Censorship, Vegas, and Convention Craziness

This is my first article in a few weeks because as you might know, I’ve been busy working on getting my new book, The God Bet, released.  The premise of the book is that I will bet anybody a million dollars on which party God would vote for.  It is getting good reviews, but so far I have been unable to add it to my “shop” page on Facebook.  They rejected it and you won’t believe why.  Here is the reason that they sent me: 

“It looks like we didn’t approve your item because we don’t allow the sale of adult items or services (ex: sexual enhancement items, adult videos).”

Now, here is a link to the book.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/1735532916

As you can see, there are no sexual enhancement items or adult videos related to the book cover.  As most of you probably know, the cover is taken from Michelangelo’s famous painting The Creation of Adam, which is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  It depicts God reaching down to give life to Adam, but on my book cover God is reaching out to cast a vote on stone tablets for the party He would support.  There is a butt in the painting but it is entirely artistic and non-sexual.  In fact, when I looked at the community standards that Facebook has posted it shows a bunch of examples of sexually suggestive pictures that are unacceptable, and then a picture that they say is artistic so it is acceptable.  The acceptable example; a picture of Michelangelo’s nude sculpture of David. 

The other thing that kept me busy this week was a trip to Las Vegas to visit some friends.  It was very interesting to see how the casinos and the people inside were reacting to a disease that is only slightly more likely to kill you than a sharknado.  The good news is that nobody was afraid of the coronavirus.  People were mingling with each other, dancing together at the bar with a live band, high fiving, gambling, and drinking together.  There was only one fear going around Vegas and I agree that we need to fight to end it.  The real disease to fear is government licensure.  You see, the way that the government controls businesses and takes away freedom is by issuing licenses to conduct business and then threatening to take those licenses away if they don’t do exactly what the government wants.  This is why so few restaurants and bars are able to stand up to the government and open without restrictions.  If they do, many states threaten to take away their liquor licenses, and most of their profits come from liquor sales.  Proponents say that licensing is to protect the consumer, but in reality the free market already does that.  If there really was a disease worth being afraid of and you opened your business, people would voluntarily stay away.  Think about it.  If there was a business that said they were open to people with ebola, would you need the government to take away a license to keep people away?  No.  And I doubt there was ever a very long waiting list to vacation at a leper colony.

The funny thing is, the people who actually push for licensing are the people who are already in those lines of work.  As the brilliant economist Milton Friedman said, “If the real true function of licensing was to protect the consumers, you’d expect the consumers to be lobbying for licensure, but you will discover that it’s always the plumbers or the beauticians or the morticians… there isn’t an occupation you can name that hasn’t been down to the Statehouse trying to get licensure.”  Why would businesses want licensing?  Because it is a barrier to entry, so it keeps out competition.  Less competition lets those who are already in control stay in control.  The people who are hurt by licensure are competitors wanting to enter an industry and the consumers.  In Las Vegas, the consumers are hurt right now because the casinos are afraid of losing their gaming licenses, so they are forced to require a bunch of silly rules.  The one I thought was funny was that to walk through the hotels and casinos they required that you wear a mask, but if you were smoking you could keep the mask down.  In a related story, I now smoke three packs a day. 

The other big thing that happened this week was the Democratic Convention.  I must admit, I didn’t watch it.  I already knew what they were going to say.  Trump is bad.  Then the media would fawn over each speaker.  I do have 2 observations, though.  First, the media narrative that Republicans are turning on the president because John Kasich spoke is ridiculous.  John Kasich spoke because he has a fragile ego and President Trump hurt his feelings 4 years ago when he beat him in the primaries.  All his speech shows is that his hurt feelings are more important to him than his principles.  He claims to be pro-life, but if he’s supporting Joe Biden he is not.  He claims to be a fiscal conservative, but if he supports Joe Biden he is not.  He has completely lost any respect from conservatives.  If he had any backbone he would handle it differently.  Ted Cruz, for example, has proven that he actually cares more about doing what is right than his ego.  President Trump ripped on Senator Cruz relentlessly during the primaries 4 years ago.  I’m sure his feelings were hurt by some of the brutal personal attacks, but Senator Cruz cares more about America than holding personal grudges, and has put the campaign behind him and become a strong ally of the president in conservative policies.  I have gained a lot of respect and confidence in Cruz.  John Kasich should toughen up and stop crying about sour grapes from 2016.

The second observation is that the Democrats actually did it.  They nominated a guy that they admitted was corrupt just months ago.   It wasn’t even the Republicans who were accusing Biden of being corrupt.  It was his own party, the same Democrats who just picked him to top their ticket.  You may not remember it because that isn’t how they framed it in the media.  They framed it this way.  “President Trump should be impeached because he tried to gain an advantage over his future political opponent, Joe Biden, by asking Ukraine to investigate him.”  Think about what that’s saying.  If Joe Biden didn’t do anything wrong, how would it be an advantage to President Trump to clear him?  It wouldn’t.  The only way it would be an advantage is if an investigation would uncover corruption.  Democrats can’t have it both ways.  Either they are saying that they impeached the president for trying to clear their candidate of wrongdoing, which doesn’t make sense, or they’re saying that their candidate is corrupt.  Yet they chose him as their best.  Remember that when you vote.

A Cure Worse Than The Disease?

I feel alone.  Not just because the coronavirus quarantine is shutting down the country and forcing us to stay in our homes, but because it seems like such a large majority of the country is willing to just accept it and go along with it.  Then when somebody disagrees, or God forbid, goes outside for something deemed “non-essential,” they are vilified as a horrible, selfish person who doesn’t care about people dying. 

One instinct that I have is to simply turn it around on those people and vilify them as horrible, selfish people who don’t care about millions of people being put out of work, retirement accounts being wiped out, and people becoming more lonely and depressed.  The thing is, I don’t think that’s true.  I think the people in favor of the shutdown do care about the economic and emotional impact of the quarantine but they don’t know how to weigh it against the fear that has been instilled in them about the coronavirus.  Instead of arguing or accusing, I decided it would work best just to clarify my rationale and hope that people can see that it is neither selfish nor illogical.

First, let me clarify my position.  I do believe that coronavirus is real and will kill people.  I think that there are reasonable responses for us to take to combat the virus.  I think that everyone should practice good hygiene. I think that it is reasonable for the elderly and people with medical conditions that make this virus especially dangerous to them to stay at home.  I think that we should lock down nursing homes, and that we should put money and resources into our medical response to the virus.  I just think that shutting down the whole country is not reasonable, rational, or consistent, and will hurt more than it helps. 

We first have to be rational and agree that people have always died, and will continue to die in the future.  This is nothing new.  There is obviously a certain level of risk that we deem reasonable to keeping the country running.  Otherwise, to save around 40,000 lives per year we would lower the speed limit to 10 mph.  We have to decide what level of death is reasonable to us, and what level justifies the effects of shutting down our society. 

As a baseball guy and a poker player I know a lot about probability and odds.  I think a lot about how likely things are to happen.  Considering that 98% of the people who are dying of coronavirus have underlying medical conditions and half of them have at least three, the odds of a young healthy person dying are pretty astronomical.  But what are the chances that I will even know anybody who dies of the virus?  The estimates on the number of deaths vary pretty widely.  Nobody actually knows the real death rate because most of the people who have coronavirus don’t count in the numbers because they can’t even tell they have it.  What is for sure is that it is much lower than the number that gets reported.  As of this moment the reported number comes out to about 1.7%.  As this report says (https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/03/24/science.abb3221), it is likely that for every reported case of coronavirus there are 10 other cases.  That would, of course, move the decimal point one spot to the left for a death rate of about 0.17%, or very slightly higher than the 0.1% death rate of the flu.  Ask yourself, how many people do you know who died of the flu this year?  In fact, if we use Dr. Fauci’s doomsday guess that we could have “between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths,” and even if we go with the higher figure, we have lost 200,000 to the flu in the last 6 years.  (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html)  How many people do you know who have died of the flu in the last 6 years?  I would guess for most people the answer would be the same as mine, zero. 

The point is, the numbers we are hearing are likely far worse than the actual numbers.  They may sound big, but we need to have some perspective.  This is where comparing numbers with other situations is actually useful.  The Black Plague famously killed half of the population of Europe and it took about 200 years to get back to the population level it was at before.  I wondered, “what percentage of the United States will this kill and how long will it take us to get back to our current population level?”  So, I looked it up.  The United States population is 327,200,000.  200,000 deaths would be 0.06% of the population.  Then to find out how long it would take for us to recover and get back to our current population level I had to look up how many people normally die each day.  7,452. If we then average out the coronavirus deaths over a year, it would add 548 a day, making it an even 8,000 deaths per day.  Next, we have to look at how many people are born each day to see how long it will take to replace those 8,000 people a day.  There are, on average, 10,388 births per day in our country.  So the answer to my question?  Zero days.  In fact, not only is coronavirus not decimating our population as badly as it is being made out to be, but our population is growing by around 2,388 each day.

This is certainly lower than the threshold of a reasonable level of death to shut down our country that we were looking for, especially considering the damage the quarantine is causing economically and emotionally.  While we have already established that you probably won’t know anybody who dies of coronavirus, you almost certainly do know somebody who has lost their job.  I know several.  You definitely know people who have seen their retirement accounts plummet.  The high school seniors that I coach at baseball have worked hard for four years and will likely never get to play again.  Addicts are unable to attend meetings and many are relapsing.  People who have issues with anxiety or depression are struggling more than ever.  Many businesses and restaurants will go out of business.  There is less joy in the world because sports and concerts are shut down.  Maybe the biggest loss will be the loss of our liberty.  What ever happened to “give me liberty or give me death?”  Yes.  There was a time when Americans valued their freedom even more than their lives.  I fear that I am alone in still believing that.

Let me finish with another comparison.  If we figure out the odds of any random person dying of coronavirus based on the numbers above we get 1 in 1,636.  To put that in perspective, that’s about the same as the odds of dying from falling down the stairs (1 in 1,662) (https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-mortality-risk).  In other words, it does happen, but it’s very, very unlikely.  I suggest we treat coronavirus the same way as we treat stairs.  We have Grandma take the elevator but let everyone else keep climbing.