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Island by island

December 15, 2021

CarloBottigella_EasterIslandDNA analysis is providing insight into how and when Polynesia was settled. Starting at Samoa and ending at Rapa Nui.

That last is Easter Island, shown in the 18th c. engraving right.

The coup’s aftermath, part 3

December 13, 2021

More details have emerged about Trump’s plan to pressure Pence to play a key role in his coup, well summarized by Heather Cox Richardson. It is scary how close that came to succeeding. There were alternate plans in the case Pence didn’t cooperate. My eye caught this:

That night, Trump called his people in the so-called “war room” at the Willard Hotel, where loyalists had been trying to figure out a way to delay certification if Pence didn’t cave. He called the lawyers and the non-lawyers separately, since Giuliani wanted to preserve attorney-client privilege.

My suspicion is that Giuliani’s move was less a display of arrogance, rather, an attempt to avoid culpability, if the coup failed. Little proves intent quite as much as written plan and related documentation. The marquee trial that should be worrying Trump’s lieutenants is that of Elizabeth Holmes, who is trying to defend her fraud with the excuses of “I don’t remember,” “I didn’t know,” and “I didn’t intend.”

Republican efforts to corrupt and control US elections continue. One part of that is intimidating honest election workers. Ruby Freeman is one of the unfortunate targets.  Among many other threats, Trevian Kutti, a former publicist for Kanye West, threatened Freeman that she was in danger, unless she falsely confessed to the bogus accusations against her. I am surprised that doesn’t violate some Georgia law, and that the police investigating it did not more pursue it. I am skeptical that Kutti did that on her own initiative. Will we learn in the future whose idea that was? Likely not, unless at some point Kutti faces some legal consequence for her action.

The storming of the Capitol and subsequent votes on certifying the election and on impeaching Trump were moments of truth for Congressman Peter Meijer, a freshman Republican from Michigan. He had to deal with colleagues who were Trump supporters, with his own radicalized constituents, with other colleagues who kowtowed to threats of violence from such constituents, and with the vacuity of Republican House leadership. That was quite an initiation into current American politics. 


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.