean, new mask can stop the projection of droplets of liquid does not in any way demonstrate that they are effective in limiting the spread of a virus in real world conditions.  Others can probably add more to the logic problems here, but just a few are:

  • Are large droplets even primarily responsible for the spread of COVID  (remember, the COVID virus is WAY smaller than the holes in the weave of most masks)?
  • What happens when the mask is worn for a while and becomes saturated from the virus of an infected person.  Aren't they now just blowing out all day through a film of COVID, like a kid blowing bubbles with a bubble wand?
  • Are masks efficacious when almost none of them are sealed to the user's face?
  • Is there any evidence of transmission in certain environments, like outdoors on a sidewalk, with our without a mask?

The fact is that the sum of studies before 2020 on the efficacy of public mask wearing to limit the spread of seasonal viruses were equivocal as best.  No one thought they did much good.  People will respond, "well, you wouldn't want your doctor to do surgery on you without a mask" but in fact even the evidence on post-operative infection with and without surgeon's mask use is equivocal  (it is also an absurd analogy as I don't think anyone in Walmart will be hovering over an open incision in my body for 4 hours).   And certainly most (all?) of the quality studies since COVID on masks and virus spread have shown little or no mask effectiveness (there have been a few studies that have purported to show mask effectiveness but they had cherry-picked endpoints that compared one geography outside of its COVID season with another that was in it -- see more here).

Postscript:  I am in Knoxville for a day and had two different experiences.  Last night at the Lonesome Dove restaurant was the first time I have been in a restaurant where no one, not even the servers, wore masks.   A small return to sanity.  But then the next morning I went to an indie books store near market square that had a couple of people browsing and the proprietor would not let us in because they were over their COVID capacity limit (as I said to my wife, when your business model is heading for a cliff it is probably best not to stomp on the accelerator).

Postscript#2:  I know others have observed this but it is amazing how many of the people who do where masks when they are not required are under 25 -- and essentially immune from any major consequences.  Is this virtue-signaling?  A gesture of solidarity? Fear of authority?  Scientific cluelessness?  It is a very strange time when the young are mindlessly following authority and the older folks are skeptical.   The analogies I can think of is the German youth movement pre-WWI who were big supporters of war as a romantic endeavor and the young Chinese of the cultural revolution.

Update #3:  As a by the way, in case you every get to Knoxville and are looking for a nice place to stay in the downtown or university area, the Tennessean is the place to go.  Only slightly more expensive than other hotels nearby but has really top quality service and rooms  -- Four Seasons level IMO at a third the price.

Virological Calvinism

It is always dangerous when a non-religious person tries to make a statement about religious belief, especially when we get to complicated arguments about double predestination and supralapsarianism.  But for our limited purposes in this post, in Calvinism salvation and damnation are pre-ordained by God at the beginning of time --thus faith and good works have no bearing on being saved or damned.

I have come to believe that this is largely true of COVID-19, ie that the actions of man (at least as far as non-pharmaceutical interventions are concerned) have little or nothing to do with case rates and virus spread in any particular region.  Different geographies have different seasons for the virus, and trying to attribute low case rates or high case rates to the presence or lack of government interventions / restrictions is futile.  You can see that as location after location that was praised or damned at some point for its supposed good or bad handling of the virus have since seen opposite results.

There are a few exceptions to this, but very few.   On the positive side, the accelerated vaccine development programs were a near miracle, producing multiple viable vaccines WAY faster than I ever thought possible.  On the negative side, ordering infected people into long-term care facilities was a disaster.  But beyond these few exceptions, most of everything else didn't do squat.  The great regression analysis someone does someday on virus transmission rates across geographies is going to have seasonal variables, demographics, and urbanization with most of the explanatory power.

Quote of the Day on US Media Practices

From Glen Greenwald

Twice in the last year, I have written about this bizarre practice where media outlets purport to “independently confirm” one another's false stories by doing nothing more than going to the same anonymous sources who whisper to them the same things while providing no evidence. Yet they use this phrase “independent confirmation” to purposely imply that they obtained separate evidence corroborating the truth of the original story

This awful practice, which I see all the time, let's one anonymous source create a fictional narrative that dominates news cycles.

If you are not reading Glen Greenwald, you should.  When I recommend that a Marxist should be on your reading list, take that seriously.  If you don't want to pay, his work generally appears free a couple of days later on Zero Hedge and other places.  Today's quote is from today's email blast on yet another Russian conspiracy theory, crafted apparently to stop the US's overdue exit from Afghanistan, which now appears to have been almost completely fabricated.

2020 Should Have Been The Year We Demanded Reform of the FDA and CDC, But We Didn't. Now It's Come Back to Bite Us.

Many of the early failings in COVID response can be laid right at the doorstep of the CDC and FDA.

Shortages of testing?  The FDA refused to approve an tests except those developed at the CDC, and then the CDC tests failed.  Later, the FDA was really slow and conservative in approving new test approaches (eg home testing).

Shortages of PPE?  We learned that PPE manufacturers were all heavily regulated by the FDA, and FDA rules prevented quick ramp-ups, while liability rules made folks like 3M reluctant to shift N95 masks from non-medical to medical markets.

Slow vaccine rollout?  The FDA was its usual conservative self in approving vaccines, and refused to give any credit to vaccines approved by other western nations.  THEY had to approve it too.

First doses first?  No way, the CDC and FDA would not even consider it.   The conservative approach was to insist the vaccines be used exactly as originally tested, despite testing on the Pfizer vaccine showing that 1 dose of it was over 80% effective.  Now we see the world leader in reducing cases is the UK, which is the one country that did first doses first.

In a sane world, the CDC and FDA would have gotten hammered for what could be described as following peacetime rules in during wartime.  Add to that their ever-shifting and contradictory guidance, and guidance on NPI's that went against the sum of scientific research that had been published pre-2020, and you should have expected a LOT of media scrutiny of them in 202o.   Instead there was virtually none, and if anything the media fetishized and hero-worshipped these agencies.  Why?

As usual, the answer is Trump.  By 2020 the media was in the habit of blaming everything on Trump.  If COVID tests were in short supply, it must be Trump's fault.  No further scrutiny was needed.  In fact, no further scrutiny was wanted, because no explanation excerpt for "Trump's fault" was wanted.  Granted Trump helped them to some extent by his usual habit of off-the-cuff stupid statements.  But the media went ever further -- they wanted an anti-pole to Trump, and these agencies and morons like Dr. Fauci were elevated to sainthood not because they did anything right but because they could be portrayed as not-Trump.

For the media, whatever the FDA or CDC said represented scientific consensus.  Which is a horrible bastardization of science.  The FDA and CDC are not "science" and scientific "consensus", if such a thing is even real, is based on a quasi-antagonistic process of challenge and response between differing hypotheses (a process by the way the media actually undermined by de-platforming one side of many of the COVID-related debates) and not dictats by government agencies.  The FDA and CDC are populated by politicians and government bureaucrats who happen to have scientific degrees.  They are subject to all the same influences and bad incentives as any other political organization.  For example, in the government there are very different risk profiles between action and inaction.  Essentially, bureaucrats are seldom held accountable for deaths and harm from inaction -- if people die because they are slow to approve a new drug or procedure, no one puts that on them.  But they try to avoid at all costs approving something that eventually hurts someone, even if that harm is far less than the benefits of what they approved.  But instead of making all this clear, the media granted them the secular form of Papal infallibility.

So now we arrive at April 2021, and the FDA shut down the use of the J&J vaccine because it has about a 1 in a million chance of causing blood clots and a one in 6 million chance of causing a fatality.  People seem suddenly surprised that the FDA would do such a thing that is obviously so irrational (the number of lives saved by the vaccine is  -- by everyone's estimate -- orders of magnitude larger that those who have died from this side effect that may not actually even be due to the vaccine).

What is surprising to me is that anyone is surprised.  The FDA has ALWAYS acted this way.  Libertarians have called them out of this for years (thus, for example, libertarian-sponsored right to try laws).  In particular, failure after failure of COVID response in 2020 can be laid right at the FDA's doorstep, but we were just having too much fun demonizing Trump to actually look for root causes.  Well, now our inattention has come back to bite us with this absurd FDA decision.  The only good thing that can come from it is the potential that we might finally consider some reforms.

Prediction: Feds Will Be About The Last Government Entity To Drop Their Mask Mandate

Joe Biden is kind of stuck on COVID.  He campaigned on all the things Trump did wrong in his COVID response, but the only policy step of note that I can see that Biden has done differently is to issue a mask mandate for all federal property where Trump eschewed making NPI mandates at the Federal level, preferring to leave it to state and local governments based on their local conditions.  If this is really the case, expect Biden to be about the last man standing on government mask mandates, at least in the US.  My guess is that he will use continued cases or low vaccine rates in some state as an excuse to say that he can't drop the mandate until everyone in the US is ready  (forgetting how insane this is particularly when a more logical Federalist solution exists for the problem).

Biden is trying to claim credit for vaccination rates but it is hard to think of anything he has actually done to boost these rates since most all vaccines are administered by local folks and the vaccines were developed and funded on Trump's watch.  The only major decision Biden has made, which I actually think was a setback, was to declare that the US would not take a first doses first strategy used so successfully in the UK.  Biden has declared a goal of 100 vaccines in 100 days, but this is pretty much meaningless, the equivalent of a random dude running to the front of a parade and claim to be leading it.  Someone in his shop merely took a chart and of vaccination rates and projected it forward and determined about 100 million looked like they would be done in 100 days and so adopted this as a goal, hoping to retroactively convince people they caused this rather than just predicted it.  I would love someone in the press to ask Biden to name three things his Administration did that measurably accelerated the vaccination pace.

Like many, I find Trump irritating and distasteful and I have trouble saying nice things about him but he got a range of vaccines funded and got the US first in line for doses by pre-paying.  Its hard to think of anyone else who did more to help the crisis.  This helps me forget things like the botched testing development, which was really the FDA's and the CDC's fault but a different leader might have kicked those agencies out of their obstinate blocking role and into a more productive mode.

UPDATE:  I will add that the recent CDC / FDA decision to stop the J&J vaccine due to a 1 in a million non-fatal side effect seems like a terrible decision.  Again, possibly not Biden's decision, but like my criticism of Trump and testing, Biden could exercise some leadership here.  This is the price for fetishizing the CDC and FDA as all-knowing consensus voices of "science" that are not to be doubted, even to the point of having heterodox youtube videos taken down.  Because 1) These guys like Fauci are not scientists per se, but government bureaucrats with science degrees.  And as I have written many many times, government employees have incentives that lead to high risk aversion for acts of commission and low risk aversion for acts of omission.  Which means they put much higher weight on a death from a very easy to count and identify side effect that they could have stopped by stopping the vaccine than they do on deaths that are impossible to count or to see that were caused by the vaccine delay.  And 2) the idea of "scientific consensus" is a chimera and a term only used by non-scientists and a small group of government scientists that want to wield their position as a club to exercise power.  Seriously, how does such a consensus even exist if one side never was allowed to debate?  This is consensus as defined by Stalin or Mao.

We Knew About the Disproportionate Danger of COVID to the Elderly From The Very Beginning

In some recent debates over the Great Barrington Declaration, critics of that proposal argued that we didn't know that COVID was only a relatively small threat to healthy people under 65.  But we did know, as early as April or at worst May.  I know I was writing about it.  Just think of all the articles you have read with the theme of "everyone, not just old people, need to be terrified of COVID" and then look at this:

People over 65 make up only 18% of the UK population but clearly accounted for 90+% of the deaths.

Here is the calculus as I see it:  I was 58 when this all started.  Let's assume I have 20 good years.  Hiding in my home and not doing the things I enjoy for a whole year, as preached by Fauci and company, would have wasted 5% of my remaining life.  Instead, by ignoring them and going about my business, I was taking perhaps a 1/2000 chance of dying to the disease or 0.05% (I actually think given my health and weight that this is exaggerated).  These two numbers are not even close.  They are not one but two full orders of magnitude apart.  When presented with these numbers, and given my preferences, it would have been wildly irrational (or demonstrated extreme risk aversion) for me to follow the advice and dictats of the coronabros.

Well, That Was Fast. UK COVID Strain Likely NOT More Deadly

In my post about the Sunday NY Times article on the B.1.1.7 COVID variant, I expressed skepticism that it really was substantially more deadly than other variants.  While this is possible, on average we expect viruses to mutate in a way that they are more communicable but less deadly (there are no rewards in the parasite world for killing the host).

Specifically I said:

My personal bet is that we will see a story buried on page 34 in August saying that original relative death studies for this [B.1.1.7] variant appear to have been exaggerated.  When the NY Times is hyping a scare story that increases the power of government, particularly in a Democratic administration, take the under.

Well, I was wrong.  Rather than in August, the predicted story was buried in the Wall Street Journal one day later

Clear evidence has emerged that B.1.1.7 transmits more easily than earlier variants, which helped enable its rapid spread. Whether the variant is associated with more severe disease and death has been less certain, however...

In the new study, the researchers took samples collected in early November from 341 Covid-19 patients admitted to University College London Hospitals or North Middlesex University Hospital. The researchers sequenced genetic material from the samples to determine the viral variant that caused the infection, used the test results to estimate how much virus the patients harbored and then compared the two groups.

Nearly 60% of the Covid-19 patients had an infection caused by the B.1.1.7 variant, and patients hospitalized with B.1.1.7 were younger, had fewer health conditions and more often received an oxygen mask than those admitted with other variants, the study found.

Yet the researchers didn’t find that those with a B.1.1.7 infection had more severe disease outcomes such as needing ventilation or dying, after accounting for other factors such as age, ethnicity and underlying conditions.

I will be more careful than the NY Times, who cherry-picked one study result on the far end of the scale of results to date, and acknowledge that the study results -- all based on small samples and uncontrolled population groups -- are mixed.  But evidence both of prior meta-studies as well as this new one give us little reason to believe that this variant is substantially more deadly.

Variant Terrorism and the New York Times

Update:  Just one day after this story, the Lancet published a study showing that B.1.1.7 not likely more deadly than other variants.  As predicted below.

The New York Times has scary red maps of Europe on its front page today (at least in the version we get in AZ) implying mass death from new COVID variants.  Given the prominence of COVID in the news and our lives, there is certainly a story here.  But as usual with American media coverage of COVID, there is absolutely no balance here.  The article highlights new developments in the virus, which is helpful, but does so in a largely data-free manager and simultaneously engages in the crudest of rhetorical tricks to make the situation seem far worse than it is.  Here are a few pointers to how to read through this mess.

  • The use of color on the front page maps is not accidental.  When the media wants you to be scared, it uses red on maps and scales it so that even small changes in variables result in a map going from green or white or blue to solid red and orange.    No exception here.  When one glances at the front page, one likely assumes that this is a map of spread of death or new case counts, but in fact it is merely a map of one new variant as a percentage of other new variants.  It says nothing about death or case counts.

  • The article attempts to use certain rhetorical framings to imply that increases in cases and/or deaths are due to this new variant.  For example:

The variant is now spreading in at least 114 countries. Nowhere, though, are its devastating effects as visible as in Europe, where thousands are dying each day and countries’ already-battered economies are once again being hit by new restrictions on daily life.

and this even more egregious example:

What happened this winter in the U.K. was mass death and deluged hospitals on a scale not seen earlier in the pandemic. Since B.1.1.7 was first sampled in late September, 85,000 people have died. Four million people — one out of every 17 Britons — have recorded infections.

So 85,000 people died from this variant?  Well, they want you to think that -- but they were careful that while implying that (which would not at all be true) they do not actually say that.  When you think about it - especially given that there are now dozens of COVID variants - this sentence means exactly nothing.  It's like saying that since Biden took office, thousands of people have died of cancer.  Here is the UK deaths chart (from Google, not in the NY Times article):

You would certainly never know from this article that deaths in the UK have basically gone to zero.  This chart shows exactly the same seasonal pattern we are seeing everywhere, including in places like Arizona where we have had few if any of this new variant.  This picture has become the great totalitarian Rorschach test of the 21st century, with everyone reading their own preferred causes into these seasonal humps (opened too soon! variants! spring break! evil Republican governor!)

By the way, I will save you clicking through the Times link above that says "mass death and delayed hospitals" in an attempt to see the data.  There is none. Just like with the overloaded hospital meme in the US, the article is quotes from a few harried doctors and funeral home managers and zero data.  The first "overloaded hospital" story I see with actual occupancy numbers compared to the same months in prior years will be the first.   In this case there really is no excuse for this, as the NHS apparently keeps pretty detailed daily hospital records and puts them all online here.  So I looked at the week including January 21, which looks like the peak of critical care at least in the death chart.  On 1/21/21, there were apparently 3 acute and emergency care diverts in the whole of England, and it is not even clear if these were due to capacity issues.  Other days that week were generally on 3 as well (I don't know how they count so I don't know if these are the same 3 people all week or different people each day).  Occupancy of acute and emergency beds was around 87%.  For comparison, the January 2019 report from the same site showed acute and critical care occupancy of 85%.  The site cautions that with the segregation of COVID and non-COVID patients, capacity is harder to manage (a basic tenant one learns in any operations course) but it is hard to gauge by how much.  But all this sort of discussion and outlining of facts that are so easy to find is missing from the article, as the whole point is to scare, not to inform.  After all, reciting statistical facts about vampire incidents is not the best way to tell a scary ghost story around the camp fire.

  • The article keeps saying that this variant is thought to be more transmissible and more deadly.  Towards the very end they get the most specific when they say:

The variant is believed to be about 60 percent more contagious and 67 percent deadlier than the original version of the virus. 

If you follow the link, you have to go through an Easter egg hunt of clicks, but eventually one gets to this metastudy looking at a number of results.   I am not even going to pretend to have expertise in reading and interpreting these results, but I would observe that a) the claimed 67% number seems at the high end of a lot of the results; b) 67% is awfully precise for studies who summarize their study results as this variant "may" and "probably" be more deadly; and c) the sample sizes here are really small and pretty skewed (most seem to be dealing with people already hospitalized or at least showing symptoms).    My personal bet is that we will see a story buried on page 34 in August saying that original relative death studies for this variant appear to have been exaggerated.  When the NY Times is hyping a scare story that increases the power of government, particularly in a Democratic administration, take the under.

  • My understanding is that most deadly viruses tend to mutate over time to be less rather than more deadly.   More transmissive but less deadly is the ideal for a virus trying to spam copies of itself across the globe.  I have yet to see any discussion in any article of this fact along with any hypothesis of why COVID might be behaving differently (since according to the media every damn variant is more scary than the last one).  There may be a reason, and it would be an interesting discussion -- as well as an obvious on of interest to readers -- but I have yet to see it.

I really should not get that worked up about all this -- after all, my blog certainly is not even-handed.  But my concern is

  1. The undercurrent of all these stories is essentially "so shut up and obey."
  2. No criticism or skepticism is being allowed by most of the major gatekeepers.  I can say this kind of stuff because I have a small audience, but once one gets any sort of prominence, such skepticism no matter how well-grounded in facts will be memory-holed.  Take this story.  The claim that children don't need masks is perfectly justifiable for a disease that is deadly for octogenarians but milder than the flu for kids.  We could have a discussion about this and people can disagree, but it is a totally reasonable topic for public discourse.  To ban this can't be due to science, it can only be a quasi-totalitarian deference to authority -- President Biden says we need masks so no one should publicly disagree with him.

Be warned -- totalitarians have not missed the significance of this nor that the government seems to be getting away with it.  You are going to see a spate of issues all reframed as public health issues -- guns, race, climate, immigration -- with folks claiming that newly established COVID-related dictatorial powers need to be applied to their pet issues as well,

I don't think in the history of this country the general populace** has been subjected to the sorts of limitations to individual freedoms that have been imposed over the last year, often by executive order without even involvement of the legislature.  Sometimes by public health officials who are not even elected.  Even in wartime I can't think of any affront to individual liberties that was as bad as the combination of lockdowns, school closures, and business closures.  To have all that happen is bad enough.  But to have the gatekeepers of the public discourse declare that not only are we going to do all these unprecedented authoritarian things, but we are not even going to allow public skepticism of them --that is really scary.  Historically, all the worst ideas have been accompanied by bans on public criticism.

** Clearly minority populations have been subjected to worse.  Enslavement of African-Americans, internment of Japanese-Americans, and near-genocidal actions taken against various native American groups come to mind.

Free Speech: Congress Shall Make No Law.... But Does That Include Threats and Blackmail?

From Glenn Greenwald, whose email blast is well worth the money:

Over the course of five-plus hours on Thursday, a House Committee along with two subcommittees badgered three tech CEOs, repeatedly demanding that they censor more political content from their platforms and vowing legislative retaliation if they fail to comply. The hearing — convened by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), and the two Chairs of its Subcommittees, Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) — was one of the most stunning displays of the growing authoritarian effort in Congress to commandeer the control which these companies wield over political discourse for their own political interests and purposes.

As I noted when I reported last month on the scheduling of this hearing, this was “the third time in less than five months that the U.S. Congress has summoned the CEOs of social media companies to appear before them with the explicit intent to pressure and coerce them to censor more content from their platforms.” The bulk of Thursday’s lengthy hearing consisted of one Democratic member after the next complaining that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google/Alphabet CEO Sundar Pachai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have failed in their duties to censor political voices and ideological content that these elected officials regard as adversarial or harmful, accompanied by threats that legislative punishment (including possible revocation of Section 230 immunity) is imminent in order to force compliance (Section 230 is the provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields internet companies from liability for content posted by their users)....

But it is vital not to lose sight of how truly despotic hearings like this are. It is easy to overlook because we have become so accustomed to political leaders successfully demanding that social media companies censor the internet in accordance with their whims. Recall that Parler, at the time it was the most-downloaded app in the country, was removed in January from the Apple and Google Play Stores and then denied internet service by Amazon, only after two very prominent Democratic House members publicly demanded this. At the last pro-censorship hearing convened by Congress, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) explicitly declared that the Democrats’ grievance is not that these companies are censoring too much but rather not enough. One Democrat after the next at Thursday’s hearing described all the content on the internet they want gone: or else. Many of them said this explicitly.

SCAM ALERT: Web Site Owners, Do NOT Open These Messages

We have gotten scores of variations on this message in the last 2 weeks from our public contact form -- someone is beating our Captcha, probably just by hiring people in low-wage countries to manually do them.  I have not tried it, but I would sooner have unprotected sex with 20 random people than click on the link (I X'ed out part of the link to avoid anyone screwing up and doing so).  That link is not a web site but a file programmed to download that probably isn't designed to improve your computer's operation.

Hi,

This is Melaenis and I am a qualified photographer.

I was baffled, frankly speaking, when I recognised my images at your website. If you use a copyrighted image without an owner's license, you should be aware that you could be sued by the creator.

It's illegal to use stolen images and it's so сheap!

Take a look at this document with the links to my images you used at camprrm.com and my earlier publications to get the evidence of my ownership.

Download it right now and check this out for yourself:

https://sites.google.com/view/id98430927432698768/home/drive/storage/file/download?FileID=8343XXXXX3081562342  [it is a clickable link in the email]

If you don't delete the images mentioned in the document above within the next couple of days, I'll file a to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been severely infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property.

And if it doesn't work, trust me I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.

It is actually sort of a brilliant come-on, given that most small website owners are sloppy about what images they grab for their site and probably have some latent sense of guilt on this score.

People imagine hackers doing  clever electronic things to break into systems, and some times that is the case.  But more often than not -- and this is true all the way back to the early phone phreaks -- they crack systems by social engineering, convincing some rube on the inside to give up a password or click on a bad link.

No One In Power Has The Guts To Declare The Pandemic Over, So I Will: It's Over in Arizona

Half our politicians don't want to declare the pandemic over because they are wallowing in all their new power and having too much fun as petty dictators.  The other half are scared, living in fear that every death after they declare an end will be used as the basis for a Bush-esque "mission accomplished" critique.  Well, people will likely contract and perish from COVID forever.  Heck, people died last year in this country of the whooping cough.  My 25-year-old nephew died of regular old flu.

But if we define the pandemic as a time when a single disease drives excess mortality outside of normal bounds, then this pandemic is over, at least in AZ.   As of this morning, 27% of people in AZ had at least one dose of the Pfizer or similar vaccine, over half of those being in the vulnerable over-65 group.  We don't know how many have gotten the virus, but (non-random) anti-body tests were running over 50% positive last month.  If we assume a third of folks have antibodies from the virus itself, and that there is a 50% overlap between these folks and those vaccinated, this gets us to nearly 45% immunity, rising by several percentage points each week.  Immunity levels in the over-65 population may be over 80%.

As a result, cases have fallen sharply but due to the sensitivity of testing, I am not a fan of that metric.  We will probably always have people testing positive.  The question is whether people are getting seriously ill.  And here are the numbers for that, I use ICU bed occupancy as a proxy for serious illness (because case numbers are exaggerated and death numbers have a crazy lag to them):

I am not cherry-picking -- this is the most useful metric, I think, but all the others show the same thing.

My suspicion has always been that "COVID patients" means "Patients who test positive for COVID," so the number may be a bit exaggerated for true hospitalizations caused by COVID.  Also it is a lagging indicator -- 10 days to incubate and a week to end up in the hospital and perhaps a week stay in the hospital means these are likely folks exposed in early March.   But the result is clear.  Given the sensitivity of testing, these numbers will likely never go to zero.  What we see is a normal hospital load form a seasonal virus, in fact one currently far smaller than what we might get in a normal flu season.  In other words, we are back to normal.  AZ, by the way, last week opened vaccines to everyone over 18.

Postscript:  If you compare the ethnic data on COVID deaths vs. vaccines, it does appear Hispanic and native American groups are under-represented in the vaccine population vs. the population of COVID deaths, though the ethnic information on vaccine administration has a lot of gaps.  This is partly predictable for Hispanic groups as they skew much younger than whites in AZ so the prioritization to over-65 people first is going to skew the racial mix.

That fact may get reported on.  The fact that will not get reported on is the gender skew.  In AZ men were 58% of deaths but are only 43% of those who have been vaccinated.  I guess if I wanted to spend my life being aggrieved about my tribe I could be upset about this, but in fact it is entirely predictable from the vaccine priorities.  Vaccines first went to teachers, health care workers, and old people -- all three of which skew heavily female.

Postscript #2: One interesting thing that I have not seen reported -- I don't know any men, including myself, who had any substantial reactions from the vaccine.  My wife and daughter, however, were really knocked out for a day.  This is partly random, but also partly the inevitable result of having a singles-size dose for everyone.  The ladies in my family have much smaller body mass than I but got the same dose, which may explain why it hit them harder.

 

Thanks to the War on Drugs, I Am Wasting 7 Hours of My Vacation

My company is taking over a new campground in Washington State.  In that small town, and anywhere near it, there is only one bank, a Keybank branch.  So I need to open a business checking account there so we have somewhere to put our weekly cash revenue deposits.

Unfortunately, many banks have crazy paranoid lawyers.  Years ago the US Government implemented "know your customer" rules making sure banks are dealing with a real person and not some fake entity meant to launder drug profits to Columbia, or something.  A lot of banks, including Keybank, have interpreted the rule as meaning that a business owner has to physically walk into a branch before they will open an account.  That is fine for the pet grooming business next door, but if one runs a multi-state business, it is a royal pain in the ass.

Note that I have completed all the paperwork for the account on the phone.  They have copies of my drivers license and all my corporate paperwork.  I am looking at my unsigned signature card.  But Keybank insists I go into a branch to complete the transaction.  Literally I have to just tag a branch for 5 minutes to make the lawyers happy.  Because making me travel across the country to walk into a bank branch makes the country safe from terrorism.

Keybank has no branches in AZ.  So I was going to have to take an entire day to fly to Utah or Colorado or Washington in order to create the account, which is obviously expensive and time-consuming.  I am actually on vacation soon in Florida, and I see Keybank has a bank in south Florida, so my current plan is to drive 3 hours on my vacation, tag the branch, and then drive back.  Good times.

By the way, if you want a business bank that a) is not insanely arrogant and b) actually wants your business, consider Enterprise Bank in the St Louis area.  I have shifted a lot of my corporate and treasury stuff there and have not regretted it.

Conversation With A Phone Company

Phone company: To make your suggested change, we need your PIN first

Me: I don't know that I have a PIN, though since we opened the account 18 years ago I may have forgotten.

PC:  We only started using them about 5 years ago

Me:  I don't remember being asked to set a PIN 5 years ago

PC: No, you probably would not have.  On old accounts they were simply assigned by computer

Me: So I can't possibly know what it is.

PC:.... I need your PIN before I can process the change your have requested

Credit Where It is Due -- Our County's Vaccination Effort is Pretty Impressive

Last week I volunteered, along with 100+ other people, for an 8-hour shift at the Phoenix area's largest vaccination station, located at State Farm Stadium (the oft-name-changing home of the Arizona Cardinals football team).  Someone really did it right.

I often criticize public efforts for their inefficiency and poor performance, but this one is certainly an exception.  Granted, it is being run as a public-private partnership and my gut feel is that the Blue Cross Blue Shield folks have a lot to do with the success, but partnering for expertise is a perfectly reasonable way to get a job done and the government seldom is willing to admit it needs help.

The entire operation uses one section of the stadium's massive flat parking lots.  They have created an assembly line for those being vaccinated to move through the process without ever leaving their car.  The whole setup has the feeling of a Disney ride or an assembly line.  Those being vaccinated are greeted at the first station and checked in against their reservation.  Their reservation number is written on grease pencil on their window.  They then proceed station by station to get their vaccine and to get checked for any negative reactions on the way out.  In between volunteers with ipads walk car to car in the queue for each station, asking screening questions, gathering data, or at the end making appointments for second vaccine.  The number on the windshield allows these volunteers (I was one) to quickly access the relevant portion of that visitor's records.  It is clear someone has load balanced the stations, because there might be 12 of one sort of station followed by 8 of another that cycle faster.  From front to back the process requires about 30 minutes, including the mandatory 15 minute wait for negative reactions.  Patients have an email waiting for them with their selected appointment time for a second shot before they even drive off the property.

The whole process never stops, running for 24 hours a day.  We volunteers get the training we need through a 15-30 minute overlap with the last person doing the job (most of us are on our feet with the iPads or with parking flags).  The biggest staffing bottleneck are the trained medical professionals needed at the vaccination station and at the end to monitor for negative reactions.  Thus all the rest of the process is designed to leverage these folks, to make sure they are doing only medical tasks -- a large force of volunteers without medical skills (eg me) do all the rest under the supervision of a surprisingly small permanent management team.  The medical folks for example at the actual vax station are not asking background questions or managing records -- this is all done with non-medical volunteers -- so they can focus on sticking needles in arms.  This is important because the medical professionals are the most limited resource and the hardest to keep deployed 24 hours a day.   I really have a lot of love for those folks because it is a long, long shift, rivaling any in a Chinese sweat shop.  Those of us non-medical volunteers just did it once or twice, these folks are doing it day after day.

The rest of the volunteers are frankly easy to get, despite it being a really long shift (especially the 10pm - 6am one), because folks who work a couple of shifts get the vaccine on the way out.  So soliciting volunteers mostly consists of running a sign up site and handling the deluge of traffic in the first 5 minutes after new spots open.  I will say it was a pretty amazing volunteering opportunity.  First, the number of well-organized volunteer efforts are, in my experience, really limited and these guys totally had their act together.   I worked at the end of the process, walking the line of cars waiting out their 15 minutes, scheduling appointments.  It was not unusual to have an older person crying and telling me they could finally go see their grandchildren after 12 months of isolation.

I thought a bit about whether to even bother, as I have never been very worried about COVID risk, but I have to travel a lot and I worry about whether the Biden Administration may put vaccine requirements on travel at some point.  Plus I work with about 800 folks over 60, so at the end of the day it made sense for me.  However, the second vaccine really has me in a quandy.  New reports have first dose effectiveness at 92+% vs two dose at 95%.  Are they really going to put this scarce resource in my arm for +03% effectiveness  (probably in the error bar of the studies)?  On the other hand, they have already scheduled me for x day and time for #2 and its part of the process that you agree to come back for the second.  I will think about it, but frankly I will be happy if the state decides to delay second doses for a while.

Are the Woke a False Flag Operation of White Supremacists?

It is hard for me to imagine anything that white surpremacists could do to permanently impoverish African-Americans than some of the things the woke are supporting.  Case in point is this story from Oregon:

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently encouraged teachers to register for training that encourages "ethnomathematics" and argues, among other things, that White supremacy manifests itself in the focus on finding the right answer.

An ODE newsletter sent last week advertises a Feb. 21 "Pathway to Math Equity Micro-Course," which is designed for middle school teachers to make use of a toolkit for "dismantling racism in mathematics." The event website identifies the event as a partnership between California's San Mateo County Office of Education, The Education Trust-West and others.

Part of the toolkit includes a list of ways "white supremacy culture" allegedly "infiltrates math classrooms." Those include "the focus is on getting the 'right' answer," students being "required to 'show their work,'" and other alleged manifestations.

"The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so," the document for the "Equitable Math" toolkit reads. "Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict."

Steve Martin used to have a comedy routine where he would say something like, "wouldn't it be funny to teach your kids how to talk wrong.  On their first day in Kindergarten class they would walk up to the teacher and exclaim, "Mumbo dogface in the banana patch!"  That had a certain dark humor to it but teaching kids to do math wrong in real life is simply insane.

There are a lot of things that set the groundwork for this, and I am not an expert on post-modernism and critical race theory.  But one factor that is not often credited is a cargo cult mentality.  Folks look at successful white people and observe they all went to college, and then infer that if we just get all the black kids into college, they will be successful too.  Their resulting plan is to reduce or eliminate standards that are perceived to be keeping black kids out of college.

The problem of course is that college is not the cause of prosperity, but a marker (with prosperity) of other traits -- focus on long-term goals, discipline, hard work, and yes knowing 2+2=4.  This sort of woke BS just makes it worse, because it attacks the real roots of prosperity.  There are real barriers to poor blacks achieving prospecity -- eg how do you focus on long-term goals when you don't know where you are sleeping tonight or when you have no role models who do so -- but the purity and objectivity of math is not among these.

This sort of cargo cult thinking can be seen all the time in Progressive economic proscriptions.  The government push for home ownership is another -- middle class people own homes so if low income people owned homes they would become middle class.  Now, this has a bit of accuracy in that, like the stock market, the elite have goosed the housing market to always go up.  But leaving that aside for a moment, owning a home vs renting is a terrible decision for many people -- it piles on a lot of financial risk but perhaps more importantly it limits geographic mobility which used to be critical to lower-income people improving their lot.

Why Most Clean Energy R&D Investment is Stupid

We already have an economic, utility-scale electrical generation technology that does not produce CO2 -- nuclear power.  We do not have a second choice that is anywhere close to ready.  Wind is stupid, for reasons I have written about before.   Solar has its uses and I am all for the march of technology on solar panels.  But they are not going to keep the world's economy growing or, more importantly, prevent wholesale poverty and starvation and misery from energy shortages.

Most peoples' negative perceptions of nuclear come because the technology that is still in use is over 60 years old.  It is not one generation out of date but two or three behind the capabilities that currently exist to build safe, clean reactors. I have for years made the argument that government forcing of certain endeavors (nuclear power, space flight, transcontinental railroad) ahead of their natural development curve actually tends to set back the commercial development of them, and I think this was the case with nuclear.  To the extent that waste and safety problems persist with nuclear (and they really don't), R&D to solve them would be much more productive and less expensive than investments in Solyndra.

Of course we probably won't do this, because "knuckling under to the irrational fears of your Left-leaning political base" is the new definition of "following the science."

By the way, here is a way to think about the nuclear waste problem:  We all pay attention to nuclear waste because it and its negative effects are concentrated in small, heavily-impacted sites.  We don't pay attention to coal-burning waste, or didn't until recently, because it is distributed all around the world's atmosphere.  But I would argue the nuclear waste problem is much better, because it is much easier to mitigate harmful problems in a 100-acre site, rather than in the entire Earth's atmosphere.**

 

**Postscript -- pretty sure I first heard this expressed way back in the late 1970s, when US energy policy (under both Ford and Carter) was to promote coal, even to the extent of banning new power plants using cleaner fuels.  I wish I can remember who said it and give them credit because it really was prescient.

The Nazis Also Created Ethnic & Political Litmus Tests For Most Jobs

So apparently Disney and the Mandalorian team have kicked Gina Carano off the show.  In the past she has aggravated the Left by expressing skepticism about modern Transgender ideology.  But according to the WSJ, the immediate cause for the final parting of the ways was this:

On Tuesday, Ms. Carano shared an Instagram story, or a post that disappears, that read in part: “most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views,” according to a report in Variety on Wednesday.

Perhaps this is missing some context, but I have a hard time disagreeing much with this statement, much less advocating someone be subject to the modern woke blacklist.  As I understand the modern Hollywood rules,

  • It is wrong to employ any actor for a role, say, as a deaf gay Aleut unless the actor is also deaf, gay and Aleut
  • It is simultaneously wrong to cast a tough, blunt, unsubtle, possibly non-empathetic actress who has  strong feelings on totalitarian governments as a character that is tough, blunt, unsubtle, not particularly empathetic, and has strong feelings about the totalitarian Imperial government.

Of course, another thing the Nazis did was blacklist Jews from the public square and most any sort of employment.