<![CDATA[Nothing To Say Here - Dave\'s Current Events Stuff]]>Wed, 25 Mar 2020 19:24:23 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[Some Thoughts On: Coronavirus]]>Sun, 22 Mar 2020 04:00:00 GMThttp://nothingtosayhere.com/daves-current-events-stuff/some-thoughts-on-coronavirus
By Dave B.
​I’ve mostly avoided talking publicly about novel coronavirus for the same reason that I’ve avoided discussing politics recently: they’re both topics in which reasoned public discussion is extremely unlikely and dealing with people’s emotions, when I’m much more interested in their thoughts, is very frustrating for me. That said, Covid-19 is important enough that I’ll share a few things for you to consider regarding a vaccine, immunity, and a long-term societal impact. But first, I want to share the perspective of a good friend of mine, Caterina V. She’s a doctor in Italy and she has a frontline perspective on what America, and much of the world, could likely be facing in the next couple of weeks (The message below has been lightly edited for clarity):
My name is Cate V. I am an Italian general practitioner: I am pretty scared and I work without PPE (personal protective equipment).

It all really started about 3 weeks ago... I was extremely reluctant (to accept what was happening). People would go to the hospital for troubled breathing and all I thought was "All this fuss for a seasonal flu...".
I was wrong, I was extremely wrong.

Here, we are fighting a battle, an extremely crazy one... we know the name of the enemy, COVID-19, but we have no clue what the weapons he is using are...

When I go to work in the morning everything is closed: no shops, no cafes, no hairdresser...nothing but the big grocery stores.

Almost no one is walking in the streets: probably this weekend, it will be declared illegal to go outside even to go for a run... only people with dogs can go for walks!

Yesterday I went grocery shopping.... I had to wait in line for 15 minutes to get in. Luckily there were still almost all of the products, so we are filling our fridge as if tomorrow everything will close.

On the 16th in Italy we had something like 470 deaths in one day... there are pictures of soooo many coffins without a family around them: funerals are forbidden; so are marriages. It’s surreal.

With Covid-19 people die alone: the relatives are not allowed in the hospitals due to how contagious the disease is... the patients die with their loved ones on the phone.

Italy has been great: new medical units have been built in no time, doctors are working 24/7... we are so madly tired... thankfully the system is public so everyone can be treated... or at least can have access to the treatments. But there are so many patients...

Stay home, stay safe!!!
​As you can see, and probably already know, Covid-19 has changed the way that we live our lives. And because of the impact that it’s had on ourselves personally, we may not have taken the time to think about the bigger picture. So here are a few things to consider while you’re in isolation:
​Experts say that we’ll have to wait 12-24 months for a vaccine to novel coronavirus. Maybe that’s true. But the evidence suggests that it will take much longer, assuming that a vaccine is possible at all. Think about it. There are six other coronaviruses that infect and are transmitted by humans. Four of them are responsible for a lot of cases of common cold and the other two are SARS and MERS (both more deadly, but less infectious than Covid-19). Guess how many of these six coronaviruses have vaccines? ZERO! Yep. As a species, we’ve never developed a vaccine for a human transmissible coronavirus. That doesn’t mean that we can’t. But it does mean that putting any sort of timeline on doing so is probably irresponsibly optimistic.
​There’s a belief among many that novel coronavirus will be like the flu, where once you catch it and recover from it, you’ll be immune to that particular strain for most of the rest of your life. Well, coronavirus is NOT the flu. We have no idea if it will generate a lifelong immune response or not. But if we use other coronaviruses as a guide, it’s quite possible that immunity will last, at most, a season. The four coronaviruses that cause common colds have been around for many, many generations and we catch them again and again throughout our lifetimes without developing a permanent immunity. At this point, with our extremely limited knowledge of novel coronavirus and how our immune systems respond to it, it’s safer to assume that this virus will be a permanent pandemic.
​While my first two points are blunt and seem rather dire, this one is a bit more nuanced. It’s obvious to everyone that permanent isolation and quarantine are unsustainable. The good news is that these measures are not designed to be indefinite. They’re designed to buy time for healthcare systems to establish a new equilibrium. Currently, our healthcare systems are designed for an expected number of patients at expected times of year. Covid-19 has thrown those expectations completely out of whack. Social distancing isn’t intended to prevent you from catching this disease forever. It’s designed to prevent you from catching it RIGHT NOW. You will get it at some point. And you’ll probably be alright. Or you might not. But what’s vital, from a public health perspective, is that healthcare institutions have time to adjust to a new normal. That means having adequate supplies, sufficient staff, and a viable funding model. For better or worse, the lasting impact that novel coronavirus is likely to have on our global society is an increased emphasis on healthcare systems (I say for better or worse because emphasis on a problem is not the same thing as successfully addressing it).
​My point is that if you are expecting your life to go back to “normal” once the worst of this crisis abates, you’re likely in for some big surprises. But if we all work together, we can get through this stronger and more prepared than when this outbreak began. That’s the least we can do, so that all of the lives lost and sacrifices made, won’t have been in vain. 
<![CDATA[To Impeach or Not To Impeach…]]>Sat, 20 Apr 2019 01:16:56 GMThttp://nothingtosayhere.com/daves-current-events-stuff/to-impeach-or-not-to-impeach
By Dave B.
Now that the (redacted) Mueller report is out, a couple things are unambiguously clear (if one chooses to be objective). Most importantly, despite both groups working towards the same goal, there isn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that President Trump’s campaign engaged in coordinated efforts with the Russian government to win the election. And the fact that there isn’t enough proof to establish that beyond a reasonable doubt is a good thing, because of the second point that is clear: Mueller (correctly) decided that he lacked the authority to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice, but (and this part is EXTREMELY important) whether or not President Trump obstructed justice, his behavior was unworthy of a President of the United States. This is a correct decision, because fundamentally, America’s system of checks and balances between the branches of the federal government mean that it should be up to Congress to decide the matter. And it’s a good thing for the Democrats that it wasn’t proven that President Trump coordinated activities with the Russians because the Dems now find themselves in a hell of a bind.
​In any healthy democracy, President Trump would be out of office by now because, whether one supports all, most, some, or none of his policies, it’s manifestly clear that the United States has never had a President more temperamentally and intellectually unfit for office. But these are not “normal” times and America does not currently have a healthy democracy. We currently have one party embracing socialist nonsense and the other party embracing perhaps the most ridiculous cult of personality imaginable. And now congressional Democrats face a dilemma: They could move to impeach a person who clearly should not be President, fail to remove him from office, and suffer electorally in 2020. Or they could continue to investigate the Trump administration (but not pursue impeachment), focus on policy in the run-up to 2020, and stand a decent chance of keeping the House and winning the Senate and Presidency. Pursuing the first option would be to fulfill their sworn duty to the American people, regardless of the consequences. Pursuing the second option may make us all better off in the end. If President Trump had been proven to have been working with the Russians, the Democrats would face the same risks, but would have almost no other option but to pursue a doomed impeachment. Now, at least they have a choice, no matter how distasteful it may be.
​I don’t have a good solution for the Democrats. The patriot in me fears that if they don’t try to impeach, they’ll be participating in normalizing a culture where Presidents are, if not above the law, at least no longer expected to engage in common decency and semi-ethical behavior most of the time. But the practical part of my mind tells me that winning (fairly) matters more and a public rebuke of the ridiculousness going on in the White House now will have more durable long-term benefits for our divided nation. If I were forced to choose at this exact moment, I suppose I would tell the Dems not to impeach, mostly because I don’t have much confidence that they’ll pick a moderate as their Presidential candidate. That, combined with a failed impeachment, would pretty much sound the death knell for their party. The risk of going through impeachment is just higher than any potential reward it may bring about, regardless of the moral implications of inaction. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your soul to save everyone else’s. This looks like one of those times. 
<![CDATA[The End of The World]]>Fri, 30 Nov 2018 23:49:48 GMThttp://nothingtosayhere.com/daves-current-events-stuff/the-end-of-the-world
By Dave B.
​Recently, a Chinese scientist announced that he genetically engineered a set of twin girls to be resistant to HIV. By any definition, this is a miraculous breakthrough (assuming the claims are true; until his claims are peer-reviewed, I’m remaining in the skeptical camp). I personally don’t have any moral objection to genetically engineering anything, including people. However, I recognize that genetically engineering the human race, particularly now, isn’t just opening Pandora’s Box; it’s opening the box, dumping out all of its contents, and then smashing it on the floor. If people can be designed to be resistant to disease, they can also be designed for enhanced intelligence and designer physical characteristics. Human civilization just isn’t capable of dealing with the consequences of engineered superhumans, which is the inevitable (and likely near-term) result of this event. Here are a few reasons why:
War of the Masses, The Outcome Disastrous
People around the world are currently demonstrating an understandable intolerance for perceived inequalities of all types. And when they don’t feel that their grievances are being recognized, respected, and acted upon, they’re (less understandably, but predictably) turning to extremist movements, beliefs, ideologies, and charlatans. How do you think people will react when confronted by a group of humans that are designed to be superior in objectively measurable ways?

​People who are worried about losing their jobs to foreigners or perceive themselves as being discriminated against for some physical attribute are going to lose their minds when they find the upper echelons of society completely closed to themselves and their children because of the existence of people who are designed to be smarter and stronger than anyone nature is likely to produce in the near-term. Unmodified people will, at best, become a permanent underclass in most societies. More likely, they'll try to fight for their existence (more on this in a moment).
​Having China be the leader in this field is extremely problematic, as it would be if any authoritarian regime were. China already has a long history of controlling people’s reproductive choices (forcing millions of women to get abortions, for example) and it’s not hard to imagine them forcing many of their citizens to bear designer babies. What’s the West to do? The United States already finds itself underperforming on most international educational metrics and most Western countries aren’t going to force their citizens to genetically engineer their children. But by respecting individual rights, the West will fall further and further behind countries that don’t consider individual rights to be an issue.

​People from military planners to academics to politicians are in nearly universal agreement that having the most advanced technology is the key to gaining and preserving prosperity. But within a generation or two, the West will have fallen so far behind China in technological capability (due to the former having absolutely and, perhaps relatively, fewer genetically engineered geniuses) that they will have no hope of EVER catching up. That makes the prospect of preemptive war not only more likely, but a virtual certainty, if it ever looks like China (or any other country) appears to be close to rolling out genetically engineered improvements to their societies in a wholesale manner. 
There Can Be Only One
Combined with advances in automation, designer humans will pretty much represent the doom of any but the most exceptional unmodified people. In a worst case scenario, they represent nearly the exact same threat that a rogue AI would, except that they’re fundamentally human, with all of the potential for chaos and cruelty that that entails. If they know that unmodified humans would someday be a threat to them (which is an obvious possibility even to non-superhuman minds) why would they wait around and continue to allow that threat to exist? I wouldn’t, in their shoes.

​Even assuming that the new genetic overlords are completely benevolent, their existence means that, assuming Darwinian evolution still holds in complex societies, unmodified humans will eventually be out-competed for resources and driven extinct. You don’t believe me? Let’s find some Homo Neanderthalensis and ask them what they think about it. The fact is that we humans are fighters and conflict between what may fundamentally be two different species of humans is common in our history. And in any fight between the unmodified and the enhanced, my money is on the people with the most brains and resources.
​I already know that a lot of people are going to dismiss my concerns as being either too extreme, too alarmist, or too premature. And frankly, those may be fair arguments. But the truth is, that the only pushback that will impact my opinion on this will have to be based on historical precedent and in that arena, the evidence is pretty much 100% on my side. So buckle up. We’re likely in for quite a ride. 
<![CDATA[Different Branches, Same Tree]]>Sat, 04 Aug 2018 13:26:44 GMThttp://nothingtosayhere.com/daves-current-events-stuff/different-branches-same-treeBy Dave B.
​Because I apparently hate myself, I still occasionally have conversations with supporters of President Trump and Senator Sanders. I know that I shouldn’t, but there’s a part of me that can’t resist studying people. Would you like to know what I’ve learned? The supporters of each man, despite apparently believing in different things, have the EXACT same flawed mental processes. It would be fascinating if it weren’t frightening.
​Many in both groups believe in completely irrational and impossible conspiracy theories. Many in both groups wholeheartedly believe in policies which defy math and common sense. Think about it: large portions of both groups believe in an international conspiracy aimed at global domination and the repression of their respective group. They have different villains, of course. But the mentality required to believe such things is identical. And most distressingly (at least for me as an American), few members of either group believe in the individual as the foundational unit of political life.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the two groups are identical. But when you get right down to it, a group of people who base their ideology on misplaced racial and cultural grievance is thinking and feeling similarly to one that bases it’s ideology on misplaced economic and cultural grievances. They both support wretched policies based entirely upon passion, paranoia, and personality. Both groups are infested with anti-vaxxers. Both groups are vehemently (but selectively) anti-science. Both want to increase the national debt by trillions of dollars. Both are fundamentally isolationists. Both view any sort of political compromise as betrayal.
It’s disheartening that these two groups have achieved such prominence in the political discourse of the United States. Oddly, because of their similarities, there isn’t much hope of finding many policy solutions that are amenable to both groups except on free trade, which both groups despise. Their unwillingness to compromise is a recipe for disaster and the only way that I can see to prevent it is for moderate Democrats and Republicans to either purge their respective parties of members who promote racial and/or economic bigotry, or to abandon their parties and create a new centrist one. Neither option is likely to occur.
What is most likely to happen is that the Democrats waste a golden opportunity to gain control of Congress in 2018, President Trump gets reelected in 2020, and a Socialist becomes President in 2024. By that time (assuming I’m still alive) I will probably have become completely catatonic due to the nonsense that I’m subjected to from these people on a daily basis. On the bright side though…well…I don’t see a bright side, but if you can think of one, please let me know!
<![CDATA[We All Knew The Deal]]>Sun, 08 Apr 2018 22:29:18 GMThttp://nothingtosayhere.com/daves-current-events-stuff/we-all-knew-the-dealBy Dave B.
​It’s funny to me that people are freaking out now about Facebook’s use of personal data. There are people who rail against corporations all day, but who are now acting like Facebook betrayed their deepest trust, slept with their spouse, and burned down their home. Come on now. 
As adults, there are some things that we all know, but apparently need to bring to our conscious awareness once in a while. For example:
  • If we do ANYTHING online (without using a VPN), it is potentially knowable by the world
  • If we grant access permissions to an app, regardless of the device, our data is potentially knowable to the world
  • There is very little that you, Facebook, or other “free” social networks can do to guarantee that data scraping of personal information never occurs
  • In most modern, major cities we are electronically observed nearly constantly once we leave our homes (and sometimes inside of them, depending upon the technology that we use there)
Privacy, as we traditionally conceive of it, is a thing of the past unless someone can isolate themselves from modern conveniences. And if you are reading this, it’s unlikely that you’re either rich enough, poor enough, or inclined enough to actually do so. But there is little need to freak out about this stuff. Nearly nobody cares what we like and do as individuals. They care about what people with our demographic characteristics like and do, in aggregate. So you can relax, a bit.

Personally, what I really want is a world in which my data is sufficiently anonymized so as to be untraceable directly to me or my contacts, but still useful enough for targeted advertising (because it’s convenient and I understand that Facebook is a business). Barring that, I think I should get paid something for all use of my data. I can’t see social media companies paying me for my data anytime in the near future. And I know that there are limits to anonymization, especially when a company’s business model relies upon targeted advertising. Further, if someone is willing to throw enough resources into finding out who someone is, they can do so. Therefore, I accept the potential consequences inherent in the modern technology that I choose to use. There are risks associated with everything. If someone can’t accept that, they’re likely in for a lot of disappointments in life.

What I DO think is worth getting angry about is Facebook’s constant lies, omissions, and lack of concern for their users. I’m not going to advocate for personal responsibility without also advocating for corporate responsibility. If I make a mistake, I need to own up to it, apologize if necessary, and do my best to make sure that that mistake (and other foreseeable mistakes) don’t happen again. Ideally, that’s what we would all do and that includes Facebook. And leaving some types of sensitive data vulnerable by default is just disgusting.

Facebook is certainly guilty of cowardice and greed, but I’m not going to get angry at Facebook for being a social media company. We all know what social media companies are, what they do, and the risks of participating in any online interactions. To pretend otherwise is to attempt to deny ourselves our own agency. 
<![CDATA[Unions: The Obvious Question]]>Sun, 25 Mar 2018 13:07:33 GMThttp://nothingtosayhere.com/daves-current-events-stuff/unions-the-obvious-questionBy Dave B.
Several weeks ago, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). This is considered an important case by many, because it is expected that the Court will rule that public-sector unions cannot collect money from non-members.
The (extremely) short version of the sides is that Janus is arguing unions can’t compel non-members to pay union dues and AFSCME is arguing that non-members receive benefits from union activities and should therefore pay for the costs that unions incur to win and provide those benefits.

As some background on my perspective, I was a union-member for nine years. I know and understand both the benefits and the drawbacks of union membership. I think that strong unions in general, and workers’ rights in particular, are as important to a healthy democracy as property rights. The obvious question (in my opinion) is why more people aren’t clamoring to be in unions in the first place? If I am right that unions serve a useful and vital role for society, then it must be the case that they are not adequately demonstrating their value on an individual level.

In my opinion, the AFSCME’s position at best doesn’t make a lot of sense and at worst, is intentionally misleading. Here’s why.

There are basically three broad categories of benefits that unions provide:

  1. Universal Benefits: Something such as workplace safety falls into this category. Every employee benefits whether they are a union member or not.
  2. Industry Benefits: This often occurs in situations where an employer raises wages and benefits for non-union members to be aligned with what union negotiations have won for their members.
  3. Potentially Member-Exclusive Benefits: This category includes activities such as arbitration representation when an employee and management have a dispute.

For Universal and Industry Benefits, the unions’ costs are can be viewed (to a large extent) as fixed, in the sense that regardless of whether or not non-union members receive the benefit, the unions’ costs to negotiate the benefit don’t have to increase (these benefits are not typically implemented by unions).

For Potentially Member-Exclusive Benefits, unions’ costs DO increase for every member that uses the benefit. However, unions are not legally required to provide these benefits to non-members. If unions become unable to collect dues from non-members, they can (and should) cease to provide these services to non-members.

It’s understandable that unions don’t want to see a decrease in their resources and want to represent as many people as possible. These things improve their negotiating power and allow them to wield political influence on behalf of their members. But compelling payments from non-members is not a sustainable way to go about obtaining or retaining support. 

To survive and thrive in the 21st century, unions should focus on proving to current and potential members that there are tangible Member-Exclusive Benefits to being in a union. A concrete example could include expanding continuing education and training opportunities for members and their families. 

If people don’t want to be in a union, it’s likely that the union is either not providing sufficient value or is ineffective about communicating that they are. A business that suffered from one of these faults would likely fail. The same will hold true for most of our public institutions going forward. Unions are no exception. 
<![CDATA[A Compromise: Free Trade With Free Countries]]>Mon, 05 Mar 2018 13:30:56 GMThttp://nothingtosayhere.com/daves-current-events-stuff/a-compromise-free-trade-with-free-countriesBy Dave
​Recently, President Trump has made headlines by calling for across the board 25% tariffs on steel and 10% tariffs on aluminum. He also suggested that trade wars are good and that the United States can easily win them. I’m not going to go into the math of why trade wars are bad for all parties and free trade is a net good. Instead, as a fan of free trade, I’m going to offer a compromise solution that I believe is both politically feasible and economically rational: free trade with free countries.
​My premise is simple. Countries that protect and respect political rights are more likely to protect and respect human rights and therefore labor and economic rights, as well. When combined with an advanced economy, these countries are more likely to have labor costs that are similar to America’s in many sectors. This implies that, on balance, truly free trade with these countries is unlikely to disproportionately harm American workers and consumers.
America’s current free trade regime is based upon at least three main premises:

  1. Universal free trade will benefit American consumers (with lower prices) and American companies (with greater profits)
  2. Universal free trade will help reduce global poverty
  3. Universal free trade will lead to democratic reforms in authoritarian countries
The first premise has turned out to be true, with the caveat that American companies often have their intellectual property stolen or are required to share it as a condition of operating in certain non-democratic countries.
The second premise is also true, with the caveat that free trade alone is likely insufficient to combat global poverty. It works in conjunction with such things as land reform, increased industrialization, and social development and poverty reduction programs.
The third premise likely doesn’t have enough evidence to wholeheartedly support or dismiss it, but anecdotally, it is clear that there are countries like China and Russia, that we have (relatively) free trade with, that have made little or no progress on substantive democratic reforms.
Although it is clear that most of the manufacturing job losses in the United States are due to automation, not trade, it is also clear that some non-democratic countries have been unfairly manipulating trade through measures such as (but not limited to) currency manipulation, forcible acquisition of intellectual property, and dire conditions for their workers. If free trade is not leading these countries closer to democracy, and in fact enables them to destabilize the current international order, then we really need to ask ourselves if free trade with these countries is in our best interest.

Penalizing our allies for having competitive advantages in some areas makes no economic or political sense. Their strength and prosperity enable our own. However, I suggest that we implement tariffs against countries that Congress deems insufficiently free and also against countries that Congress has determined have been systematically engaging in widespread anti-competitive abuses against American companies, products, and services.
I believe that both a domestic and international consensus can be reached that it is time to stop rewarding bad actors in the international system. Further, I believe that my proposal would address some of the concerns of American workers. It would make it clear to the world that on the issue of trade, America is willing to stand by its stated values. And it would provide an actual incentive to non-democratic countries to make real democratic reforms. (Here is Freedom House’s 2018 list of Free, Partly Free, and Not Free countries.)