Monthly Archive: June 2021

Safety and risk, and why politicians talk absolutes and bullshit

I read people complaining that politicians are lying when they say that vaccines are safe and effective. They point to vaccinated people contracting Covid-19. (This, despite the written documentation pointing out that no vaccine is 100% effective).
Politicians say absolute-sounding statements about risk and safety nearly all of the time. This is because they learned a long time ago that not talking in absolutes when the word safety is involved simply gets them into trouble.

This is because most humans cannot properly evaluate risk, partly because they often lack information, partly because most of them are statistically illiterate, and partly because they are way too influenced by the last news story that they read, saw or heard. Mathematics curricula in schools and colleges either contain no statistics modules, or cover the subject in insufficient depth.

In a situation where information is lacking, talking about levels of safety makes a politician sound negligent compared to people who bluster in absolutes. Let’s try this out.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is safe”.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is not 100% effective, but if enough people are vaccinated, a lot fewer people will be sick and dead after its passage”.

The communications consultants will give the second sentence a massive thumbs down, because as soon as the word “but” appears, the audience will tune out the rest of the statement. The message “not 100% effective” will be processed, and that will be bad. Changing the first part of the sentence to something like “no vaccine is 100% effective” really doesn’t help, because as you depart from the mantra of 100%, the cynics and doomsayers’ emotions are triggered.

Quite simply, conditional statements about perils are seen as insufficiently comforting. So politicians retreat to saying things like “of course X is safe”, even though, statistically, they should know they are talking bullshit. Nothing is 100% safe. We all know this. But we, homo sapiens, don’t want to hear that. We prefer the unrealistic bullshit to the realistic facts.

When enough humans know how to properly evaluate safety and risk, the climate might change. That is not happening now. We are in the middle of a pandemic that has a lot of people frightened. Frightened people want total reassurance, even if deep down they might not believe it.

Total reassurance allows for accountability-shifting (“They said it was safe to go out. So I went out. Then I caught Covid. They lied to me!”). It allows for more sleep at nights. There are any number of logical-sounding, if bullshit, reasons why the current level of BS being promulgated about vaccines and other safety precautions is preferable to realistically embracing facts.

In the meantime, bad-faith actors continue to capitalize on the statistical and mathematical illiteracy of the majority of the population, promoting all manner of dishonest analyses of Covid, vaccines and societal measures. They cannot be run out of town, because not enough people can see the BS for what it is. This is going to be a problem, for decades. Realistically, it will continue to be a problem until enough of the electorate is statistically somewhat literate, and is capable of assessing risk. I’m not expecting that improvement any time soon.

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Friday Round-up – 25th June 2021

  1. Brexit

Chris Grey’s blog post title is a wee bit apocalyptic for my liking, but the post is his usual careful analysis, focusing this week on the societal impact of Brexit, particularly on people who voted Remain.

His view is that this may lead to a new “brain drain” along the lines of the loss of scientists and technologists in the 1960s. I also expect to see a new “brain drain” from the UK over the next few years. Like the previous one in the 1960s, it will be led by technologists, scientists, joined by knowledge workers and creative artists (with professional musicians, whose ability to work in the EU has been decimated) at the front of the queue. As usual, by the time enough people notice, it may be too late.

As I have noted in the past, I have no intention of returning to live in the UK in the current climate, and I will only be visiting for essential family business. I do not know the extent to which my family understands the motivations and reasoning for that decision, but they can always read my other commentaries here if they want to know more.

Edwin Hayward (author of “Slaying Brexit Unicorns”) has a thread where he lists all of the upcoming changes that are going to impact the UK in the aftermath of Brexit. It’s a long list. The impacts are all likely to be negative.

Anecdotally, companies importing steel into the UK are reporting massive price increases per ton – in some cases close to 400%. World steel prices have risen in the last 2-3 months, but not by those amounts.

2. Eliminationism and the GOP

The Republican Party, when they agreed to let Donald Trump in through the door to lead them as the POTUS candidate in 2016, invited a malignant asshole with a corrupted and exaggerated business record. Everybody should already have realized that. Those who did not were insufficiently informed.

However, recent revelations show that by the end of last year, Trump was trying to embrace government by eliminationism.

The GOP supporters of Trump have no excuse. Their continuing support for him is an explicit endorsement of eliminationism as a philosophy. Politics is not a la carte. When you vote for a candidate, you’re going to get all the candidate’s policies. You don’t get to tick the ballot paper and say “Yeah, I like abuse of Trans people and discrimination against The Gayz, but I don’t want to execute Traitors”. That’s not how the system works.

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Wednesday Round-Up – June 23rd 2021

  1. Moorish Sovereign Citizens

The Moorish branch of the SovCit movement is…different. Unlike the more mainstream, very white SovCits, who mostly attempt to be scofflaws over matters like firearms ownership, Citizens Grand Juries, Covid-19 restrictions, vehicle licensing, and (their favorite) paying any form of income taxes to anybody, Moorish SovCits have an obsession about claiming properties owned by other people. They routinely get arrested for waiting until home owners leave a  house for a vacation or some such, then they occupy the house, sometimes filing nonsense claptrap documents with local authorities and courts containing cockamamie rationales to the effect that they are repossessing the house for the Moorish nation, claiming that it is part of their ancestral property. Alternatively, they file voluminous paper claiming bogus tax repayments.

Another Moorish SovCit has just been arrested for this kind of nonsense. As the home owner explained:

She said she had received a letter dated May 20 in the mail from a group called Al Moroccan Empire Consulate at New Jersey State Republic telling her the home belonged to them. She also received a second letter in June from the same group with red fingerprints and seals on it, the woman said.

This is SOP for Moorish SovCits. It never quite seems to work out well for them, however.

2.  The disintegration of the Libertarian Party in the USA

I am going to write about this at more length, but the Libertarian Party in the USA is currently disintegrating. The root cause is the attempted takeover of the party by authoritarians.

This is completely hopeless. The authoritarian swamp ground is already occupied by the Republican Party. For any party to have any different competing appeal, they would have to be even more authoritarian, or definably libertarian. It looks like the party is going full authoritarian, dominated by people who follow the philosophy of Ludwig Van Mises. This will not end well. It will repel most of the current party voters in elections.

In my opinion, the entire libertarian movement in the USA is fatally damaged for a generation, and will need to be rebuilt around durable principles that take into account the reality that the USA is no longer an agrarian society where every man can be an island. Covid-19 should have proved this, but the authoritarian wing of the Libertarian party has no clue about totalitarianism in practice, and as a result the party is throwing itself off the cliff, while the GOP is busy trying to gerrymander its way to permanent one-party rule in the states that it currently controls.

3. Plea Deals after the January 6th insurrection 

This week, the floodgates are opening, with a number of court hearings to ratify plea deals for participants in the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.

We can see the classic pattern developing:

  1. Small fry and peripheral participants are being offered plea deals based on pleading guilty to one or more misdemeanors, with no prison time
  2. Bigger fish are being persuaded to plead out to lesser felonies. Some may end up doing jail time. Those plea deals also will contain co-operation agreements, probably with the reduction in felony charges as a quid pro quo. (Graydon Young, supposedly a member of the Oath Keepers, is due in court today for a plea agreement hearing where he is expected to plead guilty to multiple felony charges)
  3. The organizers will find themselves snowed under with evidence from the co-operating bigger fish, and will be staring at some serious felony charges

I expect this process to go on for several months, probably into the Fall. After that time, we can expect the underlying organizers to be indicted on numerous more serious charges. It will be interesting to see if the DoJ actually uses the formal laws against insurrection (my guess is that they will not, since those laws were really designed for a war situation).

UPDATE from Zoe Tillman:

Graydon Young is pleading guilty to two counts from the indictment: conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, both are felonies, the former has a max sentence of five years in prison and the latter has a max of 20 years.

Young has promised to cooperate with the government as part of his plea deal, incl. testimony before the grand jury and at a trial, and interviews with law enforcement (and waived right to counsel)

UPDATE 2 – The terms of the deal include the option for the DOJ to file a petition to reduce Graydon Young’s prison time from the sentencing guidelines (currently 5 years minimum) based on his co-operation with law enforcement. So the more he tells, the less jail time he will have to serve (probably).

UPDATE 3- Anna Morgan-Lloyd, a minor participant, has been sentenced to 36 months of probation and a fine after pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor count. We can expect this pattern for the minor players.

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Healthcare delivery systems and chronic non-diagnosable illnesses

Sigh.

I became involved in a discussion about the problems that healthcare systems have with patients with long-term chronic, difficult-to-diagnose conditions. I don’t know if a satisfactory discussion is ever really possible on Twitter, with its 480 character limit placing a severe constraint on how much information can be conveyed in a single response.

I already had one person stomp off and Block me because I told her that her responses were wild and not helpful. She converted my observations about the limitations of the healthcare system in coping with long-term chronic conditions into an allegation that I was ignoring the issue altogether, because I noted that what we least need, at a time when medical professionals are under attack from the twin pincers of anti-vaccination activists and Covid deniers, is another campaign against the medical profession. This was apparently me ignoring the issue. At that point she was off and running on a predictable rant about how I was part of the problem. Nope. Next discussion time.

What I left unsaid because of lack of space was that the healthcare delivery systems that we have created in the USA and elsewhere have incentives built into them that militate against the correct levels of investment and attention to both mental health issues, and long-term chronic conditions that in many cases have no obvious root cause.

The medical profession operates to a classic paradigm:

Evaluate –> Diagnose –> Treat

The ultimate end point is a healthy satisfied customer. (Unfortunately, as we all understand, this is not always possible. Some people, despite the best efforts of the medical profession, leave this life. The profession may, however, be able to facilitate them leaving this life in a peaceful and painless fashion).

The challenge is when step 2 (Diagnose) fails to find an obvious cause. Instead of a narrow range of treatments (relatively), an unclear diagnosis leads to potentially hundreds or thousands of possible treatments. This is confusing enough for doctors and specialists. The entire treatment regimen becomes a crapshoot, with low chances of initial success.

At that point, however, in the USA, the insurers also insert themselves into the equation. Sometimes payment for certain treatments is denied, then a tussle develops between the the patient, the doctor and the health insurers, which leaves the doctor stuck in the middle, with both of the other parties unhappy. I once talked to a PCP about this, he was getting ready to retire rather than continue to be “caught in the middle” as he put it.

The incentives in the system, in short, work in favor of easily diagnosed issues, with clearly defined outcomes. Everybody benefits. The medical profession and the hospital systems get happy smiling patients who are cured of whatever malady ailed them, and the health insurers get clean closure, and all bills paid (until the next illness).

Chronic unexplainable maladies are usually not amenable to quick fixes, either pharmaceutical or surgical. Patients may require years of care. This upsets doctors, who see those unhappy patients over and over again, hospitals are largely out of the picture, and insurers see open-ended treatment plans that cost them more money than they can recover.

The result is that many chronic long-term afflictions, many of them with probable auto-immune origins, and now (recently) what is known as “Long Covid”, are not well-served by the healthcare delivery system. People presenting with chronic fatigue and other real but non-diagnosable symptoms are, in some cases, being referred to psychologists and psychiatrists because their primary care physicians are unable to locate a physical cause for the problem. Unsurprisingly, the reaction from most patients to this idea is not a favorable one. No matter how tactfully presented, it is difficult to process the message “the root cause is in your brain”. It feels like a kiss-off.

Unsurprisingly, many unhappy people with chronic but not-treated conditions adopt a cynical mindset, best summarized by this actual quote from my earlier discussion:

Of course there are outliers, but many many doctors hate the idea that they can’t have a obvious win and so would rather deny the existence of chronic illness all together.

The inevitable result of (as they see it) being ignored by the conventional “Western Medicine” system leads many people to DIY remedies, based on OTC drugs, or cannabis, or other naturally occurring substances. More dangerously, some seek help from the fringes of the medical profession, that world inhabited by a motley collection of amateurs with big ideas, cranks, charlatans and outright deceitful criminals. Run-down, depressed and vulnerable people are often easily persuaded that a new and exciting sounding treatment will cure that affliction that those damn doctors have been no help in addressing. Quite often, people spend lots of money for poor outcomes, but failures are often not discussed. The patients often have no recourse, because those shadow areas are unregulated or poorly regulated, and, equally importantly, it is difficult for anybody to admit “I was conned”. The mainstream medical profession is, by contrast strictly regulated, despite what some conspiracy-dazzled cranks would tell you.

At this point I can offer my own personal recent experience. I am a recent observer of the limitations of the healthcare system with respect to what is now known as “Long Covid”. I contracted Covid-19 in late December 2020, and despite only being mildly affected (it was like 12 days of intermediate flu, and I was never sick enough to need medical attention or hospitalization) I have since been impacted by a number of consecutive maladies, none of which I previously ever suffered from. In nearly all of these cases, despite my informing the doctors that I had contracted Covid, the doctors listened, nodded sagely, and then appeared to default to the standard approach of their specialty and looked at my malady through their standard evaluate–>diagnose–> treat lens.

The positive result is that some parts of my body (notably my entire GI tract) have been thoroughly inspected this year. This is good. I know that those parts of my body are basically in good shape. However, I have been left with the uncomfortable feeling that the medical profession is very slow at “joining the dots” on the impacts of Covid-19 on the human body. It was only recently, on a follow-up GI appointment, that I sat and heard a GI specialist say “yes, your GI issues have probably been caused by Covid-19”. Up until that point, I felt that the medical professionals I was consulting with saw the malady as “here is a guy who has X for some undetermined reason” instead of “here is a guy who has X, has had Covid-19, therefore this might be an after-effect of that virus”.

I hesitate to classify myself as a Long Covid sufferer, because it is less than 7 months since I was infected, and my current health seems to be good. I was not hospitalized, and I have only had 2 diagnostic procedures since. However, nobody yet knows what the long-term effects of Covid-19 infection are on the human body. There simply has not been enough elapsed time to evaluate that. Has my lifespan been shortened? I don’t think we have any way to know that. Were my maladies all the result of Covid? After all, I am now moving towards the end of middle age. There is no easy answer to the question, without me becoming some sort of laboratory test subject.

IMHO, the initial failure to take Long Covid seriously, and instead treating sufferers as suffering from a conventional affliction spectrum, has held back detail examination and research of the possible effects of Coronaviruses on the human body, medium-term and long-term. It is also a very real exposure of the limitation of the current 3-stage medical treatment model, which dominates the profession at this time, and which is reinforced by incentives all throughout the healthcare delivery system.

Is there any easy fix to this? Nope. The healthcare delivery system, dominated by insurers in the USA, is also not a great place to start. I suspect that innovative solutions will come from a country that has a well-run government healthcare system and wants to address the two endemic blind spots of the healthcare world – Mental illness and Chronic (sometimes lifetime) health issues with no immediate and obvious cause.

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Illegal immigrants in the USA

Pew Research, unlike most politicians, actually knows a lot about illegal immigrants in the USA, because they actually, you know, do research. 

Some interesting findings in this document:

  1. The majority of current illegal immigrants are not Wetbacks and other recent arrivals via the Southern border. They are visa overstays, people who arrived legally and some of who may have been in the USA illegally for decades.
  2. Immigration across the Southern border is balanced (and sometimes exceeded) by emigration.
  3. The fear-inducing estimate of up to 40+ million illegals, routinely passed around by the nativist fringe, is sensationalist garbage that deserves nothing less than ridicule. There have never been that many illegals in the USA.
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Hasselblad – a story of failure to cope with the digital shift

The Swedish camera company Hasselblad was at one point in the 20th Century, right up with Leica as one of the most prestigious names in analog cameras. When Neil Armstrong snapped his famous images of Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon in 1969, he was using a Hasselblad camera.

Yet, by the end of the 2010s, Hasselblad was a shell of its former self, rendered almost bankrupt and downsized by a failure to incorporate digital technology into its product range.

Polaroid, another notable failure to adapt to digital technology, actually ignored its own R&D investment in digital technology in favor of the idea that people would always prefer hard copy prints – a board-level decision that damped down innovation and ultimately led to its demise.

Polaroid’s corporate culture preferred perfection to being first to market. This led to very long product cycles, which often missed market trends (PolarVision, an advanced analog video system, was introduced too late into a mature market), and the failure of late products made the company’s leadership very innovation-averse.

As a result, Polaroid ignored the early success of digital cameras, despite their limited resolution, because, in pure photographic quality terms, they were crappy compared to analog images at the time. Polaroid failed to see the greater utility of digital cameras. This failure to enter the consumer digital camera marketplace cost Polaroid dearly, as it was shut out of the consumer market and its core business, instant analog photography, was rapidly rendered obsolete by digital cameras, with their ability to unload or transmit images onto the internet.

The story of Hasselblad’s decline is not as straightforward. Although a much smaller company, Hasselblad made several serious attempts to enter digital markets, but did not gain sufficient traction. The accelerating decline in its analog sales eventually forced its sale to a hedge fund company, which was where the real trouble began, with the new board vetoing essential investment money to allow Hasselblad to continue to make headway in the new increasingly digital marketplace of modern camera technology. Hasselblad downsized and is now a fraction of its former size.

 

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Round-Up – Monday 21st June 2021

  1. Poison Ivy 

Mary and I are suffering from Poison Ivy poisoning. We are covered in spots, welts, lines of spots and other symptoms, from when we unwittingly handled a plant 2 weekends ago. We both look like prime candidates for exclusion from a Middle Ages English town on the grounds of being “unclean”. Doctors tell us that it will take 1-3 weeks for the ugly rash to completely vanish. Mary is sleeping downstairs as I write this, because she has not slept properly for 2 nights due to discomfort and pain. I did not sleep much, mainly because the blotchy pink patches all over my torso arms and legs make it feel like I have sunburn. Plus, itching. We are both on anti-inflammatory drugs and creams to damp down the symptoms.

Stay away from poison ivy, folks. It ain’t going to be fun if it contacts your body.

2. Brexit 

Brexit continues to be a shambles, as predicted by many (and similarly ignored by many). However, the opinion polls seem to show that the previously large margin of people thinking that Brexit was bad has diminished recently. This is counter-intuitive for me, since the news continues to be bad. However, the government’s blaming of the EU for all of the problems may be finding a receptive audience. I suspect that the support for Brexit will continue to hold steady as long as the effects are largely confined to the professional classes or artistic communities. If essentials like food and medicine start to disappear, then things will change rapidly. People expect governments to assure the supplies of essentials.

Despite being beaten up by the EU, and pressured by the USA, Boris Johnson is sailing along as though all is well. However, on the other side of the Irish Sea, the DUP, the most hardline Protestant group, is in disarray, having forced out its new leader, Edwin Poots, after only 20 days in the job. Poots apparently alienated most of his supporters by nominating The Wrong Guy as First Minister (translation: somebody way too sympathetic to the Irish language). Poots came to office talking a tough game, threatening to get tough with Ireland and generally strutting his macho Protestant stuff. Now he is gone, and the DUP has to look for its third leader in 4 months.

The DUP continues to threaten the UK government over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the decision to put a logical border in the Irish Sea is starting to look more and more impractical and dangerous with each passing day. The problem is that the UK government cheerfully signed up to it, and it is now part of the Withdrawal Agreement. That, plus other conditions in the UK-EU trade deal, which have in turn led to The Sausage Problem (caused by an impending EU ban on the movement of chilled meats between the EU and third countries), have backed the UK government into a small box of its own making.

Boris Johnson can huff and puff and threaten the EU, but he has no real leverage, because the UK folded on a lot of issues in order to rush through a deal before the end of 2020. The negotiating style of “talk tough, then fold” is proving to be dangerous for the whole of the UK. At the present rate, Northern Ireland is likely to be more of a challenge than Scotland. Unlike in Northern Ireland, the Scots have not taken to bombing and shooting to get their point across recently.

3. Covid-19 

The UK continues to transition rapidly to being dominated by the new B.1.617.2 variant of the virus, which has, in the space of a month, taken over from the B.1.1.7 variant. This new variant is more contagious, and vaccines are slightly less effective against it, although if enough of a population is vaccinated or immune, herd immunity can still be achieved.

Prof. Christina Pagel explains the latest situation in the UK in this thread. Basically, unless there is a return to social distancing and lockdown, this new variant is going to trigger a large increase in cases and hospitalizations. The number of people testing positive is rising exponentially again. 

4. The Roman Catholic Church and Joe Biden

No, the Roman Catholic Church in the USA is not going to excommunicate Joe Biden. Many priests, including his own, and main of the laity wouldn’t tolerate it. The bishops are engaging in performative posturing.

5. Yes, the Republican Party has eliminationists in its ranks

Not exactly a surprise, but it is good to have conclusive proof. The GOP is now a profoundly anti-American party.

 

 

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HST2 UK project costs are now being adjusted for reality

The estimated price tag for High Speed 2, the next-gen flagship UK rail project, has now risen from £33bn to over £106bn. This, unsurprisingly, is leading to a lot of comment in the UK, most of it negative.

Every major project I ever came into contact with in I.T. has the same challenges. Somebody cooks up an initial estimate from Cloudcuckooland, then an approved project starts with an estimate from Lalaland. Then reality slowly intervenes. The final cost is usually a multiple of the initial estimate, sometimes embarrassingly so.

Infamously, the Confirm program, a first attempt to build a multi-partner travel industry booking system that I read about in the early 1990s was cancelled half way through, with the costs having multiplied by several multiples of the initial estimate. The project had multiple stakeholders with competing interests, which made actually completing an agreed solution specification almost impossible. As a get-out they blamed the technology. This is, incidentally, a classic excuse in I.T. when projects fail. This is seldom true. Whenever I hear somebody blaming the technology for an I.T. project failure, I immediately look elsewhere for the root causes of the failure.

I remember mentioning this phenomenon to a work colleague a few years ago. His (slightly cynical) response was “Well, if they were totally honest about the final likely cost upfront, most of these projects would never be started because you wouldn’t be able to remotely justify them”.

Now, High Speed 2 is not exactly your average I.T. project, and there are multiple considerations that come into play when creating benefit statements for it. The UK, a relatively small country, has become very dependent on road transport, which creates higher emissions than rail transport. The shrinkage of the UK rail network in the 1960s, which led to the abandonment and closure of one or two rail lines which would actually have been easier to upgrade today (like the Great Central Railway, built with larger bridges and tunnels), has been proven to be a long-term mistake, officially acknowledged by the government’s announcement of the Beeching Reversal Fund. Now money is being spent to re-open lines closed to passengers or totally abandoned. So, High Speed 2 can be partially justified on the grounds of environmental stewardship, although it is notoriously difficult to quantify those kinds of benefits in money terms.

Covid-19 certainly has impacted all projects which were up and running. The government has directly or indirectly had to pay money to keep project teams active in a difficult working climate. However, I doubt that this is the major contributor to the price inflation. The more usual inflation is due to the dreaded scope creep – the addition of new features to the solution, or the discovery of activities and deliverables that nobody realized were required when the original estimate was finalized.

Scope creep is an issue that is particularly bad on government projects. In the military arena, scope creep helped to sink the entire Nimrod AEW program in the late 80s, which was cancelled in favour of the UK buying Boeing AWACS planes. The military kept changing the specification requirements for the radar, which took it beyond the design envelope of what was already a tightly packaged airframe and computing combination with little scope for expansion.

Another factor in government projects is lobbying by elected representatives impacted by the project, to get more “goodies” (“pork” here in the USA) for their constituents. Here in the USA, representatives would probably sell family members to the highest bidder if they could get a US Navy ship home-ported in their district, since that generates thousands of jobs. It is not clear to me if High Speed 2 offers members of parliament the same pork opportunities, but I would not be surprised if that is a factor behind the scenes.

Ideally, there would be a full review of the entire program to see if cost savings can be made, and a tough line taken on scope, as in No More Scope. However, government projects, which are often pursued for vanity reasons by the government, are notoriously difficult to rein in or cancel once started. The loss of face alone tends to lead to the government continuing. The Nimrod AEW program was very much an exception, with the government refusing to fall for classic fallacious arguments made by supporters and contractors (principally the Sunk Cost Fallacy) and taking an unsentimental approach despite the deployment of the “British Technology” argument. They saw only continued cost escalations and cancelled the program.

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Lawyers Letter – Jan 6th

Dewey Cheatem and Howe LLP

17th June 2021

Re:       Insurrection Day Trip

We represent John and Julie Smith, who were customers of Revolution Travel LLC on 6th January 2021.

Mr and Mrs. Smith purchased a Day Trip Insurrection Package from your website revolutiontravelllc.com on 3rd January 2021. On the website, the package was described thus:

“An unparalleled opportunity to visit our great nation’s political capital, see the sights, and participate in a unique one-time only insurrection to re-install Our Type of Government”.

As true Americans and patriots, this was very appealing to our clients.

In the e-Brochure, you promised our clients that they would get to participate in the insurrection, and that it would be a unique opportunity for them to help to make history, not just read about it after it happened. However, at no time did you warn our clients that doing so might place them at risk of legal consequences. It appears that you failed to indemnify our clients

Your failure to itemize all of the potential legal consequences of participation in this day trip, and ensure that our clients understood and agreed to them, or to give them the chance to cancel their order, has resulted in our clients currently being incarcerated in a federal jail, awaiting trial on a total of 7 public order, trespassing and conspiracy charges. Their lives have been ruined, and they are not due to be tried until February 2022. This whole event and its aftermath has caused them profound financial, mental and emotional distress. When they booked the trip, they were under the impression that it would be an exciting day out in Washington DC, with the possibility that they would be identified as participants in a historical event. The event itself did not meet the advertised objectives.

Accordingly, we are demanding the following:

  1. a full refund of the total cost of the Day Trip Insurrection Package
  2. payment of all of our clients’ legal costs to defend themselves against any and all legal actions, both criminal and civil, arising from this day trip
  3. a public apology for failing to notify our clients as to the potential legal consequences of the afternoon Insurrection Party

Failure to meet these demands within 30 elapsed days, will lead us to begin the process of filing appropriate legal complaints against your company in the appropriate State and Federal courts, for misrepresentation.

 

Kind Regards,

M.A. Ko

Partner

 

 

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The pathologies of the rich – 1

Many years ago, when I was a member of Riverside Racquet Centre in London, I played regular doubles tennis 3 evenings a week with different groups of people.

One of the guys I played with, I found out, ran an interior decorating and kitchen remodeling business. We were talking about clients one evening, and he mentioned that he had once done work for Andrew Lloyd-Webber. He then, without any further questioning, said “never again”. Long story, but he met Lloyd-Webber only once, at the beginning of the work, and thereafter had to deal on daily basis with one of his assistants, who behaved like a chiseling asshole, arguing over anything and everything, constantly acting as though Andrew Lloyd-Webber was doing him a massive favour by even deigning to use his services in the first place. When the work was completed, they refused to pay him, inventing an irrelevant dispute over scope of work, and only paid up after he threatened them with a default court judgement.

This fits with a number of stories that I have heard over the years about how many wealthy people are chiseling assholes. There is a common thread to the pathology. They justify it with glib cliches like “if you look after the pennies the pounds will take care of themselves”. I guess when you are worth squillions of pounds, then 20,000 on a kitchen remodel does indeed, in the grand scheme of things, look like pennies.

From what I can gather, the underlying pathology is that they are indeed driven people, but not necessarily in a good way (otherwise I would not have the material for this blog posting), and in many cases, it is a narrow materialistic view of success as measured by possessions and how many zeroes you have after your name in your asset balance. Nobody, for example, is going to convince me that a person needs $15m a year to live on. The premise is ridiculous, and deserves only ridicule. Once you get into that zone, money becomes a measurement device, a way of keeping score.

Many wealthy people, especially those who did build a large fortune, genuinely believe that the only factor that determines success is how hard you are prepared to work. I have worked with at least two entrepreneurs in my time in I.T. and both of them genuinely believed that that was the main factor. One of the guys used to say to us “anybody can do this if they are prepared to put in the work”. He appeared to genuinely believe that.

In their world, the rich and wealthy are rich and wealthy because they earned it. This leads to two obvious conclusions that get baked into their value systems: (1) the poor must be poor because they are feckless and lazy (2) taxes are confiscation from them of money that they worked to accumulate and are therefore entitled to, to be given to those people who do not deserve money because they do not work hard.

The idea that there are millions of people for whom success, in their value systems, is not measured in net worth, never seems to occur to them, or if it does, they dismiss it as stupid and, well something that only the feckless and lazy would think anyway.

As you move through life, you can find a lot of evidence that, as the old saying goes, money will not buy you happiness, but it can buy you a better class of misery. There is plenty of obvious evidence that a lot of highly driven and successful people are unpleasant, dysfunctional train-wrecks of humans. They might be worth a lot of money, but it certainly didn’t make them a better class of human. In fact it might be the other way round.

Quite why rich people like to chisel is another question entirely. One might naively expect them to be a bit more generous. I have to conclude that it is due to their need to win at all times. Realistically, making serious money is a tough competition, not a hobby, and people whose life is devoted to making money tend to see every activity where money changes hands as a competitive event, and often a win:lose scenario. If they have to hand over money to anybody without getting more money in return, that looks like a failure to them. So actually paying regular folks for anything is…eeek, why do I have to do this?

The attitude of the Lloyd-Webber flunky, that the regular guy should be grateful that Lloyd-Webber chose him at all, is symptomatic of that mindset. It is not uncommon in business, though. Another one of our friends once worked for the Dallas Cowboys on live sound (he eventually quit after his recommendations were consistently ignored). One thing he told us was that many medium-sized businesses were told that they could acquire the title of “official supplier of X” to the Dallas Cowboys, but only if they were prepared to essentially supply goods or services for free. Same attitude, just in a large commercial business. (In that situation, those businesses had to make a commercial decision as to whether losing money supplying the Dallas Cowboys would be compensated for by the marketing bragging rights and networking opportunities bringing in other profitable business).

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