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Con artist with a heart of gold?

December 7, 2016

Scott Adams surveys the recent election: “Trump ignored facts, science, and even common decency… and still got elected. … The only thing that matters is persuasion.” Scott supported Trump, and happily tells us to “expect facts to influence Trump when they do matter.” In short, Trump is the con artist with our best interests in heart. And having conned enough people in rural states, he gets to decide what those interests are. Adams doesn’t seem to think that the dissonance between speech and fact does any violence to democracy. Other Trump boosters are equally happy to see the dismissal of facts as relevant.

Hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson is quite tickled that Trump, who campaigned on draining the swamp, is instead working happily with the alligators:

I can take glee in that — I think Donald Trump conned them. I worried that he was going to do crazy things that would blow the system up. So the fact that he’s appointing people from within the system is a good thing.

The thing about a con game is that there usually is a winner. We all will have to wait to see whether Trump’s pretensions are benign, or as Evan McMullin worries, something more sinister.

James Fallows and Jack Shafer not that we are not well prepared for a politician who is a bullshitter, and each make suggestions on how the news media should respond. Fareed Zakaria has suggestions for Democratic politicians.


December 6, 2016

People wildly overestimate how well they communicate with their close friends and intimates.

Fake news spurring terrorism

December 5, 2016

One of the fake news stories from the recent presidential campaign claimed that Clinton and Podesta were running a child sex ring from the back rooms of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, in Washington, DC. That “Pizzagate” story sounds absolutely nuts to any reasonable person. Alas, the world is full of nuts, including a North Carolina man who decided to “investigate” that conspiracy, with the aid of several firearms at hand. He threatened employees, fired at least one shot, and was arrested. Fortunately, with no harm coming to anyone. That wasn’t labeled terrorism. But he won’t be the last to commit violence for the sake of wingnut conspiracy theory.

Falling for such fake news and spreading it identifies someone as a sucker, someone not qualified to advise a child on where to keep their piggy bank. Alas:

Michael Flynn, a retired general who President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared the stories.

And Trump himself has spread some of those fake news stories.

Update: It turns out Michael Flynn spread other conspiracy theories about Clinton, but not Pizzagate per se. Despite that, his son is defending Pizzagate.

Whither the beach?

December 2, 2016

Many of the sandy beaches on the shore either are entirely artificial, or sustained only by moving sand. The federal government undertakes a large liability for that. It will become larger, with warming climate and rising seas.

Dogs, domestic and wild

November 30, 2016

Wolves and coyotes are sister species that cross-breed with dogs, so have behavior and presumably inner lives not unlike dogs. Brandom Keim argues we should treat them better. I find the ecology arguments in that article more substantive than the appeal to sentimentality.

Many people have taken notice of this interesting experiment that demonstrates dogs have episodic memory. The interesting question is whether it has the same neurological basis as ours. I would expect that. But the evolution of cognitive faculties is still largely a mystery. I expect that to change in the coming decades.

“The sparrow with four sexes”

November 29, 2016

That is the title of Nature’s update into the research on the white-throated sparrow. It is written partly by way of eulogy to Elaina Tuttle, who was key in investigating it. We may be seeing the evolution of a new sex chromosome. My previous blog on this sparrow’s strange sex life has gotten repeated visits over the years. Which is strange, since my birding posts usually fly under the radar.

Russia, fake news, and Ben Shapiro

November 28, 2016

Anyone who read the right-wing news sites this campaign saw the constant swirl of fake stories, from Clinton’s allegedly failing health to an alleged coup at Incirlik. The right-wing audience damned the mainstream media, both for debunking such stories and for failing to cover them. I don’t know how much to credit the notion that Russia ran a disinformation campaign to help elect Trump; it seems entrepreneurs generate plenty of fake news for those who want it. And quickly figure out who that is:

We’ve tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You’ll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

If Russia did generate some of that, or was responsible for some of the email hacks as US intelligence agencies claim, Putin no doubt is enjoying the result. That hacking was the email issue far more deserving intense investigation during the campaign, than the humdrum content it produced.

Ben Shapiro takes umbrage about the darker side of his alt-right colleagues. He tries very, very hard not to call them racist, even when they make racist slurs regarding his newborn child. After all, if he were to label them racist, then he would be participating in identity politics or giving succor to liberals by acknowledging that racism exists or something Shapiro doesn’t want to do. And he wonders if conservatives in his particular sect will stand up to the heresies he sees in Trump. Here’s a clue for Shapiro. You don’t show integrity by working for Breitbart, for years putting up with their propaganda and nativism, leaving them only when they go full-Trump.