Sunday, May 31, 2020

When excuses ring hollow

Then:

After decades of being treated as less than a man, and after watching friends and supporters have the crap beat out of them merely because they looked different, this man decided to do something about it.  He calmly walked down the street with his supporters, making the point that he and they were no different than others.  By walking peacefully, he demonstrated that he and his supporters were not the problem, and that those who were full of unreasonable hatred were wrong.

He also asked us to judge people by their character - their behavior, their speech, and their actions - and not by simple pigmentation.

Now:

The murder in Minneapolis was the result of a failure of a city government to obey the "3 strike rule": two legitimate complaints about a police officer's violence - whether on or off duty - should result in removal from any duties that require direct interaction with the public, and the third complaint should result in termination without pension or benefits.

The events in Minneapolis are less about the murder of one man by a police officer than it is about a city government's failure to remember that they are public servants and their jobs are to ensure peace and the safety of the public who elected them.

The Minneapolis city government continues in its failure to ensure peace and the safety of the public by putting aside any attempt to maintain even the illusion of law and order.

There is no excuse for looting and arson.  Those who intentionally destroy the property of others while using the excuse "I was angry about an unrelated event" are not deserving of pity or mercy.  They are willingly putting their morals and character aside.  Nobody forces anyone to loot or commit arson.  These are voluntary actions, motivated by greed and hatred, resulting in the damage and destruction of the property and livelihoods of people they do not know.  They put the lie to "we're all in this together" by showing that they stand apart.

That is why I feel that looters and arsonists should be shot on sight.  This is not a racist statement.  I don't care what race, gender, creed, or what that person is wearing.  I'd shoot a bishop in full garb if I saw him stealing a large screen tv from a Best Buy in the middle of a riot.  It needs to be said again: looting and arson are voluntary actions.  A person either decides to commit these crimes or to walk away.  Those who decide to commit the crimes have taken the action to deprive others of their livelihood: does anyone think that the looted Best Buy will reopen anytime soon?  Where will those employees find jobs?  At the other businesses that have been looted and firebombed?

And this is why I condemn mayors and other elected or appointed officials who permit the destruction of property with the excuse "people need to let off steam".  People get angry.  But it is the city's responsibility to ensure that one person's anger does not result in the destruction of another person's property.  Or, as we are already seeing, the full-on attacks or murders of others - whether in uniform or not.

When a mayor abdicates the responsibilities of office, that mayor has violated the trust of the voters and should immediately resign.  To stay in office after ignoring the duties of office is no different than the politicians in "banana republic" countries who, after election, enrich themselves while ignoring any promises they made to "make things better".

The events in Minneapolis should inspire all police departments around the country to re-examine the discipline records of their officers and to immediately implement all stages of the "three strikes rule".

The excuse "this is not the time" is completely wrong: this is the time, and it can be the first step in both healing the rifts between police departments and restoring the trust that they will not permit law enforcement officers to commit infractions of department rules or the law itself.

The time has come for the cleanup - and local police departments can lead the way by example.  And as far as bad cops go: no more excuses.


Monday, May 25, 2020

Guidance is one thing; law is another

Recently, the Board of Health of the City of Nashua NH recommended that the Board of Aldermen approve a new ordinance.  This ordinance, a reaction to the Covid-19 virus, is named Nashua Ordinance O-20-18, "Relative to Face Coverings."  The ordinance may be viewed at https://www.nashuanh.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/6403

Let me begin by saying that if someone wants to wear a mask because they feel that it would protect themselves from others, I’m fine with it.  If someone wants to wear a mask to protect others from themselves, I approve.  These are their personal choices.   

As “guidance”, the ordinance contains several good ideas.  But as a legally enforceable ordinance (obey or pay a fine, or possibly be brought to court), the ordinance fails.  There are far too many deficiencies that act as anti-business measures, and others that cause unnecessary confusion.

Keep in mind that this is a lawful ordinance, written and recommended by the Nashua Board of Health and approved by vote of the Nashua Board of Aldermen.  It therefore can be enforced by the Nashua Police department.  “The letter of the law” is how it must be enforced if it is to be fairly enforced.

So, let’s start with the requirement that every person must wear a mask in almost every circumstance in Nashua.  The City of Nashua will not be providing those masks.  Residents are expected to purchase them or purchase the materials needed to make one, or to use a cloth bandanna or some other non-medical approved material.  But the meaning is clear: purchase or otherwise obtain an object to conform to a new law.  NH RSA 31:39 provides that ordinances are enforceable through the use of legal means, from fines to a court appearance.

The PPACA required individuals to purchase insurance or pay a tax (originally it was a fine, but Justice Roberts would not have approved it if it was a fine).  In December 2019, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit determined that this “individual mandate” was unconstitutional.  Individuals may not be forced through an act of law to purchase something from the private sector.

Thus, the entire ordinance is unconstitutional on its face.  But let’s go further.

The preamble describes a mask as “cloth, fabric, or other soft or permeable material, without holes, that covers only the nose, mouth, and surrounding areas of the lower face.”  There is no specification for the kind of cloth to be used except for “without holes”.  Hence, any cloth – from gauze to nylon – fits this specification as “soft or permeable material, without holes”.  The specification is so imprecise that it fails on all counts to demonstrate how the mask “protects the spread of our respiratory droplets”.

In point of fact, the goal should be stated as “protects against the spread of our respiratory droplets”.  Let’s continue with the analysis.

Rule 2 requires the wearing of a mask in all areas in a business, whether inside or outside. 

This means that a mask must be worn when entering a bank.  Not only is this problematic, but many banks have signs upon entry requiring the removal of hats, sunglasses, and facial coverings.  The reason is obvious: security cameras need to see all of the faces of those entering the bank.

However, this ordinance makes no exceptions for banks.  If a bank asks a customer to remove their mask, the customer is immediately in violation of the ordinance.

The ordinance explicitly states that masks must also be worn inside government buildings.  Hence, a new driver license cannot be issued: the removal of the mask to take the picture would immediately put the new driver in violation of the ordinance.

Barber shops may not trim beards.  Beauty salons and cosmetic counters may not do facial makeovers – including for prospective brides.  And, for that matter, the same brides may not remove their masks during the marriage ceremony for their traditional “first kiss”.

And to make the point even more clear, congregants in the City of Nashua may not receive communion: removing a mask immediately puts them in violation of a city ordinance when they want to exercise a required religious rite.

Rule 3 allows outside seating for customers at restaurants.  However, there is no consideration for customers who, when permitted, would want to sit and eat inside the restaurant.  They must keep their masks on at all times.  This part of the ordinance seems to be aimed specifically at preventing restaurants from allowing customers to eat indoors.

As we can see, the goal as guidance fails when the guidance becomes a law-enforceable ordinance: it is impossible for business to proceed in a normal manner when normal behavior is not possible due to the threat of a fine or a court appearance.

Lastly, this ordinance has no end date, no sunset date, nor a test to determine when it will no longer be enforced.  It “shall continue in effect until rescinded by action of the Board of Health or the Board of Aldermen”.  Without an end date, a quorum of either board is required to permit normal business interaction to resume in the City of Nashua.  Not even the Governor of New Hampshire can rescind this order.  Hence, “normal” will not return in Nashua NH until the local city government determines that “normal” may resume.

The point here is a simple one: “Government is a hammer – and to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  The ordinance contains excellent ideas as guidance.  But it removes the ability of business owners to determine how they do business inside their own premises and removes individual choice.  Instead, it is anti-business and anti-choice at its core.  This is not “the American way”.

There was a protest against this ordinance outside Nashua City Hall on the evening of May 24th.  Among the dozens who showed up to show their disappointment at the Board of Aldermen and the Mayor was a veteran holding a sign that read “This is NOT why I served.”

Friday, May 22, 2020

Reversal of attitude

Any political discussion about current events must start by conceding that the terms "conservative" and "liberal" don't have much meaning anymore, especially in today's pandemic-panicked society.

Let's explore this a bit.

It's interesting to see how "those on the left" have become the pro-government disciplinarians willing to force their will upon The People, and "those on the right" have become the anti-government libertarians who want to live their lives free of government controls.

One would think that a "liberal" would loosen the rules, and a "conservative" would tighten the rules.

But today's "liberals" - "the Left" - want more government, and "conservatives" - "the Right" - want less government.

That's the "reversal of attitude".

Looking at modern American history, especially the years during the Vietnam war, this is exactly the opposite of what I'd have expected.

There was a time when liberals fought for freedom against government regulation.  Protests.  Marches.  Demands for less government control.  "My body my choice".  And so forth.  Liberals used to be the "free love" generation.  Not any more.

Liberals now want control over the behavior of everyone and are using "the pandemic" as an excuse.  They demand that everyone changes their behavior so that they, the liberals, can feel safe.

I understand their fear.  Nobody wants to get sick.  The liberal-controlled media and their medical "experts" have scared the bejeezus out of everyone around the world.  "The Pandemic of 2020" has become big news, and the resulting panic caused the almost complete collapse of the world's economies.  All for fear of getting sick.

This is not to say that Covid-19 is "the flu".  It's much more serious than "the flu": more communicable, a longer incubation time, and a much longer recovery time.  But the survival rate for those with reasonably healthy immune systems is extremely high.  Well over 98% of those known to come down with it survived.  And that's only those who tested positive for it.  We don't know how many had a mild case and were not tested, or how many developed antibodies but were entirely asymptomatic.

(Let's not discuss elderly and/or those with immune compromised systems.  That's a discussion for another time.)

We all know that liberals live by their mantra "never let a crisis go to waste".  They use that as the excuse to force some truly ridiculous rules upon the citizenry.  Their latest mantra is "because of the pandemic".

And some of these "new rules" are truly silly and counterproductive.  Like painting arrows on sidewalks so you can only walk one direction on one side of a street, and the other direction on the other side.  Or telling people to walk only on the wet sand at the beach and not the dry sand.  Or drawing circles on park lawns to enforce social distancing.  Or to not swim in the ocean.  Go ahead and google - these are all true.

But don't question liberals.  Those who do are publicly shamed into silence and then are accused of being tantamount to murderers.  Facts that don't fit the narrative are ignored.  Once again, "the science is settled" because liberals say so.  And any conservative who disagrees is a baby killer who wants to starve grandma and then throw her off a cliff.

Everyone who asks the question "show me the facts that prove these restrictions work", and who points to recent studies that show that Covid-19 does not survive on surfaces for several days (those were the original predictions for the virus under ideal conditions) must be evil and must want you to die.  Because "the Left" says so.

Others wonder what will happen when the next virus hits - and it will.  It's inevitable.  Will liberals once again coerce human behavior to try to "prevent" sickness?

To paraphrase a line from a famous movie, "Fear will keep the local communities in line.  Fear of this coronavirus."

Meanwhile, conservatives try to warn against the creeping increase in government power and are thus shut out of the conversation by the media who, rather than "speak truth to power", are hiding truth from The People.

What is the truth?  The truth is that Covid-19 is not the harbinger of the apocalypse.  It is survivable.  This makes it "yet another disease" that mankind will have to live with.

It's just interesting to note that those who want the freedom to do as they wish have become willing to coerce others by means of government into obeying their orders.

How... Orwellian.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Voting by mail - a proposal

Voting by mail?  Really?  Sure.  Why not?

But let's do it right.  Let's do it in a way that's secure and verifiable.  Let's do it in a way that mostly eliminates fraud.  Let's do it in a way that could even support voting from your own web browser.

Let's use "multifactor authentication".

How many of us do online banking?  Ever notice how the bank will occasionally send a text to your phone before it allows you to access your account?  Notice how those "validation codes" only last for a short period of time and can only be used once?  That's "multifactor authentication".

Briefly, cyber security requires at least 2 verifiable factors: who you are, what you have, and what you know.  "Who you are" is your name.  "What you have" is a one-time validation code.  "What you know" is your password.

Now let's apply this to voting.

Every state has its own rules for voter registration, but most states require some kind of proof that you are who you say you are.  It could be a driver license, or an electric/water bill, or a tax bill, or some combination of all three.  Some pieces of information that provide verification of your identity.

Let's add two new pieces of information to your voter registration.

The first is a state-provided voter identification number.  No, not a "voter ID".  Just a number that the state keeps on file that relates directly to your identity.  It could be a driver license number, or a power/water account number (they are unique: one per household).  Or a property tax identification code (again, one per household).  But something unique to the individual that proves residence.  In the case of multiple voters in the same address, an electric bill account number is sufficient.

This is "what you have".  Something that shows you legally reside in the voting district.

Now let's add "what you know".  This is something that you provide to the voter registration authority.  It is something that only you know: something that you know that others should not know.  Think of this as a password or a validation code.  And, just like a bank's validation code, it can only be used once.

Here's how mail in voting would work:

You would be mailed an empty ballot by the town registrar (or whomever is in charge of mailing out ballots).  The ballot would have your name on it, but both the state-provided and voter-provided data is blank.

You fill in the ballot.  You enter both pieces of unique information: the data that the state gave you, and the data that you gave the registrar.

Then you put the ballot in the mail.

The ballot is received from the city.  The state-provided data is verified, the voter-provided data is verified, and the vote is counted.

Now, here's the anti-fraud protection: As soon as the vote is processed, the voter-provided data is deleted.  The voter-provided data was a one-time validation code.  Once used, it cannot be used again.  Thus, no other ballots with the same state/voter data can be counted.

All mail-in ballots must be processed at least 5 working days before the election.  If a ballot was sent out and nothing was received, the city would send a postcard or an email to the voter to let them know that "a ballot was not processed" with their data.  This provides "validation": verification that a vote was NOT received.  This allows the voter the time to appear at the polling place and physically cast a vote as long as the state/voter data has not been used.

In all cases, the same state/voter data cannot be used twice in the same election.

Lastly, the city provides a way to easily add a new voter-provided data item for the next election.  It could be via a form enclosed in an envelope, or a fold-over postcard, or a web page.

But in all cases, only one vote can be cast by one person, and only in a district where the voter has verified legal residence.

Multifactor authentication can provide a way for those who want to vote by mail to do so safely, in a validated manner, and in a way that mostly prevents fraud.

We're in the 21st century.  Let's use 21st century tools to allow people to easily and securely cast a vote - and let's motivate more people to vote.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A "New Normal"? Um... no.

A huge number of scolds (those who persistently nag or criticize) have been loudly telling everyone that there is a need for a "new normal" due to the current virological outbreak.  That this "new normal" will require the perpetual wearing of masks, the endless need for "social separation", and the constant washing of hands and avoidance of touching faces.

Some of those scolds have degrees in medicine, or have been appointed to "boards" or "agencies" because of their advanced training and/or education in virology or epidemiology, or some other branch of medicine dealing with disease.  Politicians do what these scolds tell them to do, and thus we end up with ordinances and health regulations that sometimes make sense - and sometimes don't.  Examples of both abound - I'm not going to list them here.

I won't argue about what causes non-genetically inherited disease, or how diseases are transmitted, or whether susceptibility to disease is based on some kind of behavior or some other environmental factor.  I don't have either the education or the authority to do so.

However, I am a student of human nature.  Some human behaviors are deeply rooted and have not changed in tens of thousands of years of human evolution.

We are social animals.  Since our earliest times in caves, we have lived in groups.  We touch each other both for support and affection.  We sit together - sometimes very closely.  We talk to each other, eat together, play together, and spend time just being around each other.

We have suffered pandemics throughout history.  Human core behaviors just keep returning afterward.

The Black Plague killed almost half of Europe.  And humans returned to their basic behavior patterns afterward.

The Spanish Flu caused widespread deaths and devastation.  And humans returned to their basic behavior patterns afterward.

And now, we are experiencing the Covid-19 virual outbreak.  Compared to previous pandemics, this one is relatively mild.  It has not caused the worldwide deaths of millions and probably will not be the huge "end of the world" threat that some have promised.

Once again, humans will recognize that "this too shall pass" and will return to basic human behavior.

Yes, the scolds will continue to demand that humans change their behaviors to satisfy the latest trend in disease avoidance techniques, because those techniques change over time.  Not necessarily because a change is needed in those techniques, but because none of those past techniques have been completely and totally successful in eradicating disease, whether it's an old disease that we have lived with for a long time, or a "novel coronavirus" that has recently been discovered.

Bacteria can be killed with the proper antibacterial agents.  But viruses are different.  They are rarely "cured".  Instead, methods are used to improve human resistance to a viral attack.  Immunizations do not cure: they only help the body to develop its own antibodies against the disease.

The latest professional scolds are telling us that we must adapt to a "new normal".  They want us to believe that wearing face masks, social distancing, and the avoidance of human contact are all part of that "new normal".  For them, it is yet another attempt to control the transmission of a disease.

Some people will follow those recommendations for an extended period of time, but they will eventually realize that they are the few who do.  For them, their self-imposed "new normal" will last a while longer.

But for the rest of us, "normal" will return - just as it has returned after the end of every previous pandemic, epidemic, war, or other disaster, whether natural-caused or man-caused.

It's only human.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Sine Qua Non COVID-19

"Sine qua non".

In legal parlance, it introduces the "but for" legal concept.

To quote from FARLEX: "In order to be liable in negligence, the defendant's conduct must constitute the proximate cause, or direct cause, of the plaintiff's injury. The concept of proximate cause encompasses both legal cause and factual cause, and the "but for" rule pertains to the latter. It is also referred to as the sine qua non rule, which means "without which not," or an indispensable requirement or condition. The "but for" rule is a rule of exclusion, in that the defendant's conduct is not a cause of the event, if the event would have occurred without it."

Why do I bring this up?

(The following is very long and may make some people very uncomfortable.  It may seem heartless - but it isn't meant to be.  It may seem cruel - but it isn't meant to be.  It is meant as analysis - nothing more.  And as unfortunate as it may seem, sometimes analysis appears heartless and cruel - even though it isn't.)

==

In a recent briefing, Dr. Birx said (can't find the exact quote) that any deaths involving COVID-19 are being counted as "COVID-19 deaths".

We also know, again from Dr. Birx, that those with preexisting medical conditions appear to be the most susceptible to the damaging effects of the COVID-19 virus.

But what we don't know is how many of those deaths would have occurred solely due to COVID-19, or - to put it more succinctly - how many of those deaths involved COVID-19 as the "proximate cause".

To make it even simpler: how many people with "pre-existing conditions" would have died from other similar medical conditions - conditions that severely attack an already impaired system - such as influenza, pneumonia, or non-COVID ailments?

Ok, let's reverse it.  Removing those who died due to complications arising from pre-existing conditions that had already weakened their systems, how many would have lived "but for" COVID-19?  How many previously healthy individuals died solely because of infection from COVID-19?

We're hearing some really distressing numbers about deaths.  But we're not getting the full picture.  ANY death due to a disease is tragic, but it would be even more tragic to blame a death on the wrong cause - or, in this case, to hold COVID-19 responsible for deaths that were (sorry) inevitable.

Governor Cuomo recently said the same thing.  He noted that all deaths are tragedies, but there were some people that could not be saved "no matter how hard we tried" (his exact words).  If some of those people had (as an example) COPD, they already had seriously impaired lungs and already had difficulty breathing (some are on oxygen all the time).  COVID-19 was a contributory cause of their deaths... but was it the primary cause of their deaths?

So the question is:  "if not for" COVID-19, how many of those counted as COVID-19 deaths would have fully recovered to their previous state of health?

Yes, it seems cruel to ask, but it's important to know the answer.  Here's why:

If 30% (just a guess, but a reasonable guess) of those who died would have died from another contributory cause (influenza, pneumonia, etc), then the number of COVID-19 specific deaths was inflated by 30%.  This brings the COVID-19 specific death rate down.  That would be good news in a time of nothing but bad news.

Consider this as well: CDC numbers show 30,000 to 60,000 deaths annually from "the flu" (yes, just plain "flu" - influenza).  Again, these deaths are tragic but probably not preventable due to the age and medical conditions of those who died.

We are not currently counting the number of people who are dying from only "the flu" (influenza).  That count has been suppressed because of the severity of the current COVID-19 outbreak.

How many of those who would have died from complications due to "the flu" died due to complications from COVID-19?  Is the number similar, or are there two "tracks" here: one specific to COVID-19, and one specific to influenza?  Are we keeping track of the deaths separately, or are we lumping all of the deaths together?

Moreover, have deaths due to "the flu" been reduced by "social distancing"?  Are those who might have succumbed to "the flu" still alive (thank goodness) because we are now more aware of the need for washing our hands, maintaining cleanliness, and preventing unnecessary contact that might spread non-COVID-19 germs and viruses?

THIS IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW.  We need to know exactly how dangerous COVID-19 is, especially considering the efforts we have taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  These efforts range from social distancing to the speedy creation of new testing machines and methodologies, the evaluation of existing pharmaceuticals for possible treatment, and the overwhelming pressure placed on the economy (people who aren't working can't pay for food, rent, insurance, or any of the other necessities of life).

==

When the immediate crisis has passed and we are able to finally begin the process to restart our lives, these questions should be answered if only to understand how to truly measure the impact on our lives for the next pandemic... and, to be sure, there will be another one.  It's inevitable in a world where bacteriological and virological agents can travel to the other side of the world in less than a day.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Is this how tyranny begins?

The governor of NH, Chris Sununu, has joined other governors of nearby states by closing restaurants and bars in the entire state of NH for an indeterminate time (currently until April 7 - but that could change).  Restaurants and bars may only provide take-out and/or delivery service.

Yes, COVID-19 is scary.  I'm not denying it, nor am I minimizing the danger we face from it.

BUT I have not yet been able to identify the law or statute that empowers the governor to order private businesses to change their business model or to close if they cannot adhere to his order.  Some restaurants "on the edge" will go out of business.  There doesn't appear to be a remedy to permit any of these businesses to recover their losses due to the governor's order.  Those that survive will be operating on shoestring budgets for a long time and may have to lay off employees merely to survive.

If the goal of this order is "social distancing", then I ask "what are the next businesses to be shut down?"  Will personal services - barbers, hair salons, acupuncture, chiropractic, etc - be next?  If the goal is to prevent people from "touching" each other or being in close proximity to each other, are supermarkets and movie theaters the next targets?

This isn't sarcasm.  This is deadly serious.

This is how tyranny begins.

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."  Those words were spoken by Benjamin Franklin.  Granted, the context was a different, but the question still stands: how many freedoms are we willing to surrender to attain the illusion of immunity from a disease?

And when the next crisis comes - whether real or something invented by the government - will we allow our governors to use authoritarian means to shut down all commerce "for the sake of safety"?

COVID-19 is a novel vaccine, meaning that we don't have an effective way to defer (immunize) or cure it.  The death rate is high, but it isn't the Black Plague or the Spanish Flu.  Unlike some "experts" in the media and doctors who are not experts in virology or communicable deases, I don't believe that "millions will die".  We may well see the death of thousands, but thousands die every year from influenza.

So, I ask the question again: what law or statute grants the governor of NH the power to arbitrarily order the closure of some businesses in NH, and what are the limits to that power?