Skip to content

The MAGA road to prison

March 21, 2023

Most of those present at the Capitol on January 6th just milled around, without getting arrested. Most who did get arrested faced minor charges such as trespass. Those charged with serious felonies fall into two groups.

SingSing_02First, there are the members of militias that came with the intent to overturn the election. A second traunch of Oath Keepers were convicted two months back. They are facing years in federal prison. Note that some of those convicted never entered the Capitol. Someone who acts as part of a criminal gang can be held culpable with their colleagues, even when they personally weren’t in the forefront of the action. (And just now, a third traunch of Oath Keeper are convicted.)

Second, there are individuals whose own acts rose to serious crime, especially those who planned violence. The retired Air Force officer who came with zip ties to take captives was sentenced to two years. A Marine Corp veteran who assaulted police officers was sentenced to five years. A Texas man who afterwards made a death threat against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sentenced to three years. A North Carolina man who assaulted police officers was sentenced to three and a half years.

They all had one thing in common. They believed MAGA lies. Both about the election and about the nature of American politics. As millions still do. Trump now is rousing those rubes to protest the likely indictments he faces. Let’s hope some of them are starting to get a bit smarter.

If you’re trying to keep a scorecard of the various criminal investigations implicating Trump, here is a handy summary. There are other civil actions. If you want to pin that volume on anything other than his rampant dishonesty, get a bit smarter. Photo shows Sing Sing prison some decades past.


Proving dishonest intent

March 20, 2023

Whether or not Trump is indicted in New York for acts prior to entering politics, honest Americans — including honest conservatives — want him prosecuted for crimes related to his coup attempt. The defense he might try there, that he already peddles to the MAGA cult, is that his attempts to overturn the 2020 election were done in good faith.

Which is why the most significant weekend news regarding future Trump prosecutions was a Washington Post report on yet another piece of evidence showing otherwise. On the heels of the 2020 election, Trump, through his lawyers, hired the Berkeley Research Group to investigate the various stories about election fraud, hoping to acquire purchase for his efforts to overturn the result.

Their research did not give him what he wanted:

The Berkeley report was an object of frustration to some of Trump’s advisers, who were looking for evidence of widespread fraud — and an object of validation for others, who wanted him to stop spreading lies about the election. .. The researchers said there was no reason to believe the final vote totals in five key states were fraudulent.

The claims Trump pushed as part of his Big Lie were factually baseless, contrary to the findings of his own hired research, stemming solely from his desire to retain power. His bad faith will matter to his criminal culpability in a number of ways, including any plea for immunity due to his office. So it’s good to read that federal prosecutors are accumulating yet more evidence to prove his dishonest intent. I trust the prosecutors in Georgia are following suit.

Trump lied also when he claimed recently that he sent the FBI to Florida in 2018 to correct election fraud there. Though it demonstrates how easily Trump fabricates on such matters, I doubt prosecutors will be able to make use of it. Like his other election lies, it was tailored to feed the MAGA fantasies: that they have the inside track on how the world works, that they know who the real culprits are, that they are the remedy for a corrupt body politic. Rather than a cancer on it. A cancer that gives rise to professional grifters. That includes media outlets such as Fox News, as well as Trump.

A dry spring

March 17, 2023

BorderPatchWe have had little rain this spring, making for a fairly muted showing of wildflowers. Our winecups, usually in the hundreds or thousands, are a couple of dozen. Fortunately for the border patch shown right, orange Zexmenia is quite happy in these conditions.

Flags and names

March 16, 2023

A Florida Republican made a weak attempt at reviving the Confederate flag in that state. One of the more stupid arguments frequently heard today tries to defend celebrating Confederate symbols as a matter of heritage. After all, Florida was a Confederate state.

Well, Germany was the Nazi state. It no longer flies Nazi flags or celebrates those symbols, precisely because it wants to make clear the politics of that past have no place in its future. Americans should have the same attitude toward the Confederacy, for the same reason.

AudubonNo, that doesn’t mean erasing history. Both Naziism and the Confederacy should be studied in history books, documentaries, and museums. They should be remembered, in horror, and with committment to learning from those paths, how to avoid similar in the future. I think it’s particularly important to understand how they appealed to people. Sadly, they still have appeal to some people.

What they should not be is celebrated. Their flags should not be flown, except in contexts such as historical reenactments and movie production.

The desire to dishonor an evil past inevitably runs into a wide number of cases, each different in a variety of ways. Many have no bright line. Historical individuals have many facets to their lives. The National Audubon Society has decided to keep its name, despite the fact that its namesake owned slaves. As its CEO explains, John James Audubon was known for his work identifying and illustrating the variety of birds in North America.

Notions of gender

March 14, 2023

There is a clear biological definition of which animals are male and which are female. It isn’t about having a penis. Most male birds lack that. It’s not a matter of specific chromosomes. The male Y chromosome is a mammalian trait. Nor is it defined by where conception occurs. Many fish do that externally. It doesn’t involve relative body size. Nor which gender is showier. In birds, that’s usually the male. It’s not even about which gender cares for or carries the developing embryos. One conservative group wants to ban a children’s book because it is:

A picture book about seahorses, which touched on everything from their ability to change color to the independent movement of their eyes, threatened to “normalize that males can get pregnant” by explaining that male seahorses give birth; the Moms suspected a covert endorsement of “gender fluidity.”

george-sandI suspect if some reporter were to ask conservative legislators what the biological definition of male is, most would flunk. One such here in Texas wants to let people sue drag shows. And what characterizes a drag show? From the proposed bill (pdf): “A ‘Drag performance’ means a performance in which a performer exhibits a gender that is different than the performer’s gender recorded at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers.”

A biologist can tell you what distinguishes male and female animals. But cannot tell you what distinguishes male and female clothing. That is a matter of culture. The fact that a Texas legislator wants to dictate gender-appropriate clothing is as telling as the fact that a group wanting to ban school books calls themselves “Moms for Liberty.”

Prior to Trump’s court appointments, it would be a certainty that any such law would be thrown out by the courts on first amendment grounds. I wish I were so certain now. Tennessee is vying with Texas to see which can be the most draconian.

Masks and evidence

March 13, 2023

Zeynep Tufekci, one of today’s better science journalists, provides a good explanation of the Cochrane paper on masks. The latter has generated far more press than it deserves, with many writers who don’t understand science commonly reaching some wrong conclusions.

zorro1The first wrong conclusion is that it significantly changed the evidence on masking. It didn’t. It was a metastudy. The authors did no primary research, and generated no new primary data. Metastudies are nice. The best ones provide insights into a large pile of studies, whose overall signal is made more clear. Still, the primary data after a metastudy is the same as it was before. If that metastudy caused a sea change in someone’s views on masks, it’s likely because their views weren’t much connected to the evidence.

Or, because they aren’t adept at reading studies. The second and related wrong conclusion is that the Cochrane paper says more about whether masking works than it does about how hazy the current evidence is. Some people develop an acute sense for the qualities of evidence as a dimension separate from what answers the current evidence suggests. It seems most never do.

There are practical reasons it’s hard to get good evidence on masking. Adherence usually is an issue. Experimental blinding is nigh impossible. Individual exposure is happenstance. The course of a disease outbreak varies. Collecting data involves tracking hundreds or thousands of subjects, or relying on tangentially collected data. The small numbers who acquire the disease in an experimental timeframe leads to large confidence intervals. (The metastudy excluded several otherwise good studies on that ground.) Masking changes other social behavior, which may affect disease transmission through other mechanisms. So it’s not surprising that the studies on masking use a wide variety of methodologies, most of which are lacking in one or more important regards, often measuring somewhat different things. Or that, as consequence, a review fails to find firm evidence.

For what it is worth, I am not as positive about masking as Tufekci. I still do it in crowded indoor spaces, such as grocery stores. But have never thought the evidence for it was more than lukewarm.

It is easy to conceive the experiment that would firmly answer the salient questions. A teaching hospital identifies incoming patients who both are symptomatic and test positive for Covid, and cajoles them to give a one hour talk in a small lecture room, where medical students are assigned to listen. The patients are randomly assigned to wear masks or not, as are the students attending. The students are tracked for some weeks after, to see which acquire Covid. This is repeated with enough speakers and enough students infected, to settle the core questions about how effective masks are.

There is one glaring problem with that experiment. The ethics committee would shoot it down twenty seconds after reading it.

Well, Don Diego Vega would know how to answer that. The statistics professor who defends such experiment before the ethics committee needs to wear a mask. And flash a rapier.

Making Attorneys Get Attorneys

March 9, 2023

Stefan Passantino now is facing a complaint seeking his disbarment, for how he steered Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson in her testimony to the January 6th committee. Seemingly, he didn’t view it as a lie for her to claim not to recall something she in fact recalled. His sliminess is unsurprising, given that he was Trump’s ethics lawyer.

Another former Trump attorney, Jenna Ellis, is lucky to get off with a mere censure, for her lies in pushing the Big Lie.

I hope some legal scholar is keeping a list of all Trump attorneys who have been censured, disbarred, or convicted, from their work for him.

Not quite scam insurance

March 7, 2023

Both Humana and UnitedHealth Group own primary care clinics in my area, targeted at those 65 and older. Which they use to funnel patients into their Medicare Advantage plans.

Medicare Advantage plans, also called Medicare Part C, bring large revenues and profits to the companies that provide them. They are aggressively marketed as a one-stop decision for those who qualify for Medicare. You don’t need to find a Medigap insurer. You don’t need to find a Part D insurer for drug coverage. Instead of paying premiums for each of Part B, Medigap, and Part D, you pay one premium, often lower. And the honey-tongued agent will enroll you now. What’s not to like?

Quite a bit, actually. Each plan comes with its own network of providers. They require pre-approval for a variety of procedures. They may not cover medical care you need or want out of state. There are a variety of co-pays and deductibles. They often don’t cover needed nursing care after a medical event. Aging patients get the burden of navigating that maze of requirements and accounting. And in the future, if you want to go back to the route of traditional Medicare, getting Medigap insurance may require medical underwriting.

Unsurprisingly, insurance brokers say they would choose traditional Medicare for themselves. Informal questioning of my now-retired engineering colleagues show they reached the same conclusion, mostly opting for a Medigap plan G.

If you go the traditional route, you may want to sign up for Part D drug coverage as soon as you can, since there are permanent penalties when you sign up in later years.

The importance of bows

March 6, 2023

Archaeologists have discovered 50,000 year-old arrowheads in a cave in southern France. (Cite.) Those are the oldest found in Europe. Humans may have carried that technology with them when they migrated from Africa. Older arrow heads are found on that continent.

The_Fair_Toxophilites_William_Powell_FrithI suspect many people misunderstand the technological leap that arrows represent. It is not just that they make hunting more efficient. Arrows require a bow. And a bow requires a bowstring. A culture that produces bowstrings will produce other things made with cordwork: tethers, tows, and carriers, moccasins and other clothing, tents, and even canoes. The practices of knotting, splicing, lashing, sewing, and related are a huge advance in material technology. Cordage from natural materials doesn’t survive the millenia. Arrowheads do, and show that a culture has made that technological leap. People who regularly make and use bowstrings will find all sorts of other uses for cordage.

Seemingly, Neanderthals never picked up on bows. Which suggests that cordwork may have eluded them. Perhaps cognition? Perhaps digital dexterity? Perhaps something more subtle, that prevented it from becoming a standard part of their toolkit. The authors of the first article guess it might be “cultural traditions.” That seems an unlikely explanation, since Neanderthals no doubt had a range of cultures, and intersected modern humans at different places and times.

I previously posted about ancient needles and awls, which also indicate this technological leap. There, I wrote that Neanderthals had them. Looking back at the articles I linked, there is one claim regarding bone awls at a Neanderthal site. There is a more recent paper claiming a Neanderthal stone tool in France had a bit of fiber stuck to it. Which are interesting. Perhaps less than conclusive.

That technological leap may be how humans managed to thrive in the Iberian peninsula through the last ice age. New genetic research shows where people survived, and where they didn’t, and how they migrated after. (Cite and cite.)

Scam insurance

March 2, 2023

The feds have shut down a Christian health insurance scheme. Affiliate scams are successful, because they build on the unwarranted trust people already place in group identity. Insurance is a kind of product that needs regulation and backstop to serve the mass market. Have you ever wondered what would happen if your insurer fails as a business, just as you need it to cover losses? The good news is, you mostly don’t have to worry about that, because of state regulation and mandated reinsurance of various sorts. That depends on the kind of policy, so how that works in your state is worth checking, if you stray beyond the typical.