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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. 

“The bad guys are winning”

November 17, 2021

As I read Anne Applebaum’s bleak essay, point by point I sometimes thought of amplification. And nary a refutation. This is not a war where we might be conquered by the army of some hated enemy. This is a turn in the world, where all that Applebaum describes eventually seems so normal that it would be pollyannish to think the world could be otherwise. And in that eventually, the expansive view of democracy that peaked in the 20th c. will seem as quaint as Victorian gender norms. 

The mainstream media

November 16, 2021

Jonathan Last makes a key point about the mainstream media:

The “mainstream media” .. is probably made up of several thousand individuals and then a three-figure number of institutions. At any given moment, on any given story, some number of these people and institutions will communicate facts that are eventually understood to be misleading or incorrect. Some of these people and institutions are better at their jobs than others. The point is that the MSM universe is so large that you’re always going to be able to cherry-pick examples to support the notion that “they” are feeding “us” false narratives.

That article peeks at some of the larger errors by the mainstream media in decades past.

But it also describes how there is considerable misreading. Both by those who are misled by their own error, and by those who imagine some intentional wrongdoing. As easy example, it stuns me that anyone reading the mainstream media would have thought that Jussie Smollet’s alleged assault was iron fact. Really? If so, what you need to question is not the mainstream reporting on that, but your own reading ability. Reporting should expose its sources and methods. The MSM articles on that mostly were straight up on where the information originated. Why did you not see how thin that was? What more would you have them do, on initial coverage of a reported crime? Not report it? Jump ahead of the facts about its denouement?

As another example, one Reuters reporter some weeks back, relying on unnamed sources, wrote that the FBI found scant evidence of an organized plot behind the storming of the Capitol on 1/6.  The reporter made that unreliable basis clear in the original article. That was the only dive down that particular rabbit hole I have seen in the mainstream media. (Alas, I have seen it repeatedly amplified in the right-wing media, even after its debunking.)

Was Reuters wrong to publish that? Not necessarily. It is the nature of the news media that everyone working in it is dealing with both limited information and time constraints. I have no reason to doubt that the reporter had what seemed believable sources. As Last notes;

The MSM is like a giant peer-review system, but where the peer-reviewing takes place after publication.

Don’t blame reporters merely for being wrong at the time. That is the nature of the beast. Save your ire for those who intentionally lie. Alas, there are plenty of those. Typically, the very ones who cast the most stones at the mainstream media.

Curry, Columbus, and culinary appropriation

November 15, 2021

Nishant Batsha explains that curry started as an abbreviated western take on the many cuisines from India:

So what was curry like before Columbus? Well, curry didn’t exist. In these cases, I find it useful to consult my Hobson-Jobson, the nineteenth-century dictionary of Anglo-Indian loan words. According to that source, curry comes from the Portuguese word karil (caril) via the Tamil word kari (sauce, relish for rice). In the sixteenth century, this was transliterated into English as caril, but by the 1680s entered English as carrees, perhaps from caris, an Anglicized plural form of the Portuguese.

That article is more than a year old. But I just stumbled across it. And enjoyed it, because it mentions dal, which I like even more than curry, and talks about asafetida (hīng), which we use in our curries and dal and most any time we use turmeric.