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Republican cancel culture

December 8, 2021

In July, Texas’s Republican leaders canceled a promotional event for Forget the Alamo, a new Texas history book. They have not quite canceled From the Far Tree. Just put it on a state list of suspect books. Republican leaders in other states are following suit. In Tennessee, using the state’s new law against critical race theory, a conservative group is sueing to stop use of a history book on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rasmy Hassouna, a Houston engineer, ran into Texas law requiring a loyalty test for state contractors. Loyalty to Israel. That issue is again before the courts. Hassouna gripes:

I believe in liberty and freedom. When I saw that statement, it contradicts everything I believe about this country.

Albatross divorce rate

December 7, 2021

Most albatrosses keep the same partner, year in and year out, over the decades. A small fraction split up. Moreso those that have failed to have a chick. Researchers from the Universidade de Lisboa tracked divorces for black-browed albatrosses breeding near the Falklands, and relate that to sea surface temperatures. (Cite.) Higher temperature means less oxygen in the water, which makes it harder for seabirds to feed. Birds need a lot of food. It’s easy to imagine that increases the stress, even on birds that successfully raise a chick. But it’s just as easy to spin other tales. The confounders are numerous. The scatterplots are not as convincing as the ones from yesterday’s post.

The disinformation virus

December 6, 2021

NPR took a gander at the data relating political alignment with Trump to vaccination rates and Covid deaths. The results were about what one might expect: counties that swung more to Trump had lower vaccination rates and more death. The scatterplot right relates Covid deaths to Trump voting margin. What raises an eyebrow is how sparse it is above the diagonal. The presence of counties in the bottom right corner is luck. Their almost total absence in the upper left is science and diligence.

TrumpVoteCovidDeathsMuch of the media harped on the grammar error in the statement Trump released on his Big Lie. The more telling thing is the nature of the message. Trump is not pointing to any specific claim of election fraud, a specific act in a specific state where he is certain the evidence shows election fraud against him. Instead, like any good cult leader, Trump is directing his followers to believe he was cheated, despite his failure to do that. Despite the fact that the lawyers who pressed those claims for him are being sanctioned and having their law licenses suspended for doing so without evidence. More, he is telling his followers to believe that all the officials and committees and courts that have exposed those claims as bogus are corrupt. Including the many that were Republican, and the ones yet to come. That last is important to him, as he starts to face legal consequence.

Epidemic of crazy

December 2, 2021

As the right becomes more conspiracist, it’s not surprising that those attracted to conspiracy theories that formerly didn’t have much political alignment would shift to the right. When Piers Corben, an antivaxxer, visits Mark Collett, a British radio host and Nazi fan:

“Obviously, you and I agree on a lot of things,” Collett told Corbyn. As anti-vaccine activists continue to spread medical misinformation online and hold rallies targeting schools, hospitals, and government officials, pairings like Corbyn and Collett have become common. White nationalists and QAnon influencers have become prolific sources for anti-vaccine propaganda, while far-right extremists march alongside anti-vaxxers at protests. In countries around the world, far-right and anti-vaccine movements are now deeply intertwined.

The route out of conspiracist thinking likely is a difficult one. Perhaps the first step is disappointment in those who peddle the stories and the heroes of those stories? I wonder if psychologists have much insight into that.

For pure loopiness, it is hard to beat this tweet by Candace Owens:

I never ever scan QR codes at restaurants. I always request paper menus. Just a weird gut feeling I have about how it was rapidly introduced under the guise of Covid prevention.

The responses lambast her for not knowing that QR codes have been around for decades. The real nuttiness lies in the conspiracist slant, in thinking that something businesses do in response to Cobid-19 should be viewed with suspicion, even when they are an obvious response to how the epidemic has changed the market environment. Not only are more restaurants moving to digital menus, they also are providing more takeout and more patio dining. Businesses with waiting areas have tried to put space between chairs. Doctors, dentists, and hairstylists encourage (or even require) their clientele to wait in their cars, calling when they’re ready. None of that has nefarious purpose. None of that is part of a larger conspiracy, unless you want to say that many are conspiring to avoid disease and businesses are conspiring to serve customers.

The spookiness remains

November 30, 2021

Gertrude Abercrombie, "Strange Shadows (Shadows and Substance)"

Ethan Siegel writes on the narrowing path for pilot waves and the persistence of quantum spookiness. Pilot waves always seemed a bit of a kludge to me. But as Sabine Hossenfelder reminds, physicists should not be too biased by notions of beauty when evaluating physics theory. Nor we non-physicists. The experimental issues Siegel points out are more important.

The painting is Strange Shadows by Gertrude Abercrombie. Clearly an artistic rendition of the double slit experiment.

Belief revision

November 29, 2021

Some psychologists at the University of Alabama took advantage of planned replication experiments to test whether their fellows update their beliefs according to new, empirical data. (Cite.) It seems to me the rather large caveat there is the focus on professionals working in their own field. Participation in that encourages a certain discipline that may well not flow into how those involved treat other kinds of beliefs.

Russia has been behind some of the antivax propaganda targeting American and European audiences. Which works at cross-purpose to getting their own population vaccinated.

From the public confessions of 12-step programs to the team-building exercises corporations sometimes employ, much of practical psychology relies on interaction that generates an emotional change rather than an intellectual turn. So I was not surprised to read that privilege walks owe their origin to Scientology.

History and Thanksgiving

November 26, 2021

It’s good to enjoy an annual feast with relatives. That doesn’t require fake history. This historical revisit of the first Thanksgiving gets so much into one article, from the subsequent King Philip’s War to the corporate role in bringing over the Pilgrims. Who already had religious freedom where they lived before stepping onto the Mayflower. It is from last year. I just came across it this morning.

Texas immigration

November 24, 2021

The New York Times has a database to help people choose where they might want to live in the US. Using that, they explain why so many people are moving to the suburbs of Dallas:

If you’re looking for an affordable, economically vibrant city that is less likely to be damaged by climate change than many other American cities, our data shows why Texas is a new land of plenty. For the many hypothetical life scenarios I ran through our quiz, the suburbs around Dallas — places like Plano, McKinney, Garland, Euless and Allen — came up a lot. It’s clear why these are some of the fastest-growing areas in the country. They have relatively little crime and are teeming with jobs, housing, highly rated schools, good restaurants, clean air and racial and political diversity — all at a steep discount compared to the cost of living in America’s coastal metropolises.

CalettaSilkmothI’m not much impressed with their search tool. It let’s you select “less snow” but not “more salt water.” A locale’s travel characteristics cannot be boiled down to “commute time.” Related to that, it is simultaneously too granular and insufficiently so. Round Rock is incorporated and Oak Hill is not. For most practical purposes, that makes little difference: both are neighborhoods of Austin. It makes sense that someone looking where to live wants to drill down to that level. You live as much in a neighborhood as you do in a city. It makes little sense that a search tool for that purpose provides visibility to one such neighborhood, because it is incorporated, but not to the other. To the extent that it presents Round Rock as a small town rather than a neighborhood in a large metropolis, it is some decades out of date.

The photo shows a calleta silk moth, freshly emerged last week. Which is a common sight for those of us in the southern part of Texas, when we prune back our cenizo.

The modern right

November 23, 2021

David Brooks hobnobs at the National Conservatism Conference, and is terrified by what he sees. Andrew Sullivan writes similarly, but cannot resist seeing it as a response to wokism. Which is as strained as the notion that it is a response to Islam. A cult’s chosen targets rarely explain its own rise or views. 


The Russia non-hoax

November 22, 2021

Jonathan Chait writes the necessary corrective to the nonsense being peddled on the right, that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a hoax. I do not believe that those pushing that have such short memories. The investigation into Russian interference did not begin with the Steele dossier, nor did the latter play much role in the election. Both the Mueller Report and the Senate Intelligence Report focused on the more important issues that did:

The most conclusive investigation into the counterintelligence danger posed by Trump’s ties to Russia — that is to say, the noncriminal ways Trump was implicated in, and compromised by, Russia — was conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee. That bipartisan report is extensive and damning. It identifies two channels of cooperation between the Trump campaign and its Russian allies. First, campaign manager Paul Manafort, who communicated regularly with Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik, including giving him regular supplies of campaign polling data. And second, working through adviser Roger Stone, the campaign “took actions to obtain advance notice about WikiLeaks releases of Clinton emails; took steps to obtain inside information about the content of releases once WikiLeaks began to publish stolen information.”

Nothing has undermined the evidence that Russia hacked the DNC, that Russia worked hard to influence the election, that Trump’s campaign welcomed that and worked with that. Chait points to the rhetorical sleight-of-hand:

Conservatives have almost entirely ignored the Senate Intelligence Committee report. None of the conservative columns I linked to above even mention the Senate Intelligence report; indeed, the conservative media has almost uniformly refused to acknowledge it at all.

And likewise, the Mueller report. And all the other documentary evidence about a very real scandal, of which the Steele dossier was an unimportant side bit. I would quibble with Chait’s phrasing. Honest conservatives aren’t playing that game. Only the ones who have bought into the Trump stream of bullshit.

Russia again has its eyes on expansion into Ukraine. When historians look back at recent decades, I suspect it will be Putin that they view as the preeminent leader of the right wing movements of our time. 

Update: David Frum now has written It Wasn’t a Hoax, which nicely distinguishes between the Steele dossier and what we know about Russia’s work to get Trump elected.