When does coronaplague stop being an emergency?

The Swedish epidemiologists, just as everyone else was shutting down, said “coronavirus is going to be with humanity maybe forever, just like influenza; can you stay shut down forever?”

Today’s question is whether the U.S. can have a permanent state of emergency based on the threat of coronaplague.

Examples:

Maybe we don’t like the new coronaplagued world, but at what point do we have to say “this is how life on Earth is; this is not an ’emergency'”?

Related:

  • April 17: Swedish MD/PhD says get used to coronavirus (and notes that, if influenza had been new in 2019, humanity would have panicked in exactly the same way that it panicked regarding coronavirus)
  • June 29: a different Swedish MD/PhD says get used to coronavirus…. Throughout it all, Tegnell has argued that the world is only in the first stage of dealing with a long, uncertain battle with Covid-19. That’s why Sweden’s strategy — keep much of society open, but train people to observe distancing guidelines — is the only realistic way to cope in the long run, he says.
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Supreme Court spreads a big rainbow flag over the word “sex”

“Civil Rights Law Protects Gay and Transgender Workers, Supreme Court Rules” (NYT):

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the movement for L.G.B.T. equality a stunning victory.

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling.

Until Monday’s decision, it was legal in more than half the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender. The vastly consequential decision extended workplace protections to millions of people across the nation, continuing a series of Supreme Court victories for gay rights even after President Trump transformed the court with two appointments.

Personally, I think that any law like this actually reduces employment opportunities for the category of people whom such a law purports to help. The law highlights to employers the inferior nature of workers in this category and that, if the employer is unwise enough to hire someone from this category, a lawsuit is an ever-present possibility. Absent a substantial discount, therefore, a rational employer, even one who is completely without prejudice, should thus do everything possible to avoid hiring someone who might fit into the protected category.

In our neighborhood… (“Love is Love” in a larger font than “Black Lives Matter”; significant?)

Gary Drescher, an MIT computer science PhD who is also interested in cognition and philosophy, posted this analysis on Facebook:

Today’s 6-3 Supreme Court ruling on sex-discrimination is encouraging, and not only because the outcome is good (and not only because Trump’s appointee Gorsuch wrote the opinion rebuking the Trump administration’s position). It’s encouraging because the legal reasoning is correct and straightforward: discrimination against someone for being gay or transgender is an instance of sex discrimination, even if Congress did not understand it as such when they banned sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That is, it’s sex discrimination to fire someone for, say, wearing a dress or having a male spouse, if those same behaviors would not be penalized if the person’s own sex were different than it is.

By fanciful analogy, imagine if Congresspersons were all numerologists who in the 1960s passed a law saying that a person must pay an income-tax surcharge in any year for which the person’s taxable income was a prime number of dollars, due to some mystical property of primes. But imagine that at the time, 23,069 was widely believed to be a prime number, so Congress expected the surcharge to apply to that income. Nonetheless, upon discovery of the factorization of 23,069, a court today would have to hold that income exempt from the prime surcharge, even though the exemption contradicts Congress’s expectation when they passed the law. It’s not that Congress was using the term ‘prime’ differently back then–rather, they had a factually incorrect belief about a particular number’s primality. Even originalism regarding the meaning of a legal text does not necessarily bind us to false beliefs held by the text’s framers.

Gary has persuaded me! Readers: what about you? Is this the dawning of a great new era in American employment litigation?

(Separately, I wonder if the new interpretation of the law leads to a logical contradiction among some American religious beliefs. Transgenderism is as “real” as science, per the sign above. Belief 1: If Joe Linebacker decides to identify as a “woman” starting tomorrow, she immediately becomes a completely successful 6’3″ tall, 275 lb. woman, indistinguishable from a cisgender woman. Belief 2: Employers, being more interested in after-work sexual activities and gender IDs than in profit, will ferret out the transgendered and, as the NYT says, “fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender”. How can Beliefs 1 and 2 be consistent? According to Belief 1, absent a DNA kit, nobody can discern the difference between a transgender woman and a cisgender woman. If that is true, how does the prejudiced employer figure out whom to fire?)

Finally, what if the Equal Rights Amendment had been passed?

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

With this new interpretation of “sex”, what else would change had the ERA been ratified?

Finally, what is the practical effect of the righteous elites passing laws like these? Here’s a private text message from a small business owner, responding to the NYT article:

Except transgender is mental illness. Do you really think a company should be forced to hire a 6 foot tall man who thinks he is a woman?

From an immigrant physician, near the beginning of coronapanic:

We have a transgender psychiatrist health secretary. We r f**ked

(she is from a conservative culture)

Will these people (Deplorables?) be persuaded to abandon their prejudices via threat of litigation? Or will they just hide behind Silicon Valley-style “not a culture fit” (regarding an over-35 applicant) cover stories?

To sum up: I am persuaded by Gary and think the Supreme Court made the right legal decision, but I also think this decision will end making it harder for a transgender person to get a job in the U.S.

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Chevy Volt and the Massachusetts RMV during Coronaplague

A Facebook post from the Great State of Maskachusetts:

When the rules get stupid…

I acquired a Chevy Volt last year. For the ones who don’t know it, this is a plugin/hybrid that can drive ~55 miles on pure electric mode.

Afterward, when the battery is down, the gas engine kicks up. 55 miles is way enough to go to the office (in a prior life) and to the tennis courts. Great, I installed a 220v charger in the garage and I went twice to the gas pump during the year, typically for longer trips.

Last week was the time for the yearly Mass state inspection. And the car was rejected!! The reason: I have not used the gas engine enough so the computer cannot retrieve the actual emission of the engine (thanks VW!). Now they ask me to run on forced gas before I come back for another inspection.

Let’s recap: I used my car 95% on electric energy, which means almost zero direct emission, and the car was rejected as it might pollute. And now they ask me to pollute to validate it! How is that stupid??

Related:

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Are the BLM protesters protesting against their own actions?

Friends on Facebook are posting support for the Black Lives Matter protests going on around the U.S. A few brave souls post selfies from the (daytime) protests themselves (the vast majority prefer to show their support by updating their Facebook status!).

My stupid question for today is why city-dwellers need to protest to obtain the changes that they seek. The typical American city in which protests have occurred is ruled by a single political party voted for by a population that overwhelmingly identifies with that one party. If the people who live in a city want a different mayor, want the police department to be disbanded and started over from scratch, etc., why didn’t they already just vote for that? What obstacle was in their path?

Consider a few of the cities that have been in the news lately. My friends on Facebook are saying that the protests are necessary #BecauseRepublicans.

If the single-party voters and politicians in the above cities want to change something, why does anyone have to protest? Why can’t they just change whatever they want to change? Nobody from a different party is opposing them.

I tried asking the Facebook righteous this question. Here are some responses;

Jack is suggesting only Republicans will make the argument that black people need to be more aggressively policed. The prediction is true (regardless of your view on the merits of the argument, because some arguments are only made by one party or the other.)

(What difference does it make what arguments Republicans put forward? Why would the Mayor or the City Council of any of the above cities listen to an argument from a Republican?)

Republicans are the Core of Trump’s supporters, White Supremacists, and folks who never questioned the most bizarre acts of Trump.

(But if those Republicans live and vote in the suburbs, how can they stop the people of Minneapolis, for example, from voting to disband the police department, fire the city employees involved with management of police, replace the mayor, hire a new police force with different objectives, etc.?)

What’s it like for folks who are just trying to live in these towns? A friend in Venice, California (on the border with Santa Monica):

LA looks like a zombie movie. Every business boarded up and spray painted. Mobs with picket signs constantly. Everyone wearing masks. Never seen more thieves in a city in my life. People attempted to rob my house on a Friday at 930p while we were home.

In the chat group, a San Francisco resident responded to the above with security camera footage of a dark-sunglasses-wearing thief sifting through the day’s Amazon and UPS deliveries on his doorstep and taking a package.

A more rural Californian responded: Your stories make me feel better about my decision to live with the plane fueled up and the guns loaded. Lucky for us we are in a highly armed gated community. My father just bought a gun for the first time since when we were in Russia in the 1990s. [She speaks with an accent, so I assume she is an immigrant.]

To all of them, a member responded “Wyoming awaits.”

Separately, from a physician friend: “I bet Canada feels like they live in the apartment above a meth lab.”

Readers: The mayors of the big cities where protests are occurring have come out to support the goals of Black Lives Matter (example from San Francisco). If almost everyone in a city agrees that particular changes need to be made, why can’t they simply make those changes?

Related:

  • “Critics denounce Black Lives Matter platform accusing Israel of ‘genocide'” (Guardian, August 2016): The policy platform titled A Vision for Black Lives, is a wide-spanning document that was drafted by more than 50 organizations known as the Movement for Black Lives. … In the Invest/Divest section of the platform, the group criticizes the US government for providing military aid to Israel. “The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people,” the platform says. “Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.” (If the U.S. police kill only the occasional citizen while Israel is committing “genocide” against millions of Palestinians, why is BLM bothering to protest anything being done in the U.S.?)
  • L.A. Protest Draws 50,000
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Why haven’t all of the Minneapolis police officers and local politicians been fired?

By touching off riots throughout the U.S., the incompetence of the Minneapolis city government has cost Americans who live elsewhere at least billions of dollars (insurance industry estimate; some color from the Daily Mail) in the short run. Owners of property in other cities may be out tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in the long run, as people decide that they’d rather live and work in suburbs and/or small towns, thus escaping both Covid-19 and civil unrest.

Imagine if the Minneapolis police department had been a Roman legion. After the killing of Justine Diamond (“Noor had been lauded in the past by Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges and the local Somali community as one of the first Somali-American police officers in the area”), it would have been time for decimation (every tenth officer killed by others in the legion). After the murder of George Floyd, surely it would have been time to kill the entire legion due to the disgrace and costs imposed on the Republic/Empire.

Of course, justice isn’t as harsh today as it was in Ancient Rome. However, given the above-market wages, health care, and pension benefits paid, the entire Minneapolis Police Department could be easily replaced at a substantial savings to taxpayers. Why not fire the entire force immediately as a modern-day substitute for how these people would have been punished in the time of Trajan? State police and National Guard units can fill in until the city has had a chance to hire the next class. Also fire anyone in city politics with any supervisory responsibility for the police, right up to and including the mayor. Maybe it would take a replacement police force a few years to become fully effective, but the example would be helpful to other cities and maybe people around the U.S. wouldn’t be angry enough to keep rioting if they saw that the people responsible for the Minneapolis murder had faced some actual consequences.

(As it happens, I was in Minneapolis this week! Glorious plans to hang out downtown were revised in favor of holing up in the Hampton Inn, Eden Prairie. After two nights locked into my room (one of 6 occupied out of 105), with only occasional escapes to nearby strip malls, I had little trouble understanding why those who’ve been locked down in small apartments are rioting. Except for the nice Beaver below (Flying Cloud Airport), the scenery was bleak (leavened slightly by the fact that restaurants are now open for outdoor dining). There was a nightly curfew even in suburban Eden Prairie.)

Readers: What do you think? Should the Minneapolis Police Department be warmly told “Thanks for your service” and sent home with two weeks of severance pay? Also, should Minneapolis be cut off from Federal funds for the next 5-10 years? U.S. taxpayers will have to pay $billions to rebuild the cities trashed as a consequence of what happened in Minneapolis. Why can’t the folks there (“some very fine people”) pay for their own services with local and state $$ for the next 5-10 years?

Related:

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If they hadn’t been unionized, would the Minneapolis police have killed George Floyd?

Just as I was planning a trip to Minneapolis, the city is embroiled in civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd by four police officers (far more upsetting to me than Covid-19, actually).

Facebook friends who are Democrats blame the murder of Mr. Floyd on Republicans and Donald Trump, which seems odd given that Minneapolis voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (results) and, like other unionized government workers, it seems reasonable to expect that most Minneapolis police officers would vote for Democrats.

Facebook friends who are passionate about Black Lives Matter blame the murder on white supremacy, but how many of the four police officers were actually white? And haven’t there been plenty of murders by police officers and police brutality incidents in which no white people were involved on either side?

At least two of the officers involved had a record of similar conduct, but it would have been almost impossible to fire them due to their union membership. Even in this case, where surveillance video would seem sufficient for all four officers to be arrested and put in jail to await trial for murder, Wikipedia says

The local police union expressed support of the officers involved, saying: “The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis will provide full support to the involved officers.” They also urged the public to remain calm, saying: “Now is not the time to rush to judgement and immediately condemn our officers.

[For citizens who are not police officers, the standard for being arrested and jailed in Minneapolis is apparently fairly low. An older law professor was in jail for three weeks after a false rape accusation, for example. As in a lot of family court domestic violence matters, it was a frustrated desire for cash that seems to have led to the contretemps.]

I was an expert witness on a case in which an electric utility worker for city-owned company had a multi-year track record of mistakes. He kept getting reassigned to positions where the managers thought he wouldn’t be able to do any more damage. While trying to change the password on some “protective relays”, he neglected to “open the trips” that would disconnect them from the transformer breakers while they were being reconfigured. He inadvertently wiped the relays’ configurations, rather than simply changing the passwords. Remarkably, most did not trip, but one did. The result was the multi-hour shutdown of an oil refinery (probably also shut down right now due to coronavirus fears!), leading to $9 million in damage and lost production. He is still a union member and an electric utility employee…

Maybe it is okay for unions to render workers invulnerable in jobs where the worst they can do is inflict major power outages on citizens, businesses, and industrial facilities. But why does the American public tolerate this for police departments? Presumably these four guys would have behaved differently throughout their careers if they knew that firing and losing a multi-$million pension was a realistic possibility. Why aren’t protesters demanding that the police be stripped of their union protections against termination? The average American is an employee at will. Why would that be unfair for police officers?

(Separately, who wants to meet in Eden Prairie or downtown Minneapolis, some time between Sunday evening through Tuesday morning?)

Related:

  • A 2017 killing by the same police department: “On July 15, 2017, Justine Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond, a 40-year-old Australian-American woman, was fatally shot by Mohamed Noor, a Somali-American Minneapolis Police Department officer, after she had called 9-1-1 to report the possible assault of a woman in an alley behind her house. … Occurring weeks after a high-profile manslaughter trial acquittal in the 2016 police shooting of Philando Castile, also in the Twin Cities metro area, the shooting exacerbated existing tensions and attracted national and international press. … Noor had been lauded in the past by Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges and the local Somali community as one of the first Somali-American police officers in the area. … In two years as a police officer, Noor had three formal complaints against him, two of which, as of September 2017, were pending resolution. In a separate case from May 2017, he was being sued for allegedly assaulting a woman while on duty.”
  • Update: “Police Unions And Civilian Deaths” (NPR, June 3)… “After police officers gained access to collective bargaining rights, there was a substantial increase in the killings of civilians — overwhelmingly, nonwhite civilians.”
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Judge questions how marijuana shops came to be essential

From the Chicago Sun Times, the transcript of a southern Illinois judge’s ruling against some of the governor’s dictates:

Selling pot is essential but selling goods and services at a family- owned business is not. Pot wasn’t even legal and pot dispensaries didn’t even exist in this state until five months ago and, in that five months, they have become essential but a family-owned business in existence for five generations is not.

Doctors and experts say different things weekly. The defendant cites models in his opposition. The only thing experts will agree on is that all models are wrong and some are useful. The Centers for Disease Control now says the virus is not easily spread on surfaces.

The Science-denying judge is like a black-robed version of Adley!

He highlights some apparent logical contradictions:

A family of six can pile in their car and drive to Carlyle Lake without contracting COVID but, if they all get in the same boat, they will. We are told that kids rarely contract the virus and sunlight kills it, but summer youth programs, sports programs are cancelled. Four people can drive to the golf course and not get COVID but, if they play in a foursome, they will.

Sadly, he does not attempt to answer the stay-at-home mom’s question: “If masks work, why aren’t we back at work? If masks don’t work, why are we being asked to wear them?”

He does throw in some philosophy:

The defendant in this case orders you to stay home and pronounces that, if you leave the state, you are putting people in danger, but his family members traveled to Florida and Wisconsin because he deems such travel essential. … When laws do not apply to those who make them, people are not being governed, they are being ruled.

A good thought to ponder as Americans make their way to their neighborhood marijuana stores….

I’m still waiting to hear what the standard is for terminating young healthy Americans’ First Amendment right of assembly. If one “expert” predicts that 10 million people will die unless young healthy people are imprisoned, that’s sufficient for a governor to imprison them? How about 10 experts predicting 1 million deaths? What about 100 experts predicting 200,000 deaths and the potential for a shutdown to defer 50,000 of those deaths by a year? Are there any thresholds for how many experts one needs or what death rate (can’t use absolute number due to rapid population growth) justifies the suspension of what had been Constitutional rights?

(And what if there are experts on the other side? Is the former chief scientist of the European CDC outweighed by one American academic forecasting unprecedented doom and demanding shutdown? How about all 15 epidemiologists on the Swedish government’s team? Against those 15, how many Americans does it take for a governor to say “the science is settled so I will terminate the First Amendment”? How about Sunetra Gupta and her team at Oxford? Is a statement by Dr. Fauci worth 20X a statement by Professor Gupta?)

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Why are states hiring contact tracers when they have idle teachers and librarians?

From NPR:

In all, 44 states and the District of Columbia now have plans to expand their contact tracing workforce, reaching a total of 66,197 workers — an increase by 30,000 of the number that were planned last week when we first published.

Several states that took our survey are making big efforts to shore up their contact tracing workforces. Notable examples include Louisiana and Kentucky, which are both planning to hire 700 people; Texas, which has 1,150 contact tracers and is hiring another 2,850 to start; and Kansas, which plans to bring on 400.

If public schools, libraries, and other state government functions are shut down, shouldn’t states have millions of idle people currently on the payroll? Why would they need to hire more instead of just providing some training to a current state worker who doesn’t have a lot on his/her/zer/their plate?

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Security clearances during the coronapanic

A friend from graduate school needs a security clearance for some work that he is doing (I guess I can’t ask what!). An investigator telephoned me to check out his story and mine. She said that this would have been an in-person interview (which she prefers) during ordinary times, but that it was all phone-based due to coronaplague.

When our enemies have mined out all of our secrets five years from now, will that turn out to have been a hidden cost of the shutdown?

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Use testing and tracing infrastructure to enforce alcohol Prohibition?

Back in 2016, I wrote “Reintroduce Prohibition for the U.S.?”, pointing out various advantages for American society if we could reduce alcohol consumption. This proposal was not well-received!

What about in the Age of Corona? Technocrats are gearing up for a massive testing and tracing operation. Example: “Here’s A Way To Contain Covid-19 And Reopen The Economy In As Little As One Month” (Forbes, by a Boston University econ professor). Excerpts:

The solution is PCR group-household testing of all American households every week. … If a household tests negative, each household member would be notified to go to their local pharmacy to receive a green wristband coated to change to red after one week.

This system is voluntary. But if you choose to have your household tested and receive your green wristband, you’ll be permitted by your employer to return to work, by your teachers and professors to return to school, and by proprietors to enter their restaurants, shops, cafes, etc. You’ll also be allowed to frequent the beach, attend concerts, go to the movies, …

Any household that tests positive will be required by the local board of health to quarantine in place for two weeks and then be re-tested. Households that don’t voluntarily get tested will be free to come and go as they wish. But without their green bracelets, they will have a hard time entering into workplaces and other establishments. Employers who hired the untested could face legal liability. The same holds for any business serving the public who lets someone onto their premises without a green bracelet.

My Dutch friend: “This will be just like it was for Jews after the Nuremberg Laws and similar. They were perfectly free, but couldn’t run a business, buy a movie ticket, or go to school.”

Electronic bracelets can also work: “People-tracking wristbands tested to enforce lockdown” (BBC). See also “US, Israel, South Korea, and China look at intrusive surveillance solutions for tracking COVID-19” (zdnet)

Covid-19 is a pernicious disease. It has killed nearly 300,000 people worldwide so far. But what if we could use the above technology and infrastructure to stop a much more destructive killer: alcohol. WHO says that 3 million deaths worldwide are attributed to alcohol. The average age of a death with/from Covid-19 in Massachusetts is 82 and more than 98 percent of those who died had “underlying conditions.” Alcohol often kills people who could have lived for another 40-100 years. In terms of life-years, therefore, we could save many more by discouraging alcohol consumption.

(Is Covid-19 different because an alcohol-related problem is due to a failure of personal responsibility? Consider the child of an alcoholic or a passenger in a car struck by a drunk driver.)

Given that people can brew their own beer or distill their own vodka, presumably it is not possible to achieve a 100 percent reduction in alcohol consumption. But if restaurants, bars, and airlines (to the extent any are left) were not offering alcohol to every customer and there were no convenient liquor stores (“essential”!), wouldn’t it be fair to expect at least a 10 or 20 percent reduction in alcohol-related deaths? (marijuana consumption increased following legalization in Washington State; shouldn’t we expect alcohol use to be reduced following prohibition?)

Since Americans have now decided that “saving lives” is more important than what used to be considered individual rights… If we succeed with alcohol prohibition using test/trace tech, why not use the same technology to attack HIV/AIDS, which has killed more than 700,000 Americans? (Covid-19 would have to kill 7 million Americans to take away a comparable number of life-years, due to the much younger age at which HIV/AIDS victims perish.) There continue to be 6,000 deaths annually here in the U.S., which is roughly comparable to the life-years lost from 60,000 Covid-19 deaths.

None of these public health interventions were doable in the 20th century. Epidemiologists predicted that HIV/AIDS would spread beyond the LGBTQIA+ community and kill millions of Americans. White upper-middle-class single Americans were terrified in the 1980s by this disease that merited cover stories of TIME magazine multiple times. Nobody would have tolerated the criminalization of sex outside of marriage in order to “save lives”. Today, however, there is no limit on the power of the government when there is a public health goal. (Maybe outlaw all sexual activity? If people want children they can be imported via immigration and/or produced locally and without HIV risk via IVF.)

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