Religious Accomodation Request

I received this religious accommodation request from a constituent:

I grew up in a typical rural town – everyone knew everyone and were pretty much persistently in each other’s business with gossip. My parents took us to church once a week, and really seemed to enjoy it because it was a big deal when we were there, but not so much when we weren’t. It felt like we were putting on a show – everyone getting along like the perfect family at the church building, but parents that barely cared when we got home. But the gossip was a constant. My dad’s favorite thing to do was watch the news – he was a news junky. But I’m not really sure why – because it just seemed to enrage him. My dad had basically developed a chant that I can still hear him saying:

“Our country’s great. Our church is great. If you don’t like it – LEAVE!”

“Our country’s great. Our church is great. If you don’t like it – LEAVE!”

The chant seemed to work for just about any news story. And to my child-self there was a certain logic to it – why would anyone stay in a country they wanted to change?

I really didn’t fit in at school. My favorite thing to do was reading. The other boys preferred hunting. Once they found out I didn’t like hunting, that seemed to make them like it even more – or at least talking about it when I was around. Of course, the essential tool for hunting was a gun – and they REALLY liked guns. This was a time and a place when high school kids were allowed to bring their guns to school, so they would be able to go hunting with them afterward. The boys would show off their guns and talk about their guns and tell stories about their kills. But some of the boys were very lax with their gun safety. One day, when one of the boys was showing off his gun, he failed to notice that the end of the barrel was pointed right at me, to which I calmly asked him to avoid doing. But the boy did not take kindly to my attempt at gentle correction, instead taking a step towards me and pointing the gun directly at me. “Please stop pointing that gun at me”, I asked again, firmly. He continued pointing, waving the muzzle around in little circles. “Please stop pointing that at me – it could go off” – this time a little fearful. He cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger – I flung myself back in an uncontrollable flinch and fell to the ground. The boy just mocked me – “it’s not even loaded!” the whole crew laughed. It was a traumatic event – but I didn’t bother telling anyone – I already knew what the response would have been: “Boys will be boys.”

My senior year in high school was a turning point in my life. My aunt, whom I was close to, was killed by a stray bullet in a gun fight between two strangers – an innocent bystander. The stress on my mother, along with a long growing dissatisfaction with my father, let to their divorce – they couldn’t put on the façade any longer. I felt rejected and alone, but I honestly didn’t care that much. I still loved reading. My English teacher became a trusted confidant. She encouraged me to join the drama club and they became a source of accepting friends that I had never had before. She helped me with my application process and I was accepted to college to major in English.

College was a great time in my life. I was finally a part of a welcoming community – finally past the oppression of the gun hunting crew. I found a local chapter of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and made many lifelong friends with the shared calling to do everything possible to develop and advocate for evidence-based solutions to reduce gun injury and death in all its forms. It was in college that I met my partner and we started a life together – a life which we would share with three children.

My partner was unable to work – but I was able to get a job with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a Training Specialist. It provided a good income for our household for over 20 years and I established my professional network within the FDA. I invested my prime working years into the career – and it was a good one. I sometimes worried that I was TOO invested with the FDA – that it would be difficult for me to find other work since I had virtually no external professional network and my knowledge was very specialized to the FDA’s needs. But I reasoned that the U.S. Government was a reliable employer and everything would be fine.

Then the world changed.

A government laboratory had entered into an ambitious research program into Artificial Intelligence, or AI. The research’s goal was to develop a tiny microchip that could be embedded inside of a human ear and would interpret not just their conversations and daily interactions but could even interpret their brain waves and learn their deepest thoughts and unspoken motivations. The chip was powered wirelessly via the existing electromagnetic energy all around – cellular networks, satellite signals, television and radio broadcasts – the sources for recharging were abundant and free. Many engineers and scientists had warned that research into AI trained by brain waves could have disastrous unintended consequences for society at large. In response to their concerns the U.S. government moved the research out of the United States, but continued the research.

A large, multi-national company licensed the government AI research and developed it into a new product – the ultimate always-on personal assistant. It learned not just what music you liked, but it learned who you were. Your inner most desires and thoughts. It would whisper coaching tips throughout the day that always seemed to be exactly the right thing you needed to hear at the needed moment. It was truly amazing and everyone loved it. Over 200 million Americans chose to embed the microchip in their ear.

Tragically, after about 3 years, a bout of mass shootings started. In each case the shooter was someone who had no history of violence or any indication that they would shoot others. In many cases the shooter would be shot themselves – the only way to stop the violence – but for those who survived they explained that they did not know why they did it and felt they had no control. They didn’t intent to hurt anyone.

After several of the shootings had occurred the Department of Homeland Security got involved and found that the common factor in each of the shooters was that they had the AI chip embedded in their ears. Researchers found that the AI chips, trained by the person’s brain waves over years, were sending them subliminal commands that were literally uncontrollable, and they always manifested themselves in the person getting a gun and embarking on a mass shooting. Immediately the government demanded that the chips be removed.

Unfortunately, they found that after the chips had been embedded for more than three years that the person’s vascular system intertwined itself with the chip in such a way that if it were removed it would be fatal to the person. Over half of the population was thus infected with these AI chips that could not be removed and could turn them into unwilling gun-wielding shooters at a moment’s notice.

Doctors discovered from interviewing the survivors that fever, headache, coughing, and other non-descript symptoms would preclude the episode. Signs were put up on every building asking people to stay home if they had any symptoms – unfortunately the symptoms were so generic that they were not consistently followed because over 95% of the time it turned out to be something else. Coughing in public became grounds for social scorn and public chastisement.

It was noticed that there was a significant age stratification in who was being shot in the shootings. Children, given the smaller size, were almost always able to escape without injury. Young people similarly were fast enough that they were rarely hit. Middle age people had a low risk as well just based on their speed relative to the older people. People above 65 years old were found to be at a much higher risk, with the risk going up significantly with age above that.

The Department of Homeland Security predicted that if we could shutdown all sources of microwave energy for two weeks then it would wear out the batteries in the AI chips and stop the shootings. They called the program “two weeks to drain the batteries” and would require the shutdown of all cellular networks, television and radio broadcasts, and satellite connections leading to a functional shutdown of the Internet and all media. Some engineering, economics, and medical experts asserted that they could never stop all sources of energy and that the policy would have massive unintended consequences to society. DHS proceeded to implement the program. After the two-week trial period it did not wear out the batteries or stop the shootings which continued. Despite this many counties kept on trying to drain the batteries with multiple shutdown periods.

The next attempt at mitigation was bullet-proof vest wearing. The government mandated that everyone had to wear a bullet-proof vest. Many complained that the vests were uncomfortable and made it difficult for them to breathe. They furthermore objected that the vest mandate was applied to everyone even though the children and young people were actually more likely to be hit based on the weight of the vest, versus not wearing one at all. Other people declared that they should be allowed to personally accept the risk of shooting and not wear a vest. However, the government countered that if you were shot and the bullet went through your body and hit someone else that you could have avoided that by simply wearing the vest – the wearing of the vest was thus couched as something to do to protect others, rather than a personal choice.

Some experts at the Department of Homeland Security posited a theory that the shooters were only compelled to shoot when someone was within 6 feet of them. They began a program of “social distancing” where they required everyone to stay at least 6 feet away from other people. The program was not found to meaningfully reduce the number of shootings but it was continued anyway, arguing that the distancing, as well as the bullet-proof vests, were part of “layered protection”.

Ruger, Smith and Wesson, and the National Rifle Association sponsored a study which ran simulation models to predict the outcome of mass shootings. They found that if people would carry a concealed handgun that the probability of one of those people being able to intervene and stop the shooting went up significantly, with the potential to save many lives. Furthermore, if at least 85% of people would carry a concealed handgun it was found that virtually every shooting could be halted, resulting in what was described as “herd protection”. The paper became very influential in the Department of Homeland Security which started an effort to encourage the public to carry concealed handguns. A group of scientists from world-renown universities wrote a declaration questioning the concealed carry approach. They pointed out that concealed carry laws had been studied by law enforcement for over 30 years, but not ever actually implemented because they turned out to be more accident prone and less cost effective. They reasoned that since the risk of being shot was correlated with age that the mitigation measures be applied only to those most at risk of being shot, calling their proposal “focused protection”.  However, the head of the Department of Homeland Security and the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation exchanged emails calling the group “fringe scientists” and coordinated a media campaign to discredit them.

The government’s program of encouraging concealed carry led some to fear that they would actually mandate that all citizens do so. It became a political issue in the presidential election wherein the candidates from both political parties promised they would never impose a concealed carry mandate, and espoused their belief that the decision to carry or not would remain a personal one. The winning candidate put out a plan to stop the shootings within his first 100 days in office based on social distancing, vest wearing, and non-mandated concealed carry. When his plan filed to stop the shootings in the first 100 days, he issued several Executive Orders mandating concealed carry for federal employees, federal contractors, and employees of large companies. The mandates were questioned on several grounds: that they were a violation of people’s individual freedom from being compelled to carry a handgun, that there were known incidents of unintended shootings and other adverse events related to concealed carry, and that the mandate constituted an unlawful compulsion to participate in an experimental procedure with unknown long-term implications. Furthermore, many objected to carve-outs in the orders exempting some favored political constituencies from the mandate, and that politicians themselves were exempt and frequently seen not wearing their vest or carrying their gun.

As the concealed carry mandate was broadly implemented, some scientific studies were published showing the incidence of accidental shootings was higher than the numbers predicted by the NRA and the gun manufacturers. Studies in order countries showed similar results, but the Department of Homeland Security refused to accept the results from other countries or studies not sponsored by the U.S. government. The government and media pressured big tech platforms such as Twitter to label the studies as “misinformation” and de-platform anyone that was found sharing the studies. A popular podcaster brought guests onto his show who discussed the studies and alternate approaches to solving the shootings besides concealed carry mandates, and questioned data showing that the concealed carry approach was effective. Some of his guests argued for a therapeutic approach, such as figuring out ways to remove the AI chips without killing the host human. Other guests proposed to round up all the guns from all people regardless of whether the owner had the embedded AI chip or not. But some music artists and podcasters who supported concealed carry pulled their music catalogs from the streaming service provider in protest to apply pressure to censor the podcast. Additionally, the government threatened to further scrutinize the business practices of the stream service provider if they continued to allow the podcasts with concealed carry misinformation.

As someone who has been opposed to guns for my entire adult life, with many traumatic events in my personal experience as well as friends and acquaintances, it is my sincere belief held with religious fervor that I should not be compelled to carry a gun. As an employee subject to the concealed carry mandate presidential executive order I assert my right to a religious accommodation in accordance with Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964.

Unexpected Football Payment Arbitrage

I’m using my platform to take up a new issue – payment of college football players. I understand the purist arguments waxing nostalgic about the glory days of amateur collegiate athletics but clearly the game has become big (and increasingly big) business. Since the amount of revenue generated by college programs is so large, and the payroll of players so small, the money that should have been in the players pockets starts to show up in unexpected places.

Here’s an article highlighting the use of custom graphics and artwork to recruit players. It reveals that the University of Alabama has a full-time staff of 10 graphic artists. The article highlights the competition between schools (Alabama and Tennessee, in this case) for graphic artists!

If they could properly pay the players to play then that money would go straight into their salaries, instead of this kind of fluff masquerading as compensation. Fundamentally it is the players ultimately buying the artwork. Why can’t we just ask them if they wouldn’t rather have the money instead…?

Affordable Care Act Hurts Young People

This is a good article which explains some problems with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) for young people.

First, the proper observation that the ACA is an explicit transfer of wealth from young to old:

“Preventing health insurers from fully accounting for age will not change the reality that, in general, the older you are, the greater your medical expenses (six times greater, when you compare 64-year-olds to 18-year-olds). These are costs that someone has to pay. If insurers can’t charge those older according to their risk, they have to overcharge those younger to make up the cost. In California, for example, once the new health law’s various rate restrictions and other provisions kick in, 25-year-old non-smoking men will see their premiums at least double.”

Next, is an easy to understand case study in why the Affordable Care Act’s mandate on healthcare expenditures make it harder to achieve:

“Even though Brian judges this to be the best way to manage his medical expenses, under the health law, it’s illegal for insurers to offer him a policy geared to his actual risk. Instead, per government mandate, a portion of the income he earns and intends to use to build his life is channeled into the pockets of others.”

Ned continues to campaign against the market distorting mandates included in the Affordable Care Act.

Cost of Climate Change


The rapidly melting Arctic is an “economic time bomb” likely to cost the world at least $60 trillion, say researchers who have started to calculate the financial consequences of one of the world’s fastest changing climates.

I’m on record with my position on Climate Change which is, essentially, that there is no policy fix for this. But I couldn’t help but notice the fear mongering in this article reminding me of the demands of a certain Doctor…


On Privacy, and Control of Disclosure

The problem isn’t so much that we haven’t set up a legal architecture to preserve our online privacy from the government; it’s that we haven’t set up a legal architecture to preserve our online privacy from anyone at all. If we don’t have laws and regulations that create meaningful zones of online privacy from corporations, the attempt to create online privacy from the government will be an absurdity.

I think that creating a narrative of “privacy” is confusing the issue. Privacy sounds like some abstract concept about remaining anonymous or something. The issue is not the disclosure of information but the control of the disclosure of information. When you tell your friend that you have diabetes, then some personal information about you has been disclosed. Has your privacy decreased? Well, yes, absolutely. But we are not trying to protect privacy only the control of the disclosure of information. So, when you send an email via Gmail or make a purchase at Target with your credit card, you are clearly sharing information with another individual or group of individuals. Your “privacy” was clearly diminished. But you had control over that. Even if Google tells you that they will mine that data and sell it to third-party advertisers, you chose to share that information with them. So, the question is not whether or not individuals should have privacy, but whether or not they should be forced to disclose information about themselves to parties that they choose not to. Should an individual be forced to disclose information to a party, like the NSA, unwillingly? Well, control of the disclosure of information is valuable property. Should that property be forcibly taken from an individual?

How valuable is this property? Well, it is worth billions of dollars. Consider just this example. The NSA program collects information on credit card transactions:

But people familiar with the NSA’s operations said the initiative also encompasses…purchase information from credit-card providers.

Now consider how much money Google is spending to try and collect this same information:

The company has dedicated hundreds of developers to Wallet and spent about $300 million to acquire digital payment startups to help develop the app.

For Google, the goal wasn’t to generate fee revenue from the transactions, as banks, PayPal (EBAY), and other companies do. The idea was to collect data on consumer habits and target ads to them. Google pays such high fees to the credit-card companies it works with, though, that it loses money on every transaction

Bedier, a former PayPal executive who joined Google in 2011, says the streamlining is a big shift and that he was encouraged to spend freely to develop Google Wallet.

Jason Gardner, the CEO of loyalty-card startup Marqeta, says brick-and-mortar payment information is too lucrative a possibility for Google to ignore. “The amount of data at the point of sale is so significant that they’re not going to throw in the towel,” he says.

So, Google is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to entice people to disclose credit card purchase information. I would say that that property is pretty valuable. Politicians, appreciating value like everyone else, naturally want acquire this value.  Will we protect it? It doesn’t look like it.

You should not think that recent events will simply cement a previous status quo in place, rather it moves us down a very particular path and probably makes the entire problem worse.

This whole post was basically a complicated way of saying, “Unprotected property is lost.”

Suppose a homeowner witnesses a burglar sneaking out of his house holding his toaster. After some contemplation, he chooses not to put a lock on his front door. A few days later he is outraged to find his laptop stolen. What happened? The homeowner either:

  1. Thought that burglar was only interested in low-value items.
  2. Didn’t think that burglar knew that there were other valuable items in the house.
  3. Didn’t think that the burglar knew the value of the other items in his house like his laptop.
  4. Thought that the burglar was satiated with capturing only a little value.
  5. Didn’t value his laptop.
  6. Thought protecting his valuables was not worth the hassle of having to unlock his house when he got home.

We seem to not be attempting to put a lock on the tremendous value that we have in controlling the disclosure of information that we possess. For which of the above reasons?

A New Long-Term Unemployed Entitlement?

The Atlantic published an article about the problem of long-term unemployed. Apparently there is something magical about being 6 months unemployed such that a person becomes almost unemployable from that point on.

The author concludes with a policy prescription:

It’s time for the government to start hiring the long-term unemployed. Or, at the least, start giving employers tax incentives to hire the long-term unemployed. The worst possible outcome for all of us is if the long-term unemployed become unemployable. That would permanently reduce our productive capacity.

The government should start hiring the long-term unemployed – I’m trying to figure out if that is a serious proposal? The author leaves the implementation details up to the reader to imagine, so let’s imagine them:

What work will they do? Will these be fulfilling jobs? If not, why not? If so, who in the world would ever take an unfulfilling job in the private sector if all you have to do is wait 6 months and become entitled to a fulfilling job working for the government?

How long will the job last? Will it be short term or long term? If short term, it’s hard to see how that is going to “trick” private sector employers into looking at the participants’ resume again. Hiring manager thought process: “I see you were unemployed for 6 months, then employed by the government for 6 months, and now you’re unemployed again. Remind me: why am I more likely to hire you now?” If long term then how will we ever afford this, and why would anyone, once hired, ever look for work in the private sector or anywhere else?

How will the participants be selected? I can envision a couple of options:

1) Everyone gets hired – so this is a true, new entitlement. Anyone and everyone who is unemployed for more than 6 months gets hired by the government.

2) Political process – people unemployed greater than 6 months get hired according to who has a friend or family member working for the “Department of Long-Term Unemployed”. Although, if you had a friend working for such a department wouldn’t you have an in for one of our existing government jobs?

3) Merit-based process – the government will review the resumes and hire only the best and brightest of the long-term unemployed. Because I’m sure the government is better at picking out those diamonds in the rough than 6 months worth of private sector resume reviewers.

4) Lottery – random draw for government jobs! Woo hoo!

Note that (2), (3), and (4) don’t solve the problem which this program was initially designed to solve, which is “the long-term unemployed become unemployable [and] permanently reduce our productive capacity” – it just reduces the number by a few.

How will these new employees be organized? Will we set up a new organization in the government, with some hired as managers, and others worker bees? Will we hire one executive long term unemployed per one hundred worker bees? Or are we going to just randomly plug these people into existing government organizations? If there were a match with their skills to the mission of the organization they probably would have already been hired. The point was that we are hiring them as an entitlement so it doesn’t matter what their skills are at all.

I’m not questioning that employers discriminate against long-term unemployed, and agree that it is a problem for the macro economy, and especially for the individuals who cannot find work. However, starting a government program to hire the long-term unemployed is a not a solution.

Thoughts on “You Didn’t Build That”

Some thoughts from some smart people on President Obama’s Roanoke Speech:

To me, the speech was not troubling because the President was picking on the little guy. It is also not troubling because he shows a preference for government solutions over private solutions. It is troubling because he is making the case why business owners don’t deserve a strong right to their property. He has made the case why he won’t strongly defend their property rights. This is terrifying because we know that if the government will not defend property, it is lost. Period. The property has value and value is pursued by humans. If the government will not protect your property, it will be lost. I would even go so far as to say that without government, there is no property. And here we have the leader of our government explaining why he will not protect it. This terrifies me. The first rule of property: If you don’t protect it, you lose it.

WSJ Interview with George Shultz

Some interesting areas of the interview:

“For Mr. Shultz, the tax issue is not just about rates—though he believes lower rates often produce more revenue than higher ones, and “it’s the revenues you’re looking for”—but about predictability.

He asks me what sports I like. “Let’s talk about football. . . . You want to know the rules and have an impartial referee, but you also want to make sure somebody isn’t going to come along and change the rules in the middle of the game. . . . Now it’s as though we have all these people who have money on the sidelines and we say ‘Come on and play the game,’ and they say ‘Well what are the rules?’ and we say ‘We’ll tell you later.’ And what about the referee? Well, we’re still struggling for who that’s gonna be. . . . That’s not an environment designed to get people to play.”

Mr. Shultz cites the handling of the auto bankruptcies as an important deviation from rules-based economic policy. The question was “are we gonna have a political bankruptcy or a rule-of-law bankruptcy? Political bankruptcy was chosen. So the result is that the unions got paid off and the regular creditors didn’t.”

Every now and then, you just have to step back and ask yourself, “Why are making this so hard?” We’ve got all of the brightest minds in the country pouring over how to fix the malaise we are in. But even a miracle cure would be negated if the economy has no confidence in the rules. All of the brillance of the best economists is for naught if we can’t get some of the basic fundamentals right. Leave it to the 91-year-old guy to bring us back to reality.

“That would be ObamaCare, of course. “I fear that the approach to controlling costs in the health-care business is moving more and more to a wage-and-price-control approach. And one thing you know from experience is when you control the price of something, you end up getting less of it. So if you control the price of health-care providers, you will have fewer of them and that’s gonna wind up as a crisis. The most vivid expression of that . . . was Jimmy Carter’s gas lines.”

Another obvious point but somehow gets lost in the debates.

Pro-Market vs. Pro-Business

Luigi Zingales draws an important distinction between the two:

Ideologically, the Republican establishment doesn’t appreciate the difference between being pro-market and being pro-business. Many businesspeople want free markets only when they’re trying to enter a new market; when they’re already in a market, they lobby for barriers to entry and protection from competition. A pro-market advocate defends freedom of entry in all cases. Failure to understand this distinction makes the Republican establishment too timid in criticizing business when it undermines free markets.

I agree, and this is an important distinction. When politicians pass legislation which seemingly hurts business (tighter regulations on banks, as an example) people think it must be because those politicians are fighting for the people to the businesses detriment. The opposite is usually the case – even though the regulations hurt the businesses, they hurt the businesses’ competitors more. So even though the big banks face higher costs to comply with the regulations, the smaller banks literally go out of business because of the costs. In this case the big banks win because they face less competition.

Education Financing

From a New York Times op-ed on Education Financing:

To avoid the next credit bubble and debt crisis, we need to eliminate government subsidies and link tuition financing to the incomes of college graduates.

Yeah I agree we need to eliminate government subsidies but I don’t think we “need…to link tuition financing to income of college graduates.” We don’t need to do anything. That’s the beauty of private property. No one cares more deeply about optimal financing regimes for education than the owner. Leave the government out of it completely.

Between 1977 and 2009 the real average cost of university tuition more than doubled.

So, let’s hear it, Gen Y, has the government helped with your desire for an affordable education? No? Why not? Well, it turns out that people counseling you to support the transfer scheme of college financing aren’t necessarily doing so in your best interest…

Since the government guarantees student loans, lenders have no incentive to lend wisely. All the burden of making the right decision falls on the borrowers. Unfortunately, 18-year-olds aren’t particularly good at judging the profitability of an investment without expert advice, and when they do get such advice, it generally counsels taking the largest possible loan.

That’s right, kids. Your college professors, university administrators, college football coaches, loan agents, etc. that encourage you to make “the most important investment of your life” might be a little more interested in their own financial well-being than yours. Surprising, I know…